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Army To Combat Advisors: You Are Not Special Forces. Now Here’s A Brown Beret

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 02:43 PM PST

U.S. Special Forces can relax now that the Army has officially unveiled a beret for combat advisors that is absolutely not green.

At an activation ceremony Thursday at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Army unveiled the new brown berets, flash and unit insignias for the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, which is set to deploy to Afghanistan in spring

The choice of brown berets came following an outcry in October when a picture of a new green beret for soldiers in the unit was posted online, which prompted a petition which called on the 1st SFAB to immediately abandon the distinctive headgear.

"The wearing of the Green Beret is a symbol of commitment and sacrifice to the men who challenged themselves to be the best of the best in the U.S. Army Special Forces," the petition said. "This honor is earned, never issued."

It soon became clear that the beret shown online was just a prototype and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley quickly concurred with those who lobbied for a different color, an Army official told Task & Purpose. The unit patch was also redesigned as an homage Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.

The roughly 800 soldiers in the brigade will be key to the U.S. military's strategy of advising Afghan military and police units at the battalion level. But speaking at the ceremony, Milley reiterated that the SFAB "is not and will not be Special Forces," according to the Columbus Star-Ledger.

"Special Forces is very unique," Milley said, "They are trained, manned, equipped and tasked with the conduct of things like unconventional warfare, advance force operation, operational preparation environment. They are trained as our counter-terrorist operation, strategic reconnaissance and many, many other missions. … The SFABs will work with Special Forces units."

brown beret special forces SFABU.S. Army

Security Force Assistance Brigades wear brown berets. SFAB Soldiers will be on the ground with their partners – fighting side by side with them in all conditions, so the brown beret symbolizes dirt or mud akin to the “muddy boots” moniker given to leaders who are always out with the troops. Brown berets are not similar to any other beret currently in the Army inventory.

Until now, the Army has ripped conventional brigade combat teams apart to produce soldiers to advise Iraqi and Afghan troops, Milley said earlier this year.

"We only have X amount of these brigade combat teams and if we take a whole bunch of them and we shred them, take their leadership apart, and they go through an exercise and we call them 'advisers,' then you're essentially reducing your ground combat capability by whatever amount you commit to that task," Milley said on Jan. 17 at an Association of the United States Army event. "I want to stop doing that. I want to make sure that our conventional combined arms maneuver capabilities stay together, train, hit the sled tons of times, and that we also have an advisory capability."

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Twice-Deployed Afghan War Vet Facing Deportation Is Running Out Of Options

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:45 PM PST

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has denied clemency to a former U.S. Army soldier and green card holder with a felony drug conviction, increasing the likelihood that the Afghanistan War veteran will soon be deported to his native Mexico.  

Rauner's decision to turn down the clemency request for Miguel Perez Jr., a father of two who left Mexico when he was 8 years old and grew up in Chicago, was delivered by mail to his family on Feb. 7. The denial may be the final straw for advocates of immigration reform who've waged a protracted battle to keep Perez in the country. His supporters had hoped a pardon from Rauner would increase the likelihood of Perez being granted citizenship, retroactive to the date he enlisted.   

As the Chicago Tribune notes, the retroactive pathway to citizenship is Perez's last hope for avoiding deportation. In January, a three-judge panel for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for relief under the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Perez's lawyers invoked on the grounds that there's a plausible chance he'll be targeted by drug cartels for recruitment if he's sent back to Mexico.

Deportees born in Mexico are usually delivered by bus to a border town, where cartels operate heavily. Virtually all of the deported veterans Task & Purpose spoke with during a trip to Juarez, Mexico, last spring said they had been approached for recruitment. People in desperate situations make for ideal recruits.

"When I was in prison, I was already getting offers, people who would say to me that if I was deported [the cartels] would send word back and all would be OK," Perez told CNN on Feb. 5. "They would offer me the opportunity to make a lot of money and a lot of other things, but that was just a way to say, 'You belong to us when you get back here.'"

"It's not what I think would happen to me. It's what I know," Perez told a judge last year. "It's not like I can…fit in and blend in. It just doesn't work that way. How long can I hide the fact I've been deported and I was in the military?"

On Nov. 26, 2008, Perez handed a laptop case containing more than two pounds of cocaine to an undercover law enforcement officer in Chicago. He pleaded guilty to the drug charge and is currently being held in an immigration detention center in Wisconsin, where he was taken last year after serving half of a 15-year prison sentence. Like many veterans who have been deported or are facing deportation, Perez says he thought he had automatically become a U.S. citizen when he enlisted in the Army in 2001.

