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Ask a Vet
Author: TriSec    Date: 10/20/2015 10:27:57

Good Morning.

We'll take a look at one of the oldest veteran's organizations in the country this morning - the VFW. Nearly all of us have a post in our hometown someplace. But have any of us actually been inside one? For decades, it's been the nearly exclusive retreat of male combat veterans...with a dark, smoky bar, sports paraphenalia, and maybe a function room or two that might host an occasional event. It's a model that was partly successful...until we went to Iraq and Afghanistan.


As it turns out, veterans of those wars haven't joined the VFW at the same rate as prior vets, and as the WWII - Korea - Vietnam era vets "age out" and get their reward, the younger ones haven't kept up. As a result, many of the posts are dying, losing money, or have closed outright. I've seen this in my hometown - the Arthur DeFranzo post in Saugus once occupied a massive, stand-alone building on some prime land along Main Street. About a decade ago now, they bulldozed it, built an Italian supermarket on the site, and the post now occupies a small storefront at the same site.

It's a nationwide problem, and may be just another sign of the overall declining interest in civic organizations (and resulting societal decline, but that's a blog for another day.) But there is hope - Denver Post #1, the oldest VFW post in the country, has some innovative ideas, and they are actually working. Of course...there is some backlash, but like all organizations, they must evolve or die.


DENVER — At a weekly meeting in the country’s oldest Veterans of Foreign Wars post, a Marine began by asking members to close their eyes and inhale.

“Bring your hands to your heart center,” he said. “Notice all the air that is moving around you.”

It was Tuesday at VFW Post 1: yoga night. Wednesday is meditation. Friday is photography class — unless it is open gallery night, when hundreds of civilians peruse veteran artwork while a DJ spins records. The post hosts a monthly film series. And meetings often have as many backward ball caps as VFW hats.

Do not come expecting a bar. There is none.

“We didn’t want a dark dive bar,” said the senior vice commander of the post, Brittany Bartges, a 29-year-old veteran of the Iraq war. “We wanted a healing place where veterans could come together and bring their families.”

By abandoning the traditional model of a dim, members-only tavern in favor of a bright gallery space, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in Denver have transformed the VFW’s oldest post into one of its youngest.

Once a dying post like many others, Post 1 began recruiting aggressively among veterans at nearby colleges and threw open the doors, welcoming other veterans’ groups to use the building.

It is now a hub for volunteering, exercise, and art, where the focus is on camaraderie and community service. And the membership is thriving. Before, some meetings drew only five people. Now, more than 40 regularly attend.

Post members say they hope to create a model for attracting young veterans that could be adopted across the country. And just in time for the 116-year-old VFW.

The nationwide network has lost more than 500,000 members in the last decade, tracing the declining number of veterans from World War II and Korea.

More than 1,000 posts have closed. The average age of its 1.3 million members is now 68.

Young veterans have shown little interest in joining. Only about 15 percent of eligible Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are members.

The percentage is even smaller among women, who make up a growing proportion of war veterans but tend to see traditional veterans’ groups as out of touch with their needs. (It was only last year that the VFW changed references in its congressional charter from “men” to “veterans,” and the incentive for recruiting members is still a tie clip.)

The VFW is not the only traditional veterans’ group that is struggling to connect with the next generation. Membership in the American Legion, which was founded in 1919 and is open to all veterans (not just those who fought in foreign wars), has declined by more than a million people since its peak in the 1990s as older veterans have died and fewer young veterans have joined.

At the same time, hundreds of new groups have sprung up, often with narrow missions that resonate with younger veterans, such as Team Red, White and Blue, which encourages veterans to exercise together, and Team Rubicon, which coordinates disaster response teams of veterans.

The older groups retain political clout and an infrastructure of thousands of posts that few veterans’ groups can match. But their leaders acknowledge that they face an image problem with the next generation.

“People think it’s just a bar,” said the VFW’s senior vice commander in chief, Brian Duffy, who will lead the national organization next year. “They don’t want to join.’’

“We have to be more innovative to reach the millennials. Post 1 is doing that,” Duffy said.


Of course, while veteran's organizations are struggling to attract members, there's no shortage of actual veterans. In fact, we seem to be going out of our way to make more of them. Remember, the Pentagon is always planning the next war, and we continue to poke at the hornet's nest that is China. I've written about the Spratly islands before...and it seems that we just can't keep away from them. Along with China, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy will not be deterred from conducting a close patrol of China's manmade Spratly Islands, if it chooses, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Tuesday.

"We will fly, sail and operate wherever the international law permits, and we will do that at the times and places of our choosing, and there's no exception to that," Carter said in Boston, where he and Secretary of State John Kerry were meeting with their Australian counterparts. "Whether it's the Arctic, or the sea lanes that fuel international commerce widely around the world, or the South China Sea."

Carter said the United States wants China and the other countries to halt reclamation and militarization activities on the Spratly Islands, a collection of islands, rocks and elevated coral reefs. According to a recent maritime report by the Department of Defense, there are more than 200 Spratly land features, though that figure varies based on how geographers count them.

Vietnam occupies 48 of the Spratlys, Taiwan occupies one, the Philippines occupies eight, Malaysia occupies five and China occupies eight, according to the report.

But it's China's rapid buildup of an airstrip on the Fiery Cross Reef that has generated the most concern. U.S. officials have begun briefing their Pacific allies on the proposed sail, which could come as close as 12 nautical miles to the Chinese buildup, according to news reports. Every nation can claim up to 12 nautical miles from its coast as sovereign territory.

Carter said the United States is not taking a position on which nations have sovereignty over the islands.

"In the meantime, the United States continues to call for all parties to halt further reclamation and any further militarization of features in the South China Sea."

Australia has interest in free navigation of the South China Sea, because about two-thirds of the country's merchandise trade passes through those waters, said Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister.

"We have said consistently and persistently that the reclamation work carried out notably by China, but by any others, should halt," she said.

Carter said the effect of China's buildup on the Spratly Islands has been "increasing our maritime cooperation with many countries in the region. They're asking for more interaction with the United States and the United States Navy."



Of course, we can't fight the next war without buying some really cool hardware for it. Speaking of which, I neglected to report it last week, so we'll briefly check on this week's Cost of War, which is passing through:

$ 1, 646, 366, 425, 000 .00


But of course this is about my favourite cost overrun, the F-35 "Flying Turd". The laundry list of issues just keeps growing and growing. Now it's trouble with the ejection system; there's nothing wrong with it technically, but it turns out that lighter-weight pilots affect the center of gravity of the seat during the ejection process, and they may not be in the proper position for seat separation - which will cause additional injury during an ejection. (Nearly ALL ejections cause some kind of injury, but it beats the alternative.)


WASHINGTON — Concerns about increased risk of injury to F-35 pilots during low-speed ejections have prompted the US military services to temporarily restrict pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds from flying the aircraft, Defense News has learned.

During August tests of the ejection seat, built by Martin-Baker, testers discovered an increased risk of neck injury when a lightweight pilot is flying at slower speeds. Until the problem is fixed, the services decided to restrict pilots weighing under 136 pounds from operating the plane, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, F-35 integration office director, told Defense News in a Tuesday interview.

“The bottom line is, they have to get into the realm where the seat allows that weight of a pilot less than 136 pounds [to] safely eject out of the airplane,” Harrigian said. “They found some areas that particularly at slower speeds they were concerned about, so that drove the restriction that we have right now.”

At least one F-35 pilot is affected by the weight restriction, according to Joint Program Office spokesman Joe DellaVedova, who added that the rule was announced Aug. 27. The issue does not affect the first and only female F-35 pilot, Lt. Col. Christina Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, he noted.

The ejection seat issue is not related to the new Generation 3 helmet, built by Rockwell Collins and delivered to the JPO in August, DellaVedova said.

In August, testers discovered that when a lighter pilot is flying the aircraft, the ejection seat slightly over-rotates, Col. Todd Canterbury, who was commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing until June, told Defense News on Wednesday. The team is concerned that when the parachute opens, a lightweight pilot may not be in the optimal body position to eject out of the plane, he said.

“It’s that light pilot and the center of gravity of the seat,” said Canterbury, who flew F-35 software versions 1B, 2A, 3i and 2B. “It all has to do with getting that center of gravity kind of located within the window, we call it, for safe seat-man separation.”

Canterbury stressed that the weight restriction is an interim fix, and the JPO is working closely with aircraft builder Lockheed Martin and Martin-Baker on a permanent solution.

Pilot safety is the services’ top priority, officials stressed.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern and we want to make sure that we give the warfighter the safest ejection seat capable out there,” Canterbury, now the chief of the F-35 Integration Office Operations Division, said on Tuesday. “As we discover things, we can weigh the risk of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and right now, until we fully understand the implication of the seat, safety is our No. 1 priority.”


You'd think that for a plane that runs about $180m by the each, at least something would work on it, right?

32 comments (Latest Comment: 10/20/2015 23:52:45 by Will in Chicago)
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