Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

WASHINGTON — In his first morning on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told assembled troops and Defense Department civilians he’d live up to his reputation as a straight talker as the Pentagon confronts numerous challenges.

“You’ll always know that you have a secretary of defense that will deal straight with you,” Hagel told a Pentagon audience Wednesday in his first speech as secretary. “I’ll be honest, I’ll be direct. I’ll expect the same from you.”

The former Nebraska senator must immediately deal with the prospect of $500 billion in automatic defense spending cuts that will be triggered if the U.S. Congress doesn’t reach a deficit-cutting agreement by Friday.

“Budget, sequestration — I don’t need to dwell on all the good news there,” he said. “That’s a reality. We need to figure this out.”

The question of how to react to instability and rising threats abroad challenges the Pentagon as well, Hagel said.

“Yes dollars are coming down, but it’s the uncertainly of the planning, the uncertainly of the commitments, the uncertainty of what’s ahead,” he said.

America must continue to be the world’s leading “force for good,” he said, but must do so in concert with allies.

10th Anniversary Of Iraq, Afghanistan War Memorial Approaching

MARSEILLES, Ill. (CBS) – June 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial on the Illinois River in Marseilles. There will be a motorcycle ride from the Grundy County Fairgounds on that day, and a ceremony at the memorial.

It’s the war memorial that most people don’t even know exists, even after ten years.

It bears the names of more than 7,000 soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Memorial Wall To Mark 10th Anniversary
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser


Tom Yarber, with the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run Foundation, which built and maintains the memorial, says, “We’re the first people in the history of the united states to ever put up a wall memorial like this where the names are added while the war is ongoing.”

They’re bikers who want the families to know their loved ones will never be forgotten.

Like a lot of bikers, Yarber has a nickname. “Most of the families know me as Big Daddy,” he says.

Yarber’s role is family liason. He spends a lot of time on the phone with family members and meets them in person when they come to see the wall memorial.

Red tape trauma: 851,000 war veterans await benefits

uspatriotservices.com, veteran news, veteran benifits, veteran burial caskets, burial caskets, veterans
By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today

Published: June 12, 2013

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Michael “Mickey” Flynn D’heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio.

Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, he bides his time, drinking Miller Light and smoking Pall Malls. He’s waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate him for the demons he brought home from Iraq.

“I’ll tell you the truth. I never believed in mental illness,” says D’heron, a city firefighter and former Army reservist. “Never. I always thought that you suck it up; deal with it. And then this.”

D’heron, 32, served from 2008 to 2009 as a military police officer in two of Iraq’s most violent cities during heavy combat after a surge of 20,000 American troops into the country in 2007. Now he spends nights outside on his patio, wrapped in a heavy blanket, hunkered down in an office swivel chair, isolated from his wife, Jennifer, his newborn son, Liam, and a stepdaughter, Kayla, 7, who puzzles over dad’s “Army sickness.”

“It’s like he’s not even part of the family most of the time,” Jennifer says.

He filed his disability claim March 7, 2012. President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki say veterans should wait no more than 125 days for a resolution. As of Wednesday, D’heron will have waited 463 days.

He’s among 851,000 veterans awaiting answers on compensation claims for wounds, illnesses or injuries incurred during their service. Two out of three have been waiting more than 125 days for an answer.

Post-traumatic stress disorder left D’heron with panic attacks so severe he can no longer serve as a New Brunswick city firefighter, his dream job since he was 7 and saw his firefighter father charge into a burning building on Christmas Day. He took the job in 2006, two years after the elder D’heron — by then deputy chief in New Brunswick — died in a fire rescue attempt. City fathers wept at Mickey’s swearing-in, celebrating a family legacy enduring.

That legacy is over. D’heron needs VA compensation for the combat-related PTSD that effectively robbed him of his firefighting job.

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Soldiers in Hawaii join in outreach to help homeless veterans


By Allison Schaefers
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Published: June 12, 2013

HONOLULU — Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Smith, an Army journalist stationed at Fort Shafter, was on a rescue mission Tuesday to save his fallen comrades — the many homeless veterans who call Hawaii streets their home.

