This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94 - We Are The Mighty
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This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

Col. Ralph Puckett is a regular around Fort Benning and the surrounding Columbus area. As the Honorary Colonel for the 75th Ranger Regiment, he serves as a mentor and leader to today’s Rangers. He often speaks at graduations and other functions at Fort Benning and is an Honorary Instructor at The Infantry School. However, Puckett is slated to receive an honor higher than any other in the nation.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Puckett as a captain in 1952 (Puckett Family)

On April 30, around 5PM, Puckett received a call from President Biden informing him that he is to be the latest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Puckett was previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic actions during the Korean War. Thanks to years of campaigning by retired Army officer John Lock and endorsements from influential figures like Senator John McCain, Gen. Joseph Votel, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Puckett’s award has finally been upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Puckett graduated from West Point in 1949 and commissioned as an infantry officer. When he deployed to Japan, he volunteered for the new experimental Ranger unit. However, there were no platoons available at the time. Determined to be a part of the Rangers, Puckett he said he would gladly serve as a squad leader or even a rifleman. The unit’s commander, Lt. Col. John H. McGee, was so impressed by Puckett’s determination that he gave him command of a company. On October 11, 1950, Puckett and his Eighth Army Ranger Company entered the Korean War.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
The Eighth Ranger Company in Korea (U.S. Army)

Building the reputation of the Rangers, Puckett’s company conducted both day and nighttime raids in Korea. The Rangers spearheaded the 25th Infantry Division’s push north and cut off retreating North Korean forces. However, their most trying task came with China’s sudden entry into the war.

On November 25, Puckett led his men across an open field against heavy Chinese fire and captured Hill 205. The strategic terrain feature overlooked the vital Chongchon River. However, the 51 Rangers were left isolated with the nearest friendly unit over a mile away. With enemy forces closing in all around them, Puckett coordinated artillery strikes to maintain their defensive perimeter. As the enemy grew closer, so too did Puckett’s artillery calls.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Puckett scrolls a Ranger at a RASP graduation in 2010 (U.S. Army)

At 10PM, a Chinese mortar attack opened up for a full-scale infantry charge. Six waves of troops attacked the Rangers for four and a half hours. Puckett moved between foxholes, drawing fire and organizing his company’s defense of the hill. As the fighting deteriorated to hand-to-hand combat, he was forced to call for danger close artillery fire. Wounded by a grenade and two mortar strikes, Puckett’s situation was grim. “I had been wounded three times by then, and I was lying there in my foxhole unable to do anything,” he recalled. “I could see three Chinese about 15 yards away from me, and they were bayoneting or shooting some of my wounded Rangers who were in the foxholes.”

With his position overrun, Puckett ordered his men to retreat and abandon him. However, Pfcs. David L. Pollock and Billy G. Walls ignored Puckett’s order and evacuated him down the hill to safety. Puckett was hospitalized for a year as he recovered from his wounds that night. “Then First Lieutenant Puckett’s actions on Hill 205 in 1950 exemplified personal bravery beyond the call of duty, risking his own life as he drew enemy fire so his men could locate, engage, and destroy an enemy machinegun nest and kill a sniper,” Gen. Votel wrote of Puckett’s actions in a letter to the Army supporting Puckett’s nomination.

Puckett’s command photo as a colonel (U.S. Army)

While recovering in the states, Puckett met his future wife, Jean, in the hospital. Together, they have two daughters, one son, and six grandchildren. Puckett went on to command the Mountain Ranger Division and the 10th Special Forces Group’s B and C teams in Germany. He also served as the commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. It was during that command that he led another all-night defense and earned a second Distinguished Service Cross. During his career, he also earned two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars with V device for valor, and five Purple Hearts. Puckett retired in 1971 after 22 years of service.

The official upgrade of Puckett’s Distinguished Service Cross to the Medal of Honor is a long-overdue justice for those that have campaigned on his behalf. Still, Puckett remains humble “He is not the one who has been pushing it. It has been John [Lock] and our immediate family.” Puckett’s wife, Jean, said. “He felt the Distinguished Service Cross was honor enough.” The Pucketts hope to be able to visit the White House for the Medal of Honor ceremony.

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These old school vets work to help the next generation with PTSD

Monty Hutson knows a little something about post-traumatic stress. Hutson served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, and while he was in, he studied language patterns and hypnosis in order to better communicate with others. By the time he got out, he was starting to develop his own method of helping veterans deal with the psychological demands of military service. Now, with his non-profit, For Veterans Sake, he is able to take his efforts even further for a new generation of veterans.


The newest division of For Veterans Sake is its service dog division. It’s well-known to many by now that man’s best friend is one of the veteran’s most powerful guides on the road to post-traumatic stress recovery. Monty Hutson not only recognized this too, he added it to his non-profit.

