19 March, 2019 11:26

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, March 19, 2019, which is Certified Nurses Day, Let’s Laugh Day, National Chocolate Caramel Day and World Social Work Day.

Today in American Legion History:

· March 19, 1919: Lt. Col. George A. White of Oregon, who would later found The American Legion Weekly magazine, writes a letter to Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., saying the Paris Caucus had been “successful and wholesome” and was a rare opportunity for enlisted troops to openly express themselves. White would later rise to the rank of major general and command the Army’s 41st Infantry Division until his death in November 1941.

Today in History:

· On this day in 2003, the United States, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiates war on Iraq.

· 1931: In an attempt to lift the state out of the hard times of the Great Depression, the Nevada state legislature votes to legalize gambling.

· 1916: Eight Curtiss “Jenny” planes of the First Aero Squadron take off from Columbus, New Mexico, in the first combat air mission in U.S. history. The First Aero Squadron, organized in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I, was on a support mission for the 7,000 U.S. troops who invaded Mexico to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Stars & Stripes: Military bases in Nebraska battle flooding as Offutt AFB, Camp Ashland remain under water

· Military Times: Here is the Pentagon’s list of construction projects that could be cut to fund a border wall

· Associated Press: Veterans court could lose funding in immigration fight

· Associated Press: US military presence in Syria is ‘illegitimate,’ says defense minister

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Stars & Stripes: Military bases in Nebraska battle flooding as Offutt AFB, Camp Ashland remain under water

By Rose L. Thayer | Stars and Stripes | Published: March 18, 2019

Offutt Air Force Base is operating with only essential personnel and the National Guard’s Camp Ashland is completely closed as floodwaters remain high at both Nebraska bases from massive flooding over the weekend after rivers breached several levees following heavy rain and snowmelt upstream.

Military officials at the bases said Monday that they are surveying damage as they wait for the water to recede, which isn’t expected until Thursday.

Flooding began Friday at Offutt, peaked Sunday evening and flooded about one-third of the base. Overnight, the water only receded about one foot, Col. Michael Manion, commander of the 55th Wing Command, which is headquartered at Offutt, wrote on his Facebook page. He also oversees base operations.

His team at the base is now preparing its priorities for when the water recedes, focusing first on safety and then on “generation of combat power,” he wrote.

Since preparation began Friday, the colonel has chronicled online the devastating flooding that now covers much of the southeastern portion of Offutt. That area includes the majority of the aircraft hangars for the wing’s RC-135s, fixed-wing reconnaissance aircraft, said Ryan Hansen, 55th Wing spokesman. The majority were moved to higher ground on the base and eight were flown off base to a National Guard facility in Lincoln and MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

Base officials evacuated the Base Lake, a recreational camping area, early Friday and personnel worked around the clock to fortify facilities with more than 235,000 sandbags and 460 flood barriers to minimize damage as much as possible, according to a news release on the Offutt Facebook page.

But the efforts couldn’t stop the water from overflowing. With 30 buildings flooded and one access gate blocked by water, the base, which is also home to U.S. Strategic Command, is open only to mission essential personnel. About 10,000 people work on the installation. Of those, 6,500 are active-duty servicemembers.

The flooded facilities range from the 55th Wing’s headquarters to a veterinary clinic to a 55th Maintenance Group facility that is on the edge of the flooded area. Hansen estimated the maintenance facility is flooded with water about 2 to 3 feet high, with other base facilities further east flooded worse.

No housing or barracks were flooded, Hansen said.

“It is extremely clear that we face a grand challenge,” Manion wrote Sunday with photos of the airfield’s partially flooded runway. “Our goal is to only reopen when it’s safe.”

At about 6:20 p.m. Sunday, Manion posted the water levels stayed the same for about 12 hours and were not expected to rise. However, the Army Corps of Engineers predicted the water won’t begin to recede until Thursday.

Record-setting snowfall this winter is now melting, causing water levels to rise in the Missouri and Platte rivers and Papio Creek. Offutt sits north of where the two rivers meet.

Camp Ashland, a training site, is about 25 miles west of Offutt on the Platte River and is “completely underwater,” said Spc. Lisa Crawford, spokeswoman for the Nebraska National Guard. Flooding there began Wednesday and the 225 soldiers on base taking classes were evacuated.

Over the weekend, a levee protecting the base broke and military officials have not been able to access the base and assess damage, Crawford said.

“Right now we are focusing our attention on response efforts for the rest of the state and will assess our needs at a later time,” she said.

The Nebraska National Guard has nearly 80 servicemembers conducting medical evacuations as well as air and ground rescue missions, said Master Sgt. Michael Houk, spokesman for the National Guard. Since Friday, about 43 people have been rescued. Equipment in use includes three UH-60L Blackhawk helicopters and one LUH-72A Lakota helicopter.

Ashland flooded despite updated infrastructure following catastrophic flooding in May 2015, reported the Omaha World-Herald. In response, the Guard spent about $3.7 million installing flood gates on some buildings, rebuilding others on stilts and adding additional flood-control measures.

With the water moving downstream, flooding has begun in Missouri with hundreds of homes flooding as levees are breached in the northwestern part of the state, The Associated Press reported. Military C-130 planes, designed to transport cargo or people, were evacuated last week from nearby Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph.

Military Times: Here is the Pentagon’s list of construction projects that could be cut to fund a border wall

By: Tara Copp | 13 hours ago

The Pentagon has released its list of military construction projects that could be cut to fund President Donald Trump’s requested border wall. The bottom line: basically every state has a project that could be delayed in order to get construction underway, but only a very specific set could actually be cut.

To tally up $6.8 billion for wall construction, the Pentagon has proposed culling unobligated spending from approved construction projects. From the list, only funds from projects that had a projected award date after Oct. 1, 2019, are eligible to be used, and it cannot include military barracks.

The list released by the Pentagon includes all unobligated projects — not all of which would be eligible to be used, based on their criteria.

See the full list of projects here.

For example, under the rules the Pentagon has established, $5.2 million for Anniston Army Depot in Alabama to build a weapons maintenance shop that was due to be awarded in March 2020 could be cut. On the other hand, $77 million for a vehicle maintenance shop at Fort Carson that was due to be awarded in June 2019 could not be cut.

The list laid out to members what their constituents had to lose, which some Democrats suggested could fuel enough opposition to be able to override President Trump’s veto last week of the National Emergency Declaration. The president’s declaration of a national emergency was what had loosened up the potential to use this military construction funding in the first place; last week both chambers voted to recall that emergency — which Trump then vetoed.

It becomes a much clearer fight though, said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., when members see the lost spending in their districts.

“A bipartisan majority of Congress went on record in voting to rebuke this ill-conceived idea. Now that members of Congress can see the potential impact this proposal could have on projects in their home states, I hope they will take that into consideration before the vote to override the president’s veto," Reed said.

Some of the projects on the list that are at risk:

· $31 million for a mission training complex at East Camp Grafenwoehr, Germany

· $50 million for a rotary wing apron at Wheeler Army Air Field in Hawaii

· $16 million for a railcar holding area for Crane Army Ammunition Plant in Indiana

· $53 million for a UAV hangar for Kunsan Air Base in Korea

· $40 million for an information systems complex at White Sands, New Mexico

· $95 million for an engineering center at the U.S. Military Academy

Associated Press: Veterans court could lose funding in immigration fight

By ANDREW SELSKY | Associated Press | Published: March 17, 2019

EUGENE, Ore. — Three decades ago, Lori Ann Bourgeois was guarding fighter jets at an air base. After her discharge, she fell into drug addiction. She wound up living on the streets and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.

But on a recent day, the former Air Force Security Police member walked into a Veterans Treatment Court after completing a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Two dozen fellow vets sitting on the courtroom benches applauded. A judge handed Bourgeois a special coin marking the occasion, inscribed with the words “Change Attitude, Change Thinking, Change Behavior.”

The program Bourgeois credits for pulling her out of the “black hole” of homelessness is among more than three dozen Oregon specialty courts caught in a standoff between the state and federal governments over immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration in 2017 threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from 29 cities, counties or states it viewed as having “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Today, all those jurisdictions have received or been cleared to get the money, except Oregon, which is battling for the funds in federal court.

The Veterans Treatment Court in Eugene and 40 other specialty courts, including mental health and civilian drug programs, risk losing all or part of their budgets, said Michael Schmidt, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which administers the money.

The commission has managed to keep the courts funded through July, Schmidt said. Unless the Trump administration relents or is forced by court order to deliver the money, or the Oregon Legislature comes up with it, the commission must make “horrible, tough decisions” about where to make the cuts, Schmidt said.

Speaking in her small office in the Eugene courthouse, specialty courts coordinator Danielle Hanson said if the veterans court budget is cut, the vets would have to start paying for drug treatment, and they would be deprived of housing resources and travel funds to go to residential treatment facilities as far as 330 miles away. Some veterans even might be turned away.

“It would impact the program substantially,” Hanson said.

Two dozen former servicemembers, men and women, are currently going through the rigorous program that lasts a minimum of a year, and usually up to a year and a half. They must attend group sessions three times per week, come to court at least once per week — presided over by Judge Valeri Love, who acts as their commanding officer — submit to regular urinalysis tests and show progress. Graduates can have convictions cleared and can avoid prison.

“The Veterans Treatment Court creates a routine and a regimen that many vets can thrive in. It pulls them out of isolation,” said Michael Hajarizadeh, who represents the vets as a public defender. Many have post-traumatic stress disorder, but the common thread is substance abuse, said Hajarizadeh, who himself is an Army veteran of the Afghanistan war.

He said the support structure and the bond vets feel for each other make the system work.

Bourgeois looked healthy and confident and wore a radiant smile as she accepted the coin March 7 and shook Love’s hand. It was a sharp contrast to when Bourgeois was arrested in a homeless camp on Aug. 31, 2017 — her 50th birthday.

