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Entries in US Armed Forces (4)

Friday
Dec232011

Anonymous Soldier Pawns Off Purple Heart for Cash

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LANSING, Mich.) -- A pawn shop is an unusual place to find a Purple Heart.

The badge symbolizes courage and patriotism and is awarded to U.S. soldiers killed or wounded in battle.

But in a small Michigan town, hard economic times forced one anonymous soldier to part with what may have been the biggest symbol of his military achievement.

A-Z Outlet owner Bryan VandenBosch says a Purple Heart was sold to him in November by a West Michigan man serving in Afghanistan. The service member, who pawned off the precious medal, declined an interview request with the Holland Sentinel, which first reported the story.

"He was falling on hard times," VandenBosch told the Sentinel, adding that the soldier didn't want his name to be revealed. "He said the same thing everybody else who comes in here says. He was short on funds."

Unlike some other medals, a Purple Heart is not engraved, which can make it difficult to track down the recipient.

Veterans have been particularly hard hit by the economy, with the unemployment rate for this group hovering at 7.4 percent in November. The problem is particularly profound in Michigan, where the veteran unemployment rate is nearly 30 percent, higher than both the national average and the state's unemployment rate.

The reports have sparked a flood of sympathy from across the country. Both individuals and military organizations have reached out to VandenBosch offering to buy the medal back for the anonymous soldier.

But the pawnshop owner, who has been flooded with calls from around the country, said he never intended to sell the Purple Heart and is keeping it for the soldier, should he want it back.

It's not unusual for Purple Heart medals to appear in flea markets and for sale online. But many of those belong to deceased service members, and what makes this case unusual is that the medal was sold by the recipient himself.

Under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, it's against the law to sell a military decoration or medal. VandenBosch said he never intended to sell the medal to begin with and has taken it down from the lit glass case in which he showcased the Purple Heart earlier this week, adding that he should never have put it there in the first place.

Some are questioning the authenticity of the medal, which is awarded in a special presentation case with a lapel pin. It is relatively easy for servicemembers to buy a Purple Heart, says John Bircher, national spokesman for The Military Order of the Purple Heart. They are sold for about $30 at a military base, and even though they are only meant for recipients looking for a replacement, often the sellers don't ask for proof of eligibility.

A Total of 1.7 million Purple Heart medals have been given out since the award was created in 1932. As of June, more than 12,500 servicemembers serving in Afghanistan had received the medal.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct312011

Army Considers Lifting Ban on French Manicures, Earrings

AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Army may have new plans to update its grooming regulations that has some soldiers all riled up.

Among other things, the Army wants to hear from its soldiers on whether it should ban visible tattoos or allow its female soldiers the opportunity to sport French manicures or earrings while wearing combat uniforms.

Those are some of the questions that Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler wants answers to as the Army prepares to update its regulations on how soldiers should look while in uniform.

Chandler told the Army Times earlier this week that grooming standards send a message to the American public about the Army’s professionalism.

“I believe that we can better visualize to the American people and the Army what it means to be an American soldier than we’re doing now,” he said.

To that end, Chandler turned to Facebook to help him get input from soldiers about what grooming standards need to be updated.

Last month he posted, “Give me your thoughts on earrings for females in ACUs, or if French-tipped fingernails should be allowed,” Chandler wrote. “What about tattoos? Do visible tattoos in ACUs (neck, hands, etc.) keep us from being professional Soldiers?”

ACUs stands for Advanced Combat Uniforms, the Army’s pixelated camouflage uniforms.   His questions have so far drawn more than 1,200 responses.

Like all the military services, the Army has very detailed regulations about the grooming standards for its soldiers while in uniform.  The regulations are extremely detailed and run the gamut from the length of haircuts to how much makeup female soldiers can wear when in uniform.

For example, when it comes to fingernails for female soldiers, they “will not exceed a nail length of 1/4 inch, as measured from the tip of the finger” and though fingernail polish is allowed, they can’t be of “extreme colors” or “two-tone or multi-tone.”

But it is the easing of the tattoo policy in 2006 that has drawn the most responses on Chandler’s Facebook posting, with many favoring a return to tighter standards.

The Army eased its tattoo policy in 2006 as it struggled to meet recruiting goals at the height of the war in Iraq.  Some eligible recruits were being turned away because of regulations that banned visible tattoos on the hands and neck.  The regulations were adjusted to allow for those kinds of tattoos as long as they were not racist, sexist, extremist or offensive in nature.

Some of Chandler’s Facebook respondents say relaxing that policy now makes soldiers look unprofessional.

“I don’t know why the tattoo standards ever changed. Nothing should be on the neck and also on the hands,” says one.

“Having my nails done in a neatly fashion doesn’t affect my performance and skills or what I believe in. It absolutely looks professional,” says another.

Current regulations make no mention of cellphone use while in uniform and some Facebook respondents think it’s time the Army comes up with a policy on that issue.

Chandler told the Army Times the goal in updating the regulations isn’t just to bring change, but to bring clarity to the ranks. For Chandler, the Facebook outreach is a way to get insights and information from soldiers, their families and former soldiers.

“I would assume there are going to be some changes,” he told Army Times.  “Exactly what they are it’s too early to tell.”

Any recommendations he eventually comes up with will have to be approved by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Army Secretary John McHugh.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec292010

US Army Waiting List Swells to Near Record Levels

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Young Americans looking to join the armed forces may have to wait to serve.

The combination of lower recruitment target numbers, a weak economy and the implementation of the GI bill has made waiting lists, officially known as the Delayed Entry Pool, longer than they have been in recent years.

The Marine Corps, which has traditionally had a smaller recruiting base, has fulfilled more than 65 percent of its target for fiscal year 2011.  The Army entered the new recruiting year in October having fulfilled 50 percent, or half its targeting goals for next year.

The number is a near record for the Army.  The last time in recent decades the waiting list was so long was in 1996, when the Delayed Entry Pool was at 42.9 percent at the start of the fiscal year.

A number of factors are behind the surging numbers.  The military has cut back recruitment goals across the board.  The Army target, for example, for the fiscal year 2011 is 67,000, lower than 74,500 in 2010 and well below the average recruitment goal of 80,000 between 2005 and 2008.

The economy also plays a crucial part.  Unemployment remains relatively high at 9.8 percent, the same level as last year, and among 18-to-24-year-olds -- the Pentagon's prime recruiting age -- it's even higher.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov252010

President Obama Wishes Service Members a Happy Thanksgiving

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama took time out to wish members of the U.S. armed services a Happy Thanksgiving.

The White House said the president called 10 members of the armed services Thursday morning to thank them for their service and sacrifice, and to wish them and their families a Happy Thanksgiving.  
 
Obama called two service members from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy deployed for Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom.  

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio