Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

Ashley Keller was frustrated. Why was every prenatal workout she found on YouTube too slow or beyond extreme and not safe for her baby?

The triathlete Army officer was no stranger to fitness. Upon her graduation from West Point, she was offered the opportunity to train for the Olympics, but turned it down to pursue serving her country in a traditional way.


Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

“My husband Luke got his mid-tour leave from a year long deployment and a government paid ticket to anywhere in the world,” Keller explained. “He sacrificed that ticket on a flight to West Point, New York to support my graduation from the Academy. We got married two days later, honeymooned to Costa Rica and he flew back to Iraq and I headed to Fort Leonardwood for Engineer Officer Basic Training. The Army then gave me a choice: go be a platoon leader like I had spent the last four years at West Point preparing to do or be sponsored by the Army to train at the World Class Athlete Center in Colorado for the next triathlon Olympics. [Training in Colorado] would mean not serving our country as I hoped to do, and it would post me across the country from Fort Bragg, where my new husband was stationed. I also knew one injury in triathlon [training] could foil all Olympic prospects and didn’t want to sacrifice my marriage for it.”

Keller had forfeited her Olympic dreams in favor of service, but never sacrificed her love of sport, representing the U.S. Army in NBC’s Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge and competing in the notoriously grueling Ironman races. When she became pregnant with her first baby, Keller longed for workouts that were challenging, yet effective.

“So I got certified and nerded out on scholarly articles about training,” Keller says. “I’d rush home over lunch breaks, change out of my Army uniform, and record ten to fifteen minute prenatal workouts with a cheap camera propped up on index cards on my countertop. I thought there might be some women out there who also wanted more challenging prenatal workouts.”

As it turns out, there were quite a few women. Keller quickly built a community of online followers and her passion for fitness and educating women online grew. After five and a half years of active duty service and a deployment to Afghanistan, she separated from the Army to pursue fitness full time and GlowBodyPT was born.

Today, Keller has an online following of more than 40,000 on social media and offers free workout videos on her Youtube channel, as well as customized plans through her website, featuring specialized workouts for prenatal and post-pregnancy.
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

“A couple of months ago I launched my newest and favorite plan to date: The 10 Minute Plan,” Keller said. “It was a year in the making while my husband was deployed, raising a newborn and running GlowBodyPT.”

When asked why specifically targeting the mom community is so important, Keller smiled knowingly.

“Fitness does more than just make your body look good, it transforms how you feel about yourself,” she said. “Fitness empowers you to have patience, more energy and more drive, to pour into your marriage and your kids. Staged workout videos in white studios don’t resonate with me. When you follow my workout videos it’s like working out with a friend in your living room who says it how it is, teaches you how to train and makes the best use of every single minute of your time, because I know you don’t have time to waste.”

5 MIGHTY QUESTIONS

What piece of advice would you give to fellow military spouses?

Put yourself out there to make a couple of good friends every time you move. I tell my friends, “You are my people!” Give them your number and let them know, sincerely, you are here for them day or night no matter what they need. Follow through. Having your tribe and fueling those relationships is what makes the military community what it is.

What is your life motto?

God, use me for your purpose.

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

What inspires you about the military community?

Only military families know the sacrifices we make as service members and spouses. How it feels to wonder if your spouse got back safe from a mission. Wondering if everybody is okay when there is a communications blackout. Missed holidays and birthdays. Lonely nights. Phone calls as you try to make conversation without talking about sensitive information related to your spouse’s everyday life. Consoling crying children who miss Daddy. I love the military community because there is a shared sense of respect, reverence, family and sacrifice.

What has been your toughest professional challenge?

I got my front teeth knocked out, elbow broken, wrist casted, stitches across my lips, chin and both palms during a Half Ironman bike crash a couple of years ago. The top four athletes racing all got rushed to the ER. The injuries lasted for months and I didn’t get permanent teeth for over a year. My husband was away at a military school when the crash happened and I came home the next day to two kids, one of which I was potty training and the other who put on my socks for me the next morning because it hurt to move my hands.

What’s your superpower?

I actually care about every single woman who does my plans, and her progress. Bigger companies just don’t have the capacity to pour into others at this level.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why immigrant military recruits are in bureaucratic limbo

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.”

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Sgt. Saral Shrestha.
(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.

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Santosh Kachhepati
(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.”

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(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].”

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
The first Navy sailors to participate in the MAVNI program are issued the oath of citizenship by Stacey Summers, branch chief from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago field office.
(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.”

MIGHTY CULTURE

What is the USPHS and what does it do?

If you watched the White House press briefing on COVID-19 today, you might have wondered what the Coast Guard folks were doing on tv for a Presidential Address about a global pandemic. And then, upon further inspection of their uniforms and seeing the “USPHS” and a cross embroidered over the left breast pocket where it usually says, “U.S. Coast Guard,” you might have been wondering, “Who are these people and what do they do?”

Introducing the U.S. Public Health Service.


WATCH: Trump gives coronavirus update at White House

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What is the USPHS? 

