26 June, 2018 09:58

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, June 26, 2018 which is National Canoe Day, Tropical Cocktails Day, National Chocolate Pudding Day and Forgiveness Day.

This Day in History:

· On this day in 1948, U.S. and British pilots begin delivering food and supplies by airplane to Berlin after the city is isolated by a Soviet Union blockade. When World War II ended in 1945, defeated Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation. The city of Berlin, though located within the Soviet zone of occupation, was also split into four sectors, with the Allies taking the western part of the city and the Soviets the eastern. In June 1948, Josef Stalin’s government attempted to consolidate control of the city by cutting off all land and sea routes to West Berlin in order to pressure the Allies to evacuate. As a result, beginning on June 24 the western section of Berlin and its 2 million people were deprived of food, heating fuel and other crucial supplies.

· 1917: During World War I, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops land in France at the port of Saint Nazaire. The landing site had been kept secret because of the menace of German submarines, but by the time the Americans had lined up to take their first salute on French soil, an enthusiastic crowd had gathered to welcome them. However, the “Doughboys,” as the British referred to the green American troops, were untrained, ill-equipped, and far from ready for the difficulties of fighting along the Western Front.

· 1965: Gen. William Westmoreland, senior U.S. military commander in Vietnam, is given formal authority to commit American troops to battle when he decides they are necessary “to strengthen the relative position of the GVN [Government of Vietnam] forces.” This authorization permitted Westmoreland to put his forces on the offensive. Heretofore, U.S. combat forces had been restricted to protecting U.S. airbases and other facilities.

· On this day in 1945, the Charter for the United Nations is signed in San Francisco. The United Nations was born of perceived necessity, as a means of better arbitrating international conflict and negotiating peace than was provided for by the old League of Nations. The growing Second World War became the real impetus for the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union to begin formulating the original U.N. Declaration, signed by 26 nations in January 1942, as a formal act of opposition to Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis Powers.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· Military Times: Can Congress finish its VA budget plan before the October deadline?

· Stripes: Summit vow raises hopes for families of Americans missing from Korean War

· Military Times: VA backs off suicide study that indicated thousands of unreported military deaths

· Stripes: House approves benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans

· Federal Times: Dems fight to wall off military from Trump’s immigration plans

· Federal Times: Will the TRICARE dental replacement be full-filling for veterans?

· Washington Times: Army training will now focus on actual battlefield skills, not social issues

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Military Times: Can Congress finish its VA budget plan before the October deadline?

By: Leo Shane III   13 hours ago

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WASHINGTON — Senate lawmakers approved a “minibus” of appropriations bills Monday that could result in next year’s Veterans Affairs and military construction funding being finished before the start of the new fiscal year.

That would represent a significant legislative victory for Congress, given the lengthy delay in most appropriations measures in recent years.

In 2016, just a few weeks before the presidential election and a few days before the next fiscal year, lawmakers finalized their VA and military construction budget plan. It’s the only time in the last five years that Congress has met that deadline for funding any portion of federal operations.

The Senate’s 86-5 vote to approve the multi-agency appropriations package — along with VA money, it includes fiscal 2019 funding for the energy and water programs and the legislative branch — comes three weeks after the House passed a similar combined budget deal.

Now the two separate funding plans will head to a conference committee, where lawmakers will have about three months to negotiate a final agreement.

Senators have proposed $86.4 billion in discretionary spending for VA programs in fiscal 2019, 5.7 percent above the department’s fiscal 2018 budget and about $1.1 billion more than what the White House and House lawmakers have backed.

Senate appropriators said the extra money is spread across a host of different programs, and will help cover increasing demands being placed on VA operations.

But fiscal conservatives in Congress have lamented the ever-growing size of the VA budget and warned that unchecked raises cannot continue indefinitely.

Combined with mandatory spending, the Senate proposal totals nearly $196 billion for VA operations in fiscal 2019. When the war in Afghanistan began in fiscal 2001, the VA budget totaled less than $49 billion. In fiscal 2009, it was $93.7 billion, less than half the current target.

