Got a few random things to pick over today. We'll start at Arlington today, but we've got to go back 70 years for the start of the story. You're probably aware that a significant number of women became aviators via the "WASP" program. While none of them flew in combat, they did the necessary business of transferring warplanes from the factories to the fronts, and by doing so freed up many men to fly those planes in combat.
Ever since, Uncle Sam has gone out of his way to give them the shaft as a reward for their service. WASP pilots (as well as all the ladies that served in the other women's auxiliaries during the war) have had to fight for recognition as veterans, for their benefits, for the rights as citizens who wore their country's uniform.
Now, even in death, the fight goes on. Our female WWII veterans are no less great than that other gender that makes up "The Greatest Generation". But they can't be buried at Arlington of their own volition.
McLEAN, Va. -- The ashes of World War II veteran Elaine Harmon are sitting in a closet in her daughter's home, where they will remain until they can go to what her family says is her rightful resting place: Arlington National Cemetery.
Harmon piloted aircraft in World War II under a special program, Women Airforce Service Pilots, that flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots for combat. Granted veteran status in 1977, the WASPs have been eligible to have their ashes placed at Arlington with military honors since 2002.
But earlier this year, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed course and ruled WASPs ineligible.
After Harmon died in April at age 95, her daughter, Terry Harmon, 69, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was dismayed to learn that the Army had moved to exclude WASPs. She said her mother had helped lead the effort to gain recognition for WASPs.
"These women have been fighting this battle, off and on, for over 50 years now," she said.
Harmon's family and others are working to overturn McHugh's directive. A petition on change.org has received more than 4,000 signatures. Harmon also hopes Congress will ask incoming Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning about the issue at his upcoming confirmation hearing.
McHugh's memo, which Terry Harmon obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, says Army lawyers reviewed the rules in 2014 and determined that WASPs and other World War II veterans classified as "active duty designees" are not eligible for inurnment -- placement of their urns in an above-ground structure at Arlington. The largest group affected by the memo is actually the Merchant Marine, nearly 250,000 of whose members served during World War II.
In a statement, Army spokesman Paul Prince said the cemetery superintendent in 2002 had no authority to allow WASPS' remains into the cemetery. Under federal law, he said, WASPs are eligible only for burial at cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- not Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army.
Kate Landdeck, a Texas Woman's University history professor who has focused much of her academic research on WASPs, said she doesn't understand the rationale for the Army going out of its way to exclude this group of women from Arlington after they had been deemed eligible for over a decade without controversy.
WASPs "are a distinct group of women with the surviving 100-or-so women all in their 90s," she said. "It is just mean-spirited for the Secretary of the Army to question their value to their country. Again."
Somewhat incongruously now, we'll shift gears from some of our oldest veterans to some of the youngest and most vulnerable among military families. The children of our soldiers already have a hard enough life - most live a nomadic existence, staying in one place for only a few years at a time. One of my friends was an "Air Force Brat", and he revelled in the experience, and now wears the Blues himself. He's been here at Hanscom for quite a while, but he's also nearing the end of his career - he may not be re-assigned again and his family has put down some roots in the local community.
But I digress. The other side of that coin is the vulnerable and lonely child; moving around every few years means they have no long-term friends, no stability, and they're constantly starting over. So a predator could swoop in
and take advantage of that child. It's something the Pentagon is only just starting to react to.
WASHINGTON -- Cpl. Aaron C. Masa became fast friends with a fellow Marine during field training in North Carolina. But behind his buddy's back, Masa was sexually abusing his friend's 3-year-old stepdaughter. He also took sexually explicit photos of the girl and the Marine's infant daughter.
A military judge convicted Masa last year of sexual abuse of a child and production of child pornography, according to court records and other documents detailing the case. Under the terms of a pretrial agreement, he pleaded guilty and received 30 years in prison.
In total, incidents involving sexual assault in which the children of service members are victims occur hundreds of times each year, data the Defense Department provided exclusively to The Associated Press show. The abuse is committed most often by male enlisted troops, according to the data, followed by family members.