Perez's high-profile case has helped focus media attention on the plight of hundreds, possibly thousands, of U.S. military veterans who have been deported in recent decades. (The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for tracking deportations, does not know the exact number.)

Advocates for veterans like Perez argue that the current immigration system is so inflexible that it flushes out even those immigrants who have made tremendous sacrifices for the U.S. while in serving in uniform. Few deported veterans seem to have Perez's downrange experience. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and screened for possible traumatic brain injury after separating from the Army. That, his supporters argue, is evidence of a link between the two tours he served in Afghanistan and his subsequent criminal behavior.

According to his supporters, Perez returned to Chicago following his separation from the Army and soon reconnected with a childhood friend, who supplied him with free drugs and alcohol. Research has shown that sufferers of PTSD are more prone to substance abuse.   

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement insists that it does take military service into account when determining whether an immigrant should be deported, however. ICE "respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service," an agency spokesman said in a statement to Task & Purpose last year, adding that deportation orders in such cases are "authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel."

The post Twice-Deployed Afghan War Vet Facing Deportation Is Running Out Of Options appeared first on Task & Purpose.

Meet The Navy Reservist Going The Distance At NASCAR In Daytona

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 12:07 PM PST

The skills that Navy Reserve Lt. Jesse E. Iwuji learned during his time at the U.S. Naval Academy and on active duty in became critical when he decided to pursue his true passion: becoming a professional NASCAR driver.

"When it comes to focus, teamwork, also just being able to make big decisions in high-stress environments, I think that's where it really helps and comes to play," Iwuji, a training officer at Naval Base Ventura County in California, told Task & Purpose. "When it comes to g-forces and aerodynamics and thermodynamics, you can actually apply a lot of [Naval Academy courses] to racing."

Just like New England Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona, Iwuji has been allowed to reschedule his drill weekends so that he could race since he joined the Navy Reserve in June 2017. Most recently, he was able to postpone his drill weekend for February – which was later canceled due to the government shutdown – so that he could race Saturday at Daytona International Speedway and then Sunday at New Smyrna Speedway.

Photo courtesy of Jesse E. Iwuji.

Navy Reserve Lt. Jesse E. Iwuji was recruited to play football for the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004.

For Iwuji, racing is the culmination of a lifelong dream. While he has always loved cars and racing, Iwuji growing up without the money to pursue his passion for the sport. Instead, the native Texan embraced football — the state's unofficial religion — and was recruited to play at the Naval Academy in 2004. Once he graduated in 2010, he devoted his energies to his next passion of motor sports

"I started drag racing at different drag strips with my Dodge Challenger," said Iwuji, who currently lives in Ventura, California. "I had bought a Corvette and from there I took the Corvette to different road-course tracks and ran that for a little bit and learned how to go fast around corners. That's what led me to wanting to pursue a professional driving career. NASCAR was the first door that opened up for me to pursue that."

He began racing in 2015 when he was sent to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he would work on weekdays, fly to the racetrack on Friday evenings, return on Sundays and be at work on Monday mornings. Since there is no formal training to become a NASCAR driver, Iwuji started out in lower level series of racing, but he quickly learned the finger points of race-craft.

Iwuji credits his commanders, both active-duty and reserve, for allowing him to take time when needed to race. "They were always really supportive of me just because they knew I was chasing my dream," he said. "They knew what my end goal was and where I wanted to go."

Although the Navy does not sponsor him, Iwuji said the publicity he gets from taking part in races benefits the service.

"Too many times, the only thing you hear about the military is suicides rates and veterans not being able to get this and that," Iwuji said. "It seems like it's a bunch of negative stuff, but this is actually something positive. It's somebody who's been in the military, who's served, who's been on deployments, who's still in, and still going out and chasing their dreams."

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Congress Tries Again To Restore Gun Rights To Veterans With Caretakers

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 09:45 AM PST

A group of bipartisan senators want to reverse a longstanding federal policy that prevents veterans from owning firearms if someone else is handling their personal finances.

Since 1998, any vet who was assigned a fiduciary by the Department of Veterans Affairs to handle their money matters has been reported to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as "mentally incompetent," barring them from purchasing firearms. As of 2016, 167,815 vets' names had been added to this database since the policy went into effect.