Another issue that conference officials will have to resolve is whether to exempt certain department accounts from future spending caps, a move that advocates have said is necessary given the health care overhaul legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump last month.

White House officials have resisted the idea, preferring instead that any new VA spending be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. But veterans groups have said that could negatively impact other services.

Both the House and Senate measures include $10.3 billion in military construction funds, in line with administration plans.

That includes $1.6 billion for military housing projects, nearly 11 percent above fiscal 2018 levels. Another $361 million is earmarked for construction and alterations at military medical facilities, and $368 million more for improvements at DOD schools.

The House is expected to finalize its draft of the defense appropriations bill for fiscal 2019 this week, and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel will unveil its draft of the legislation on Tuesday.

But work on that appropriations package is expected to be more problematic, given that Democrats in both chambers are unlikely to support any military funding plan until fights on several non-defense budget measures are settled.

Stripes: Summit vow raises hopes for families of Americans missing from Korean War

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 26, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea – Air Force pilot 2nd Lt. Jimmy Louis Escalle was making his second pass to strafe a convoy of camouflaged trucks deep in North Korean territory when he disappeared from radio contact on June 19, 1953.

It was just over a month before an armistice was signed to end the Korean War.

A search crew spotted the smoking wreckage of what was presumed to be his F-86 Sabre fighter jet but no sign of the 23-year-old pilot – one of thousands of American servicemembers who remain unaccounted for.

His nephew and namesake Jim Escalle and other MIA families are hoping that North Korea’s promise to return remains of Americans who were lost on their territory will finally bring their loved ones home.

“I was elated when I heard North Korea was going to repatriate remains,” said Escalle, a 58-year-old substitute teacher in Bakersfield, Calif. “It is a positive step in the right direction.”

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed during their June 12 summit in Singapore to “recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

It would be the first such repatriation in more than a decade after a joint search effort was brought to a halt amid rising tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command is on standby for the handover and sent wooden coffins and flags to the truce village in the tense border that divides the peninsula.

“They have staged appropriate logistics materials, and we simply are standing by for whenever the … diplomatic activities are done. And we’re optimistic that it will begin because that was an agreement coming out of … Singapore,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Sunday en route to Alaska.

Mattis, who also will travel to China, South Korea and Japan, said the UNC would oversee the repatriation because of the multilateral nature of the war, with about 15 countries sending troops.

The summit agreement appeared to refer to an estimated 200 sets of remains that the North Koreans have said in the past were ready to be returned, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

That would be a fraction of the 7,702 missing American troops, with 5,300 believed to have been lost in the North.

But Escalle, who has done extensive research and written a book about his uncle, called it an important step.

“Hopefully, more remains will be repatriated in the near future, and our search teams will go back into North Korea to look for more missing servicemen,” Escalle said in an email. “I also hope and pray that this process will continue without any political stumbling blocks getting in the way.”

Identification issues

Two weeks after the summit, no date has been set for the repatriation, despite Trump’s assertion on Thursday that “they’ve already sent back or are in the process of sending back the remains of our great heroes who died in North Korea during the war.”

It’s also unclear exactly where the handover would occur, although the military has prepared for it to be at Panmunjom since it straddles the border.

More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the three-year war, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5-mile wide no man’s land dotted with landmines and lined with barbed wire.

Joint U.S.-North Korean military search teams recovered 229 sets of American remains from North Korea between 1996 and 2005, according to the DPAA.

The United States was allowed to conduct 33 investigative and recovery operations in the country before former President George W. Bush’s administration called off the search, claiming the safety of American participants was not guaranteed.

Critics at the time also argued the North was using the program to extort money from Washington, prompting the label “bones for bucks.”

The last repatriation was in 2007 when then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson traveled to Pyongyang and returned with six sets of remains.

Mattis said that if they’re turned over at the border, the remains would be taken to Osan Air Base south of Seoul where they would undergo an initial examination “just to make sure that they’re probably from either western countries or other countries that were sending states.”

They would then be sent to the DPAA’s laboratory in Hawaii for forensics testing and identification, a daunting task that can take months and often years.