“This is my first time not being homeless in seven years,” Bourgeois said, blinking back tears behind metal-framed eyeglasses. “It is a big milestone.”

Bourgeois served in the Air Force Security Police, now called Security Forces, for four years, until 1991. A back injury resulted in dependence on prescription painkillers, escalating to other drugs.

In November, the Lane County Circuit Court entered her into the veterans court after finding her guilty of possessing meth. If she completes the program, the circuit court will discharge Bourgeois and will dismiss all proceedings against her. She had faced a year in jail.

She is on probation and staying in a house for those recovering from addiction.

“Without this, I’d still be out on the streets,” Bourgeois said. “I’m very grateful to be back and start again.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued President Donald Trump in November to get $4 million in grants restored from fiscal years 2017 and 2018, saying Oregon was “unlawfully deprived” of the funds. The lawsuit accuses Trump of an “unconstitutional attempt” to compel Oregon to enforce federal immigration policies.

“As we have seen, these efforts have frequently been both inhumane and dangerous,” Rosenblum said.

Furthermore, the administration is violating the separation of powers by invading Congress’ spending authority, the lawsuit says.

The Byrne grants, named for a New York City policeman killed by gang members in 1988, are the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions, supporting law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education.

Other courts have ruled against the U.S. Justice Department’s attempt to condition them on immigration cooperation.

In September, a federal court temporarily blocked the agency from withholding the funds for jurisdictions represented by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which filed suit in Illinois last summer. Not all went to court to get the grants. Vermont did not join any of the legal cases, instead corresponding directly with the Justice Department. Vermont officials announced earlier this month the state Department of Public Safety would be getting $2.3 million in previously blocked grants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joseph Hunt was among federal attorneys who filed a motion March 5 to have Oregon’s lawsuit dismissed, arguing the Trump administration has the right to require federal immigration cooperation in order for Oregon to receive the Byrne grants.

Oregon’s 1987 sanctuary state law, the nation’s first, prevents law enforcement from detaining people who are in the U.S. illegally but have not broken any other laws. Consequently, authorities in the state won’t hold those who committed crimes and finished their sentences to be picked up by federal immigration agents, unless they have warrants signed by judges.

Ronald Cooper, 81, a Marine veteran who is a veterans court mentor, has mixed emotions about the veterans court being caught in the immigration tug-of-war.

Wearing an orange garrison cap with the Marine emblem, Cooper said he voted for a November ballot measure to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law, believing that people who are in America illegally and committed crimes should be handed over for deportation.

But he’s more forgiving of people whose only crime is being in the country illegally. He noted that those who serve in the military can be fast-tracked for citizenship.

Cooper said he wants to see veterans treatment programs expanded by the federal government, not face possible cuts.

“We’ve seen so much progress in this court,” he said.

Associated Press: US military presence in Syria is ‘illegitimate,’ says defense minister

By: Albert Aji, The Associated Press | 15 hours ago

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s defense minister on Monday slammed what he called the “illegitimate” U.S. military presence in his country, vowing that Damascus has a right to self-defense, while Iraq said a border crossing with Syria will open in the coming days.

Syria’s Gen. Ali Ayoub spoke during a rare joint news conference with visiting Iranian and Iraqi army commanders who have been holding meetings in the capital, Damascus.

The U.S. currently has about 2,000 troops in eastern and northern Syria and is expected to withdraw hundreds of them in the coming months.

The meeting in Damascus illustrates the strong alliance between Iran, Iraq and Syria at a time when the U.S. is seeking to isolate and increase sanctions against Iran and its regional allies.

Tehran has sent troops and Iran-backed fighters into Syria and Iraq to fight alongside government forces against Islamic militants, including the Islamic State group, which is on the verge of defeat by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the last area under its control in eastern Syria.

"The Americans will leave Syria as they left other places, because this is an illegitimate presence and is rejected no matter what the justifications are," Ayoub said. "Syria has affirmed the necessity of the withdrawal of these forces. It is a force of occupation and violates the country’s sovereignty," he said.

After years of setbacks, Syrian government forces have been on the offensive since 2016 and have regained control of wide parts of the country thanks to Russian and Iranian support. Ayoub vowed to eventually capture the last major rebel stronghold in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Asked about reports of tension between Iranians and Russians in Syria, Ayoub strongly denied them, saying "the role of the friends and allies was important in all that has been achieved on the ground."

Iranian army commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, who arrived in Damascus on Sunday, said "Syria and Iraq have asked the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian armed forces to stand by their side and help, through advisers as well as logistical support." He added that Iranian troops had been invited by Syrian authorities and would only leave when asked by the Syrians.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Bagheri as saying that Iran, Syria and Iraq will work together to bring end to the presence of foreign forces in Syria. "The current phase has aimed at reinstating the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the departure of all forces who have been present in the country without permission" from Damascus, he said.

Bagheri added that the three countries will "continue the path" of cooperation, as they have in recent years.

The Iraqi army commander, Gen. Osman Ghanemi, did not give further details about the border crossing between Syria and Iraq, saying only that it is open in the coming days.

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