That's not right, says Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Along with fellow Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Grassley is sponsoring a fix, called the "Veterans' Second Amendment Rights Restoration Act of 2018," that would give gun-buying rights to more vets with fiduciaries.

Related: Congress May Make It Easier For 'Mentally Incompetent' Vets To Buy Guns »

"Veterans are losing their Second Amendment rights because they have someone managing their checkbook," Grassley said on the Senate floor, Tuesday. "It’s that simple: You can’t handle your finances, you lose your Second Amendment right."

If passed, the law would allow a vet with a VA-assigned fiduciary to keep his or her gun-buying rights unless a court officially deams the veteran a danger to him or herself or others. The VA would have to submit individual cases to a three-person board comprised of state, federal, or administrative law judges, who would make the final determination on the vet's fitness to own a firearm.

"When a constitutional right is involved, the burden must always be on the government," Grassley said.

Critics of the proposal — which has bounced around for years — say it runs counter to the statistics on veterans and suicides by gun.

"With more than 20 veterans dying by suicide per day, the vast majority by firearm, today's legislation would make it easier, not harder, for those veterans in crisis to get access to a firearm," Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Massachusetts Democrat, told Military.com last year when the bill was introduced in the House.

As Task & Purpose's Adam Weinstein reported in March 2017, of the 167,000 or so vets on the no-buy list, roughly 19,500 had a diagnosis of schizophrenia; more than 15,000 suffered from post traumatic stress; 11,084 had dementia; 5,462 had Alzheimer's; and 3,981 had depression. By the VA's own estimates, on average, 6 of 20 vets who die by suicide received benefits from the department; numerous academic studies have determined that the availability of a firearm is a key factor in suicide rates.

"This bill would set a nearly impossible standard for the VA to prevent a veteran who is at risk of harming themselves or others from purchasing a gun," Etsy said.

If passed into law, the bill wouldn't automatically remove those who are currently in the FBI's database, but vets with an active file would be able to challenge their classification under the new system.

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Two-Year Military Funding Deal Hangs In Balance Amid Government Shutdown Anxiety

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 08:58 AM PST

As the clock ticked closer to a government shutdown Friday, lawmakers said they were nearing a deal on a massive $1.4 trillion, two-year defense budget plan.

The effort would lift defense budget caps that have for years bedeviled the Pentagon, usher in a new stability for military spending and trigger a wave of modernization.

On Thursday, lawmakers faced a more urgent priority by midnight: Keep the federal government operating with a potential short-term spending deal.

But the looming shutdown didn't stop a bipartisan group of Senate leaders praise their two-year deal to bust budget caps.

"Not only will it end the series of…fiscal crisis that have gridlocked this body, it will also deliver a large investment in our military," Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, said on the Senate floor. "Our military has suffered from the uncertainty of endless short-term spending bills. This budget deal puts that to an end. It gives the military a significant boost in support and allows the Pentagon to make long-term decisions about its budget."

The Senate plan would let a two-year budget surpass statutory spending caps in 2018 and 2019 for defense and non-defense spending. It would also extend the debt limit to March 2019, another pressing concern for lawmakers who face a deadline on the issue in the coming weeks.

For defense spending, the plan would allow appropriations of $700 billion for fiscal year 2018, which ends Oct. 1, and another $716 billion for 2019 for a total of $1.4 trillion.

"This is the upper limit of what anyone thought was possible," said Todd Harrison, senior fellow and director of defense budget analysis for Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "This is a big victory for defense hawks."

Molly Reynolds, a governance studies fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, another Washington think tank, said she was also surprised at the size of the plan.

"I'm a little surprised at how big the bill got," she said. "There's lots in it beyond just the caps."

Mattis: Funding helps meet threats

Congressional defense hawks and Pentagon leaders have said the funds will jump-start the demands of the new National Defense Strategy, which shows the U.S. military must prepare for the growing great power threats of Russia and China.

"I'm heartened that Congress recognizes the sobering effect of budgetary uncertainty on America's military and on the men and women who provide for our nation's defense," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday during a White House visit. This week's "congressional action will ensure our military can defend our way of life, preserve the promise of prosperity and pass on the freedoms you and I enjoy to the next generation."

In December, the president signed the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act into law for the 2018 fiscal year.