For example, funerals have been held in past months for servicemembers whose remains were among those recovered during joint searches with the North Koreans in the early 2000s but have only recently been identified.

The effort is complicated by the decades that have lapsed, the death of close relatives who could contribute DNA and the condition of the remains, which are sometimes mixed together. Techniques used include skeletal analyses, sampling DNA, dental and chest radiograph comparisons, and historical evidence.

“We have family reference samples for over 80 percent of Korean War unaccounted for servicemembers,” DPAA spokesman Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman said. “We owe a profound debt of gratitude to U.S. servicemembers who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home.”

Final mission

2nd Lt. Jimmy Louis Escalle, who was deployed to South Korea’s Suwon Air Base with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, known as the “Flying Fiends,” was determined to fly as many missions as possible, according to an account provided by his nephew.

The pace picked up in the weeks before the truce was signed on July 27 as the Chinese, who were fighting with the North, made a push to gain as much territory as possible beforehand.

“After dark you could see the tracers. It looked like a Fourth of July in the late evening,” Escalle wrote in a June 16 letter to his younger brother Bob.

“We really worked hard for those three days and I think we helped the soldiers a lot. Everyone still thinks the truce will be signed. The Chinese are just trying to get some good hills right now,” he said, adding that he had 40 missions under his belt.

Three days later, the F-86 Sabre pilot disappeared while making a run against a convoy of camouflaged trucks he had spotted parked on a dirt road in a valley near North Korea’s east coast.

His wingman circled the immediate area and called him repeatedly from the radio but eventually had to return home because of low fuel. A search crew later spotted the F-86 wreckage but it was too dangerous to risk sending in a helicopter.

Escalle is listed by the DPAA as a first lieutenant because he was later promoted for length of service since he remained on active duty even while listed as MIA.

His nephew said his effort to find and spread information about his uncle began at age 8 when he found some old photographs.

“I also wanted to know about the Korean War, so I could understand the environment in which he fought and eventually gave his life,” he said. “I didn’t want him to be forgotten, as the Korean War itself has been called over the years.”

Military Times: VA backs off suicide study that indicated thousands of unreported military deaths

By: Leo Shane III  20 hours ago

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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials are walking back a new suicide study which appeared to show thousands of unreported military deaths in recent years, saying differences among classifications of service members led to confusion in the statistics.

At issue is an update last week to VA’s annual National Suicide Data Report, a massive collaboration between the department, defense researchers and census analysts which has founds that roughly 20 veterans a day take their own lives. That figure has held steady from 2008 to 2015, the latest year data is available.

But for the first time, this year’s update to the report breaks down those figures into veterans receiving VA health care (about six individuals a day), veterans not using the department’s health services (11 a day), and a group including active-duty troops, guardsmen and reservists (four a day).

That calculation would put the official Defense Department suicide total among troops at close to 1,400 for 2015, about 900 higher than what military officials had previously reported.

Over a four-year span, the difference between the official defense figures and the newly released VA estimates tops more than 3,400 deaths.

Several news outlets noted the sudden data spike following the report’s release. On Monday, VA officials acknowledged that their military figures are misleading.

“In our report, VA did not differentiate deaths between active duty, current never federally activated Guard and Reserve, and discharged never federally activated Guard and Reserve,” said Dr. Keita Franklin, VA’s national director of suicide prevention.

“This difference in the report may have caused some confusion and led to the misperception that approximately 1,000 more current service members died by suicide than DoD reported in 2015.”

Franklin said including the breakdown in the report was designed to provide more information about the demographics of individuals who took their own lives. The updated report also contains new information on veterans’ era of service, ethnicity and comparison age groups in an effort to provide “more data points for us to look at.”

VA officials blamed the confusion on the troops’ suicide information on inconsistent definitions used in various agencies. Individuals who served in the guard or reserves and are considered “veterans” in census reports may not have been counted in the Defense Department statistics because of different mobilization authorities and state rules.

But the VA researchers are now emphasizing they have not found fault with official military suicide statistics, which have counted between 550 and 450 active-duty, guard and reserve suicides in each of the last five calendar years.