According to their website, “Overseen by the Surgeon General, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a diverse team of more than 6,500 highly qualified, public health professionals. Driven by a passion to serve the underserved, these men and women fill essential public health leadership and clinical service roles with the Nation’s Federal Government agencies.

For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.”

And, fun fact: they wear uniforms.

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Uniforms 

According to their site, “Few things inspire pride and esprit-de-corps more than the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) uniform. By wearing the uniform, Commissioned Corps officers display a profound respect for their country, their service, and themselves. Uniforms promote the visibility and credibility of the Commissioned Corps to the general public and the Nation’s underserved populations whom officers are devoted to serving.

The PHS uniform traces its roots back to 1871 when John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon (now known as the Surgeon General), organized the service along military lines. The uniforms reflect the proud legacy and tradition of the more than 200-year-old service. Uniforms link today’s officers to their heritage and connect them to past officers. Since they represent the Commissioned Corps history and tradition, rigorous standards apply to wearing the uniform and every officer upholds those standards with pride.

Similar to the other services, the Commissioned Corps has several uniforms including the Service Dress Blues, Summer Whites, Service Khakis, and Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) Woodland Camouflage. Each uniform reflects the great responsibility and privilege that comes with being a commissioned officer.

View how the ranks and grades of the Commissioned Corps compare to the other six uniformed services of the United States.”

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U.S. Public Health Services Lt. Cmdr. Angelica Galindo, conducts a patient assessment at the Escuela Elemental Urbana in Cidra, Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo/Larry E. Reid Jr.

So are they in the military? 

Nope. They’re non-military uniformed service that is not trained in arms. But they are trained in health care. In fact, Corps officers serve in 15 careers in a wide range of specialties within Federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In total, Corps officers have duty stations in over 20 federal departments and agencies.

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KOYUK, Alaska – United States Public Health Service Veterinarian Doctor Mary Anne Duncan examines one of two dogs owned by Koyuk residents. Duncan and USPHS Veterinarian Doctor Wanda Wilson walked through the community of 350 to examine 48 dogs and three cats. Coast Guard photo/Walter Shinn

But what do they actually do? 

Careers are available in the areas of disease control and prevention; biomedical research; regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices; mental health and drug abuse; and health care delivery. USPHS has physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, health services, environmental health, dietitians, engineers, veterinarians and scientists.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker took a frigid beating

The U.S. Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, recently completed a mission to cut a resupply channel through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea, but the ship’s 150-strong crew grappled with engine failure and flooding during the trip.


The Seattle-based Polar Star left port in December for Antarctica to support Operation Deep Freeze 2018, the U.S. military’s contribution to the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is run by the National Science Foundation. The Polar Star was charged with clearing a path through 15 miles of ice — some of it up to 10-feet thick.

The Polar Star traveled through nearly 300 miles of pack ice before it reached fast ice, which is ice that’s actually connected to Antarctica, on Jan. 8, the Coast Guard said. After passing through the fast ice, the Polar Star reversed course to break the ice up further, clearing a channel for resupply ships.

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McMurdo Station, opened in December 1955, is the largest Antarctic station, located on the solid ground farthest south that is accessible by ship. (Christopher Woody/Google Maps)

“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” Polar Star commanding officer Capt. Michael Davanzo told Maritime Executive.

On Jan. 11 2018, there was a failure in one of the ship’s three main gas turbines, which produce the power needed for the ship’s propellers to break up thick, multi-year accumulations of ice. The Polar Star’s crew traced the problem to a programming error between the engine and the ship’s electrical system — which, like much of the ship, dates back to the 1970s.

Also read: The Coast Guard warns that Russia is moving in on the Arctic

Five days later, a shaft seal failed, allowing 20 gallons of frigid seawater a minute to flood the engine room. The crew responded quickly, stanching the flow with an emergency shaft seal. Afterward, they were able to remove the water from the ship’s engineering space and perform more permanent repairs on the faulty seal.

“The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty,” Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Area, told Maritime Executive.

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Members of the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star’s engineering department make repairs in the ship’s motor room while in the Ross Sea near Antarctica, Jan. 16, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

McMurdo Station, opened in 1955, is one of three stations operated year-round by the National Science Foundation and acts as a staging area for teams headed to the South Pole and other research stations deeper in Antarctica. It is built on the southernmost patch of solid ground that is still accessible by ship. Its average temperature in January, which is a summer month, is 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Summertime supply deliveries allow the station to stay open.

Related: The US is ‘late to the game’ in militarizing the Arctic

In addition to the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Army, and National Guard personnel contribute to Operation Deep Freeze, which is led by Pacific Air Forces.

The Polar Star, which was commissioned in 1976, is the Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, and it can break ice up to 21 feet thick. (It has one medium icebreaker, the Healy, which mainly does scientific work.) The Polar Star’s sister ship, the Polar Sea, was commissioned the same year but left service in 2010 because of repeated failures in its main engines.

Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
The Coast Guard cutter Polar Star breaks ice in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica, January 10, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen)

In 2017, the Coast Guard determined that the Polar Sea would be too expensive to refurbish, even though its hull remains sound. The Polar Star was refurbished in 2012.

