8 January, 2019 08:19

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, January 8, 2019 which is Bubble Bath Day, Argyle Day, National English Toffee Day and Show and Tell at Work Day.

This Day in History:

· On this day in 1877, Crazy Horse and his warriors–outnumbered, low on ammunition and forced to use outdated weapons to defend themselves–fight their final losing battle against the U.S. Cavalry in Montana. Six months earlier, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse and his ally, Chief Sitting Bull, led their combined forces of Sioux and Cheyenne to a stunning victory over Lieutenant Colonel George Custer (1839-76) and his men. The Indians were resisting the U.S. government’s efforts to force them back to their reservations. After Custer and over 200 of his soldiers were killed in the conflict, later dubbed “Custer’s Last Stand,” the American public wanted revenge. As a result, the U.S. Army launched a winter campaign in 1876-77, led by General Nelson Miles (1839-1925), against the remaining hostile Indians on the Northern Plains.

· On January 8, 1916, Allied forces stage a full retreat from the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, ending a disastrous invasion of the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli Campaign resulted in 250,000 Allied casualties and greatly discredited Allied military command. Roughly an equal number of Turks were killed or wounded.

· 1815: Two weeks after the War of 1812 officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. General Andrew Jackson achieves the greatest American victory of the war at the Battle of New Orleans.

· The Fourteen Points speech of President Woodrow Wilson was an address delivered before a joint meeting of Congress on January 8, 1918, during which Wilson outlined his vision for a stable, long-lasting peace in Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world following World War I.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

· CNN: VA secretary didn’t disclose pro-Confederate associations on confirmation paperwork

· Newsweek: China Sends Military to Intercept U.S. in Disputed Sea

· Military Times: Trump insists he can use military funds and ‘declare an emergency’ to build border wall

· Stripes: Somalia combat operations to continue despite reports, Pentagon says

· Philpott: ‘Blended’ military retirement plan not as popular as projected

· Military.com: Disabled Veterans Can Now Fly Space-A

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CNN: VA secretary didn’t disclose pro-Confederate associations on confirmation paperwork

By Andrew Kaczynski, CNN

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie did not disclose his associations with Confederate groups on a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee prior to his confirmation hearing last year, according to a copy of the form obtained by CNN’s KFile.

CNN’s KFile reported in December that Wilkie, who was confirmed by the Senate as VA secretary in July 2018, gave a speech to a chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2009 and, in 1995, praised Confederate President Jefferson Davis in a speech at the US Capitol. Wilkie was also at one point a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, The Washington Post previously reported.

Wilkie was required to disclose in a sworn statement submitted to the Senate committee his public statements, published materials and memberships he held in organizations over the past decade. Wilkie, however, did not disclose any of his ties to Confederate groups. Wilkie signed the questionnaire affirming that the information provided is "to the best of his/her knowledge and belief, current, accurate, and complete."

Curt Cashour, a spokesperson for Wilkie, did not answer questions as to why the secretary did not list the associations on the questionnaire. Instead, Cashour provided the same statement he had provided for a story published in December.

"Whether the handful of events took place close to a decade ago or 15-20 years ago, Secretary Wilkie gave his best recollection of his participation in them, and emphasized that they were strictly historical in nature, almost all official and bipartisan, and he stopped participating in them once the issue became divisive. He was not aware that the remarks had been published, and, as he stated, he did not keep copies of the remarks," Cashour said.

He continued, "Once again, the broad issue of his participation in the events based on his best recollection was addressed in depth at the Secretary’s two Senate confirmation hearings for DoD and VA positions in 2017 and 2018, and Secretary Wilkie underscored that he served proudly on Condoleezza Rice’s National Security Council staff. Both committees and the full Senate confirmed him overwhelmingly for the positions."

On the questionnaire, Wilkie was asked to list "all memberships that you have held in professional, social, business, fraternal, scholarly, civic, or charitable organizations in the last ten years."

Wilkie listed past and current membership in organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations and Jesse Helms Foundation, but did not list his former membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A Pentagon spokesman told The Washington Post in June 2018 that Wilkie no longer counted himself a member of the group. The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ magazine, Confederate Veteran, listed Wilkie as a "compatriot" and the current chairman of the Confederate Memorial Committee in its April/March 2010 issue, indicating the group still listed him as a member.

Wilkie attended events honoring the legacy of Robert E. Lee and service of Confederate veterans as recently as 2009.

In a section on public statements, Wilkie was asked for "any speeches or talks delivered by you, including commencement speeches, remarks, lectures, panel discussions, conferences, political speeches, and question-and answer sessions. Include the dates and places where such speeches or talks were given."

Wilkie provided general answers, writing, "Multiple remarks, panel discussions and speeches as a congressional staffer and as Under Secretary of Defense, Personnel & Readiness." He did not give details of any of his specific speeches.

