13 February, 2019 09:24

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, February 13, 2019, which is Kiss Day, Employee Legal Awareness Day, Get a Different Name Day and National Cheddar Day.

Today in History:

· 1861: The earliest military action to be revered with a Medal of Honor award is performed by Colonel Bernard J.D. Irwin, an assistant army surgeon serving in the first major U.S.-Apache conflict. Near Apache Pass, in southeastern Arizona, Irwin, an Irish-born doctor, volunteered to go to the rescue of Second Lieutenant George N. Bascom, who was trapped with 60 men of the U.S. Seventh Infantry by the Chiricahua Apaches. Irwin and 14 men, initially without horses, began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding on mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way and recovering stolen horses and cattle, they reached Bascom’s forces on February 14 and proved instrumental in breaking the siege. Although Irwin’s bravery in this conflict was the earliest Medal of Honor action, the award itself was not created until 1862, and it was not until January 21, 1894, that Irwin received the nation’s highest military honor.

· On the evening of February 13, 1945, the most controversial episode in the Allied air war against Germany begins as hundreds of British bombers loaded with incendiaries and high-explosive bombs descend on Dresden, a historic city located in eastern Germany. Dresden was neither a war production city nor a major industrial center, and before the massive air raid of February 1945 it had not suffered a major Allied attack. By February 15, the city was a smoldering ruin and an unknown number of civilians–somewhere between 35,000 and 135,000–were dead.

· 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson decides to undertake the sustained bombing of North Vietnam that he and his advisers have been contemplating for a year. Called Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign was designed to interdict North Vietnamese transportation routes in the southern part of North Vietnam and slow infiltration of personnel and supplies into South Vietnam. The first Rolling Thunder mission took place on March 2, 1965, when 100 U.S. Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) planes struck the Xom Bang ammunition dump 100 miles southeast of Hanoi.

· On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?

· Stars & Stripes: Inhofe: Troops won’t leave Syria, Afghanistan soon; Shanahan not permanent SecDef

· Military Times: Shanahan arrives in Baghdad amid fallout over Trump’s Iran comments

· Stars & Stripes: Gen. Abrams: North Korea has not changed its military posture as Trump-Kim meeting nears

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Military Times: Should deported veterans be allowed to come back to America?

By: Leo Shane III | 16 hours ago

WASHINGTON — A pair of House lawmakers has reintroduced legislation that would ease the path to citizenship for immigrants who served in the Armed Forces but were later deported because of criminal activity.

The “Repatriate Our Patriots Act” would also block federal officials from forcing those veteran immigrants out of the country, ensuring that they receive legal permanent residency after serving their criminal sentences.

“If you are willing to put your life on the line to defend this great nation and its values, you should be able to become a U.S. citizen,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, one of the bill’s sponsors. “It is inexcusable that service members who risked it all to protect us would be put through the deportation process.”

Young and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, introduced the measure last session, but it made little progress toward passage. With Democrats now in control of the House, they’re more hopeful about possibility of momentum in that chamber, but the measure still faces long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The move comes amid a polarizing national debate over immigration that has already prompted a month-long partial government shutdown and accusations from the White House that critics are endangering national security by not doing enough to limit migrants from entering the United States.

But the two lawmakers behind the bill argue that immigrants who served honorably in the military — but committed crimes after leaving the ranks — deserve a chance to stay in this country after serving their time in prison.

They note that combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury can lead to substance abuse, and even minor drug offenses can result in deportation for an immigrant going through the naturalization process.

The proposal would exclude veterans convicted of violent crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse and terrorism. And it would not apply to immigrants who face serious legal trouble while still serving in the military.

For veteran immigrants still going through the process of becoming American citizens, the legislation would require the Attorney General to recognize them as legal permanent residents and block any potential deportation order.

For veterans already deported, it would require the Department of Homeland Security to create a new program allowing them to return to the United States as lawfully admitted permanent residents, with a chance at full citizenship.

In the last 18 years, U.S. immigration services have helped nearly 130,000 immigrants who joined the military gain American citizenship, thanks to expedited rules adopted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But veterans who served before that time or who failed to complete paperwork while in the military don’t enjoy the same legal protections as them. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates more than 200 U.S. military veterans have been deported in recent years, with the number steadily increasing amid the current administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep comprehensive records of veterans who are deported. It also guarantees veterans the military and veterans benefits for which they are eligible. Currently, those payouts and health care coverage are stopped when a veteran is deported.