The plan directs $26.2 billion for 14 new ships and $10.1 billion for the purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters, $5.9 billion for Virginia-class submarines, $5.6 billion for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, $4.4 billion for aircraft carriers, $3.1 billion for Army helicopters and $1.9 billion for procuring 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets.

But much of that funding has been held up in congressional budget fights, forcing the military to operate off a series of temporary stopgap bills, known as continuing resolutions, until lawmakers reach a deal.

The Senate plan would lift a $549 billion budget cap for defense spending in 2018 to $629 billion and put a remaining $71 billion in a war account known as the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO fund, for a total of $700 billion. The 2019 plan would lift a $562 billion budget cap to $647 billion and put another $69 billion in the war fund for a total of $716 billion.

"You can count on us. We'll earn your trust on this," Mattis said of the potential new windfall. "We will spend the money wisely."

The two-year proposal is similar to defense spending deals reached in 2015 and 2013, but "much larger in magnitude," Harrison said.

For this year, much of the funding would go directly to the Department of Defense's operation and maintenance operations, which makes up about two-thirds of the DOD budget, Harrison said.

"We will be almost halfway through the fiscal year," he estimated of when the funding could kick in. "Some of the money in there has to be obligated by the end of the fiscal year. There is going to be a rush within DOD to execute this money as quickly as they can."

Mattis warned this week that without an annual budget plan, the military will see pay shortages, the inability to recruit thousands of soldiers and airmen, forgo ship maintenance, ground aircraft, deplete training and delay vital acquisition efforts.

"Our military has been operating under debilitating continuing resolutions for more than 1,000 days during the last decade," Mattis said. "I cannot overstate the negative impact to our troops and families' moral from all this budget uncertainty."

The budget deal faces an uphill battle. Even within the Senate, where the plan is expected to pass, some members were expressing skepticism about spending amounts.

"This agreement increases the discretionary spending caps by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, perpetuates the abuse of OCO, and tees up another spending battle two years from now," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "To say I am discouraged by the outcome of these negotiations would be an understatement."

In the House, members of the fiscally conservative Freedom Caucus and Democrats fighting for a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which faces a March 5 deadline, have threatened to vote against the budget deal.

"Given this established template, it will likely pass the Senate fairly easily, since everyone gets something they want out of it," said Lauren Fish, a defense strategies research associate for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. "The House will pose more problems, with the Freedom Caucus and progressive Democrats both rankled by key parts of the deal — a massive federal spending increase and lack of DACA assurances, respectively. Ultimately, however, I expect this deal will pass and become law with the president's signature."

Even with the deal to surpass budget caps, however, lawmakers will still need to pass an actual plan to appropriate the funding. To make that happen, another continuing resolution, or CR, could be in the works to keep the government's lights on into March. At that time, lawmakers will need to reach a broader spending deal.

"This deal only sets those higher spending levels, it doesn't actually appropriate funds to match them," Reynolds said. "So the deal would set up another CR that would run for a few weeks until appropriators can actually write the bill pushing the funds out the door for specific purposes."

A March spending deal will trigger a spending spree for the Pentagon's 2018 fiscal plans, which will need to be completed before the fiscal year ends in October.

Shutdown threat still lingers

At the extreme end of ongoing budget negotiations, a failure to reach a deal would send the government towards its second government shutdown of the year.

A three-day shutdown in January caused minimal disruption, yet could persuade lawmakers to avoid another one.

"I still think it remains unlikely, but there's a chance it could happen," Reynolds said. "The test will be in the House."

While many experts agree a shutdown still seems less likely, it's still not clear if a continuing resolution will be days or weeks long.

"There is still a chance for a shutdown, given Congress needs to fund the government by midnight even if a budget deal is close to completion," Fish said. "The question will be if the rumored end of March CR will be passed or a shorter term, maybe days-long CR will pass just to iron out the deal details and get to appropriations."

A 16-day shutdown in October 2013 caused a rash of military programs to come to a sudden halt, including pay stoppage for military and civilian personnel and the disruption of base services such as commissaries. In addition, death gratuity payments for 30 Gold Star families were also disrupted.

By last week, leaders for a long list of government entities, including the Pentagon, were putting together emergency contingency plans if Congress fails to reach a deal.

"Shutting down the government would be very damaging," Mattis said Wednesday. "It just paralyzes everything that we do …other than the ongoing active operations at sea and there the troops will continue to fight, the ships will stay at sea. But the bottom line is, training is delayed, the impact just ripples through the force."

———

©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post Two-Year Military Funding Deal Hangs In Balance Amid Government Shutdown Anxiety appeared first on Task & Purpose.

The Air Force Academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention Office Is A Total Disaster

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 07:27 AM PST

Mismanagement of the Air Force Academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office has put the school out of compliance with Defense Department policies, a Pentagon report released Wednesday said.

The problems, revealed late last year in a 560-page report released to The Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act, included infighting, mishandled cases, questionable record keeping and alleged office romances.

“A commander-directed investigation disclosed significant evidence of mismanagement and unprofessionalism that negatively impacted victim advocacy and assistance rendered to a number of cadets,” the Pentagon said in its latest report, which compares sexual assault programs across the military’s three major service academies.

The academy was the only program found to be operating outside Defense Department guidelines, but for the first time in a decade saw its sexual assault numbers fall below its peers.

Air Force had 33 reported sexual assaults, with Army tallying 50 – nearly doubling its numbers in a year. Navy had 29 reported sexual assaults.

“We are absolutely committed to making the academies safe,” said Robert Wilkie, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness. “It is imperative that these future officers understand how eliminating sexual harassment and assault advances our ability to protect the nation.”

The report found that programs at the Naval Academy in Maryland and the U.S. Military Academy in New York complied with Pentagon policies, with Air Force falling short because of chaos in its prevention office.

Overall, reported sexual assaults at the three academy showed a sharp increase, to 112 for the year from 86 in the prior year.

The Defense Department attributed the increase to changes at West Point.

“Most of the reporting increase occurred at the U.S. Military Academy following a change in reporting policy and the relocation of its victim assistance office,” the report said.

Investigators praised Air Force sexual assault prevention programs in the report, but found the school hadn’t properly cared for victims.

Problems arose last summer in the Air Force sexual assault response office after leaders suspended its director Theresa Beasley and other workers. Last fall, the academy released its report that found the office had been “derelict” in victim care, with some victims ignored.

The new report acknowledged the problems, but found the academy had taken appropriate steps to address its woes.

“The department saw substantive evidence that the superintendent and the leadership team were fully engaged in making sexual assault prevention and response a priority for the academy,” the report said.

The academy on Wednesday said it is in the final stages of hiring new workers in its sexual assault office.

“This includes a new program manager, two sexual assault response coordinators, three victim advocates and two violence prevention integrators,” the academy said in an emailed statement.

The hirings, the academy said, are the last step in addressing the troubles of 2017.

“We are confident that we have addressed the issues in the … office at the academy and will continue to scrutinize our efforts and remain transparent as we strive to develop a culture of dignity and respect at the academy,” the statement said.

———

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post The Air Force Academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention Office Is A Total Disaster appeared first on Task & Purpose.

An Interview With The Comic Mastermind Behind ‘Terminal Lance’

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 07:00 AM PST

Long March: How closely does the comic strip resemble your own experience in the Marine Corps?

Maximilian Uriarte: The comic is obviously exaggerated and cartoony humor, but inspired by real life as a miserable infantry lance corporal. Since day one, I've stuck by one rule that I continue to live by when I make comics: Never get motivated. It's easy to get nostalgic after the fact, but I remember how miserable it was being active duty and draw from that.

LM: Were you actually infantry, or are your comments on the infantry life those of a close observer?

MU: I was an 0351 infantry assaultman by MOS. During my first deployment to Iraq I was made the lead convoy turret gunner on our MRAP, using a .50 cal machine gun. I was selected personally to practice combat art and photography during my second deployment in 2009, but my MOS never changed from 0351.

LM: What are your feelings about the Corps now? Are you glad you joined?

MU: As I said in my guest of honor speech at the MALS-13 birthday ball in Yuma I November: I never really loved the Corps, but I absolutely love Marines. Lance corporals are my favorite people in the planet for their humor, ingenuity, and imagination. They never stop entertaining me even today with their countless videos and photos they send over to me.

For myself, I am glad that I enlisted in the end, it was a big part of my character development and I learned a lot in those four years. I don't know if I ever found what I was looking for, but maybe that was the point.

For what it's worth, the Corps itself has been great to me over the years. The support from both the ranks and the command has been amazing, and I've found a lot of fans in places I never would have expected. I clash with them sometimes over trivial social media-related things, but it's never been detrimental.