Many of the parts needed to keep the Polar Star running are no longer in production. Coast Guard personnel pull needed gear from the Polar Sea, but they’ve also had to order secondhand parts from eBay. The ship sails with a year’s supply of food in case it gets stuck.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has said the Polar Star is “literally on life support,” and the service plans to build at least three heavy and three medium icebreakers to fill out the fleet. The first one is expected by 2023.

More reading: The Coast Guard wants heavy firepower on their new icebreakers

The harsh conditions in the polar regions take a toll on the 41-year-old Polar Star. It is scheduled to return to the U.S. in March, at which point it will go into drydock for repairs. It is the only Coast Guard cutter to go into drydock every year.

“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” Midgette told Maritime Executive.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

General wants Army aviators to stop apologizing and start asking

Retired Gen. James Thurman recently told Army aviation officials they’ve got to “quit apologizing” to the Pentagon and ask for what they need to win the next war.

“The Air Force doesn’t apologize, the Navy doesn’t apologize, so don’t apologize. You’ve got to go forward and put the bill on the table, and you’ve got to have the analytical data to back it up. That’s what happens in the Pentagon,” he said during a panel discussion last week at the Association of the United States Army’s Hot Topic event on aviation.

Thurman, who commanded U.S. Forces Korea from 2011 to 2013, made his comments during a discussion on the Army’s effort to track training and readiness against the backdrop of the service’s six-priority modernization effort.


Future vertical lift is the Army’s third of six modernization priorities. Aviation officials must compete for the same resources advocates of the other priorities — long-range precision fires, the next generation combat vehicle, a mobile network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality — are vying for if the service is going to field a new armed reconnaissance aircraft and a new long-range assault aircraft by 2028.

“You’ve got to fight for it … if we don’t modernize this force, we are going to lose the next fight. It’s as simple as that,” Thurman said, warning of the progress potential adversaries are making in battlefield technology. “If you look at what the Russians are doing and what the Chinese are doing, in my mind, the Chinese are number one right now.”

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The Lockheed-Boeing SB-1 Defiant.


In addition to modernizing, Army aviation officials say the branch needs to use training resources more effectively to ensure units are at the appropriate readiness levels.

“I think we do ourselves a disservice anytime we are funded to a certain level and under-execute for multiple reasons,” said Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commander of the Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Alabama. “If we fly less and we still call ourselves trained, that is doing a disservice to us … because the Army will resource us at a lesser level.”

Army aviation accounts for 25 percent of the service’s budget for training and sustainment, said retired Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum, vice president for Army Aviation Programs, Rotary and Mission Systems at Lockheed Martin. But, he said, “aviation is the only branch where the number of [Training and Doctrine Command] seats is limited by budget.”

“For every other branch, we determine how many seats are required and fund it,” he said. “For aviation, seats are based on funding available.”

Mangum said he agrees with Thurman’s advice. “Don’t apologize, but we’ve got to use that 25 percent of the Army budget as effectively and efficiently as we can.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

DOD & VA to hold ‘closed door’ conference on burn pits

Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs officials are meeting in March 2019 in Arlington, Virginia, for a two-day symposium on burn pits and airborne pollutants but, as with previous Joint VA/DoD Airborne Hazard Symposia, the meeting is closed to the public and press.

The symposium’s purpose, according to documents from the first meeting in 2012, is to “provide an opportunity to discuss what we know, what we need to know and what can be done to study and improve care” for veterans and troops who “might have suffered adverse health effects related to exposure to airborne hazards, including burn pit smoke and other pollutants.”


Attendance is tightly controlled, with Pentagon and VA officials convening to discuss topics such as a joint action plan to address potential health conditions related to exposure, the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry, monitoring deployment environments and the impact of exposures on the Veterans Benefits Administration, according to a copy of the first day’s agenda obtained by Military.com.

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A soldier pushing a bulldozer into the flames of a burn pit at Balad, Iraq

(US Army photo)

Members of several veterans service organizations and advocacy groups have been invited to speak, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Burn Pits 360 and the Sgt. Sullivan Circle.

But those veterans’ representatives are allowed to attend only a handful of sessions on the first day, March 14, 2019, including opening remarks and segments on outreach and education, as well as a brown-bag lunch during which they can discuss concerns and issues.

All events scheduled for March 15, 2019, remain unpublished.

Neither the VA nor the DoD responded to requests for information on the event. Veterans advocates also declined to discuss the meeting or their participation, with some expressing concern that they would be prevented from receiving future invites.

Thousands of troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were exposed to airborne pollutants while working and living near burn pits used to dispose of trash, medical waste and other types of refuse at area military bases.

Some have developed a chronic lung disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, while others have developed skin rashes, autoimmune disorders and various types of cancer, including glioblastoma, a brain cancer rarely seen in young adults, that they believe are related to burn pit exposure.

Veterans and advocates have pressed the VA for years to recognize these illnesses as related to burn pit exposure and want them to be considered “presumptive” conditions, a designation that would automatically qualify them for disability compensation and health services.