Stars & Stripes: Inhofe: Troops won’t leave Syria, Afghanistan soon; Shanahan not permanent SecDef

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he doesn’t foresee troops leaving Syria or Afghanistan until conditions on the ground are right.

Inhofe also said he’s talked with President Donald Trump on his objections on any time-based withdrawals and anyone who claims to have a date of withdrawal doesn’t know what they are talking about.

“It should have been conditions on the ground from the beginning for any place where we have troops,” Inhofe said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters on Capitol Hill.

Inhofe also told reporters that acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan won’t get the post permanently, he’s fighting the use of military construction funds for the U.S.-Mexico border wall and continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget in the next fiscal year.

On Syria, the senator said, “I think what is going to happen is that we’ll leave ample troops in there.”

But Inhofe later told reporters that it’s possible troops could be withdrawn in the coming year.

The comments add to the back-and-forth saga of when troops might leave Syria and Afghanistan after Trump raised the specter of quick troop withdrawals in both countries in recent months.

On Dec. 19, Trump stunned Capitol Hill and the Pentagon with a decision to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria within 30 days. The next day, reports suggested Trump was also planning to drawdown 7,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Since that time, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and was replaced by Shanahan, his then-deputy. The Trump administration have also backed off plans for immediate troop withdrawals or drawdowns in either country.

Last week, the Senate defied Trump’s plan to withdraw troops in Syria and Afghanistan, voting 70 to 26 to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the countries through an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attached to a larger legislative package.

Inhofe said Tuesday that when he wants to get Trump’s attention on what he thinks is a wrong move, the senator will signal that it is something former President Barack Obama would have done.

“I’m a fan of the president’s… but I’ve debated this with him before … before we had that (vote), I was saying everything has got to be [based on] conditions on the ground,” he said. “I just don’t think anyone is going to be able to say today how many troops will be coming out or when they are going to be coming out.”

Inhofe also said he doesn’t foresee Shanahan getting nominated permanently to the post or reaching a confirmation hearing but he also doesn’t want to set a deadline for selecting a new defense secretary. One issue, Inhofe said, is Shanahan’s strong ties to Boeing, where he worked for 30 years.

“Every time someone has any kind of background whether it’s Boeing or regardless of what company it is … there’s going to be kind of a built-in suspicion and I would say this will become very partisan,” he said.

The senator also said Shanahan isn’t as humble as his predecessor. And while Inhofe wouldn’t divulge potential defense secretary candidates, he did say he hopes the next Pentagon leader has some of the traits of Mattis.

“[Mattis] had a very rare talent and it’s called humility, and I’d like that to have that rub off on somebody else,” said Inhofe, who described Mattis as a close friend.

Inhofe said he talked with Trump about the next defense secretary as the president was returning from his first trip to Iraq.

Inhofe also expressed objections to Trump declaring a national emergency to pull funds from military construction, though the senator was more open to the idea of pulling money from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“If it becomes necessary, I think that he might do the emergency,” Inhofe said. “What I have voiced is if it has to be that way, leave (military construction funds) alone.”

Since December, Trump has threatened a national emergency to use the military’s available construction funds and personnel to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Inhofe also said he continues to push for a $750 billion defense budget. That figure has become a moving target since Trump suggested cuts last year. But since that time, White House officials have signaled they are open to increasing the budget.

Inhofe said he supports that base budget and a larger overseas contingency operations fund.

“In my opinion, you need to be at 750,” Inhofe said of the overall Pentagon budget.

Military Times: Shanahan arrives in Baghdad amid fallout over Trump’s Iran comments

By: Tara Copp | 1 day ago

BAGHDAD — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad Tuesday with questions lingering as to whether President Donald Trump’s comments on using Iraq as a staging area to monitor Iran had hampered potential plans to relocate U.S. forces from Syria there.

It was Shanahan’s first trip to Iraq, and took place just prior to key defense meetings with NATO and then in Munich, where he will meet with allied contributors in the fight against the Islamic State.

While on the ground, Shanahan met with senior U.S. military commanders, including Operation Inherent Resolve commander Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera and, importantly, new Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

Abdul-Mahdi’s connections to forces who previously fought against U.S. troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom and his government’s current ties to Iran have highlighted the sensitivities of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.