LM: What is your favorite Terminal Lance of all time?

MU: It's tough because I try to strike a balance between humor, depth of message, and artwork. As an artist, my favorites tend to be the ones I enjoy the artwork of, which has evolved drastically over the years. My all time favorite strip (if I had to pick) resonates to The White Donkey, which is "Terminal Lance #175: Back Home." I like this comic because of the poignancy of it, while still being somewhat tongue in cheek in its humor.

Courtesy of Terminal Lance

Terminal Lance #175 “Back Home”

A more recent favorite of mine is "#442: Bootcamp: The Care Package," which shows the more modern look of the comic and (I think) is hilarious. It has no larger point, but it's funny and looks great.

Courtesy of Terminal Lance

Terminal Lance #442 "Bootcamp: The Care Package"

LM: What are you up to now?

MU: I've got a lot of things in the air right now, some TL-related and others not. I moved to Los Angeles to get started in TV and film. Things are moving, but Hollywood is Hollywood and nothing is happening until it's happening. I keep it all close to my chest because I am looking forward to surprising my audience when the time comes.

In the immediate future, I am beginning work on my next graphic novel, set in Afghanistan. I am also writing and directing an animated short that I hope to reveal shortly after it's finished, though I can't say much more than that yet.

In the next couple of months, Little Brown will be releasing the Terminal Lance Ultimate Omnibus, which we have been putting together over the last few months.

LM: You didn't tell them they can buy it on Amazon now. So I will. Have you ever thought of writing about your civilian life?

MU: Of course! I don't plan on doing military work forever. I actually had a really different, non-military book lined up for my next graphic novel, but my publisher really wanted me to follow up The White Donkey with something in that ballpark. I have about 10 feature-length story ideas right now that I want to tackle as books and movies in the future, most of which have no military relation.

My next book will be military but also a fresh departure for me, similar to The White Donkey, but bigger and bolder. I'm excited about it and look forward to announcing more in the near future.

LM: What do you read about the military nowadays?

MU: I mostly just keep up with the usual guys from Military Times, Task & Purpose, and the niche Facebook pages. Most of my insight comes directly from Lance corporals in the Corps, since I get hundreds of messages on Facebook and Instagram daily.

LM: Thank you.

The post An Interview With The Comic Mastermind Behind ‘Terminal Lance’ appeared first on Task & Purpose.

VA Reverses Plan To Drain Millions From Veteran Homelessness Efforts

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 05:26 AM PST

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a memorandum this week that officially reverses plans to shift millions of dollars from a VA account dedicated to combating veteran homelessness.

Steve Young, VA deputy undersecretary for health, sent the memo Tuesday to all VA network directors, homeless coordinators and medical center directors. It states the VA will not reallocate funds this fiscal year earmarked for a veteran housing program known as HUD-VASH, in which the VA provides case management for veterans who receive housing vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The memo eased concerns among collaborators who help veterans get shelter through HUD-VASH.

Collaborators spoke out in December when they discovered VA Secretary David Shulkin planned to reallocate $460 million specifically geared toward the program into hospitals' general-purpose accounts. Shulkin quickly backtracked after swift outcry from the collaborators and lawmakers, but doubts lingered.

"This does give us more confidence," Leon Winston, chief operating officer of Swords to Plowshares, said of the memo. Swords to Plowshares is a nonprofit organization that helps house veterans in Northern California.

It was clear in January during a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs that a rift existed between collaborators, such as Swords to Plowshares, and the VA.

At the time, Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, still worried the funding could be cut from HUD-VASH. On Thursday, Monet said the memo alleviated some of her doubts.

"The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is pleased that the [VA] has announced a decision not to move HUD-VASH case management funding for the rest of the fiscal year," she wrote in an email. "This commitment must remain in the years to come."

Shulkin explained to Congress last month that his intent was to move funding from HUD-VASH into a general-purpose account to provide more flexibility for local leaders, who could then decide how to combat veteran homelessness in their geographical area.

Though the memo states the VA won't shift funding in fiscal year 2018, which ends Sept. 30, there could be future changes.

According to a HUD report from December, there were 585 more homeless veterans at the beginning of 2017 than in 2016. It was the first increase of homeless veterans since 2010. Because of that, the HUD-VASH program needs a "reboot," Shulkin said.

Winston would support more funding flexibility for local VA leaders but said there must be a process for garnering input before any changes are made. The VA's lack of communication in December was worrisome, he said.