For Veterans Sake pairs a veteran up with a dog, then specially trains the animal to respond to the unique needs of the veteran. The vet will train the service dog, who will be able to recognize the scent of a veteran who is being triggered and often responds to the veteran’s need before the vet even knows what’s happening. Best of all, For Veterans Sake uses many, many dogs from shelters and kennels, giving the animal a purpose and a much-needed and much-appreciated pal for life.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

Hutson and his service dog.

Monty Hutson is uniquely poised to help our nation’s newest generation of veterans with not just PTS, but what he calls “the Military Condition” – a unique and demanding lifestyle that starts with your recruiter and continues through our time in service. For this and PTS, he developed a unique treatment called Neuro-Traumatic Resourcing (Non-Therapeutic). For Veterans Sake is founded on dealing with both PTS and the Military Condition and helping veterans improve their quality of life.

The help (of dogs) Hutson and For Veterans Sake offer American veterans is free of charge. But his organization, like every non-profit, runs on donations. Check out what Monty Hutson is doing for his fellow vets and maybe drop by his donation page and send him what you can spare. Remember, you’re also rescuing dogs – how can you go wrong?

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Shipping costs to troops spiked in 2018 and need to switch back

Care packages are how troops stay connected with the ones they love back home. Most troops will have their family send them little trinkets or mama-made cookies to make things better while troops without families have their day brightened by a sweet, heartfelt thank-you card sent by a grade schooler.

These packages are the one constant that every troop, regardless of where or when they served, can depend on. But on January 21st, 2018, the shipping costs for postage to and from all APO/FPO/DPO addresses increased substantially. Thankfully, this increase can be reverted and the rate for shipping can be permanently fixed, benefiting the troops.


This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

Nothing can bring joy to troops like a care package from home.

(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza)

The increases in shipping costs to APO/FPO/DPO addresses were part of an overall increase in the price for all mailing services, across the board. Rates for APO/FPO/DPO mailing addresses were hit hardest — almost doubled. In the defense of the United States Postal Service, the APO/FPO flat-rate box was only increased by five cents and they’ve always supported the troops, but a recently proposed bill can take that support further.

If there were a separate, fixed rate for all postage going to and from troops at APO/FPO addresses, it would be classified as Zone 1/2 postage from any CONUS location. Meaning, that if you were to ship a big ol’ care package not in a APO/FPO flat-rate box, it would cost the same as sending a letter to a soldier stationed in Germany.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

But mainly, you don’t want to screw over the nice people who just want to help support the troops.

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot)

In addition to offering a single, fixed rate for those who want to send a care package abroad that might not fit within a fixed-rate box, this could also open up companies to more readily offer online shopping opportunities to deployed troops.

This also means that troops would be more able to ship things from deployed environments back to the States. So, a deployed parent could pick up souvenirs at a local bazaar for their kid while crafty troops could ship certain personal belongings home before they return stateside so don’t need to wait for the connex to return months later.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

The bill would apply to all troops everywhere, even if they’re sailing in the middle of nowhere.

(U.S. Navy photo by Lorenzo J. Burleson)

The bill that includes this fixed cost, H.R.6231 – Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018, has been introduced to Congress by Rep. Thomas MacArthur. It would permanently establish a single rate for mail and packages being sent to and from at APO/FPO/DPO addresses.

Congressman MacArthur has championed veteran issues since his assignment to the Armed Services Committee and its two subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces and the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. He also introduced the Veterans’ Mental Health Care Access Act, which would have allowed veterans to access any mental health care facility and eligible for reimbursement — but it failed to garner approval.

To help make sure that this bill makes it through Congress, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Let them know that this bill will greatly benefit the morale of our fighting men and women. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, so if you feel passionately about it, don’t wait; act.

If you’re unsure of who your representative is, you can use this tool right here and let them know you support H.R.6231 — the Care Packages for Our Heroes Act of 2018.

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These athletes are gearing up for the Warrior Games

Sergeant Ryan Major’s life changed forever in a flash and a bang in November 2006.


While deployed in Iraq, the infantry soldier from Baltimore stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost both of his legs and several fingers on both hands.

Major, now retired, was one of about 70 wounded soldiers and veterans from across the Army who gathered at Fort Bliss the first week of April to compete in the Army Trials.

The event, which was held at Fort Bliss for the third straight year, is used to determine the Army’s team at the upcoming Warrior Games, an Olympic-style event for wounded, injured and ill service members of all branches. This year, the Warrior Games will be held in Chicago June 30 to July 8.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Army Trials for 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games. (Dept. of Defense News photo by EJ Hersom)

Participating in adaptive sports helped to get Major out of a serious depression he had fallen into after being severely wounded, he said. Adaptive sports are designed or modified for disabled athletes to compete against others with similar disabilities or injuries.

