Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, November 20, 2018, which is Name Your PC Day, National Absurdity Day, National Peanut Butter Fudge Day and Universal Children’s Day. And an early Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
This Week in American Legion History:
- Nov. 21, 1988: Pennsylvania American Legion Housing for Homeless Veterans, Inc., purchases four townhouses in Alleghany County to provide transitional residence and support for veterans who have no place to live. The program soon becomes a national model, expanding into Philadelphia in 1995, followed by Ephrata and Harrisburg. The program produces an 85 percent success rate of keeping veterans off the streets and on to decent jobs. The project, led by future American Legion National Commander Ronald F. Conley, began with a conversation in October 1987, followed by memorandums of understanding between VA and The American Legion in the summer of 1988.
- Nov. 22, 1963: Immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, World War II U.S. Navy veteran Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as president of the United States. A member of Memorial Highway American Legion Post 352 in Blanco, Texas, Johnson was a seated member of Congress on June 21, 1940, when he was appointed to serve as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Three days after Pearl Harbor, he was called to active duty and later served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific Theater, where he received the Silver Star. As president, Johnson would be commander-in-chief through the tumultuous early years of the Vietnam War.
- Nov. 23, 1934: American Legion Past National Commander James Drain is appointed to serve both as the organization’s national treasurer and as national judge advocate at the same time.
- Nov. 24, 1968: The American Legion joins forces with Indiana high school basketball coach Sam Wiley in the development and promotion of National Family Week, an effort adopted by multiple community and faith organizations to strengthen the American family at a time of increasing divorce rates.
Today in History:
- 1945: Twenty-four high-ranking Nazis go on trial in Nuremberg, Germany, for atrocities committed during World War II.
- On this day in 1789, New Jersey ratifies the Bill of Rights, becoming the first state to do so. New Jersey’s action was a first step toward making the first 10 amendments to the Constitution law and completing the revolutionary reforms begun by the Declaration of Independence.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Washington Post: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Washington Post: White House discusses possible Trump visit to troops in Iraq or Afghanistan
By Josh Dawsey and Paul Sonne | November 19 at 8:36 PM
President Trump has begun telling advisers that he may visit troops in a combat zone for the first time in his presidency, as he has come under increasing scrutiny for his treatment of military affairs and failure to visit service members deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Trump has so far declined to visit those combat regions, saying he does not want to associate himself with wars he views as failures, according to current and former advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Current advisers said Trump is not expected to visit a war zone during the Thanksgiving break, which he will spend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida.
The president has often cast himself as a champion of the Pentagon, invoking the strength and size of the military at his campaign rallies and on Twitter. At the same time, he has frequently criticized U.S. military missions and decisions while personally attacking some former military leaders, contributing to a complicated relationship with the armed forces he commands.
Although he signed off on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s requests to bolster the American military presence in Afghanistan and Syria and retain the footprint in Iraq, Trump isn’t a fan of U.S. military operations there.
In meetings about a potential visit, he has described the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a total shame,” according to the advisers. He also cited the long flights and potential security risks as reasons he has avoided combat-zone visits, they said.
Questioned last week about why he has not visited American troops deployed in overseas conflicts, Trump indicated during a Fox News interview that a trip was in the works.
“I think you will see that happen,” Trump said in the interview with Chris Wallace that aired Sunday. “There are things that are being planned. We don’t want to talk about it because of security reasons and everything else.”
The president also repeated his erroneous contention that he was opposed to the Iraq War. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has found that Trump initially expressed support for the invasion and did not register public objections until more than a year after the war began.
“I think it was a tremendous mistake, should never have happened,” Trump told Wallace.
“But this is about the soldiers, sir,” Wallace responded.
“You’re right,” Trump said. “I don’t think anybody’s been more with the military than I have, as a president. In terms of funding, in terms of all of the things I’ve been able to get them, including the vets.”
Trump has spoken privately about his fears over risks to his own life, according to a former senior White House official, who has discussed the issue with the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Trump’s concerns.
“He’s never been interested in going,” the official said of Trump visiting troops in a combat zone, citing conversations with the president. “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”
Pressure for Trump to make such a visit has been building for months. Eliot Cohen, a former George W. Bush administration official and Trump critic, has raised the issue regularly in public.
“The point is American servicemen and women are on the ground in these places,” Cohen said in an interview. “They are getting killed. I think any good leader would want to see something for themselves. And they would want to do something for the troops other than using them as props.”