“It’s tough being on the street,” said Smith, who spent two years of his youth homeless in Philadelphia with his single mother and two siblings. “But I remember some people that we encountered were very genuine and sincere in their efforts to help us. Now I’m building it forward.”

Smith was one of about 250 active-duty military personnel from U.S. Army Pacific who teamed up with military and homeless service providers to comb Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kakaako Park, Chinatown and Iwilei for homeless vets.

During the one-day mobile outreach, staff from the Waikiki Health Center, US Vets, the West Oahu Vet Center, the Institute for Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided services such as medical and mental screenings, information on veteran benefits, enrollment services and assistance with claims.

While the number of homeless veterans has been declining nationally, it has risen on Oahu in each of the past three years, according to “point-in-time” counts of homeless people on Oahu.

The latest count, conducted Jan. 22, tallied 398 homeless veterans on Oahu. That is 8.4 percent more than in 2012 and 34.5 percent more than in 2010. Homeless veterans accounted for nearly 9 percent of the 4,556 homeless people who were counted across Oahu this year.

“We were surprised to see a little increase,” said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of US Vets and chairman of Partners in Care — Oahu’s Continuum of Care, which oversaw the count, a requirement for getting funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But it’s probably the result of the war winding down and more service members getting out of the military or coming back from duty with issues and falling into homelessness.”

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Homeless veterans receive free vehicles

Homeless veterans receive free vehicles

Published: June 13, 2013

OLDSMAR, Fla. — Things are looking up for the Coopers these days.

The family of five, which has been living a three-bedroom apartment at a Homeless Emergency Project shelter in Clearwater, had been trying to get by without a car since theirs broke down nearly a year ago.

Thanks to a nationwide program that places refurbished cars in the hands of homeless veterans, Jennifer and Leon Cooper will be hauling their three kids to band practice — or wherever — in a beige 2007 Toyota Sienna.

“Oh, my goodness. It’s going to help out greatly,” said Jennifer Cooper, 44, a former Army Reservist, said Wednesday after receiving the minivan.

“We can go places together. We go grocery shopping together. Church. Different things. If we want to go to the beach on the weekend we don’t have to look at a bus schedule.”

The Coopers are one of 60 homeless veteran families throughout the country who were handed the keys to refurbished, registered and insured cars or minivans on Wednesday. Edward Caswell, a 60-year-old Tampa Bay area veteran, also received a car Wednesday.

“They walk away with a free and clear vehicle,” said Lance Edgy, a regional claims manager with Progressive Insurance, the company that spearheaded the project.

The Tampa Bay area recipients picked up their cars at the insurance company’s Oldsmar center. Both vehicles were previously damaged in car crashes, then restored to their original conditions. Progressive paid to put the cars in the hands of military veterans in need, including covering their registration fees. Rental car company Enterprise paid for six months’ worth of insurance.

Leon Cooper, 59, was a Marine from 1971 to 1976. He served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and said he helped evacuate people during the fall of Saigon.

The project is a collaboration among Progressive Insurance, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, numerous local body shops, local VFW posts and homeless shelters.

Locally, the Homeless Emergency Project aims to draw attention to the high rate of homelessness among veterans.

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Veterans Program Helps Returning Military Transition Into Workforce

By MARY BETH VERSACI – mysuburbanlife.com
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GLEN ELLYN – Veteran Paul Gawley of Downers Grove worked for years in construction management after serving with the Naval Construction Battalion at the end of the Vietnam War.

But that changed around 2008, after the housing market collapsed and the real estate projects he was managing shut down.

He spent much of 2008 through 2010 with little – sometimes no – work. Although things have picked up within the last few years, the housing market still isn’t what it once was.

Gawley’s story is similar to those of many during the recent economic downturn. But these setbacks are particularly devastating to veterans, who sometimes experience difficulty transitioning to the private sector and finding work.

Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) runs the country’s first ever Building Operator Certification (BOC) program for unemployed and underemployed veterans, program manager Aimee Skrzekut said. The program is housed at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and provides veterans with the skills they need to work in facility management, with a special focus on energy efficiency.

Gawley, along with other veterans, participated in the program from February through May. It was previously held in Springfield last August.

As part of the program, veterans attended a full day of class at COD every other Wednesday. Classes covered a variety of topics related to facility management and were taught by professionals in each respective area, Skrzekut said.