"The messaging was so mixed up, based on who you talked to and what day of the week it was," Winston said. "It was conflated. That's why everybody was so very troubled."

In a hearing last month, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked Shulkin for more transparency, stating many members of Congress didn't know about the proposed shift in homelessness funding until some nonprofit groups spoke against it.

Monet agreed if the VA were to make changes, stakeholders should know beforehand.

"We hope VA will carefully examine any changes it may propose to critical programs for homeless veterans to ensure there will be no unintended confusion for, or adverse impact on, the veterans these programs serve," she said.

Tuesday's memo followed another VA directive in January that delayed shifting the homeless funding. That directive said funds could still be re-allocated in fiscal year 2019.

———

©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The post VA Reverses Plan To Drain Millions From Veteran Homelessness Efforts appeared first on Task & Purpose.

JBLM Soldier Faces Rape Charges Amid Accusations He Drunkenly Groped, Photographed Woman

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 04:35 AM PST

 Prosecutors on Monday charged a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier with second-degree rape, accusing him of taking explicit photographs and groping a woman after she passed out at the end of a night of heavy drinking.

Prosecutors said David Robert Vigil, 33, assaulted his victim at about 2 a.m. Sunday after he, she and her husband had returned to the couple's home in Tacoma, where Vigil often stayed in a spare bedroom following nights of drinking. The rape charge was outlined in a document signed by Erica Eggertsen, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Pierce County, Wash.

Pierce County jail documents show Vigil additionally faces a felony count of voyeurism. Eggertsen wrote other charges could be added in her report.

A spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord confirmed Vigil was a soldier stationed at the post near Tacoma, but additional information, including his rank and assigned unit, were not available Wednesday.

Vigil remained in jail Wednesday and is scheduled to face trail March 28, according to court documents.

The victim told police that she was awaken suddenly Sunday morning as Vigil groped her genitals, according to the charging document. The woman said her pants and underwear had been pulled down to her knees and Vigil had been taking photographs with his cell phone.

Vigil denied the assault occurred, according to the charging documents, claiming the victim hallucinated the incident after drinking and consuming prescription drugs.

The soldier admitted to drinking heavily throughout the evening, telling investigators that he had three to four glasses of wine, three to four glasses of whisky, a glass of rum and another mixed drink. He said the alleged victim fell asleep on the couch and he shook her to wake her up so she could go to her bedroom, but she began yelling at him and asking to look at his phone.

The victim's husband told investigators that he rushed downstairs to the living room after hearing his wife scream "he assaulted me," according to the charging document. The husband described Vigil as "looking terrified" and said he "kept saying he was sorry."

The husband demanded to see Vigil's phone and noticed the two most recent photographs were marked to be deleted. He told investigators that he could not determine what was photographed and returned the phone to Vigil before demanding he leave the house.

Prosecutors said the investigation was ongoing and would include an examination of Vigil's phone.

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©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Former Marine Pleads Guilty To Aiding ISIS After Controversial Sting

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 04:30 AM PST

A former U.S. Marine and sculptor is facing a dozen years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty on Thursday to being part of a conspiracy to help the terrorist group ISIS.

Gregory Hubbard, 54, was arrested in a controversial FBI terrorism sting in 2016 in Palm Beach County.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution and defense will recommend that the judge sentences Hubbard to 12 years in federal prison. That's significantly less than the 20-year maximum penalty the offense carries and the 30 or more years he had been facing if convicted of all three charges that were filed against him.

The case ran into problems last year when it became public that the main undercover informant in the case, Mohammed Agbareia, had defrauded more than $300,000 from victims — while he was working undercover for the FBI and heavily involved in the terrorism sting.

Handcuffed, shackled and dressed in dark blue jail scrubs in court on Thursday, Hubbard told the judge he was pleading guilty because he had committed the offense.

Hubbard was arrested July 21, 2016 at Miami International Airport. He thought he and an undercover informant were flying to Germany and would then take a train and other transportation to Syria, where Hubbard planned to fight alongside the terrorist group.

Before he left, Hubbard gave much of his artwork to one of the informants for safekeeping, placed most of his other possessions in a storage unit in Georgia and saved $6,000 he was bringing with him to fight in Syria. He also said he might never return from Syria.