Since Trump took office, about 60 American service members have died while deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon statistics, including both “hostile” and “nonhostile” deaths.
Plans for a visit by Trump aren’t firm, several advisers said, and the president has only begun saying in recent weeks that it may need to happen. A White House spokesman declined to comment on presidential visits, citing security concerns.
The president has come under increasing scrutiny for his behavior toward the military in recent weeks. He attacked the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, retired Adm. William H. McRaven, on Sunday for his role in catching and killing Osama bin Laden, calling him a supporter of Hillary Clinton and saying that the al-Qaeda leader should have been caught sooner in Pakistan. McRaven responded in a statement saying he did not endorse Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.
Trump recently skipped a cemetery service marking the end of World War I in France, citing poor weather. He also did not go to Arlington National Cemetery two days later on Veterans Day, later expressing rare regret for missing the occasion.
“I should have done that,” he said in the Fox interview.
Trump has sent thousands of troops to the border with Mexico in anticipation of a Central American migrant caravan in what his critics labeled a preelection stunt designed to shore up anti-immigration sentiment within his base. Mattis has described the mission as good training and necessary support for the Department of Homeland Security.
The history of presidents visiting American troops on active deployments dates back decades and gives presidents a sense of what is happening on the ground — while sending a message to troops that the government at home appreciates their personal sacrifices.
During the Korean War, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s pledge to go to Korea helped propel him into the presidency over Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower followed through with a visit in 1952.
Lyndon B. Johnson met with troops at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam in 1966, telling them he had come only to say how proud he was of what they were doing and the way they were doing it. He also visited forces there the next year.
George H.W. Bush spent Thanksgiving with American troops in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield in 1990 and New Year’s with troops in Somalia in 1993. His successor, Bill Clinton, visited troops in Bosnia in 1996 and spent Thanksgiving with troops in Kosovo in 1999.
George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to troops in Iraq months after the invasion in 2003 and went to the country three additional times after that while president. At the time, the U.S. military footprint in the country was building, ultimately numbering about 170,000 troops in Iraq at the peak of a surge in 2007.
Mark Hertling, a retired three-star general, helped organize the surprise visit in 2003.
About six officers knew Bush was coming, he said, recounting how the president flew into the international airport in the wee hours of the morning and stayed hidden until the troops were in a large mess hall. Bush later served turkey and received resounding applause.
“The troops in the field need to know their efforts are not being wasted,” Hertling said. “It shows [that] the government and the people have their back.”
The troop presence in Afghanistan grew during the first half of the Obama administration, reaching a peak of about 100,000 in 2011. President Barack Obama visited the country four times as president, most recently in 2014, and made one trip to Iraq shortly after his first inauguration, meeting with American forces each time. He had previously visited the combat zones in both countries as a U.S. senator.
Trump’s advisers say his lack of a visit does not represent a lack of interest in or disrespect for the military. There are military figures in his administration that he admires, his advisers say: Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a former White House adviser who now works for Vice President Pence.
The president was persuaded to sign a spending bill that he did not like by aides who brought him lists of military equipment the money would buy — even down to the specific planes and ships, current and former White House aides said.
Trump frequently touts the strength of the U.S. military at his political rallies, having signed off on a $716 billion budget for the Pentagon this year that included the largest base budget in adjusted terms since World War II.
Current and former aides said Trump is somber when making military decisions and has expressed concern about troops dying on his watch. They also note that Trump has visited domestic military bases and visited troops while overseas, such as a stop in Japan last fall, while also bringing military visitors into the Oval Office.
“I have never heard him show any sort of disrespect toward the military in private,” said one former senior administration official. “Any time you go anywhere with him in the military, he is overwhelmingly popular.”
According to current and former aides, Trump was shaken after visiting Dover Air Force Base shortly after his inauguration to receive the remains of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen, his first trip to meet a grieving family. He has not returned since.
The president, who attacked a Gold Star family on the campaign trail in 2016, has shown little interest in some of the minutiae of the military and regularly complains about the headaches involved in its entanglements around the world, aides said.
For most of Trump’s tenure, a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan would have carried real security challenges and political complications, U.S. officials said.
Iraq was heading into elections during the president’s first year in office, and a visit by Trump around the time of the controversy over Trump’s travel ban affecting Muslim-majority countries could have further complicated efforts by the U.S.-backed prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to secure reelection in May.
In Afghanistan, the security situation has deteriorated. In September 2017, Mattis was the target of a failed rocket attack at Kabul airport. A month later, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a secret visit to Afghanistan but didn’t leave Bagram air base, in part owing to security concerns.