The VA says it lacks the scientific evidence to directly tie burn pit exposure to certain diseases but has granted service connection for several conditions associated with burn pits, deciding each claim on a case-by-case basis.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reviewed all available studies, reports and monitoring data on burn pit utilization and combustibles exposure and concluded that there was not enough evidence or data to draw conclusions about the long-term consequences of exposure.

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A service member tosses unserviceable uniform items into a burn pit

(DoD photo)

More than 140,000 veterans have enrolled in the VA Burn Pit and Airborne Hazards Registry.

From June 2007 through Nov. 30, 2018, the VA received 11,581 claims applications for disability compensation with at least one condition related to burn pit exposure. Of those, 2,318 had a burn pit-related condition granted, according to VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour.

During the same time frame, the VA processed nearly 13.5 million claims; burn pit-related claims made up less than a tenth of a percent of those claims.

“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available,” Cashour said.

The Pentagon and VA are developing a way to track environmental exposures in service members starting with the day they enlist. The Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record, or ILER, will record potential and known exposures throughout a service member’s time on active duty. A pilot program is set to begin Sept. 30, 2019.

But those who have suffered exposures in the past 30 years will need to rely on Congress to pass legislation to assist them, the Defense Department to continue researching the issues, and the VA to approve their claims.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, IAVA, Disabled American Veterans, the Fleet Reserve Association, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Military Officers Association of America all have made burn pit and toxic exposure issues a top legislative priority this year.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, have introduced legislation that would require the DoD and VA to share information on troops’ exposure to airborne chemicals and provide periodic health assessments for those who were exposed.

The meeting is to take place at the Veterans Health Administration National Conference Center in Crystal City, Virginia.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

6 countries who are friends with North Korea

Under the rule of Kim Jong Un, North Korea has been a real jerk on the international scene — like, even more than usual. In fact, not too many countries are willing to be friends with North Korea. But there are some countries who are willing to stand by them. Surprisingly, that total reaches six.


Here’s who they are:

1. Russia

This really comes as no surprise. After all, in 1948, the Soviet Union helped put Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, into power. During the Korean War, Soviet pilots flew missions in support of North Korea and helped with the country’s flight training. Russia also exported a lot of gear to Pyongyang, including MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters.

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Russian fighter. (Photo via Public Domain)

2. China

Again, no surprise, given that during the Korean War, Chinese troops intervened on the side of North Korea. China remains North Korea’s biggest trading partner, and the two countries share a 900-mile long border.

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Photo: Xinhuanet

3. Iran

This relationship could be surprising, except for the fact that Iran wants to buy a lot of weapons. In fact, Iran has purchased mini-submarines and ballistic missiles from the Hermit Kingdom, and a “scientific” alliance (read: nuclear weapons development) is also going on.

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Iranian soldiers on parade. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

4. Syria

If there is a dictator who would challenge Kim Jong Un for most hated, it is Syria’s Bashir Assad. Like Iran, Syria sees North Korea as a source of weapons.

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Hmeymim airfield in Syria. (Photo via Russian Ministry of Defense)

5. Cuba

Cuba remains one of the few communist regimes in the world. North Korea, also a holdout communist regime, is reaching out to its fellow client of the Soviet Union.

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Fidel Castro became a close friend of the Soviet Union, something JFK tried to stop with the Bay of Pigs invasion. (Photo: Keizers)

6. Equatorial Guinea

According to many measures, Equatorial Guinea has one of the worst human rights record. North Korea has reportedly been reaching out to its fellow pariah.

Check out this video rundown on the the countries that are North Korea’s only friends:

MIGHTY TRENDING

All the times ISIS’ leader was declared killed in action

The ‘caliph’ of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi recently lost his son in combat in Syria — but no one really cares about that. The Syrians and Russians were probably hoping to ice his reclusive father, who is probably the world’s most wanted man at the moment.

Unfortunately, the only problem is that the world has “killed” that guy before — several times over. Baghdadi has survived more unbelievable attacks than anyone in any Fast and Furious movie ever.

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Baghdadi survives again.

The reward for killing or capturing Baghdadi currently sits at a cool $25 million, but even offering that kind of reward hasn’t led to conclusive intelligence on where and when to hit the reclusive leader.


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Baghdadi gets lucky once more.

March 18, 2015

Baghdadi was struck by coalition aircraft while straddling the border between Iraq and Syria. This led to ISIS’ need to have a serious talk about who replaces Baghdadi if he dies. His physics teacher stood in as caliph of ISIS while he recovered from his “serious wounds.”

In real life, the coalition confirmed the strike happened but had zero reason to believe Baghdadi was hit. Later, ISIS leaks news of a spinal injury on the caliph that left him paralyzed. While the extent of his injuries weren’t really known (like… is he actually paralyzed? And why would ISIS tell anyone?), militants vowed revenge for the attempt on his life.

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And he really wasn’t even in the convoy.

