Entries in Service Members (9)


Gay Military Members Honored in First-Ever Pentagon Ceremony

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time ever, the Defense Department held a ceremony honoring homosexual and transgender service members in honor of Gay Pride Month at the Pentagon.

President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta each sent a taped video message for the standing-room only event.

“Before the repeal of Don’t ask Don’t Tell you faithfully served  your country with professionalism and courage. And just like your fellow service members, you put your country before yourself,” said Panetta. “And now after repeal you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the law that required gay men and women members of the military to hide their sexual orientation, was repealed more than a year ago. The Defense Department did an extensive study before the appeal was implemented to try and gauge the potential impacts of the law’s repeal on morale.

Tuesday’s program featured a panel discussion with a small group of gay servicemen and women who said that they were surprised most of their colleagues haven’t treated them any differently in the last year.  The biggest change, the panel said, has been how they feel about themselves now that they no longer have to choose between serving their country and being themselves.

“The president hosted a reception at his house, you know the white one,” Marine Captain Matthew Phelps said jokingly before reflecting on what that invitation meant. "And I thought, 'how amazing is it over the course of a year that I could go from being fired for being who I am to having champagne with the commander-in-chief.'”

Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top attorney who was one of the officials in charge of conducting the DADT survey, said that many service members, particularly of the younger generation, didn’t understand the controversy with homosexuality in the military in the first place.

Johnson said one soldier told him, “We have a gay guy, he’s big, he’s mean and he kills lots of bad guys. We don’t care that he’s gay.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Air Force Disposed of War Dead Ashes in Landfill

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DOVER, Del.) -- For several years, the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base cremated the unidentified body parts of fallen service members and disposed of the ashes in a southern Virginia landfill, Air Force officials confirmed to ABC News.

The mortuary carried out the practice from 2003 to 2008, but now has a policy of burying these kinds of remains at sea.  It processes all of America’s war dead returning to the U.S. from overseas war zones.

The disposal of unidentified cremated remains at the landfill was first reported by the Washington Post on its website Wednesday evening.

The cremations “only occurred in instances where the person authorized to direct disposition of remains opted for military disposition of any subsequent portions of remains,” according to Air Force spokesman  Lt. Col. John Dorrian.

Subsequent remains refers to body part fragments of an individual that may have remained unidentified or were recovered after a funeral had already taken place.

Air Force officials acknowledge that the military branch did not discuss the military disposition option in detail with the families of service members who gave their consent.

In those cases prior to June 2008 where families gave their consent for the military disposition of subsequent remains, Dorrian said “the Air Force would transfer the portions to a local funeral home where cremation was effected and the cremated remains were returned to Dover.”

From there, the cremated remains would be turned over to a contractor for “further incineration and disposition in accordance with medical disposition.”

“The common practice was that any residual matter remaining after incineration was disposed of by the contractor in a landfill,” Dorrian said.

An Air Force official identified the landfill as being located in King George County in southern Virginia.

In Dec. 2008, the mortuary began its current policy of burying the ashes at sea after the then-mortuary director recommended it “to effect disposition as a more respectful and dignified process.”  Since then, the ashes have been placed in urns made of sea salt that dissolve in water.

The new information about the disposition of these remains comes on the heels of Tuesday’s acknowledgement by the Air Force of two instances where mortuary officials misplaced a body part and another where a Marine’s arm was sawed off so he could be buried in his uniform.

After a year long investigation, the Air Force disciplined three mortuary supervisors for their involvement in these incidents.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


For-Profit Colleges Target Military Personnel, Market High-Interest Private Loans

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- America’s students are in debt, $1 trillion in debt in fact. But while most college graduates struggle to repay loans with less than 10 percent interest, some military personnel are drowning under significantly more expensive loans.

Holly Petraeus, CIA Director David Petraeus’s wife and an advocate for military families, told a Senate panel Thursday that for-profit colleges are actively targeting military personnel and their families, marketing private loans with inflated interest rates.

“There are some real concerns, there is real aggressive marketing right now to the military and not just to military members, but to their spouses and to their children as well,” Petraeus said.

To pay for the pricey private schools, these colleges often market “expensive private student loans” to service members, said Petraeus, who as the assistant director of the Office of Service-Member Affairs at the newly-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working to protect military families from such predatory loans.

Petraeus said she spoke with an Army wife at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky who had enrolled in an online course through a college she thought was officially associated with the military. She said representatives from the school, which actually had no military affiliation, called her a dozen times per day until she agreed to register.