Franklin said to VA researchers, the data shows that the rate of suicides among former service members has remained steady at around 20 a day, and the rate among currently serving troops sits just above one person a day.

“And that shows we still have work to do,” she said.

Franklin said federal researchers are working to better align their definitions for the next release of the suicide report, which is due out this fall.

The report also shows that contrary to public perception, younger veterans are not the most likely to take their own lives. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan War era made up about 17 percent of the veterans population in 2015 but only accounted for 11 percent of the suicide deaths.

Individuals who served in peacetime between major conflicts made up 21 percent of the national veterans population but one-third of all deaths by suicide in 2015.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order mandating more targeted support services for veterans in their first year of separation from the military, citing research that shows those individuals are among the most vulnerable to depression and suicidal tendencies.

Both the Defense Department and VA have invested millions in suicide prevention efforts in recent years, including a dramatic expansion of crisis line services to help individuals in distress.

To contact the Veteran Crisis Line, callers can dial 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their families members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.

Stripes: House approves benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 25, 2018

WASHINGTON — The House unanimously passed legislation Monday that would extend Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to approximately 90,000 sailors who served off the coast during the Vietnam War, some of whom have been fighting for years to prove their illnesses were caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

Lawmakers voted 382-0 in favor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which must go to the Senate for final approval. It provides eligibility for disability compensation to “Blue Water” Navy veterans – those sailors aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships who contend they were exposed to Agent Orange through the ships’ water systems. The dioxin-laden herbicide has been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, as well as other conditions.

“Every day, thousands of brave veterans who served in the Vietnam War fight the health effects of Agent Orange exposure,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., the bill’s lead sponsor. “It is far past time we pass this critical legislation and give them the comfort and care they deserve.”

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the legislation would correct a “long-standing injustice.”

A VA policy decision in 2002 stripped Blue Water Navy veterans of their eligibility for compensation, unless they could prove they set foot in Vietnam. Bills were introduced in 2011, 2013 and 2015 to address the problem, but progress stalled because of cost concerns.

Extending the benefits for 10 years would cost $1.1 billion, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. To make up the cost, the legislation raises fees for servicemembers and veterans who use the VA’s home loan program. The increase amounts to between $2.14 and $2.95 each month.

“It has taken years of dedicated advocacy and bipartisanship to get us here today,” Takano said. “Finding over $1 billion in the federal budget is not an easy task. The solution in this bill is fair.”

Susie Belanger and John Wells – both Florida residents – were in the House gallery on Monday when lawmakers cast their votes. The two formed the group Military-Veterans Advocacy nearly eight years ago to push Congress to work for Blue Water Navy veterans.

Belanger’s husband, Ernest Belanger, was a sailor who served off the coast of Vietnam. He successfully received approval for VA benefits by proving he stepped foot in the country, but the couple knew other veterans were still being denied coverage. Susie Belanger recruited Wells, an attorney and retired Navy officer, and started an emailing campaign. Now, her emails are known on Capitol Hill as “Susie-grams.”

“Little by little, they all listened,” Belanger said. “That’s how we got this as far as we have.”

Lawmakers repeatedly thanked advocates Monday who helped make the issue a priority in Congress. Valadao called Belanger out by name.

“Passage of this bill today would not be possible without Ms. Susie Belanger, who worked tirelessly to raise awareness on this issue,” Valadao said.

It’s uncertain when the Senate might take up the issue. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, urged the Senate to pass it.

“When I got the chairmanship a year ago, I said one of the things I’ll base my chairmanship on is if we can get this solved and do the right thing,” Roe said. “Today we’re going to do the right thing in this House and send it to the Senate, where they will do the right thing.”

Federal Times: Dems fight to wall off military from Trump’s immigration plans

By: Joe Gould  16 hours ago

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero-tolerance” immigration policy has a weak spot: It is using the Defense Department as a crutch to cover shortfalls in prosecutors, in detention facilities and in enforcement personnel.