Hubbard was diagnosed with depression and anxiety several years ago and was receiving therapy and prescription medication at a local Veterans Affairs hospital before his arrest, his attorneys Assistant Federal Public Defenders Anthony Natale and Vanessa Chen said in court.

"Depression lingers over me pretty consistently … But, depressed? I am," Hubbard told the judge.

Two other local men, Dayne Antani Christian and Darren Arness Jackson, who were also arrested in the sting, previously pleaded guilty to related offenses.

All three men were secretly recorded talking about their support for the terrorist group and one of its leaders.

They used the term "soccer team" as code when referring to the terrorist group.

The three men also met up for target shooting practice in remote areas of Palm Beach County.

Hubbard forfeited a .22-caliber Marlin survival rifle and ammunition he used. The other two men had pistols, a shotgun and a Romanian Arms AK-47-style assault rifle, according to prosecutors.

"They shared links for ISIS propaganda videos and websites, including ISIS beheading videos, and lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki espousing jihad," according to the plea agreement.

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©2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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25 Ways Trump Could Show His Appreciation For Our Military (Besides Putting On A Parade For Himself)

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 04:00 AM PST

Earlier this week, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained that "President Trump is incredibly supportive of America's great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe [and therefore] he has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation."

Veterans and military families appreciate appreciation — but not, as it quickly became clear, in the form of an expensive parade in which service members would be compelled to march. How, then, could the administration best show its gratefulness to the troops? Turns out there are lots of ways. I asked veterans and my fellow military family members to start a list. Here, in their own words, are 25 ideas we'd like to pass along to the deciders. Instead of a military parade, we would prefer:

  1. Adequate manning to run operations.
  2. Adequate support resources so both parent can work without the non-military spouse having to quit each deployment/move/shift change.
  3. Better dental coverage. Providers are dropping us left and right because they can’t afford the reimbursement rates they’re paid.
  4. Quicker response time to post-traumatic stress disorder issues to prevent suicides.
  5. Ensuring school districts surrounding military bases at least perform better than average compared to school districts around the country.
  6. Ensuring military gets paid during a shut down.
  7. Not shutting down the government.
  8. Ensuring that no food assistance is necessary for military families.  
  9. "Licensure reciprocity for professionally licensed military spouses moving across state lines every freaking two years so I don't have to spend thousands of dollars, take extra classes, drown in paperwork and start at the bottom of the food chain every state."  
  10. In-state tuition fees instead of out-of-state tuition for military children for any state college in the U.S.
  11. Having military housing that’s not full of mold, with sewage systems that work properly.
  12. "Actual new parent support, lactation consultants, childbirth educators, doulas on call in every MTF (military treatment facility) delivery room, and PARENTAL LEAVE that is guaranteed."
  13. Shorter and or less frequent deployments; more equal sea duty/shore duty rotations.
  14. Support the new bill Sen. Tim Kaine just announced to help with military spouse unemployment and underemployment. Ensure the DoE continues to support MiC3 and protect our military children's education. Follow through with boosting troop numbers and funding.
  15. Not letting active duty DACA members get screwed.
  16. Better support for special needs family and an EFMP system (for military special needs families) that works.
  17. More support staff in schools which serve military families with actual knowledge about military culture, trauma informed classrooms (especially in locations with constant deployments), ensuring that schools which serve military students have standard curriculum so our students don’t miss key things during moves, a standardized “registration” process which follows our children, so a school simply needs to log into the “system” and “transfer” the records instead of us having to fill out the same. damn. extensive. paperwork on EVERY move.
  18. Paying for service dogs for veterans with mental-health issues like they pay for wheelchairs or walkers. 
  19. Urgent care facilities at overseas stations to avoid ER visits for such innocuous things like pink eye and ear infections.
  20. Affordable produce prices at overseas commissaries.
  21. Move the base out of Naples [U.S. Naval Support Activity NaplesItaly, host to more than 50 separate commands and approximately 8,500 personnel] because of its toxic soil, air, and water.
  22. Addressing the mental health needs that arise in not just veterans, but children and spouses of active-duty service members.
  23. A housing allowance that actually allows for housing. Families who live off base often are only able to live somewhere that is not safe and/or does not have good schools because in many places BAH is not commensurate with cost of living.
  24. Stop covering up the fact that contaminated water caused women to miscarry in Lejeune.
  25. Removal of privatization in the military. MILITARY HOUSING SHOULD NOT BE FOR PROFIT.

Alison Buckholtz is the author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War.

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