“Before I got injured I loved competition, sports, and getting into shape,” said Major, who represented the Baltimore Veterans Affairs at the Army Trials.

Participating in adaptive sports “changed my life,” he said.

“It made me more sociable with other veterans who have similar injuries and stories,” Major said.

Sports also helped him to have a more positive attitude about his injuries, he added.

During the Army Trials, Army athletes in wheelchairs, with prosthetic limbs, and some with injuries that weren’t apparent at first glance competed in a variety of events.

They came from more than a dozen installations and participated in track and field, cycling, archery, shooting, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball.

Most had compelling stories, like Major, about how participating in sports got them out of a dark place and thrust them into a new chapter in their lives.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games Bicycling. (Dept. of Defense photo by EJ Hersom)

Lt. Col. Luis Fregoso was one of the organizers of the Army Trials with the Warrior Care and Transition Program in Arlington, Va. This Army organization oversees the most critical cases of wounded, injured, and ill soldiers and helps them transition back to active duty or to civilian life.

Sports can play a huge role in the healing process, said Fregoso, who is from Los Angeles.

“A lot of soldiers, when they have this life-changing event happen to them, they will get into a dark place,” Fregoso said. “The common theme is they just don’t feel their normal self and start spiraling into a bad area, especially in their mind.”

Sports help them to adapt to their “new normal” and can give them the confidence to tackle other areas in their lives, Fregoso added.

Retired Master Sgt. Shawn “Bubba” Vosburg still has the look of a soldier out on a mission. But he suffers from post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, and a slew of other injuries up and down his body.

Competing in sports helps to “tie you back to the military,” said Vosburg, who is originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., but now calls El Paso home. He represented Fort Bliss during the recent competition.

“You do so much time in the military, and you lose that when you retire,” Vosburg said. “But (adaptive sports) introduces you to new people whom you consider friends and family, and that family is growing.”

Vosburg credits sports for saving his life and he wants to return the favor to his fellow veterans.

He is working on a master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas at El Paso and wants to help “bring more soldiers out of the dark, like I came out of,” he said.

Also read: Here’s what happens when a wounded warrior uses his arm for the first time in 10 years

Retired Staff Sgt. Isaac Rios was shot multiple times and was hit by a mortar round during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For many veterans, leaving the service and going back to civilian life is a culture shock and even downright scary, Rios said.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
A member of Special Operations Command throws the shot put during field competition for the 2015 Warrior Games. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

Sports, however, helped to give him a new way of looking at life, said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native who represented Fort Bragg, N.C.

“You can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Rios said.

Sgt. 1st Class Julio Cesar Rodriguez, of Worcester, Mass, battles depression and an arthritic hip.

Participating in sports, like archery, gives you something to do and something else to focus on besides the darkness clouding your mind, said Rodriguez, who represented Fort Gordon, Ga.

“It taught me to remove those negative, dark items out of my mind and focus on the present and my way forward in the future,” he said.
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Stolen valor: Marine steals another combat vet’s Purple Heart story

A former Southern California Marine has been handed a 21-month federal sentence for faking a Purple Heart and lifting from another Marine’s combat story to get disability benefits and a free house.


In a rare prosecution under the 2013 Stolen Valor Act, a 35-year-old Iraq war veteran will also have to pay back more than $300,000 to the U.S. government and a Texas charity.

Brandon Blackstone served with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert in 2004. He deployed to Iraq in August, during a period of fierce fighting on the Syrian border.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

So did Casey Owens, another 1/7 Marine.

But that’s where the similarities in the two Marines’ stories end — and where Blackstone’s fabrications began.

Prosecutors and fellow Marines say Blackstone fashioned a tale of blast injuries and combat stress based on a horrific explosion that nearly killed Owens and cost him both of his legs.

Owens was in a Humvee that triggered a double anti-mine bomb while responding to a downed U.S. serviceman in September 2004.

Blackstone was in the area and likely witnessed the event. But he wasn’t injured in that attack — or in any other combat incident — according to people who were there, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Texas, and Blackstone’s own lawyer.

In fact, he was evacuated from Iraq after a month with appendicitis.

Also read: This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

But starting at least in 2006, Blackstone began spinning a story of suffering traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after his Humvee hit a mine in Iraq.

He even fabricated two witness statements to support his claim for U.S. Veterans Affairs Department disability benefits that he received from 2006 to 2015, prosecutors said.

Worse, in the eyes of his fellow Marines, he began showing the photograph of Owens’ mangled Humvee as part of his story about how he was wounded.

