Today is our 243rd day back in Iraq.
There have been no new American casualties.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 604, 444, 675, 000 .00
It's been that kind of a week; 7 days ago I had nothing, but then I've been swamped. So we'll just head in and dump away.
Since this is now the oldest story, we'll start with more about Mr. Williams, late of NBC. Nevermind the falsehoods; turns out he's a dick
WASHINGTON — Brian Williams’ on-air apology last week rang hollow to a number of veterans. Perhaps none more so than Boston firefighter Neal Santangelo.
In Sunday editions of the Boston Herald, Santangelo recounted for columnist Peter Gelzinis how, at the last minute, Williams had told organizers of a 2006 Congressional Medal of Honor banquet in the city that a “pressing engagement” would prevent him from serving as master of ceremonies and keynote speaker, as he’d agreed to do six months earlier. He would instead only have time to greet the audience.
As members of the committee that arranged the event, Tom Lyons and Santangelo were disappointed, but arranged for a police escort to rush Williams to the airport to catch his plane back to NYC.
After the banquet, as they and other committee members relaxed in the hotel lounge, Santangelo’s wife phoned from their room to say she knew why Williams had to bail out.
She was watching the NBC Nightly News anchor ham it up with Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler in a Weekend Update sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
In the skit, Williams was told that he did not get the Update anchor job, and has an awkward moment with co-anchors Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers.
Santangelo wrote an angry letter to Williams a week after the banquet. “In an act of egotistical, blatant self-promotion, you deceived the (Medal of Honor) Recipients, declined to break bread with them and disrespected them.
“You placed comedy before courage ... Your conduct was irreverent, insulting, incomprehensible and shameful....”
He never sent it.
“I didn’t want to send it off like some loose cannon,” Gelzinis quotes Santangelo as saying. “So, even though the local committee agreed with every word, we decided to run it past the national (Medal of Honor) society.
“And what came back to us was, ‘Yes, we agree with what you’re saying, but we don’t want to burn any bridges with this guy.’ ”
Williams still sits on several advisory boards of the Medal of Honor Foundation, an adjunct of the MOH society. They have declined any comment, Gelzinis wrote.
Here's something interesting regarding the GI Bill. A large number of "for-profit" colleges seem to dominate the education action of our returning soldiers. The higher percentage of vets a school has, the more federal funds they can qualify for. But as it turns out, many of these colleges just jam as many vets as they can in the classroom, without giving them any additional support. So there's a move afoot to change that
, and maybe cut them off.
A proposal in President Obama's 2016 budget would limit the amount of Post 9/11 G.I. Bill funding that for-profit colleges could collect.
For a school to qualify for student aid, it is supposed to draw at least 10 percent of its revenues from non-federal sources. Currently, however, schools do not have to include funding from the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill and Defense Department tuition assistance programs in the 90/10 equation.
The White House proposal would change this stipulation and force colleges to include funding from the G.I. Bill and tuition assistance programs in the 90/10 equation.
In July, a Senate report stated that for-profit schools pulled in about $1.7 billion in G.I. Bill funds during 2012-2013, about $640 million more than in 2009-2010. An Iraq War veteran who worked for a for-profit college called this the "military gravy train" for these schools.
At the same time, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the report found that seven of the top eight for-profit colleges receiving Post 9/11 G.I. Bill benefits were under state or federal investigation.
"More and more veterans are enrolling in high-cost for-profit programs of questionable quality, while the share of veterans enrolling in community colleges and state universities is shrinking," Harkin said in a statement last July. "While the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was designed to expand educational opportunities for our veterans and service members, I am concerned that it is primarily expanding the coffers of the big corporations running these schools."
The report was a follow-up to one Harkin released in 2012 that found many for-profit schools offered little support for the veteran student and also questioned the quality of the programs and the value of the degrees or certificates offered.
But not everyone on the Hill will likely support Obama's proposal.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has said that the 90/10 rule is an arbitrary formula that unfairly implies problems with the quality of for-profit schools.
At the other end of the military timeline, the Air Force is making some changes to basic training
. It's perhaps a good thing, as this is directly related to sexual misconduct, and there's now an extra week of "character development" being added to the basic regime. It is kind of ironic to me. As a youth leader, that character development thing is almost exclusively what we try to instill among the youth in my program. But we can't reach everyone, and unfortunately the group I work with still has an issue with female membership. But that's an argument for another day.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Years after the Air Force increased the length of basic training by two weeks during the Iraq War, commanders have scaled back the core program and added a week of character development to raise awareness about sexual misconduct.
Recruits just starting out at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland will be the first in memory to not finish training with a formal graduation ceremony on the parade grounds after 7.5 weeks.
Instead, they'll receive five extra days of instruction designed to help them cope with the stresses of life as fledgling airmen.
"Capstone," as it's called, will emphasize core values and skills the Air Force believes airmen will need in their personal lives and careers. It is part of a makeover in basic training prompted by a scandal at Lackland that sparked an Air Force investigation and congressional hearings.
"I think it is truly revolutionary, what we're doing," said Col. Michele Edmondson, commander of the 737th Training Group at Lackland, the home of Air Force basic training. "It's a totally different form of learning for these airmen, it is an investment in their future as airmen."
The recruit class began training in earnest last week. After physical and other training ends the members' first stage, they'll begin studies in mid-March in 16 focus areas, starting with core values, morals and ethical decision making. The week will end with a low-key graduation ceremony on March 20.
Capstone program manager Kevin Adelsen said the final week would be different from the rest of basic military training, or BMT, which he described as "relatively constricted."
The trainees will be taught by a select group of military instructors and civilian contractors. They will focus on subjects ranging from warrior ethos, the Air Force's honor code, and respect and concern for others. Recruits will learn how to manage finances, balance their personal and professional lives and how to protect themselves against sexual harassment and rape.
"Our goal is to get these airmen to open up, to talk about what's stuck with them through the BMT experience, the first 7.5 weeks, what the questions are, where the gaps are, and just see how we can kind of bridge the gap -- if there is a gap -- between our core values and the mission of the United States Air Force," Adelsen said.
Of course, the Air Force isn't the only branch of service that could use some extra training. Over in the US Navy, three admirals have just been sacked over a massive bribery scandal
. Perhaps they missed the session on ethics back at the academy?
SAN DIEGO -- Three Navy rear admirals linked to a massive bribery scandal that cost the government at least $20 million have been reprimanded but will not face criminal charges, the Navy announced Tuesday.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus issued secretarial letters of censure to Rear Adms. Michael Miller, Terry Kraft and David Pimpo, a Navy statement said.
The letters are considered career-ending reprimands. The three -- who all graduated from the Naval Academy -- are seeking retirement and the letters could affect their benefits.
The three showed "poor judgment and a failure of leadership" by improperly accepting gifts from a "prohibited source" while they were deployed on the USS Ronald Reagan in 2006-2007, the Navy said.
One of the men also solicited gifts and two improperly endorsed a commercial business, the Navy said.
The letters were issued "to ensure that individuals are held appropriately accountable when less-than-criminal allegations are substantiated," the statement said.
A request through the Navy for the men to comment was not answered Tuesday night.
The case stems from an ongoing federal probe into bribery and fraud involving Navy contracts for port services in southeast Asia.
Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian contractor known as "Fat Leonard" because of his size, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to buying off U.S. military officials and awaits sentencing.
Prosecutors say Francis, CEO of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, obtained classified information that allowed the firm to overbill the military at least $20 million for port services such as food, fuel and garbage disposal.
Several Navy officers and officials, including a captain and a retired lieutenant commander, also have pleaded guilty to federal charges, while others await trial.
Vice Adm. Ted Branch and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless have remained under investigation for their connections with GDMA for more than year but have not yet been charged.
Francis has acknowledged bribing officials with more than $500,000 in cash and luxury goods worth millions. The goods included spa treatments, top-shelf alcohol, designer handbags, furniture, watches, ornamental swords and handmade ship models, according to court documents.
In exchange, Navy officers re-routed ships to ports owned by Francis and helped him boost his business.
A former high-ranking civilian contracting officer for the Navy was arrested last week on a conspiracy charge over allegations that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars along with travel and the services of prostitutes for getting Navy contracts for GDMA.
The Navy has canceled all contracts with the company.
Finally, let's look at an actual veteran today and see how he's making out. Mr Garcia, as we will see, was a Marine. He retired from active service and took a contractor job for the Marines on the island of Okinawa. Most contractors get a generous housing allowance, so Mr. Garcia, his wife, and their 5 children settled into a nice house - until the government changed the rules and took it away
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Christopher Garcia couldn’t figure out why we was being called into the civilian human resources department in Okinawa.
It had been two years since he retired as a Marine gunnery sergeant and took a job as the lead defense travel administrator in the III Marine Expeditionary Force’s disbursing office. The transition had gone so well, his office had been recognized for excellence.
But, it turns out, things were too good to be true.
Despite being promised a housing allowance when he was offered the job, the HR office was now telling him that the interpretation of the rules had changed and he no longer qualified.
Then, he essentially was handed a bill for more than $100,000.
“Regrettably, the previous determination of your eligibility for [living quarters allowance] was erroneous,” CHRO Director Deborah Summers wrote in a letter handed to Garcia on Jan. 20. “Because you have been erroneously receiving LQA payments, you are required to repay the LQA you have received.”
Garcia was in shock.
Not only was he on the hook for two years’ rent and utilities, but his housing allowance payments would stop immediately. He said it would be nearly impossible to afford his house now, and his family — with five children living at home — had just celebrated Christmas.
“When I see what this is doing to my family … It’s the betrayal of a loyal individual,” Garcia said. “I don’t have the disposable income to just throw down another $8,000 on a move.”
Five other individuals have recently gotten similar notifications, Marine officials said — a replay of the scenario that tormented nearly 700 Defense Department employees in 2013.
Those employees, mostly in Europe, were determined to have been granted LQA in error. Other civilians were lured to positions overseas only to be told that the crucial benefit was being taken away. Army reservists were caught in a similar housing allowance trap.
The Defense Department blamed bureaucratic errors and misinterpretation of regulations, and in nearly every case, it was determined that the workers were not at fault. Yet the burden of resolving the issue fell squarely on their shoulders. At the time, the DOD said it would likely waive the workers’ debt, but first they would have to sign a waiver acknowledging the debt existed. Many were reluctant to do so, saying it would put them on the hook for the money.
In the aftermath, all who have applied for the waiver have had the debts waived. The fight went well into 2014.
I've got plenty more, but I think we'll stop for now.