Wilkie delivered two speeches on Robert E. Lee in 2009, one to a branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the DC area and one at Arlington National Cemetery. His speech on Davis took place in the US Capitol in 1995.

Newsweek: China Sends Military to Intercept U.S. in Disputed Sea

Tom O’Connor

The Chinese military has moved to intercept U.S. warships sailing through the contested South China Sea in the latest of what has been a series of tense encounters surrounding the two powers in the Asia-Pacific.

The U.S. Navy deployed its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell into the contested waters just 12 nautical miles from Paracel Islands, one of the numerous land formations that were claimed by China as well as other nations in the region. In a statement sent to Reuters, Pacific Fleet spokesperson Rachel McMarr said Monday that the maneuver was part of a "freedom of navigation" operation intended "to challenge excessive maritime claims," though she claimed there was no specific target or political message.

The move was met with deep criticism in Beijing, which has vast claims to the spanning South China Sea, including nearby Taiwan, a self-ruling island nation whose nationalist government split with the communist-run mainland after losing a civil war in 1949. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed during a press conference later that day that the U.S. sent a vessel into the area "without permission from the Chinese side."

"The Chinese side immediately sent military vessels and aircraft to conduct verification and identification on the U.S. ship and warned it to leave," Lu told the briefing. "We have lodged stern representations with the U.S. side."

China’s claims to the area overlap with those of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam and include the entirety of the Spratly Islands—where the U.S. has accused China of installing military infrastructure—and the Scarborough Shoal. Both Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Paracel Islands and the U.S. has contended that its ships only passed through international waters, something Chinese officials refuted.

"The relevant action by the US vessel violated Chinese laws and relevant international laws, infringed upon China’s sovereignty, and undermined peace, security and order of the relevant waters," Lu said. "The Chinese side firmly opposes the relevant action by the U.S. side and urges the U.S. to immediately stop such provocations. We will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard our national sovereignty and security."

China views U.S. Chinese senior colonel Li Huamin confirmed that China had deployed forces to the region in response to the USS McCampbell’s passage and said that the Southern Theater Command "will remain on high alert, closely monitor relevant maritime and air situations and resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty and security."

The U.S.’s "freedom of navigation" challenge was based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by China, but not the U.S. Concern over Beijing’s control of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest maritime traffic routes, has rattled officials in Washington and the Pentagon.

Monday’s events also came as China and the U.S. came together for talks in an attempt to settle a trade war that has cost both countries billions of dollars. President Donald Trump has accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of pursuing dishonest economic practices, including currency manipulation and the forced sharing of intellectual property among other accusations that the White House has labeled a threat to job security at home.

As the U.S. and China attempted to smooth over their financial dispute, Xi has also escalated on another front. The Chinese leader said Friday that Taiwan "must be, will be reunified" with the mainland government, offering the government in Taipei a limited autonomy package akin to that of Hong Kong and reserving "the option of taking all necessary means," including "the use of force."

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen refused the offer, saying that it was "it is impossible for me—or in my view, any responsible politician in Taiwan—to accept President Xi Jinping’s recent remarks, without betraying the trust and will of the people of Taiwan."

Military Times: Trump insists he can use military funds and ‘declare an emergency’ to build border wall

By: Leo Shane III  21 hours ago

.2K

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday cited the new Democratic House Armed Services Committee chairman’s own words to support the idea of using military funding to build his controversial southern border wall, twisting his political opponent’s message on the problems with making such a move.

In an early morning tweet, Trump noted that Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said the president “can declare an emergency” and order the military to build the border wall under existing U.S. law. Trump added “no doubt, but let’s get our deal done in Congress.”

Smith’s quote came from an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” where Smith roundly panned the idea.

“There is a provision in law that says the president can declare an emergency,” he said on the program. “It’s been done a number of times. But primarily it’s been done to build facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, where is the emergency.

“But beyond that, this would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars. The president spends most of his time talking about how we’re not spending enough on national security, now he wants to take $20 billion out of the defense budget to build a wall, which by the way is not going to improve our border security.”

A dispute between the White House and congressional Democrats over about $5 billion in funding for the wall project has resulted in a 17-day partial government shutdown that has furloughed nearly 400,000 federal workers and forced about the same number to work without pay for weeks.

Last fall, Trump ordered several thousand active-duty U.S. troops deployed to southern states to help support border security missions, an action that political opponents also decried as a misuse of the military.

Trump on Friday for the first time publicly asserted the idea of declaring a national emergency on border security and shifting military funds to the construction project as a way to get around congressional opposition. Democrats immediately attacked the idea.

“The idea that President Trump is considering declaring a phony national emergency as a pretext to take billions of dollars away from our troops and defense priorities in order to pay for his wall should alarm all Americans,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I.