October 11, 2015

The Iraqi Air Force claims they hit a convoy carrying Baghdadi in Anbar Province on its way to an ISIS meeting, which was also bombed. After the IAF declared his death, rumors that Baghdadi wasn’t even in the convoy began to swirl.

Because he was still alive.

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Someone in ISIS probably died in that airstrike, it just wasn’t him.

June 9, 2016

Iraqi television declared that Baghdadi was wounded by U.S. aircraft in Northern Iraq. No one confirmed this, which, if you think about it, could just happen every day. He’s survived before only to be bombed and then “bombed” again later — just like he did this time around.

Maybe it was a slow news day for Iraqi TV.

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Another miraculous escape from U.S. aircraft.

June 14, 2016

Islamic news agencies reported the leader’s death at the hands of coalition aircraft, but the United States asserts it cannot support that claim (but it would welcome such news). The strike supposedly hit the leader’s hideout in Raqqa in an attempt to decapitate the Islamic State.

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Tackling the ISIS problem head on.

October 3, 2016

The ISIS caliph was supposedly poisoned by a “mystery assassin” in Iraq and the terrorist group immediately began a purge of his inner circle, looking for the mysterious poisoner. Baghdadi and three others are said to have suffered from the poisoning, but little is known about the aftermath.

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Literally never happened.

May 28, 2017

This time, Russia gets credit for icing the caliph. The Russian Defense Ministry investigated if Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft near Raqqa actually managed to kill Baghdadi. The mission of the sorties was to behead the terror group by taking out a number of important leaders, including Baghdadi if possible. The Syrian Observatory for human rights, however, reported that no such airstrike even happened that day.

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June 10, 2017

Just four days after allied forces begin an assault on Raqqa, Syrian state television says Baghdadi was killed by a massive U.S. artillery barrage aimed at the ISIS capital while visiting ISIS headquarters in the Syrian city.

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Gotta catch him first.

June 23, 2017

A Russian politician claimed Baghdadi’s death at the hands of Russian aircraft. Iranian state media backed up these claims. A few days later, a representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “confirmed” the death of ISIS’ leader. Iraq and the United States say they cannot corroborate the news.

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He survived so many airstrikes I’m running out of Fast and Furious references.

July 11, 2017

Chinese state newspaper Xinhua reported that ISIS confirmed the death of Baghdadi in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar and that a new caliph would be announced soon. This announcement came in the days following the recapture of Mosul by Iraqi forces. Kurdish leaders disagree with the assessment.

The manhunt is on.

As 2018 came around, coalition spies were able to track the elusive leader to specific places on three separate occasions. Each time, he was able to slip away. His current status, whether he’s still in hiding or even alive at all, is unknown by most.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea will destroy its illegal nuclear test sites today

North Korea plans to destroy a nuclear test site in front of a handful of foreign journalists on May 22, 2018 — a move that lets it shape a narrative of cooperating with the US without actually removing its nuclear capabilities.

Foreign journalists from the US, China, and Russia arrived in North Korea on May 22, 2018, to report on the destruction of an underground site that Pyongyang has repeatedly rocked with nuclear detonation tests.


At the same time, President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are meeting behind the scenes to discuss what to make of Kim Jong Un’s new, aggressive tone.

The planned destruction of the test site, in Wonsan, represents denuclearization North Korea’s way, meaning it isn’t permanent, verifiable, irreversible, or complete.

North Korea intends to make a big show of dismantling its test site by collapsing access tunnels, but it can always build more tunnels, dig the tunnels back out again, or test somewhere else.

Additionally, if North Korea truly has completed its nuclear program, as it says it has, then it no longer needs an active test site anyway. The US has maintained nuclear weapons without testing them for decades.

The US has demanded that North Korea denuclearize in more concrete ways, like by sending missiles and nuclear devices overseas for irreversible dismantlement, but that doesn’t seem to have gone down well with Pyongyang.

Additionally, North Korea recently has been lashing out at the US, and also South Korea, whose journalists were barred from covering the event.

Trump and Moon try to save the summit

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President Donal Trump andu00a0South Korean President Moon Jae-in

While the world watches North Korea’s staged show of denuclearization, Trump and Moon will meet at the White House to discuss Trump’s coming summit with Kim as well as North Korea’s recent harsh words.

Until mid-May 2018, North Korea had made generous promises to denuclearize, asking for nothing in return. But the state-run media from Pyongyang has since changed its stance, again saying how vital its nuclear weapons are.

This change in attitude from Pyongyang prompted Moon to meet with Trump for their talk on May 22, 2018.

Since North Korea’s return to hostile talk, Trump has reportedly considered dropping out of the summit, and he has offered back some strong words of his own, implying the US could “decimate” North Korea if no deal is reached.

But with North Korea improving its ties with China following the announcement of the Trump-Kim summit, it’s possible that Kim could now back out of the summit and attempt to paint Trump as the belligerent one.

North Korea is outwardly embracing denuclearization with a showy destruction of a probably meaningless nuclear site, while directly communicating to South Korea and the US that it won’t disarm.

By doing so, it has ripped the narrative of denuclearization from Trump’s hands and turned it toward its own ends.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Asian countries doubled down on security ties to the US

Military spending has ramped up in Asia, led by China, whose addition of submarines to its fleet has inspired similar ambitions among its neighbors.


Beyond hardware, however, countries in Asia are also reassessing the balance of power there, contemplating how to engage China and what role the US — long a guarantor of security and trade in the region — will play going forward.

“Everyone out in Asia is, on one hand, scared of China, and, the other hand, they need China for trade,” Mike Fabey, author of the 2017 book Crashback, about tensions between China and the US in the Pacific, told Business Insider. “Also there’s a real sense of, ‘China’s right here. America’s on the other side of the world.'”

Also read: China wants you to know it’s not afraid of a trade war

Officials in the region felt the Obama administration “was letting China slide with a few things here and there” to secure cooperation, or at least noninterference, from Beijing on other issues, like the Paris climate accord, Fabey said. “But even with that, there was still definitely a feeling, ‘Hey, America’s got our back.'”

The Trump administration has referred to the region as the “Indo-Pacific,” in what is likely meant to be a rhetorical swipe at China, though it also points to the region’s maritime dimensions. But, Fabey said, “with the recent administration, there’s much more of a feeling now in the Western Pacific, even from folks like Australia, who are really wondering exactly how far America would go now if China were to do anything.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Photo from Moscow Kremlin)

That has translated into greater interest in local partnerships.

“You’re starting to see Australia, Japan, and India, for example, there’s a new emerging trilateral out there, and that they’re counting the US out. The US is involved,” Fabey said, but there’s now more of a feeling of, “‘we’re on our own more, at least we should act like we’re on our own more, and we’ll do it without the US if we have to.'”

‘They’re very good at playing that card’

First proposed in 2007, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, made up of the US, Japan, Australia, and India, gained new life in 2017, when officials from those countries met to discuss a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and seven core themes, including freedom of navigation, maritime security, and a rules-based order in the region.

Some members of the Quad have tread carefully out of concern about China, which protested its restoration. India has also expressed reticence about the partnership — in part over concerns about its own autonomy as well as doubts about the other three countries’ approaches to China.

“China likes to play the card, ‘Look, you’re Asian. We’re Asian. Quite honestly, no Western power is going to protect your Asian rights out here … You can’t depend on the West to do that,'” Fabey told Business Insider. “And they’re very good at playing that card.”

But cooperation between countries in the region continues, with an eye on securing and enhancing trade and security.

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A US sailor aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Howard gives a tour to Indian sailors during Malabar 2017. (US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler Preston)

Japan has increased efforts to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative, ramping up international partnerships and investments — including in Sri Lanka, where a recent Chinese port project has angered India.

Australia has followed suit, talking to the US, India, and Japan about a joint regional infrastructure program to rival Beijing’s outreach.

Australia, India, and Japan have been pursuing a trilateral partnership since late 2015, aimed at ensuring “open and free” movement in the region and advancing their shared interests.

The Malabar 2017 exercises in summer 2017, in which India, Japan, and the US took part, emphasized antisubmarine warfare — including submarine-on-submarine exercises. “Nowhere else does the American Navy do that,” Fabey noted, saying cooperation between US and Indian navies “is unlike any other in the world.” (While New Delhi blocked Australia’s participation in Malabar 2017, their defense cooperation has progressed.)

Related: The US Navy just launched an effort to built this super-stealthy submarine

India and Japan did three days of antisubmarine exercises in the Indian Ocean in October 2017.

In March 2018, Vietnam’s president visited India, where the leaders of the two countries put out a statement pledging to continue defense cooperation. Two days later, US carrier made a port call in Vietnam — the first such visit in four decades and a sign of growing ties between the US and Hanoi (whose acquisition of submarines has also irked China).

Around the same time, India’s army chief said that New Delhi was working with Australia, Japan, and the US to guarantee “freedom of navigation” in the region. A few days later, India began its Milan 2018 naval exercises, underscoring New Delhi’s growing engagement with the region.

The Milan exercises were first held in 1995 with four countries. This year, 16 countries joined the drills, which, for the first time, included a joint multilateral exercise at sea. The naval portion took place around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, strategically located near the Malacca Straits, which connects the Indian and Pacific oceans.

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US Navy Rear Adm. Bill Byrne, commander of Carrier Strike Group 11, observes Indian, Japanese, and US ships from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz during Malabar 2017 in the Bay of Bengal, July 17, 2017. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Holly L. Herline)

That was followed in late March 2018 by the fourth meeting between US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Indian navy chief Adm. Sunil Lanba, where they “discussed ways to improve interoperability to include additional naval exercises and staff talks.”

As with the Quad, India, which uses Russian-made military hardware, has been reluctant about joint operations. Its reticence about information-sharing has reportedly hindered those exercises and broader interoperability.

‘Like their Caribbean’

China has made clear its displeasure with such regional cooperation.

When Japan’s inclusion in the Malabar exercise was permanent in late 2015, Beijing reacted sharply, saying it hoped “the relevant country will not provoke confrontation and heighten tensions in the region.”