Now House Democrats hope to exploit that vulnerability with a slew of proposed amendments—for the $675 billion defense appropriation bill expected to receive floor consideration this week—aimed at rebuffing Trump’s plans.

Of the 130-plus amendments proposed, a handful hope to block cooperation between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Health and Human Services. The Rules Committee is set to begin screening amendments on Monday night.

The legislation comes amid an uproar over the Trump administration’s plan to prosecute each person caught illegally crossing the border and to separate children and parents who crossed the border together. The president reversed course on child separations last week, but chaos and confusion has continued to dog the policy’s implementation.

To supplement a gap in DHS’s detention facilities, the Pentagon plans to build temporary detention camps for as many as 20,000 immigrants, on military installations. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is also answering an urgent call from the Justice Department to send 21 judge advocates to help prosecute misdemeanor immigration cases.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and 27 other lawmakers have cosponsored an amendment to prevent the Pentagon from fulfilling any requests from the Department of Health and Human Services in regards to the care or custody of an unaccompanied child, including those separated from their parents at the border.

“I’m advancing an amendment to restrict the Trump Admin [from] housing these children on military bases,” Doggett said Sunday on Twitter, adding: “We will keep raising our voices to defend these young, distraught children and their mothers.”

One amendment from Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., would bar funds from helping, coordinating or building facilities on DoD lands to hold unaccompanied immigrant children. While another from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., would also bar funds for family immigration detention on DoD property.

Outside the defense spending bill debate, at least one Republican on the House Armed Services Committee is also resisting a reported plan for a Navy-run migrant camp in his district, calling it “misguided.”

“Housing anyone in tents on the Gulf Coast during the heat of summer and the heart of hurricane season would be inhumane and a major mistake. I am committed to working with our local officials to fight back against this misguided idea,” said Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne, the seapower sub-panel’s vice-chair, told AL.com.

“The whole issue just underscores why it is so important we secure our borders and crack down on illegal immigration.”

New York Democratic Reps. José Serrano and Joseph Crowley offered an amendment to block the Pentagon from detailing employees to the Department of Justice to assist with the prosecution of federal immigration laws.Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Pramila Jayapal, D-Was., have sponsored similar measures.

Jayapal, on the heels of a visit with asylum-seekers at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Wash., said they were improperly being treated as criminals. She called the zero-tolerance policy “cruel and inhumane.”

Before the furor over child separations, as many as 4,000 guardsmen were authorized in April to deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border to support the Department of Homeland Security, in line with a presidential memorandum. Some lawmakers are targeting that as well.

HASC Vice Ranking Member Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, offered an amendment that would bar any National Guard or other reserve component from enforcing immigration laws. HASC member Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., offered similar amendments.

Federal Times: Will the TRICARE dental replacement be full-filling for veterans?

By: Jessie Bur  3 days ago

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Military retirees and their families will have to change their dental plans for 2019 by switching over from the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program to the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Program.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program will end on December 31, 2018, requiring those enrolled in the program to switch their coverage over to one of 10 dental plans under the FEDVIP program. Automatic enrollment will not occur when the TRICARE dental plan ends, meaning that recipients will have to actively chose plans during the FEDVIP open enrollment season, which takes place November 12 through December 10.

“The FEDVIP system is different from the Beneficiary Web Enrollment portal currently used to enroll with TRICARE. BENEFEDS is the government-authorized and OPM-contracted enrollment portal through which eligible participants enroll, and manage their family members’ coverage in a FEDVIP plan. There is a microsite dedicated just for TRICARE beneficiaries where they will be able to get enrollment and other information,” an OPM spokesperson told Federal Times.

The change is prompted by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, which granted eligibility for certain TRICARE members to transition over to benefits offered under FEDVIP. This dental transition, however, does not have an impact on recipients’ standard TRICARE health plans.

In addition to retirees and their families, members of the Retired Reserve, non-active Medal of Honor recipients, survivors and family members of active-duty service members also have the option to enroll in dental and one of four vision plans under FEDVIPS.

This is the first time that most military families will have the option to sign up for vision benefits, though they must be signed up for a TRICARE Health Plan to be eligible.