“Declaring a trumped up national emergency in order to skirt congressional approval is wrong. And our troops and taxpayers should not bear the burden of a broken, preposterous campaign promise.”

Fellow House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., said Trump would have to establish the issues on the southern border amounted to an imminent wartime threat to use the emergency authority.

“The President’s use of emergency executive authority to divert already-appropriated funding for his own vanity project would be unprecedented, and would undermine important work,” he said.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday morning, committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, avoided discussion about the president’s emergency declaration proposal but criticized Democrats for playing politics by not working hard enough to find an end to the government shutdown.

“You need physical barriers, you need people and you need technology,” he said. “The best interests of the country do not seem to be the first consideration. It’s all about political position.”

Stripes: Somalia combat operations to continue despite reports, Pentagon says

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 7, 2019

STUTTGART, Germany — The Pentagon on Monday denied reports of a looming drawdown in Somalia, saying there is no plan to cut back the mission in a country where U.S. Africa Command continues to carry out airstrikes.

“There have been no recent policy changes regarding U.S. operations in Somalia,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Candice Tresch said in a statement. “We continue to support the Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts to degrade al-Shabab.”

The denial comes after NBC reported Friday that planning is underway to pull back in Somalia, where U.S. special operations troops have been a steady presence for several years. The U.S. also conducts regular airstrikes against the militant group al-Shabab.

The network reported that the Pentagon wants to curtail airstrikes and hand the mission off to the CIA. “I would say we’re running out of targets,” an unnamed U.S. defense official told NBC.

The Pentagon says it has about 500 military personnel in Somalia, where AFRICOM conducted 47 airstrikes in 2018 and 35 the year before.

AFRICOM launched its first airstrike of 2019 in Somalia on Wednesday.

Citing unnamed defense officials, NBC said it was unclear how many troops would remain in the country if the plan goes into effect. The reported shift away from Somalia is at odds with a recent Pentagon announcement that it will cut back 10 percent of its force in Africa but leave largely intact its mission in Somalia. The U.S. also recently re-established a permanent diplomatic presence in the country.

Overall, U.S. counterterrorism policy is in a state of flux. In addition to plans to reduce some missions in Africa, the Trump administration reportedly has plans to cut 7,000 troops in Afghanistan and downsize significantly in Syria.

Last month, President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would immediately pull all forces out of Syria prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

But on Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters in an apparent policy reversal that there was no rush out of Syria. Elimination of all ISIS militants and a promise from Turkey not to harm Kurdish partners were preconditions for any American withdrawal, Bolton said.

Philpott: ‘Blended’ military retirement plan not as popular as projected

Tom Philpott, Military Update Published 12:58 p.m. CT Jan. 7, 2019

With passage of the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) in 2016, the Defense Department’s Office of Actuary, assisted by computer modeling from the think tank RAND Corp., made some assumptions critical to planning future military retirement cost obligations.

More than 862,000 active duty members and 202,000 drilling Reserve and National Guard personnel, actuaries forecast, would opt to leave their High-3 retirement plan for the BRS during a year-long “open season” that ended Dec. 31.

Turns out those projections were far too high.

Near-final tallies of opt-in decisions for BRS (through Dec. 17) show only 280,000 active duty members and just over 72,000 reserve component personnel chose to shift out of the High-3 plan.

High-3 is the more generous retirement plan for members who serve 20 years or more year and earn its lifetime annuity. The BRS provides a 20 percent smaller annuity. But for the majority of service members who don’t serve full-length careers, the BRS also provides a Thrift Savings Plan that is bolstered by government matching of member contributions.

Assuming no extraordinary rush to switch plans in its final two weeks of the open season — before and after Christmas – the BRS opt-in results fell as much as two-thirds below projections for active duty and reserve component forces.

In July 2016, the Department of Defense Board of Actuaries, which is responsible for ensuring the DoD Military Retirement Fund is properly valued and actuarially sound, accepted RAND’s estimate that a total of 916,754 active and reserve component members would opt into the BRS when it became available.

At the same time the board concluded future military retirement obligations for the department could be lowered by 2.9 percent for the active force and .8 percent for reserve components, given the lower annuity formula for the BRS.

DoD actuaries reexamined their estimates last year and raised the opt-in total by more than 100,000, to predict that 1.06 million active and reserve component members would choose to shift to the BRS during the open season.

The opportunity to switch plans was opened to more than half of all active duty and reserve component members. Active duty members could switch if they had fewer than 12 years in as of Dec. 31, 2017. Reserve component members could do so if they had fewer than 4,320 drill points for retirement by that date.

Members who enter service on or after Jan. 1, 2018, had no choice; BRS became their plan. Active duty members who had more 12 years, and reservists with more than 4320 retirement points, by Dec. 31, 2017, stayed under High-3.