The figures offer greater insight into the sexual abuse of children committed by service members, a problem of uncertain scale due to a lack of transparency into the military's legal proceedings. With more than 1 million military dependents, the number of cases appears statistically small. But for a profession that prides itself on honor and discipline, any episodes of abuse cast a pall.
Those numbers fall well-short of offering a full picture.
The ages of the offenders and victims, the locations of the incidents and the branch of service that received the report of sexual abuse were omitted. The Defense Department said in a statement that "information that could unintentionally uniquely identify victims was withheld from release to eliminate possible 're-victimization' of the innocent."
It's also unclear how many of the incidents resulted in legal action. The cases represent substantiated occurrences of child sexual abuse reported to the Defense Department's Family Advocacy Program, which does not track judicial proceedings, the department said.
An AP investigation published in November found more inmates are in military prisons for child sex crimes than for any other offense. But the military's opaque justice system keeps the public from knowing the full extent of their crimes or how much time they spend behind bars.
Responding to AP's findings, three Democratic senators have urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter to lift what they called the military justice system's "cloak of secrecy" and make records from sex-crimes trials readily accessible.
The senators also raised another concern. Child sex-assault cases are not included in the Defense Department's annual report to Congress on sexual assaults, which focuses primarily on adult-on-adult incidents, they said. The senators -- Barbara Boxer of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii -- told Carter in a Dec. 8 letter they are concerned the department may be underestimating how many sexual assaults are occurring in the military.
There were at least 1,584 substantiated cases of military dependents being sexually abused between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, according to the data. Enlisted service members sexually abused children in 840 cases. Family members of the victims accounted for the second largest category with 332 cases.
Finally this morning, let's talk about salad some more. We've reported in recent weeks about the changes to the commissary vendor on the island of Guam, which resulted in skyrocketing food prices for American military families stationed there. Turns out that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a number of proposals on the table in Washington to change the entire commissary system, apparently going away from Uncle Sam and towards a private vendor. They don't come right out and say it, but apparently the goal is to destroy the system and turn it over to a for-profit corporation.
Proposed changes to the military commissary system such as price increases or the addition of a private brand could result in fewer customers, commissary advocates told lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday.
"Anytime you mess with the savings ... you risk [shoppers'] loyalty," said Brooke Goldberg, a deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of American. "They rely on that consistency, and so when you change things you risk them leaving and not coming back."
Advocates addressed lawmakers at a hearing of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee examining a series of recommendations aimed at ultimately reducing the amount of taxpayer funding the commissary requires to operate.
The system receives about $1.4 billion in annual funding, the bulk of which covers the cost of employees. By law, the commissary sells items at-cost, plus a 5-percent surcharge, which pays for store infrastructure.
A series of recommendations released over the last year includes calls to allow for price increases based on location, employees to switch to a different pay scale and the development of a "private-label" or generic commissary-only brand that could be sold above cost.
The Defense Commissary Agency was ordered by congress as part of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to develop a plan for running the system without taxpayer funding by 2019. They also gave officials permission to test new pricing models that would base the cost of goods on market rates near the commissary location in question, rather than on the cost of the item to the commissary system.
But advocates said each of the recommendations comes with its own set of problematic challenges. For example, changing to a private label would require the agency to put in place complicated and expensive systems that it was not designed to manage, said Pat Nixon, the president of the American Logistics Association, a trade group that represents manufacturers.
And any cost increase, even if it still keeps prices below those offered in local civilian markets, could result in families paying more for goods just because the government decided to station them in a high cost of living area, said Eileen Huck, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.
"We don't want to see families who are in high cost areas put at a disadvantage," she said.
A new board, the Defense Resale Business Optimization Board, has been established by the Pentagon to roll out that pricing test, though no details are yet available on the locations the department is considering for the pilot program or how the test will be structured.
Life as a soldier is unfair enough - and remember, all these folks volunteered to do it. You'd think something basic like food would be easy.