“This scumbag lied to try to get s–t. You don’t do that. It’s not honorable. It’s not how we are. It’s personal for me, especially, as a friend of Casey’s,” said Andrew Rothman, a 1/7 Navy corpsman who was a key player in exposing Blackstone’s fraud.

“This kid essentially stole from all of us. And the honor part is bigger to us than the money and the house.”

Blackstone was awarded a 100 percent disability rating and, by claiming to have a Purple Heart, his application for a mortgage-free house was granted by Texas-based Military Warriors Support Foundation.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces. (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, Owens tried to make the best of his life with a double leg amputation and brain injuries, among other medical complications. He moved to Aspen and competed as a Paralympics skier.

But Owens was still in pain. He did national TV interviews describing how he struggled to get the care he needed for his mental and physical wounds. His right leg required additional surgeries that took more of it away.

In October 2014, Owens used a gun to kill himself.

But things for Blackstone were going well. He became a mentor at a Missouri-based veterans charity, Focus Marines Foundation. He even started his own nonprofit group, called The Fight Continues, with two other post-Sept. 11 veterans.

But those brushes with others in the veterans community led to his downfall. His story, including video testimonials he was giving about his combat injuries, didn’t sit right with other 1/7 Marines who dedicated a Facebook thread to discussing it.

Related: Not all PTSD diagnoses are created equal

Eventually, Rothman tipped off the Warriors Support charity that was poised to grant Blackstone the deed to the donated house.

Blackstone pleaded guilty in September to one count of wire fraud and one count of fraudulent representation about the receipt of a military decoration for financial gain.

At his sentencing last month, a federal judge in Texas called Blackstone “shameful,” but gave him credit for accepting blame for his actions. Sentencing guidelines limited his incarceration to 27 months or less, according to news reports. His was given credit for time served since February, so he will serve 18 more months.

Blackstone’s defense lawyer, Justin Sparks, said his client was diagnosed with PTSD and suffered a head injury in Iraq — but not in combat.

The head wound happened when a superior roughed him up in the barracks and he hit his head on a dresser. There were other injuries while in uniform that weren’t related to combat but required surgery, Sparks said. While in the hospital, a higher-ranking Marine informally gave Blackstone a Purple Heart medal to acknowledge his pain — but it wasn’t an official award.

There’s no explaining why Blackstone lied about the Purple Heart or applied for the free home, knowing he wasn’t qualified, the former Marine’s lawyer told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“There’s not really a good answer for that. He was in a very, very tough time in his life and reached a pitfall there,” Sparks said this week.

Sparks said his client seemed to lose his grasp on reality as the story spun on.

There’s a symptom of PTSD where you are living your life in the third person. You’re always convincing yourself about what is reality,” he said. “It’s almost a coping mechanism.”

Sparks said his client is still rated at 70 percent disabled by the VA.

The lawyer disagreed that Blackstone was appropriating Casey Owens’ story.

“Brandon never claimed his lost his legs,” Sparks said. “The only common elements in the two stories are PTSD, the Purple Heart, and head injuries. There must be at least 1,000-plus soldiers who have those three things.”

Blackstone’s fellow troops don’t buy the PTSD explanation for his behavior. Several of them also were disappointed by his sentence.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
A Marine salutes the memorial stand for his fallen brother. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

“He was in the grip of his own lies,” said Eric Calley, a former Marine who used his own money to start The Fight Continues with Blackstone.

“That judge should be ashamed. I think (Blackstone) deserves a life sentence for what he did to our veterans.”

Lezleigh Owens Kleibrink, Owens’ sister, said her family was hoping for closure from a tougher sentence but didn’t get it.

Kleibrink said she has no doubts that Blackstone was trying to at least bask in the association with her brother’s reputation.

“He was a thief and Casey’s story was a means to get what he wanted,” she told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week.

Further reading: Here are the criteria that entitle a service member to the Purple Heart

“What Brandon doesn’t understand is that it’s ripped open our wounds once again,” Kleibrink said. “Anyone who makes my mother cry like this … He may have joined the Corps, but he was no Marine.”

The Military Warriors Support Foundation said it was the charity’s first brush with stolen valor in awarding more than 750 homes to combat-wounded veterans.

“This was an unusual case, in that even official VA documentation was inaccurate,” said spokesman Casey Kinser. “That said, we are constantly reviewing our processes to vet our applicants more accurately and efficiently.”

The Fort Worth-area house that Blackstone nearly owned has been awarded to another Marine family.

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A Ranger describes what being a ‘towed jumper’ is actually like

Airborne soldiers have some particular fears that most other troops don’t have to worry about. Total malfunctions of the parachute like a “cigarette roll” can cause them to hurtle into the earth at terminal velocity while mid-air entanglements can leave them with broken bones or worse.


One of their most unique fears is that of becoming a “towed jumper,” something that happens when their chute fails to separate from their static line and they are literally towed behind the plane like the pet dog from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Brian Hanson, a U.S. Army Ranger, bounces against the skin of a C-17 over the skies of Fort Benning, Georgia. (Go90 No Sh*t There I Was screenshot)

(Younger readers should not Google that reference. Instead, just imagine the worst possible version of parasailing.)

For Army Ranger Spc. Brian Hanson, the nightmare became a reality during a training jump under the stars of Fort Benning, Georgia. He and the rest of his company were under strict orders to conduct the perfect nighttime jump, to include not losing any gear.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Brian Hanson, a U.S. Army Ranger, tries to keep his gear together while flapping in the wind like a dog’s jowls. (Go90 No Sh*t There I Was screenshot)

But Hanson’s chute failed to separate and he became a towed jumper.

This left Hanson flying through the night sky as he fervently tried to keep all of his gear as close as possible despite the wind rushing over him while he dangled 1,200 feet above the surface of Benning. Watch the video above to learn how he made peace with these developments as well as the moment when he realized he was truly screwed.

Watch more No Sh*t There I Was:

Why it sucks to report to the ‘Good Idea Fairy’

This is why the military shouldn’t completely outlaw hazing

That time Linda Hamilton asked a Marine to the ball

This is a perfect example of how ridiculous boot camp is

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This is what John McCain thinks of the VA’s Veterans CARE Act proposal

US Senator John McCain today applauded the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ proposed Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act, which would bolster the Veterans Choice Program and consolidate the VA’s community care network.


The proposal also includes several measures Senator McCain has strongly advocated to expand quality and timely care for veterans in their communities, such as eliminating the current 30-day/40-mile limit to permit all eligible veterans to use the VA Choice Card.

Also read: The VA is running out of money for Veterans Choice health care program — again

It would also offer patients access to a network of walk-in clinics for minor health issues. This is modeled on a path-breaking partnership in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows Phoenix’s nearly 120,000 veterans to visit dozens of local CVS MinuteClinic locations for care.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Marines, veterans, and care providers watch as the American flag is walked to the flagpole at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. Photo by Sgt. Justin Boling

Senator McCain released the following statement supporting the VA’s new proposal:

“The VA’s proposed Veterans CARE Act would improve access to health care by developing a consolidated community care network that places veterans first. I am especially pleased to see the VA’s proposal incorporates some of the major reforms I have long advocated, such as eliminating the 30-day/40-mile restriction in the Veterans Choice Program, and expanding the successful pilot program in Phoenix, Arizona, that allows veterans to visit local walk-in clinics nationwide.

Veteran Issues: Military veterans are twice as likely to get ALS, and no one knows why

“Over the last few years, demand for community care through the Veterans Choice Program has grown considerably. Millions of veteran appointments have been made with quality community health care providers around the country. Today, veterans no longer have to wait in long lines or drive hundreds of miles to receive care. Unfortunately, the Veterans Choice Program has also been a victim of its own success, and has outpaced the VA’s ability to accurately predict growing demand for the program. Until the VA can accurately assess demand for care in the community, Congress’ efforts to create an integrated and efficient VA health care system will continue to face difficulty.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
Senator John McCain. DoD photo by Chief Petty Officer James Foehl

“Those efforts must reflect the lessons learned through the Veterans Choice Program. We must set standards for care that are easy to use and understand. We must require the VA to accurately assess demand for care in the community. And we must produce a standardized and transparent system that integrates community and VA services.

“I look forward to working with Secretary Shulkin, my colleagues on the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees, and veterans service organizations to build on the proposed Veterans CARE Act and deliver our veterans the timely, quality, and flexible health care they deserve.”

Articles

Trump’s federal hiring freeze could impact veterans who’ve already been offered a job

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94
President Donald J. Trump arrives at the Inaugural Parade during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20, 2017.


In a moved that shook the federal workforce, President Trump ordered a freeze in the hiring process of all executive branch departments, effective at noon on January 22, 2017.

A report from the Office of Personnel Management estimates that veterans made up about 44 percent of new hires in the executive branch during fiscal year 2015. The total number of veterans employed was 623,755, or roughly 31 percent of the entire executive branch.

So what does this mean for veterans now in the process of seeking employment with the government? Unfortunately, even federal employees currently working in the executive branch aren’t sure.

We Are the Mighty consulted with a Division Director at one of the federal departments, who asked to remain anonymous due to the department being ordered to cease all public communications.

“We just don’t have many answers,” the source told WATM. “This is a very different political environment and we don’t know what to expect.”

We Are the Mighty obtained the “Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies,” signed by acting director of Office of Management and Budget Mark Sandy.

Sent to the heads of the departments, the memorandum read, in part, “An individual who has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date on or before February 22, 2017, should report to work on that start date.”

Individuals who were offered a position before Jan. 22 but do not have a start date (or a date after February 22) may find that employment offer rescinded. According to the Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, those positions offered will be under review.

Agencies will be tasked with considering “merit system principles, essential mission priorities, and current agency resources and funding levels” when it comes to determining whether job offers should be rescinded.

At this time, the hiring freeze applies to every executive department except for the Department of Defense, and even then, it only allows for recruiting into active duty.

The leadership in any given executive department may grant an exemption to the freeze if he or she believes it to be in the best interest of national security or public safety, according to the press release from the White House.

This public safety exemption rule could be what helps the Department of Veterans Affairs continue to attempt to fill what it might deem necessary positions among the 3,473 jobs listed on its website — though it is unclear exactly how many of those positions could be considered in the interest of national security or public safety.

That same argument can be made for a large number of positions available at the Department of Defense. As DoD employees are directly related to national security, the department seems to have wide latitude over how it will respond to the hiring freeze.

The President has given the Office of Management and Budget 90 days to present a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.” Upon implementation of that plan, the executive order will expire.

This hiring freeze is part of one of the many campaign promises President Trump made last year to drastically shrink the federal government.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

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8 songs that are essential to any successful military convoy

Typically, the role of “Doc” in the convoy is as a passenger. While remaining alert and attentive, I also felt that I needed to keep my unit motivated and focused while they did their various jobs.


I took the task very seriously by acting as the Convoy DJ, playing the greatest hits for combat effectiveness!

Whether you cue up your own playlist for leaving the wire or DJ for the entire crew, stepping off is always better with an anthem.

Here are 8 tracks to help “kick the tires and light the fires.”

1. AC/DC — Highway to Hell

No convoy playlist is complete without a track from these rock Gods ripping through the airwaves. AC/DC has plenty of great hits to choose from, however, this song really says exactly how I felt about the roads we traveled in Iraq.

(acdcVEVO | YouTube)

2. Rage Against The Machine — Testify

The swirling guitar driving into the heavy drums plus de la Rocha’s rapid fire lyrics will surely stoke the fire inside any warrior heading outside the wire.

(RATMVEVO | YouTube)

3. Outkast — B.O.B

Perhaps it’s a little on the nose, but if you deployed to Iraq this song needs no explanation. All other lyrics aside, you can’t pass on a track with the refrain, “Bombs over Baghdad!” to really pump up that mission essential adrenaline.

(OutKastVideoVault | YouTube)

4. Jimi Hendrix — All Along the Watchtower

It’s been said that the Vietnam-Era warriors got the all the best music.

I could probably argue that point, but it goes without saying that this is simply one of the greatest war anthems ever.

When you’re down range and you hear that guitar shred into Jimi’s first verse (“There must be some kind of way outta here…”) something just feels right in the world.

(JimiHendrixVEVO | YouTube)

Also Read: This circus song was supposed to be a badass military marching theme

5. The White Stripes — Seven Nation Army

This song is your quintessential war drum, an accompaniment for heading right out the gate and into battle.

6. Cage the Elephant — Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

The bluesy slide of the guitar and Matt Shultz’s rhythmic verses reminds us that “we can’t slow down and we can’t hold back,” especially outside the wire.

7. System of a Down — Chop Suey!

Playing this heart pounding high paced rock anthem really kicks the team into high gear. Some songs are all about instrumentation; Chop Suey! is definitely one of those kinds of jams.

(systemofadownVEVO | YouTube)

8. Godsmack — Awake

You’ve got F/18s launching from an aircraft carrier, Navy SEALs on fast boats, guys jumping out of a helicopter into the surf — now add a wailing guitar riff and a pulsating drum beat and you have the ingredients for a Navy commercial that almost had me signing up for another 10 years.

You’ve also got an epic anthem to keep the troops pumped on those exceptionally long convoys.

(GodsmackVEVO | YouTube)Even if you’re no longer jocking up and taking the wheel of some Mad Max-esque war machine to go spread freedom and democracy around the world, you can still rock out to these amazing songs.

Every convoy needs some musical motivation. Whether you’re taking the kiddos to school, enjoying a leisurely Sunday drive or simply heading into the office for another day of crushing it, cue up this playlist and have an epic journey.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

A combat vet is kitting up to protect florida school

A heavily armed man is patrolling the hallways of a Florida school. His only job? Prevent a mass shooting.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that Harold Verdecia, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan has been hired as the first guardian at the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida. Verdercia wears body armor and carries a Glock 19X handgun, but it’s his Kel-Tec “Bullpup” rifle, loaded with exploding rounds, that’s raising eyebrows.