According to OPM, this change could impact approximately 5.4 million individuals, and those eligible for the new plans will receive notification by mail.

This article has been updated to reflect new information provided by OPM.

Washington Times: Army training will now focus on actual battlefield skills, not social issues

Carlo Muñoz – The Washington Times – Monday, June 25, 2018

Fighting will now take precedence over dealing with transitioning transgender troops, drug abuse and other issues as the Army seeks to overhaul its training regimen to hone its soldiers’ battlefield skills.

In a series of servicewide memorandums approved by Army Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and obtained by The Washington Times, service leaders are making optional previously mandatory training on issues such as transgender transition and drug abuse. The move, Army leaders argue, is designed to relieve stress on the overburdened troop training regimen and refocus on soldiers’ ability to fight in combat.

“The Army’s regulations and policies that deal with training were pretty settled, and there were not a lot of detractors to it. … It was all the other [training] requirements that we levied on ourselves, or we had levied from other places” that led to the increasingly cumbersome approach to combat readiness, said Col. John O’Grady, chief of the Army’s collective training division.

Those mandated training requirements “served as barriers to maximizing time … to build readiness and lethality” within combat units, he said in an interview. Aside from ending mandatory training programs on transgender troops and drug abuse, courses on media awareness and human trafficking have been eliminated from the mandatory curriculum, the service memorandums state.

Army officials are codifying the new marching orders into servicewide training guidelines and doctrine, which will bring the Army more in line with the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy, Col. O’Grady said.

The strategy, which was one of Defense Secretary James N. Mattis’ earliest policy initiatives, shifted away from the George W. Bush and Obama-era strategies dominated by battling extremist groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State, and putting the priority on challenging traditional nation-state rivals such as China and Russia. It also placed a greater emphasis on increasing lethality in conventional combat operations.

Along with scaling back noncombat training mandates, service leaders are also extending the time soldiers spend in infantry training. Soldiers graduating from the nine-week basic training course will now spend an additional two months in “advanced individual training” before heading to their first duty stations.

New soldiers currently spend about six weeks in advanced individual training before deploying. Courses based at Fort Benning, Georgia — dubbed “Home of the Infantry” — will be the first to implement extended training, Military.com reported.

Other previously required training regimens — covering issues such as pre-deployment cultural awareness skills, combat survival and evasion, and dealing with improvised explosive devices — will now be carried out at the discretion of unit commanders.

Empowering commanders

Pushing command-level decision-making processes down to unit-level officers has been a trend for U.S. forces since Mr. Trump took office.

President Trump’s approval of a Pentagon plan last year to allow senior U.S. and coalition commanders in Iraq and Syria to delegate command of American air power down to the tactical level was widely welcomed by many military officers, who chafed at times from the close scrutiny of battlefield decisions under President Obama. The new Army training doctrine reflects a similar spirit of deference, Col. O’Grady said.

“One of the things this did is reinforce to commanders out in the field that you have the authority and responsibility to ensure your units are as highly trained as humanly possible” to carry out combat operations.

Eliminating mandatory training for transgender troops wades into the ongoing policy debate between the White House and federal courts over transgender troops in the ranks. Judge Marsha Pechman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington this month became the latest judge to block Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military.

Army officials say the decision to eliminate mandatory training for transgender troops was not made for ideological reasons, but because the effort had already run its course.

“Transgender training is complete across the Total Army,” one of the service memorandums states.

The initial push for mandatory training on transgender troops was to educate older officers and senior noncommissioned officers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with transgender troops, an Army official said. Younger, junior officers and newly enlisted soldiers do not require the same level of education on transgender issues.

But critics say Army leaders are doing a disservice to transgender soldiers and their units by canceling the mandatory training.

Army leaders engaged in a vigorous debate “balancing pros and cons and prioritizing what you expect” from the new training policies, particularly focused on transgender and other social issues, Col. O’Grady said.

While any decision was bound to spark debate, “I would offer [Mr. Esper] is probably pretty savvy on all of those decisions,” he added.

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