To supplement classroom learing, veterans completed hands-on projects with assigned mentors, who work in building operations locally.

One professional who served as a mentor was Ed Kelly, who is the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) foreman at Wheaton College.

Kelly had previously completed MEEA’s BOC program for those already in the field before becoming a mentor. After learning the veterans program would be housed at COD, he agreed to be a mentor when approached by MEEA officials.

“These people have given years of their life, so it makes me feel good to be able to do something when they come home,” Kelly said.

COD is always looking for ways to help people enter the workforce, and hosting the program at the college’s facilities was an opportunity for COD to partner with the local workforce board and county offices to do that, said Debbie Hasse, program manager for business solutions.

Skrzekut said MEEA was looking to offer the program in the northern part of the state, and COD made sense as a location. However, the goal is to reach as many veterans as possible, so the program is expected to relocate to various locations across Illinois, she said.

Those interested should visit www.boccentral.org. Although the exact dates and locations haven’t been announced for the next veteran program, Skrzekut said veterans could add themselves to a waiting list to be notified about program information when it becomes available.

Veteran Hector Ayala of Aurora, who also graduated from the BOC program, said he’d recommend other veterans to participate.

A recent retiree of the military, Ayala ended his service with the Marine Corps last November and spent about two months looking for work before learning about the BOC program at a job fair.

Now that he has completed the program, he will begin work as a first line supervisor with ComEd this summer.

He said other veterans should take advantage of the resources that are available to them because skills learned in the military can be transferred to jobs in the private sector; it’s just a matter of finding where those jobs are.

“Most of all, just try to remain positive,” Ayala said.

Veterans Built the West Bench

by Deborah Pfeiffer – Castanet
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Photo: Contributed
Old article about veterans getting lots in West Bench.

In 1952, Eric Selby by the luck of a draw was the first veteran to choose a lot in West Bench, according to news reports of the day.

Now more than 60 years later, a tribute to him and all the veterans who made the community what it is today has been carefully constructed in a park named for Selby.

And on Saturday, June 15 the public is invited to view this special tribute to the men who returned from World War II eager to rebuild their lives in Canada all those decades ago.

“Veterans built that community from scratch developing the parks and water system,” said Mark Woods, community services manager with the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen. “So this tribute is to recognize all of them.”

The community overlooking Pentiction was essentially created under the Veterans’ Land Act, VLA, to provide housing and a source of agricultural income to those coming home from the war.

It was Sue Gibbons, the daughter of navy veteran Bob Jenkins, who set the wheels in motion in 2009 to provide the recognition.
Her father was the first person she ran it by and he was immediately receptive.

She then approached the Area F Parks Commission and the RDOS and pitched her idea.

They too thought it was a good project, and the Veterans’ Tribute in Selby Park came into being thanks to a grant from Veterans’ Affairs Canada.

“My mom and dad bought a lot and built when I was 4, so I am a product of the West Bench,” said Gibbons. “So I felt it would be fitting to honour our original veterans, who founded this community.”

The tribute includes a new wheelchair accessible ramp and stairs into the park, steel cut sculptures and a crush rock pathway leading to a gathering table, featuring a map of the original Veterans’ Land Act subdivision of 1952 and 1957.

On the day of the grand opening at the park, 2224 West Bench Drive, there will be a piping-in of neighbourhood veterans, a formal ribbon cutting ceremony, background on the idea for the tribute and a presentation to the park designers, architect Chris Allen, alongside Cal Meiklejohn.

Neighbours will be invited to share stories.

For Gibbons the day will be both exciting and bittersweet.

Bob Jenkins died at the age of 89 on May 4.

“This means a lot to me and the community,” she said. “Sadly, my father died before the grand opening.”

Stolen Valor Act Reaches Supreme Court

Posted by Levi Newman

The Stolen Valor Act, signed into law by U.S. President Bush in 2006, was enacted with a conscious effort to deter people from falsely representing having received any U.S. military decoration or medal.

The act granted more authority to Federal law enforcement officers, broadening the law to cover false claims, in order to protect the reputation and meaning of military heroism medals. What this means is that it is illegal for unauthorized persons to wear, buy, sell, barter, trade, or manufacture “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces.”