After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting a year ago February 2019, the Florida legislature passed a law requiring all schools to have armed guardians on campus. School districts and charter schools can choose how to arm those guardians, with most choosing 9-millimeter handguns.

MSA Principal Bill Jones outlined to the Herald-Tribune a specific scenario — shooter armed with a rifle, clad in body armor, looking to cause maximum damage — in justifying the unusual move of arming his school’s guardian with a rifle.

Verdercia completed 144 hours of training facilitated by the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office. He also went through extra training to carry the rifle on school grounds.

Palmetto’s Manatee School of the Arts Ramping up more Safety and Security

www.youtube.com

Security experts, however, seem skeptical of Jones’s insistence that a semi-automatic rifle is appropriate for the job. Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief and police management consultant, told the Herald-Tribune that the school would be safer with its rifles locked away and its guardian building relationships with students, not singularly focused on a mass casualty event.

Michael Dorn, president of a company that has performed security assessments of dozens of school systems in Florida, told the New York Times that a long gun is a more dangerous weapon for someone to take from an officer and that it’s harder for an officer to subdue and handcuff a suspect when he’s carrying such a gun.

Jones doesn’t seem to mind the criticism. He’s currently reviewing applications and hopes to hire a second rifle-toting guardian soon.

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

Veterans

Honoring the fallen: Band shoots video in national cemetery

Air Force will unveil Culpeper National Cemetery shoot Memorial Day


Following the success of a Memorial Day video in 2020, the Air Force Band was back at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia April 26 to shoot a video for Memorial Day 2021.

The band returned to the site to pay respect and film a tribute to those who lost their lives in war.

“First off, it’s just utterly beautiful out here,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Brest, the producer and editor. “It’s a great place to pay respects and see the cemetery.”

Playing the hymn “Going Home,” the band brought in a bagpiper and elements from the Ceremonial Brass for the video shoot. Using a jib, the band shot multiple passes among the grave markers of buried service members. The band releases the video prior to Memorial Day.

The finished, two-minute video includes a video message from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., said Brest, trumpet section leader for Ceremonial Brass. He hopes the band’s video will help people to remember the fallen.

“I think it helps bring a really strong message of support,” Brest said. “Right now, especially with as trying as the times are in the world, it’s nice to see something that is kind of getting back to a feeling of where we were before and really bring people back together.”

Brest said Air Force Band members always feel the solemness of playing in a cemetery. They frequently play in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The weight is always there,” he said. “It really feels like when you come to work here that you can’t help but really just give it everything that you have and want to really express what all this means.”

The band’s visit is a fitting tribute for Memorial Day and teaches people about the National Cemetery Administration, or NCA, mission, said Jason Hogan, Culpeper National Cemetery director.

“It almost acts like an outreach event for the NCA to bring awareness of not only Culpeper National Cemetery, but the other 154 national cemeteries throughout the country,” Hogan said.

Watch last year’s video

Last year’s video, also shot in Culpeper, featured Tech. Sgt. Jason Covey playing Taps.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Veterans

VA medical, pharmacy copayments cancelled through Sept. 30, 2021

Due to American Rescue Plan, copayments paid April 6, 2020, to present will be refunded


In March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and President Joe Biden signed it into law. As a result, all copayments for medical care and pharmacy services provided during the period of April 6, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, are canceled, along with any fees or interest.

VA wants you to know that supporting your financial well-being is one of our top priorities.

Key facts on how the ARP will impact Veterans:

  • Cancel copayments for medical care and pharmacy services incurred on and after April 6, 2020.
  • No assessment of copayments for medical care and pharmacy through Sept. 30, 2021.
  • VA is working quickly to process those cancellations and refund Veterans who have been making payments on their accounts for medical services received during this period.
  • Continue to send statements for information only through Sept. 30, 2021. These statements keep Veterans informed of their balance, which will be due when collections resume in October 2021.
  • The mailing of patient statements and collection of copayments for health care and prescriptions will resume on Oct. 1, 2021.

Your VA health care continues

There will be no change in the quality and availability of VA health care during this time. You can schedule appointments and communicate with your providers in the same manner you have been.

If you are concerned about copayments you owe for health care and pharmacy provided prior to April 6, 2020, you an apply for a debt relief program.

For more information on financial relief, Veterans can visit https://www.va.gov/COMMUNITYCARE/revenue_ops/Financial_Hardship.asp or call the Health Resource Center at 866-400-1238, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

VA will work with all Veterans who apply for debt relief to determine the best possible solution.

For information on charges owed for care and prescriptions prior to April 6, 2020, debt relief options and/or account number information, Veterans can call the VHA Health Resource Center at 1-866-400-1238.