The rivalry between China and India in the Indian Ocean appeared inflamed in February 2018, when both looked poised to respond in the Maldives, where the government imposed a state of emergency, jailed opponents, and stifled protests. (The state of emergency was lifted in late March 2018.) India has long wielded influence in the Maldives, but the government there has courted China, buying into what critics fear is Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy.”

China has also flexed its muscles in the South and East China Seas. In January 2018, a Chinese sub was detected around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are controlled by Japan but disputed by Beijing. It the first confirmed identification of a Chinese sub that area and drew a Japanese protest. Chinese ships have entered that area on six days this year, most recently on March 23, 2018.

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A Chinese Shang-class nuclear attack submarine in the contiguous zone of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. (Photo by Japanese Ministry of Defense)

In recent days, Vietnam, which has sought to mollify Beijing after the US carrier’s visit, assented to Chinese pressure to scrap an offshore oil-drilling project — the second time in a year Hanoi has done so. The cancellation is likely to be read in Beijing as a sign Vietnam’s strategic thinking has not changed, despite US shows of force in the area.

More: Beijing vows ‘stern measures’ after US ship sails near South China Sea islands

Such a victory means Beijing’s efforts to assert its claims, and to influence its neighbors, are unlikely to end. Even with regional efforts to counter China, the country’s geography, resources, and military put it in a position to wield considerable influence over the region and the trade that passes through it — which makes a continuing US presence all the more important, said Fabey, author of Crashback.

“If the US were to pull back from there … China would take control, and if China wants to do this, they basically would,” he told Business Insider. “The South China Sea could be like their Caribbean. How we control the Caribbean, China says it wants to control the South China Sea.”

“Now as long as everything’s equal — that is to say, that China is benefiting from that being free and open — then I guess there’s no problem,” Fabey said. But that could change, he added, if Beijing decides changing it is in its interests. “China will always do what’s best for China.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

27 amazing photos of the Coast Guard in 2017

From Guam in the Pacific to Puerto Rico in the Atlantic, from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, the U.S. Coast Guard patrols and protects the world’s largest exclusive economic zone, covering nine time zones.


It is one of the five military branches, a member of the intelligence community, a first-responder and humanitarian service, and a law-enforcement and regulatory agency that defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways.

On an average day, the Coast Guard’s more than 56,000 personnel — operating on 243 Cutters, 201 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and more than 1,600 boats — carry out 45 search-and-rescue cases, save 10 lives, seize 874 pounds of cocaine, perform 24 security boardings, screen 360 merchant vessels, do 105 maritime inspections, and assist the movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities in and around the U.S.

Below, you can see photos from a year in the life of the Coast Guard — where no day is ordinary:

27. The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships on Jan. 16.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

26. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Bacone from Maritime Safety and Security Team New York conducts a security sweep with his canine, Ruthie, during a Jan. 19 dinner cruise in Washington, D.C.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

25. A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward-deployed in Cold Bay, Alaska, surveys the area around the fishing vessel Predator prior to hoisting three people off near Akutan Harbor on Feb. 13.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

24. U.S. Coast Guard ice-rescue team members training on Lake Champlain at Coast Guard Station Burlington on Feb. 17.

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(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Mattison)

23. Boomer, the mascot of Coast Guard Station Crisfield, Maryland, sitting on the deck of a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium on Feb. 28. Boomer was rescued from a shelter and reported to Station Crisfield as the mascot in Dec. 2013.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala)

22. A small boat crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless prepares to get underway to pick up Mexican navy sailors for a partnership meeting in the Gulf of Mexico on March 11.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin R. Williams)

21. Coast Guard crew members prepare for a live-fire exercise during a Firearms Training and Evaluation-Pistol course at the Dexter Small Arms Firing Range at Coast Guard Base Honolulu on March 28.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle)

20. Coast Guard Cutter Munro passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on its way into the Bay Area on April 6.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Stanton)

19. Sgt. 1st Class Chris Richards of the Connecticut National Guard along with U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin Jewell and Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Hayden of the Coast Guard Cutter Oak prepare a sling that will be used to hoist a 12,000-pound beached buoy, near Chatham, Massachusetts on May 9. The buoy broke free of its mooring off the coast of Maine during a winter storm and eventually washed ashore near Chatham.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

18. The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Oak scrapes mussels off a buoy and shovels them back into the ocean off the Massachusetts coast on May 10.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

17. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton unloads about 18.5 tons of cocaine — worth $498 million — seized in 20 separate incidents in international waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, at Port Everglades, Florida on May 18.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

16. A family poses with Jane Coastie at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City on May 29.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes)

15. Petty Officer 2nd Class Lyman Dickinson, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector San Diego, is lowered into the water from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter during a joint search-and-rescue exercise with the Mexican navy off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico on June 7.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Joel Guzman)

14. Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard members watch a member of the U.S. Coast Guard demonstrate a maneuver during a maritime law-enforcement training session for Exercise Tradewinds 2017 in Bridgetown, Barbados on June 7.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Marine Seaman Michael Turner)