But help was nowhere to be found once the school received her tuition payment. The woman ended up failing her course because she had trouble logging on, Petraeus said.

While meeting with service members around the country, Petraeus said she also heard horror stories of loan companies charging crippling interest rates. One internet lender, she said, tells service members who visit their site: “We  believe that your membership in the armed forces entitles you to special treatment. We speak your language!”  That language includes a steep interest rate on their loans that far out-paces rates on government-offered loans. And when military personel fall behind in their payments, harassing debt collectors take over.

“They may call a service member’s home and unit 20 or 30 times a day, threaten them with the uniform code of military justice, and tell them they’ll get them busted in rank or have their security clearance revoked if they don’t pay up,” Petraeus said. “We’ve even heard of a debt collector harassing a surviving spouse of a service member killed in action, insisting that she had to use the money from his death gratuity to pay off a debt immediately.”

College costs aside, many military members are in debt before they even enlist. Petraeus said that on a recent trip to Texas, “We were told that the average Air Force recruit arrives at Lackland Air Force Base for basic training over $10,000 in debt.”

“A continuing issue for the military is the general issue of indebtedness,” Petraeus said. "Unfortunately there are still too many young troops learning about wise spending through hard experience and years of paying off expensive debt.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: US Military Is Losing the Battle Against Suicide

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Between 2005 to 2010, a U.S. service member took his or her own life every 36 hours, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

“Although only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States,” the report stated.

Military suicide has risen over the past 10 years, with an estimated 18 veteran suicides a day.  However, the report’s authors say the true number is unknown.

“As more American troops return home from war, this issue will require increasingly urgent attention,” the report summary warned.

The report, entitled “Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide,” is CNAS’ first as part of the White House’s "Joining Forces" initiative.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Panetta to Service Members: ‘You Will Get What Is Promised to You’

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had some strong words on Wednesday for men and women of the military: “We made a promise and I intend to keep it.”

As the Defense Department considers how and where to make budget cuts to meet the over $450 billion it has been asked to make, military officials have been trying to assure service members that their retirement pay and health benefits will not be touched.

“We will stand by the promise made to you,” Panetta told a roomful of active-duty and retired service members Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, Panetta spoke at the nearby Woodrow Wilson Center -- warning members of Congress to work together to avoid “sequestration" -- a mechanism in the Budget Control Act that would cut the Defense Budget by additional hundreds of billions of dollars if members could not agree on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts.

Panetta called sequestration a “goofy meat-axe approach,” that would bring about “salami slicing cuts of the worst kind.”

He warned members of Congress not to drastically reduce the military force.

“It’s a mistake we made time and time again,” he said.  ”It will not happen under my watch.”

Even so, he acknowledged the Army would draw down its numbers, and the “steep rise in personnel costs.”  But he appealed to the military services to work together, and ”weather budget storms as a team.”

And he said that all those who have served and were promised benefits would receive them.

“You will get what is promised to you,” he said.  “It is my duty.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President, First Lady Honor Service Members Killed in Iraq, Afghanistan

Leslie E. Kossoff-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and the first lady Saturday morning visited the section of Arlington National Cemetery where the U.S. service members who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest to pay tribute to them.

The president and Michelle Obama made their way to section 60 of Arlington, where they met with a family visiting a grave and walked a row of grave sites hand in hand.  They also took a few minutes to greet others at the cemetery, shaking hands and taking pictures.

Section 60, located in the southeast part of the cemetery, is the burial ground for military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This was the president’s third visit to the section.

After the visit, the president and first lady traveled to a Washington, D.C.-area service event.  They will participate in a number of 9/11 memorials and tributes on Sunday.

The two wars launched by the United States after 9/11 have claimed the lives of 6,213 military personnel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Why Haven't Names of 30 Fallen US Soldiers Been Released?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The names of the 30 Americans killed in this weekend’s deadly helicopter crash in Afghanistan have still not been publicly released by the Pentagon as is standard practice.

Delays in these kinds of announcements are to be expected as the Defense Department has to abide by a law that requires 24 hours to have passed following next of kin notifications before the names can be released publicly.  This was passed by Congress as a protective measure to give families enough time to grieve without having to worry about media interviews.

Though it is Defense Department policy to release the names of all servicemembers who have died while deployed in the War on Terror, in this case, Defense officials say the names have not been released yet because no decision has been made about whether it would be prudent to release the names.