In a briefing with reporters after his visit, Shanahan said he focused on Iraq’s sovereignty, and on what the U.S. can contribute to continue to strengthen its military capabilities. In a nod to the political sensitivities of relocating U.S. forces from Syria into Iraq, Shanahan said the relocation issue was not brought up. He did not, however, rule out Iraq as an option as the U.S. looks to reposition those 2,000 forces from Syria.

Earlier this month, President Trump suggested that al-Asad Air Base — a sprawling complex U.S. forces used to help rebuild Iraq’s military and as a staging base to help Iraq retake territory claimed by the Islamic State — could be used to house the 2,000 forces he announced would be pulled from Syria.

Those relocated troops would be in addition to the 5,200 forces currently deployed to train Iraqi forces and to ensure ISIS does not make a comeback.

While the U.S. presence in Iraq to assist in operations against ISIS has Iraqi government support, Trump suggested that a key advantage of pulling the Syria-based U.S. troops into Iraq could be to monitor Iran, which generated immediate blowback.

Abbas Kadhim, director of the Iraqi Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the 2005 Iraqi constitution that the U.S. helped craft actually forbids Iraq from supporting any activity that could be seen as belligerent by its neighbors, to include hosting foreign forces to counter Iran.

"That was not helpful to make a statement like that,” Kadhim said. “The presence of U.S. forces is not unanimously accepted.”

Those additional 2,000 forces could potentially be accepted if it is understood they are only there to counter ISIS in Syria, he said.

Stars & Stripes: Gen. Abrams: North Korea has not changed its military posture as Trump-Kim meeting nears

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: February 12, 2019

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Tuesday that North Korea has made few, if any, changes to its military posture and has provided no evidence it intends to end its nuclear program since agreeing to do so in the summer.

Tensions have eased along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea since the summit in June between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Kim’s regime has declined to provide proof that they had taken any irreversible steps toward denuclearization and his forces have continued to conduct “full spectrum” training exercises.

“I remain clear-eyed about the fact that despite the reduction in tensions along the [demilitarized zone] … we have observed no significant changes to size, scope, or the timing of their ongoing exercises compared to the same time period over the last four years,” said Abrams, who took command in South Korea about three months ago. “Further, North Korea’s conventional and asymmetric military capabilities along with their continued development of advanced conventional systems remain unchecked. These capabilities continue to hold the United States, [South Korea] and our regional allies at risk.”

North Korea remains the No. 1 immediate threat to American forces in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, said Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief who testified alongside Abrams on Tuesday.

The observations come just weeks before Trump and Kim are set to meet face-to-face again. That summit is scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Trump has touted an optimistic view of North Korea – once proclaiming it was no longer a threat – since his first meeting with Kim. He tweeted this week that he looked “forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!”

Abrams, Davidson and several Republican Armed Services Committee members endorsed the president’s second summit, saying they hoped to see the North Koreans commit to dismantling their nuclear programs transparently.

Several Democrat members did not express such optimism. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the first meeting led to “a stark and stunning lack of any action [or] progress.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., raised concerns that Trump could make a bad trade in the talks, such as removing American troops from South Korea.

“That action would significantly undermine regional security and our ability to fulfill our treaty obligations to South Korea,” said Reed, the top Democrat on the committee.

Following his first meeting with Kim, Trump abruptly announced he would cancel large-scale military training exercises in South Korea. North Korea agreed to return to the United States some 50 boxes of remains believed to contain the bodies of missing American servicemembers from the Korean War.

Abrams downplayed the impact of curbing those high-level exercises on U.S. and South Korean troops’ combat readiness, saying servicemembers have continued to conduct training exercises together on smaller scales. They remain prepared and capable of defending South Korean territory against an invasion from the North, he said.

Abrams also said the last time that North Korea launched a ballistic missile or conducted a nuclear weapons test was before the first Trump-Kim summit.

“Today is day 440 since the last strategic provocation of the [North Koreans] … either a missile flight test or nuclear weapons test,” he said. “The reduction in tensions on the peninsula is palpable. Along the DMZ, there has been significant reduction that has enable nation-confidence building measures … decreased the chance of mistakes, miscalculation, and continue to preserve space for the main [diplomatic] effort.”

The upcoming second summit, he said, was a “positive sign of continued dialogue.”

“It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017,” Abrams said.

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