13. Steven Celestine, a member of the Commonwealth of Dominica Coast Guard, practices law-enforcement techniques during Exercise Tradewinds 2017 at the Barbados Coast Guard Base in Bridgetown, Barbados on June 9.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake)

12. Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Rogers, from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team San Diego 91109, shows Naval Sea Cadets the MSST’s armory during a tour of the MSST facilities on June 22.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Justin Eaton)

11. Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory Stepien, a boatswain’s mate at Coast Guard Station Eastport, navigates the northern coast of Maine in 29-foot rescue boat on July 26.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi)

10. Petty Officer 1st Class Kim Nguyen, a health-service specialist aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, gives IV training to a joint Coast Guard-Navy dive team and Healy crew members while underway off the coast of Alaska on July 27.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Meredith Manning)

9. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sailed into some foggy weather in Casco Bay during its arrival in Portland, Maine on Aug. 4. The arrival coincided with Coast Guard’s 227th birthday.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Strohmaier)

8. Overhead view of Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on Aug. 11. The ALC is staffed by about 1,350 Coast Guard members and civilians who maintain aircraft from 25 different Coast Guard air stations.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist David Lau)

7. Coast Guard members offload MH-65 Dolphin helicopters from an Air Force C-17 aircraft at Coast Guard Air Station Miami in Opa Locka, Florida on Sept. 11.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

6. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Elm restores aids to navigation buoys in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Sept. 27.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Elliott)

5. Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson Ernst uses a line-throwing gun to help pass the tow line to 65-foot fishing trawler Black Beauty, off the coast of New Hampshire on Nov. 11.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

4. Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Rodriguez, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, and Sung Jun Lee, from the Korean coast guard, hoist Oscar the dummy during a vertical-surface and self-rappelling exercise at Makapu’u Lighthouse, Oahu on Nov. 16.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle)

3. Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Hale, an aviation survival technician at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, demonstrates a rescue procedure to representatives from the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command during the US/China Disaster Management Exchange held at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon on Nov. 16.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read)

2. Crew members from Coast Guard Station Sand Key, Florida, take part in survival swim training on Dec. 8.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse)

1. Coast Guard Lt. Jodie Knox, Sector Lake Michigan, and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Wood, Pacific Strike Team, monitor the lifting of the Sailing Vessel Citadel near Red Hook, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands on Dec. 15.

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(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Buddy Dye)

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans everywhere agree: You can mourn Kobe Bryant

Only a few hours after the tragic news broke of famed basketball player Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashing, killing all nine passengers (including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna), the social media debates started: Why are we so sad about a celebrity dying but when our service members are killed in the line of duty seemingly no one notices?

An article from 2005 began circulating again, reminding us all of another helicopter tragedy: the horrible Al-Anbar CH-53E crash that killed all 31 troops when it went down outside Ar-Rutbah in Iraq this same weekend, 15 years ago.

Veterans everywhere concur: you can, and should, be sad about both.


We’re all allowed to feel empathy at a wife losing her husband and daughter and three girls losing their dad and sister, not to mention the other families on board. You’re allowed to grieve someone who inspired thousands and thousands of kids and adults alike to pursue their dreams. At the same exact time, as Americans, we all should know the names of our service members dying for us every day.

And: That’s not why anyone signs up to serve.

Veterans took to the internet to express their sympathy as well as their own experiences with Kobe and his support for our military community.

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Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller
Meet Mighty Milspouse Ashley Keller

Rest in Peace, Kobe.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to get VA health care without all the paperwork

It will soon be easier for you to get VA health care in your community without paperwork.

As of January 2020, you won’t have to provide a signed, written authorization for VA to release your electronic VA health information to a participating community care provider.

VA will automatically begin sharing your health information with participating community care providers using the Veterans Health Information Exchange. The electronic system is secure and safe.

This change will make it easier for your health care team to make better decisions about your health care. It can also help you be safer, especially during emergencies.


No action needed

If you are OK with VA sharing your electronic patient information with your community care provider, you don’t have to do a thing. Your information will be shared automatically.

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Form needed to OPT OUT of electronic sharing

However, if you do not want to share your information electronically, you must submit VA Form 10-10164 (Opt Out of Sharing).

There is no September 30 deadline to submit your form 10-10164

You can submit your Form 10-10164 at any time. VA will share your information until you submit your form.

If you submitted Form 10-0484 before September 30, you do NOT need to submit Form 10-10164.

You can return VA Form 10-10164 at any VA Medical Center. Just visit the Release of Information (ROI) office. You can also send it by mail. After VA processes your form, your VA health information will not be shared electronically with community providers you see for treatment.

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(Photo by John Schnobrich)

Change your mind? No problem

You change your mind and share your health record with your participating community provider. Just complete and return VA Form 10-10163 (Opt In for Sharing) at any time.

You also can still ask VA to share your information with participating community care providers by fax or mail service.

If you don’t share your information, it will not affect your VA health care or your relationship with your VA health care provider.

Download and print forms here.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.