It appears some officials in the Special Operations community are opposed to the names being made public.  A defense official says some of the arguments they have made to the Defense Department involve ensuring the safety of family members of the special operations forces killed in the crash.

Twenty-five of the 30 servicemembers killed in Saturday’s crash were from the special operations community and most of the Navy SEALS killed were members of the elite SEAL Team 6 that participated in the Osama bin Laden raid last May.

Though SEALs killed in the crash did not participate in the bin Laden raid, there is concern that their families -- or potentially other Team 6 members -- might become potential targets.

The irony is that despite an official release of names by the Defense Department, the majority of the names have already appeared in local news outlets as family and friends react to the loss of a loved one.

And even though releasing the names of the fallen is Defense Department policy, a Defense Secretary can change policy or make an exemption as needed.

Defense officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been presented with arguments about the pros and cons of making the names public.  It will be interesting to see if Panetta decides to follow the current policy or heed the concerns of special operations commanders.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Veterans, Servicemembers Worried About Potential Default

US [dot] Army [dot] mil(WASHINGTON) -- As Congress and President Obama debate over the best solution to solve the debt crisis, servicemembers and veterans are worried about the economic impact they will face personally if the nation defaults.

“Right now, our nation teeters on the edge of default and servicemembers and veterans are left concerned and a bit scared,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said.  “They don't know what's going to happen Aug. 1.  They don't know what's going to happen Sept. 1.  They don't know if disability checks are coming.   They don't know if paychecks are coming.  They don't know if GI checks are coming and they're extremely concerned.  They're scared.”

“They understand generally where the debate is.  They don't understand the specifics of how it will impact them.  No one’s been able to project with any kind of certainty how they should plan for their next 60 days,” Rieckhoff continued.

Rieckhoff, who served as a platoon leader in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, said members from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America met with officials at the White House on Tuesday but did not receive guidance on how veterans and service members would be directly affected, and Rieckhoff called on Congress to look for ways to prevent a default from occurring.

“Incredible frustration, just devastating disappointment, and it's become demoralizing, not even from folks just here stateside, but overseas.  There's a guy at a checkpoint in Afghanistan right now who doesn't know for certain what's going to happen to him and his family in thirty days.  That is ridiculous, and it is outrageous, and our members are beyond upset.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America was founded in 2004 to aid the veterans who return from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Over 2.2 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the wars.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said veterans benefits should be “non-negotiable” in the budget negotiations.

“There is no question that we need to make smart decisions to tighten our belts and reduce our nation's debt and deficit, but no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the rhetoric in Washington, D.C. gets, we must remember that we cannot balance our budget at the expense of the healthcare and benefits our veterans have earned.  Their sacrifices have been too great.  They have done everything that has been asked of them.  They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments.  They have sacrificed life and limb in combat and they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country and the commitment we have to them is non-negotiable,” Murray said.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said Congress should reassess the funding allotted to veterans to ensure it is being used most effectively.

“We must provide the funding needed to support this generation of wounded warriors and continue caring for those who have previously borne the visible and hidden scars of war,” Brown said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


First Lady Dedicates Homes for Ailing Service Members & Veterans

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BETHESDA, Md.) -- At Bethesda Naval Medical Center, first lady Michelle Obama dedicated three new residences which will provide free lodging for veterans, service members and their families while they or a loved one are treated at a nearby hospital.

“Often, in order to heal, our service members need more than just the best medical treatment.  They also need folks who will travel that road to recovery with them,” Mrs. Obama said.  “That is what Fisher House provides for so many military families.  That chance to be together when they need each other most.  Houses like this one allow them to leave behind their worries about costs and logistics and focus on what matters most, helping their loved ones heal.”

The residences were donated to the military by the Fisher House Foundation, which has provided 53 homes at military and VA medical centers across the country.  The residences at Bethesda Naval Medical Center will provide free lodging to up to 60 families of veterans and service members seeking treatment at nearby facilities.  Fisher Homes consist of between eight and 21 suites with private bedrooms and baths, with families sharing a kitchen, dining and living area.

“This house and others like it across the country remind us of a simple truth that when our men and women in uniform are called to serve, their families serve too.  Their sacrifice is their families sacrifice as well,” Mrs. Obama said.  “And that’s particularly true in times of crisis when our service members and veterans are sick or wounded and are struggling to get well again.” 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio