Senators want Purple Hearts for victims of Florida Navy base shooting

Florida’s two U.S. senators are urging top Pentagon leaders to award Purple Hearts to service members wounded in the deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola last month, and to award valor medals to the law enforcement officers who helped end the deadly attack.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Moldy, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott said the moves would properly recognize the “heroic actions” and sacrifice of those individuals.

“The brave service members and law enforcement personnel who risked their lives on that horrible day have the admiration and respect of the American people,” they wrote.

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Deployed 82nd Airborne unit told to use these encrypted messaging apps on government cell phones

A brigade of paratroopers deployed in early January to the Middle East in the wake of mounting tensions with Iran has been asked by its leadership to use two encrypted messaging applications on government cell phones.

The use of the encrypted messaging applications Signal and Wickr by the 82nd Airborne’s Task Force Devil underscores the complexity of security and operations for U.S. forces deployed to war zones where adversaries can exploit American communications systems, cell phones and the electromagnetic spectrum.

But it also raises questions as to whether the Department of Defense is scrambling to fill gaps in potential security vulnerabilities for American forces operating overseas by relying on encrypted messaging apps available for anyone to download in the civilian marketplace.

“All official communication on government cell phones within TF Devil has been recommended to use Signal or Wickr encrypted messaging apps,” Maj. Richard Foote, a spokesman for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, told Military Times.

“These are the two apps recommended by our leadership, as they are encrypted and free for download and use,” Foote said.

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No imminent threat to US troops after report of planned terror attack in Germany

U.S. Army Europe investigators found no “imminent threat” to personnel after an intelligence report of a potential terror attack led to heightened security at U.S. bases in Germany during the weekend.

“We can confirm a potential threat was identified and investigated last night,” USAREUR spokeswoman Beth Clemons said Sunday. “German and U.S. officials were consulted and no imminent threat was found to exist.”

An internal memo was circulated within some Army units in Germany on Saturday that warned of a possible attack at the Army’s Tower Barracks in Grafenwoehr, or at Tower Barracks in Duelmen.

The document cited an unnamed “third party” report about a possible “imminent attack” against soldiers by a Jordanian extremist.

“The unknown Jordanian … recently advocated killing U.S. soldiers in Germany,” the memo stated.

There was no indication in the memo that the threat had any connection to recent tensions with Iran, which has threatened U.S. forces amid tensions heightened by the killing earlier this month of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

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New Army program offers financial assistance for child care costs after a PCS move

Soldiers and their families who move to a new duty station may be eligible for up to $1,500 in financial assistance for child care, under a new program.

Army Emergency Relief is launching the program Feb. 1. The assistance will be in the form of grants, no-interest loans or a combination of both. Soldiers may qualify for up to $500 per month per family for three consecutive months.

It’s based on financial need of the family.

Soldiers must be participating in the Army Fee Assistance program, and their child care costs for care in the civilian community must exceed the fee assistance they are receiving from the Army.

All the branches of services offer fee assistance programs for child care in the civilian community when on-base child care is not available or not a viable option. The programs provide subsidies that help make up the difference in cost between on-base child care and civilian child care. The Army program subsidy is the difference between what the soldier would pay for on-post child care and the community-based provider’s rate, up to a cap of $1,500 per child per month.

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New regs to restrict firearms, base access, travel for international military students

International students attending U.S. military training will be able to return to their coursework soon, a Pentagon official told reporters Friday, as soon as individual commanders hammer out new restrictions and each of the thousands of foreign military trainees acknowledge the new regulations.

After a Saudi flight officer trainee opened fire at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, Dec. 6, killing three service members and wounding eight others, the Defense Department ordered a security review to sweep not only international students, but to look for holes in a host of security regulations.

“But getting back to work does not mean getting back to business as usual,” director for defense intelligence Garry Reid said in a phone interview Friday.

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VA IG Warns Long Wait Times Could Continue with Mission Act Reforms

Department of Veterans Affairs patients seeking private sector health care saw a nearly two-month delay for medical appointments in 2018 and the problem could worsen under the new Mission Act, the VA Office of Inspector General reported Thursday.

The inspector general’s report based its conclusions on the region of VA hospitals that includes 1.6 million veterans across Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. VA officials in that region referred more than 206,500 requests in 2018 for community care at clinics outside the VA network, with veterans facing a 56-day wait on average before receiving care, according to the report.

The findings highlight the wait times problem could balloon under the VA reforms of the Mission Act, which was approved into law in 2018. The Mission Act, one of the most consequential veteran care efforts in years, aims to expand the scope of private sector care that veterans can receive outside the VA network. The measure was a response to the VA wait-time scandal in 2014, hoping to expedite veteran’s access to treatment. An investigation by the VA inspector general into the scandal found 35 veterans died while waiting for care from VA facilities in Phoenix and found a pattern of officials in the department falsifying records.

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DoD faces challenges filling open military doctor, dentist positions

The Department of Defense is facing challenges filling open military doctor and dentist positions, according a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The report said the DoD is having trouble recruiting and keeping enough doctors to care for the troops.

Part of the problem is that the private sector generally pays more than the DoD and there is a nationwide shortage of doctors and dentists.

For more than two decades, Thomas Zampieri served as a physician assistant in the Army National Guard stationed in the U.S.

He is now the president of the Blind Veterans Association.

“We cared for large numbers of causalities that came back from Vietnam,” Zampieri said.

Zampieri said like today, there was a shortage of military doctors and dentists back then and he saw the impact first hand.

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Recruiting Challenges for Chaplains Mirror Other Military Jobs

With more than 2,800 chaplains across the U.S. military, representing dozens of faith groups, maintaining adequate manning is a challenge. Those challenges are not unique, however, in that they match those faced by recruiters for other officers and enlisted personnel as well.

During the annual Armed Forces Chaplains Board endorsers conference today at the Pentagon, Lernes Hebert, the deputy assistant defense secretary for military personnel policy, spoke with chaplains and chaplain endorsers. He addressed the complexity of recruiting chaplains from a population of Americans that are today more unfamiliar with the military than they have ever been in the past.

“Somehow you have to communicate to an American population who is getting further and further removed from its military,” Lernes told endorsers, who are the civilian representatives of faith groups responsible for helping chaplains into the military.

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DOD Updates Vetting Procedures for Foreign Students

The Defense Department will announce updates to the vetting process for foreign military students “in the coming days,” the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs said.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper will visit Pensacola Naval Air Station and U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Florida on Jan. 22-23, Jonathan Rath Hoffman told members of the Pentagon press corps during a news conference today.

During his visit, the secretary will provide an update to air station leaders on the new vetting and security procedures following the shooting there last month by a military student from Saudi Arabia, Hoffman said.

Vetting had previously been handled by the home country of the students, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. “We’ve taken an enhanced look on how we can use our resources to do enhanced vetting,” he said. “We owe that to our people and owe that to the families, but we also want to ensure that this program continues.”

Hoffman said that DOD considers the international military training program “incredibly valuable,” noting that more than a million students from about 150 countries have trained in the U.S. over the program’s 20-year life “and until the Pensacola shooting, we’ve never had a serious security incident.”

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U.S. sending home 21 Saudi cadets, NAS Pensacola shooting an ‘act of terrorism’

Attorney General William Barr said Monday that the Saudi Arabian shooter at Naval Air Station Pensacola was “motivated by Jihadist ideology.”

Barr says 21 Saudi military students are being removed from the US training program and returning home.

Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich announced the findings of the criminal investigation in a press conference at the Department of Justice.

Accused shooter 21-year-old Mohammed Alshamrani, a 2nd LT in the Royal Saudi Air Force, allegedly killed three U.S. sailors and injured several others. Authorities say the attack ended with a sheriff’s deputy killing the shooter.

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Pensacola naval base shooting an ‘act of terrorism,’ Attorney General Barr says

The fatal attack on a naval base in Pensacola, Florida, last month by a Saudi national who was in the U.S. for military training was an act of terrorism motivated by jihadist beliefs, officials said.

Evidence showed that the gunman held anti-American and anti-Israeli views, which he posted on social media, including just hours before the Dec. 6 attack, Attorney General William Barr said Monday.

“This was an act of terrorism,” Barr said. “The evidence shows the shooter was influenced by jihadist ideology.”

The gunman was identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi Air Force, after the attack left three service members dead. Investigators did not offer a motive. Alshamrani died after exchanging gunfire with sheriff’s deputies who responded to the shooting.

Eight Americans were injured in the attack, which lasted about 15 minutes.

Authorities said there was no evidence that Alshamrani acted with the assistance of other individuals or groups, though the government is still working to unlock two Apple iPhones belonging to him.

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Army IDs Two Paratroopers Killed by Roadside Bomb in Afghanistan

The two soldiers killed when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan were paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, the defense department announced Sunday.

The IED attack took place Saturday in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, bordering Pakistan to the south. Killed in the blast were Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin, 29, of Newport News, Virginia; and Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon, 21, of Joliet, Illinois, according to a release.

Both soldiers were attached to 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

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