The BRS is called “blended” because it combines an immediate but smaller annuity after 20 or more years with a Thrift Savings Plan enhanced by government matching of member contributions. That 401(k)-like nest egg can be rolled into a civilian employer’s 401(k) benefit upon leaving service.

Only 49 percent of new officers and 17 percent of enlistees attain 20 years of active duty service to be able to retire. Because enhanced Thrift Savings helps that majority who leaves short of retirement eligibility, the BRS was expected to be a more popular option, particularly for enlisted members in their first or second enlistment and for officers completing initial service obligations.

DoD actuaries predicted in their Military Valuation Report released in December that the vast majority of active duty officers and enlisted with fewer than 12 years of service would opt into the BRS. Their opt-in assumption for active duty members with one year of service, for example, was 85.5 percent for officers and 95 percent for enlisted. Only for enlisted members past their 9thyear of service, and for officers past the 10thyear, did assumed opt-in rates fall below 50 percent.

The blended retirement has two more unique features. There’s a one-time “continuation payment” payable by the 12thyear of service, to be set at a minimum equal two-and-half months of basic for active duty members who agree to serve four more years. The minimum is one-half month of active duty pay for reserve component personnel who make the same deal.

Also, the BRS allows those who reach retirement to receive in a lump sum either 25 percent or 50 percent of the value of annuities payable until old age. The lump sum is designed to help a member buy a home, start a business or pay off debts in return for cutting his or her annuity by one quarter or half until age 67.

Actuarial groups have railed against the lump-sum offer as an unfair choice for members who retire under the BRS, given the amount they would forfeit in total future benefits for the enticement of many thousands of dollars in cash.

Whatever the reasons, the BRS features didn’t attract nearly the number of current force members that the actuaries and RAND computer modeling forecast.

Through mid-December only 21.6 percent of active duty soldiers eligible for the BRS switched from High-3, giving the Army the lowest opt-in rate of the four DoD military branches. The active duty opt-in rate was 26.3 percent for Air Force, 28.3 percent for Navy and a surprising 53.7 percent for the Marine Corps.

The BRS likely was far more attractive to Marines because their service keeps its career force proportionally smaller than do other service branches. A higher percentage of Marines can serve only a tour or two before returning to civilian life. With the BRS, they will leave with heftier Thrift Savings Plan balances.

Marine Corps Reserve also had a higher opt-in rate to the BRS, at 37.6 percent compared to 8.4 percent for eligible Army National Guard members, 9.4 percent for Army Reserve, 10.1 percent for Navy Reserve, 10.3 percent for Air Force Reserve and 10.6 percent among eligible Air National Guard members.

The BRS opt-in rates for active duty forces across DoD was 29.2 percent through mid-December and 10.6 percent for reserve component forces. Those were far lower than anticipated. In fairness, the Defense Board of Actuaries, at the time it embraced RAND’s modeling estimates, said it did so reluctantly, concluding that “we have no better basis for projecting opt-in behavior.”

In addition to those members who voluntarily opted into the BRS during the open season, more than 142,000 enlisted recruits and officers who first entered service in 2018 became automatically part of the BRS generation.

Military.com: Disabled Veterans Can Now Fly Space-A

7 Jan 2019

Military.com | By Jim Absher

Recent legislation makes it possible for many disabled veterans to fly Space-A on military aircraft.

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act allows veterans with a permanent and total service-connected Department of Veterans Affairs disability rating to travel space available on military aircraft.

Veterans will be assigned a travel priority of Category 6, the lowest priority available, along with retirees and their dependents.

Dependents of disabled veterans are not eligible for Space-A travel.

Authorized disabled veterans can travel in the continental United States (CONUS) or directly between CONUS and Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa.

Disabled veterans must have a DD Form 2765, Defense Department ID Card (Tan), in order to fly Space-A.

The Space Available Program

Space available flights, better known as Space-A or military hops, allow eligible passengers to fill unused seats on DoD-owned or -controlled aircraft. Space-A passengers can fly only after all the space-required passengers and cargo have been accommodated. Space-A passengers are then loaded in priority groups, with emergency leave being the top priority and retirees and disabled veterans rating the lowest priority.

See a full breakdown of all the categories here.

Space-A passengers can take up to two pieces of luggage at 70 pounds each; pets are not allowed.

Not all Space-A flights originate from military bases. Commercial airports such as Baltimore-Washington Marshall International and Seattle-Tacoma International also offer Space-A flights.

Long gone are the days of having to show up in person at the passenger terminal to register for a flight. Now, Air Mobility Command, which runs the Space-A program, lets you register for flights via email, and all Space-A terminals have Facebook pages where you can see what flights are coming up and how many seats are available.

Check out AMC’s page for details on how to find your local Space-A terminal and instructions on how to register for a flight.

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