Resources for Veterans

Non-health debts and overpayments

This blog post excludes separate and exclusive information on non-health benefits debts and overpayments, which are handled by the Debt Management Center (DMC). This blog post duplicates that post, but excludes DMC content, focusing only on fees, copayments and debts on medical care and pharmacy services.


VHA Office of Community Care – Revenue Operations contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

After 16 years, family of fallen soldier presented with his Distinguished Service Cross

Hundreds of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, Army veterans, Pittsburgh-area officials, and Army leaders recognized U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his heroism April 5, 2019 — 16 years to the day after he was killed in action while serving in Iraq.

Booker’s mother and sister were presented with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, during a ceremony at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — near the University of Pittsburgh — as family, fellow soldiers, city officials and veterans watched.

“I am so honored … I am so proud of all my son accomplished,” said Freddie Jackson, Booker’s mother. “I didn’t realize how much my son did and how he inspired other people. Steve died for his country, not just for the Booker Family,” she said.


Booker died on April 5, 2003, while serving as a tank commander with Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor of the 3rd Infantry Division. The 34-year-old Apollo, Penn., native was killed in action near Baghdad while serving in Iraq during the “Thunder Run” mission as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Booker attended Apollo-Ridge High School, near Pittsburgh, and enlisted in the Army in June 1987, at age 19, shortly after his high school graduation. He was promoted to Army staff sergeant in February 2001 and deployed in March 2003 to Iraq.

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, left, deputy commanding general of Forces Command, speaks in Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, during the presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross to Freddie Jackson, right, the mother of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker for his 2003 heroism while serving in Iraq.

(Photo by Mr. Paul Boyce)

“We’re here to honor his service, his sacrifice and his heroism … as well as his Family” said U.S. Army Forces Command Deputy Commanding General Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson. “He gave his life for something bigger than himself; he gave his life for others. He’s a Pittsburgh hero, an Army hero and an American hero.”

Richardson attended Friday’s ceremony along with 3rd Infantry Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Leopoldo Quintas, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, the 3rd Infantry Division Band and two retired Army generals. Army and Air Force cadets from the University of Pittsburgh’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program participated and attended as well.

Veterans of Booker’s unit also travelled from across the United States to attend the medal-presentation ceremony, organized by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. The Army ceremony honored Booker for his heroic actions, personal dedication, and commitment to his fellow soldiers.

Booker’s platoon led a task force on April 5, 2003, along Highway 8 towards Bagdad International Airport. About 1.2 miles after the line of departure, the platoon came under heavy small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from enemy forces. Booker immediately communicated the situation to his chain of command, encouraged his crew, and returned fire with his tank-mounted machinegun.

“When both his and his crew’s machineguns malfunctioned, Booker, with total disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself by lying in a prone position on top of the tank’s turret and accurately engaged the enemy forces with his personal weapon,” according to the award’s summary. “While exposed, he effectively protected his platoon’s flank and delivered accurate information to his command during a critical and vulnerable point of the battle.”

This legendary Ranger will receive the Medal of Honor at 94

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker.

(Facebook)

Booker’s “fearless attitude and excitement over the communications network inspired his platoon to continue the attack and assured them and leadership that they would defeat the enemy and reach their objective safely,” the award’s narrative explains. “As he remained exposed, Booker identified an enemy troop carrier which was attempting to bypass his tank, but within seconds engaged the enemy vehicle and destroyed it prior to the enemy troops dismounting. Along the five-mile route he remained exposed and continued to engage the enemy with accurate rifle fire until he was mortally wounded.”

Army Col. Andrew Hilmes, Booker’s former company commander in Iraq, said the heroic staff sergeant prepared his crew well for that day’s battle. “His ability to train his soldiers saved a lot of lives. Not just his actions on April 5, but the training he put his soldiers through prior to the 5th of April paid off for the unit.”

Booker’s sister echoed their mother’s comments during a media conference attended by Pittsburgh-area news media prior to the awards ceremonies, which included a plaque dedication in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial’s Hall of Valor. “He’d be very proud. He’d probably be pumping his chest right about now,” said Booker’s sister Kim Talley-Armstead. “It’s a bittersweet moment, but we are extremely proud.”

After giving careful consideration and reviewing the recommendations from the Senior Army Decorations Board, Army officials said, the Secretary of the Army made the determination that Staff Sgt. Booker be awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross. In recognition of their gallantry, intrepidity and heroism above and beyond the call of duty, 12 soldiers recently received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for their valor.

Previously recognized for their bravery by awards of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a 2016-2018 comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four soldiers are still on active duty; three are posthumous awards; three recipients have since retired and two recipients previously separated from the Army.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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