Still, if the president wanted to visit American troops deployed to one of the countries, U.S. military officials would find a way to organize the trip as they have done in the past, according to officials familiar with the matter. He could easily stop at Bagram for a few hours as Tillerson did, they said.
Hertling said he remembered a visit by the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to Iraq in the worst days of the conflict, and McCain wanted to go to Mosul despite heavy fighting. The military blanched.
“We wanted to take him anywhere but Mosul,” Hertling said. “He found out about it and wanted to go there. So we went.”
Stars and Stripes: Border troops in Texas finish laying razor wire, Pentagon expects to send most home by Dec. 15
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: November 19, 2018
WASHINGTON – The roughly 5,800 active-duty troops sent to locations along the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections will spend Thanksgiving in Texas, Arizona, and California, but they are expected to return home in time for Christmas, Pentagon officials said Monday.
The troops supporting the operation assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents once known as Faithful Patriot are expected to return to their home stations by Dec. 15, said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Defense Department spokesman. He indicated the Pentagon did not expect to deploy more troops to the border region “unless directed otherwise.”
In fact, Manning announced some servicemembers could return home before Dec. 15 as they complete their work stringing coiled razor wire and emplacing other temporary barriers at locations on and near the southern border.
“The bottom line is that our numbers will be commensurate with the capabilities that … CBP is requesting,” he said.
But the troops are expected to remain in place at least through this week. The Pentagon is sending an untold amount of traditional Thanksgiving meals to troops supporting the border operation, Manning told reporters at the Pentagon.
Some of their tasks have been completed already. As of Friday, the 2,800 active-duty troops supporting CBP operations in Texas had finished their mission of “hardening” immigration entry points in the Brownsville area at the state’s most southern tip. However, Manning could not say Monday whether those troops would remain in Texas or be shifted to other locations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In addition to the 2,800 troops in Texas, there were 1,500 active-duty troops operating in both California and Arizona. To date, the troops had installed 2,714 meters of razor wire obstacles in Arizona and another 4,145 meters of razor wire in California, Manning said.
The colonel shared the statistics as some from the group of Central American migrants in the so-called caravan arrived in Tijuana in recent days on Mexico’s border with California. The group of asylum seekers was a regular pre-election target of President Donald Trump, who described it as an invasion. However, the troops that Trump sent to the border ahead of the caravan’s arrival have had no interactions with the migrants and are not expected to in the future, officials have said repeatedly.
With the mission apparently in its final weeks, the Pentagon has not released an estimated cost of the deployment. Manning said Monday that the Defense Department, which will cover the expense for the mission, would not provide an estimated cost until it has completed its accounting.
Each of the nearly 60 military units and teams deployed to the border is tracking its own expenses, Manning said. He said the Pentagon would factor all of those units’ costs into its final assessment, and it would make that possible only at that time.
“We are committed to providing you a real cost and not a forecasted cost,” he said. “… We don’t have a final cost that we feel confident sharing publicly.”
Military Times: New research could lead to disability benefits for Vietnam veterans with high blood pressure
By: Leo Shane III | 18 hours ago
WASHINGTON — New research linking veterans’ high blood pressure with wartime exposure to chemical defoliants could dramatically expand federal disability benefits for tens of thousands of Vietnam-era troops.
The findings, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, conclude that “sufficient evidence” exists linking hypertension and related illnesses in veterans to Agent Orange and other defoliants used in Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s.
They recommend adding the condition to the list of 14 presumptive diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, a group that includes Hodgkin’s Disease, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s Disease. That’s an upgrade from past research that showed a possible but not conclusive link between the toxic exposures and high blood pressure problems later in life.
If Veterans Affairs officials follow through with the recommendation, it could open up new or additional disability benefits to thousands of aging veterans who served in those areas and who are now struggling with heart problems.
Veterans who struggle with high blood pressure issues are eligible for health care at VA facilities. But the illness is eligible for disability benefits in only select cases.
Adding an illness to VA’s presumptive list means that veterans applying for disability benefits need not prove that their sickness is directly connected to their time in service. Instead, they only need show that they served in areas where the defoliant was used and that they now suffer from the diseases.
That’s a significant difference, since proving direct exposure and clear health links can be nearly impossible for ailing veterans searching for decades-old paper records.
A change in the designation of hypertension by VA could also add significant new costs to the department’s disability payout expenses.
In 2010, when then Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki expanded the list of presumptive illnesses for Agent Orange exposure to include ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s, the department estimated additional costs of more than $42 billion over a decade.