Dozens of men and women have ignored this law and have been prosecuted accordingly, but a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court on a California case from 2007 has garnered the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, and now the rest of America.

Xavier Alvarez was tried and found guilty of violating the 2006 act when he told event planner Melissa Campbell that he was a former Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor. Unfortunately for him, Ms. Campbell herself was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had 10 years of service, and knew that he wasn’t telling the truth. Nevertheless, he appealed his conviction, claiming it violated his Constitutional right of free speech.

There are now two opposing views in this ever-growing free speech debate. One side believes that there shouldn’t be a law to “shame” those that lie about their military service, and that no harm is done by doing so. On the contrary, others view these cases as serious breaches of honor within American society.

The argument here is not whether the Constitution should or should not protect false statements, but whether or not lying should be an offense punishable by law. Should we allow those that would misrepresent the U.S. military a free pass on grounds of freedom of speech, or should we, as a country, protect and defend the honor of our nations’ heroes who have selflessly protected and defended our home?

Ms. Campbell eventually suffered from following the letter of the law. After exposing Mr. Alvarez’s medal claim as a hoax, she was reportedly fired. Her company cited “unprofessionalism” as the reason, in regards to approaching Mr. Alvarez during the tour he was taking. The company refused to respond about her departure, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters.

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Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Posted by David Moore

Retired Col. Benjamin H. Purcell, who was the highest-ranking Army prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, died on April 2 at age 85.

Purcell was captured in Vietnam in early 1968 and spent more than five years as a POW in Laos. After his return to the United States, Purcell continued serving until his retirement in 1980.

On Feb. 8, 1968, the helicopter Purcell was in was shot down near Quang Tri City, a major area attacked in the Tet Offensive. He and the crew were immediately captured. When Purcell and his men were captured, the Viet Cong took all of their possessions, even their combat boots, and force marched them for days on little food and water to the prison camp.

On Feb. 14, the Vietcong interrogated the American soldiers for the first time — it was Purcell’s 40th birthday.

“From this point things went downhill fast,” Purcell told the Georgia Department of Veterans Service (GDVS).

He wanted to give up, but he was determined to endure the trials, no matter how often the Vietcong pressured him to denounce his country.

The next 62 months were spent in a variety of prison camps around Vietnam. And since Purcell was a high ranking officer, he was kept in solitary confinement for about 58 of those months.

“‘Deny yourself as American serviceman,’ the Vietcong said. ‘Criticize yourself as the aggressor — then things will get good for you,’” Purcell said about how his interrogations often proceeded. “But to betray myself and my country was not an option for me.”

Purcell resisted his captors’ temptations. He even managed to break out of the POW camps twice — he was captured, but Purcell considered his escapes a personal victory. He proved that their prisons weren’t invulnerable.

His love for his wife Anne also spurred him on. Despite the Vietcong confiscating his wedding band, Purcell remembered what he had to live for. To help remind him of his wife, he made a new wedding ring out of bamboo and thread.

“I knew I had Anne and the children at home waiting for my return,” Purcell said. Purcell never gave up hope that he’d get home, despite reoccurring doubts.

“Every morning I would wake up and say (to myself) ‘Ben, I hope this is the day you’re going home,’” he told GDVS. “Then the sun would go down and I’d say, ‘Well, tomorrow is another day.’”

On Mar. 27, 1973, the day Purcell was hoping for finally arrived — he returned home.

His very first public statement after his release was, “Man’s most precious possession, second only to life, is freedom.”
Leaving a Legacy

For his final assignment, Purcell taught as professor of military science and commandant of cadets at the ROTC detachment at North Georgia College.

Col. Rich Crotty of U.S. Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was a cadet at North Georgia while Purcell was commandant, according to the Gainesville Times.

“He groomed us for an Army career,” said Crotty. “He mentored us. He was a professional Army officer.”

Crotty told the Gainesville Times that Purcell emphasized family, faith and love of country to the cadets at North Georgia.

“His experience in Vietnam really showed that,” he said. “He was a superb human being.”

But Purcell’s memory lives on. In 2012, North Georgia College dedicated the new formation plaza on the university’s Dahlonega campus as the Col. Ben Purcell Formation Plaza.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army