It’s unclear how many veterans suffer from high blood pressure and would be eligible for disability payments if the change is made. In a statement, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the department “is in the process of evaluating this report and appreciates the work” of the group.
Regardless the cost, officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars are already calling for VA officials to move ahead with adding hypertension to the list.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Agent Orange made veterans sick, it made their children sick, and it brought pain and suffering and premature death to many,” VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence said in a statement. “Even though it’s been a half century since they were exposed, the results of that exposure is something they continue to live with daily.”
Over the last year, advocates for “blue water” Navy veterans — sailors who served in ships off the coastline of Vietnam — have been fighting with department officials over a decision to deny them presumptive status in Agent Orange related claims.
VA officials have insisted that scientific evidence does not exist linking their illnesses to exposure to the defoliant miles away from the Vietnam mainland.
The new study is available at the National Academies Press website.
Associated Press: New memorial for troops killed in combat is damaged just days after it was dedicated
By: The Associated Press | 15 hours ago
CARSON CITY, Nev. — A memorial honoring 895 Nevada residents who have died in wars and conflicts dating to the Civil War has been damaged days after its dedication.
The Nevada Appeal reports the Battle Born Memorial on the Capitol grounds suffered cosmetic damage last week just three days after Gov. Brian Sandoval dedicated it. Construction was finished just before the Nov. 9 dedication, which was timed for the Veterans Day weekend.
The damage was reportedly caused by four teens, two riding BMX bicycles and two on Razor scooters. It includes cracks to three slabs of the black granite platform that stretches the length of the memorial.
Police say the juvenile suspects were recorded on video cameras located between the memorial and the Supreme Court building.
Authorities have not said if any arrests have been made.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Fort Leonard Wood’s first female commander wants women to know what’s possible when serving in the military
By: Jesse Bogan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP | 15 hours ago
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The hallway leading to the commander’s office is adorned with 40 framed pictures, arranged like a long arrow pointing forward, of the men in uniform who have led this sprawling post in the Ozarks.
Bucking the trend, the latest photo added to the wall is of Army Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, the first woman to lead Fort Leonard Wood since it opened in 1941. She’s also one of few African-Americans to do so.
"I don’t consider either of those an obstacle," said Martin, 53. "I would like to think that the Army has chosen me to be in the positions I am in because I am the most qualified."
Still, she agreed to share her story because she wants young women to know what’s possible in the military, which has become more inclusive, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
"My wish, my desire is that at some point in our history there won’t be a ‘first woman’ doing anything, it will just be somebody doing something, you know just like ‘Maj. Gen. Martin is the commander of Fort Leonard Wood,’" she said. "I don’t even really like talking about myself, but it’s such a necessity to hear the story of women being successful for our future generations."
Of 1.3 million active duty troops, nearly 17 percent of them are women, up from 15 percent in 2001. While that needle hasn’t moved much, the number of women is expected to increase following the December 2015 announcement to lift remaining restrictions on women serving in combat roles. As more women serve in combat, there will likely be more female brass.
There were recently 71 generals and admirals serving in the active duty military who were women, or 7.5 percent of the total, 939. Martin said the discrepancy hasn’t affected policy and procedures.
"We’ve had women in leadership positions for a long time, so I am not aware of any policy that would change because a woman is in charge," she said.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been hardships. Martin recalled an incident early in her 30-year-career when a male officer told her as a young lieutenant that he wouldn’t take orders from a female.
"Now my company commander took care of that, and he’s subsequently out of the Army," Martin said of the encounter. "But I gotta tell you, I have never heard that in the last 25 years. The culture of the Army is so much more accepting of all people."
The ongoing war in Afghanistan has been a 17-year proving ground for performance. Leaders have also spoken up about inclusion. In 2016, Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of the Army. Three years prior, as more jobs opened for women service members, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said: “In life, as we all know, there are no guarantees of success. Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier. But everyone is entitled to a chance.”
Gender integration of the armed services started in earnest in the 1970s, said John McManus, a Missouri University of Science and Technology professor in Rolla who has written 12 books on military history. He compared the move to President Harry S. Truman’s 1948 executive order to desegregate the military, which tapped into “previously excluded reservoirs of human talent, especially for leadership.”
"The gender integration of the 1970s led to much the same trend line, albeit with plenty of accompanying tension and strife," McManus said. "In that sense, once the armed forces began to tolerate and even promote the idea of female recruitment, it became probable, though not necessarily inevitable, that women would eventually assume leadership roles. In the bigger picture, the following decades led many Americans in and out of the military to understand the obvious truth that such qualities as courage, competence, and fine leadership are not unique to one gender."
One of the highest-ranking women in the Army today is Lt. Gen. Gwendolyn Bingham, assistant chief of staff for installation management.
"I don’t look at my challenges any differently than those that confront both men and women," Bingham said in a prepared statement from the Pentagon. "Attitudes of those you encounter are relevant across a wide spectrum of daily opportunities and obstacles. I will always ‘see the glass half full’ rather than empty. Daily living is what you make it — it begins with a positive attitude and flows from there."
Bingham recently promoted Martin to her second star.
Her promotion "comes at an exciting time when the Army continues to enable readiness across the globe while modernizing its capabilities," Bingham said. "No doubt, TEAM Leonard Wood plays a significant role in enabling the readiness of our men and women."
Martin was raised in Yorktown, Virginia, just north of Newport News. She was one of six children raised by her single mother, who worked as a nursing assistant, and a network of family in the area.
"We are a very close family that kind of raised each other," Martin said. "There was no ‘run out and play right away after school.’ (It was) ‘do your chores and homework.’"
Two of her older brothers were in the Army, one was a drill sergeant, the other a recruiter. She initially went to Old Dominion University on a field hockey scholarship. She gave that up and joined Army ROTC, which she said paid for school, pushed her to be physically fit and part of a team and graduate with a degree in criminal justice.
After a short stint in the Virginia Army National Guard, she joined the active duty Army as an officer and rose through the ranks of the Military Police Corps. Along the way, she deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and picked up a master’s degree from the Army War College.
She’s been commander of criminal investigations for a brigade based in Germany, chief of investigations for the Army inspector general and a top leader of Army recruiting efforts. She came to Fort Leonard Wood in 2017 to be commandant of the Military Police School.
Now, as commander of the entire 60,000-acre post, Martin is responsible for one of four locations in the country where Army recruits do basic training. It’s also home to three schools: chemical, engineer and military police. In all, more than 80,000 service members pass through each year, including from other countries.
While training is the main mission, Martin said a priority over the next two years is to ensure the hospital is modernized. She said $100 million in government funding was previously approved for the project.
"I want to spearhead and champion and make sure that stays on track to support our military members and their family members here at Fort Leonard Wood," she said.
Martin, who is married to a retired Marine officer and has one son in college, said she also wants to make Fort Leonard Wood more accessible by bringing in bigger passenger airplanes.
Until that happens, she’s outlawed the unofficial name of the post: "Fort Lost in the Woods."
“It’s not lost here,” she said with a smile. “You know how beautiful it is in the Ozarks. If you could just get people here, and it be reasonably pretty easy to get here, you’d never call it Fort Lost in the Woods again.”
Associated Press: Woman in alleged homeless Marine veteran scam duped by boyfriend, says attorney
By: The Associated Press | 8 hours ago
TRENTON, N.J. — A woman charged with scamming GoFundMe donors out of more than $400,000 with a fake story about a homeless veteran was duped by her former boyfriend and genuinely thought she was helping the man, her attorney said Monday.
James Gerrow told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Mark D’Amico was “calling the shots” in the alleged scheme that resulted in criminal charges last week against Katelyn McClure, D’Amico and homeless Marine Johnny Bobbitt.
The criminal complaint alleges the three concocted a feel-good story about the couple reaching out to help Bobbitt after he gave McClure his last $20 when her car ran out of gas in Philadelphia last year. Then McClure and D’Amico allegedly spent all the money on luxury items and casino trips.
"People have to understand that this was an abusive relationship. Mr. D’Amico was the one behind this and he was the one calling all the shots," Gerrow said. "She didn’t understand or appreciate that this may very well be a crime."
It was unclear which attorney currently represents D’Amico. An attorney who was representing the couple last week declined to comment Monday on Gerrow’s allegations.
McClure and D’Amico are charged with conspiracy and theft by deception. Bobbitt also is charged.
Less than an hour after the couple set up the page to solicit donations, McClure sent a text message to a friend acknowledging the story was "completely made up," prosecutors said last week.
"Ok so wait the gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t," said Scott Coffina, the prosecutor of Burlington County in New Jersey, quoting the text message at a news conference Thursday. "I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So shush about the made up stuff."
Prosecutors began investigating months ago after Bobbitt claimed he wasn’t getting the money that had been raised on his behalf. He later sued the couple.