By: Lorne Cook and Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press,
BRUSSELS — Two years after winding down its military operation in Afghanistan, NATO has agreed to send more troops to help train and work alongside Afghan security forces.
The move comes in response to a request from NATO commanders who say they need as many as 3,000 additional troops from the allies. That number does not include an expected contribution of roughly 4,000 American forces. They would be divided between the NATO training and advising the mission in Afghanistan, and America's counterterrorism operations against the Taliban, al-Qaida and Islamic State militants.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels on Thursday that 15 countries "have already pledged additional contributions." He expected more commitments to come.
Britain has said that it would contribute just under 100 troops in a noncombat role.
"We're in it for the long haul. It's a democracy. It's asked for our help and it's important that Europe responds," British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told reporters. "Transnational terror groups operate in Afghanistan, are a threat to us in Western Europe."
European nations and Canada have been waiting to hear what U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will offer or seek from them. U.S. leaders have so far refused to publicly discuss troop numbers before completing a broader, updated war strategy.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Afghanistan this week, meeting with commanders to gather details on what specific military capabilities they need to end what American officials say is a stalemate against the resurgent Taliban.
The expected deployment of more Americans is intended to bolster Afghan forces so they eventually can assume greater control of security.
By Bil Browning
A newly dedicated monument to LGBT veterans was defaced by someone who poured tar all over it. Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery
Someone poured a tar-like substance over a newly-dedicated monument to LGBT soldiers and while any perceived slight to military veterans normally draws immediate condemnation from mainstream veterans’ groups, only the American Legion is willing to raise their voice to condemn the vandalism.
The monument at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was unveiled on Memorial Day by the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) to highlight the sacrifices of troops who often served in silence. Now, the silence from their brothers and sisters is deafening.
“The American Legion would hope that all veterans be treated with dignity and respect – especially the memories of those who have passed away,” Joe Plenzler, Director of Media Relations for the American Legion told LGBTQ Nation. “We value the many sacrifices and selfless service of all who have worn our Nation’s uniform in the defense of our Constitution and the American people.”
Sean Baumgartner, director of the national cemetery, told the Chicago Tribune that cleaning crews have already begun to repair the monument, but that the memorial has been discolored and will need to have some lettering replaced. Baumgartner estimates repairs will cost between $100-$500 and will be paid by the cemetery.
“To purposely have that in your mind to do is just horrible,” Baumgartner told the newspaper. “The circumstances, it looked like a deliberate thing, obviously.”
The monument features an upside down pink triangle and the symbols of all six branches of the military. The inscription reads, “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have served honorably and admirably in America’s armed forces.”
Local police have no idea who is responsible, but if found they could face federal charges of defacing public property. The American Legion hopes “police are able to apprehend the perpetrators of this crime.”
No other veterans groups contacted for a statement on the crime responded to inquiries. None of them shared information about the vandalism on their social media channels either. It’s almost as if LGBT service members are still supposed to be silent and unseen despite the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Their silence is even more shocking than the crime itself.
To view this article on it's original source, Click Here.
By Johnathon Clinkscales
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt, along with other National Headquarters staff, witnessed President Donald Trump sign S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, into law on June 23 during a special ceremony at the White House.
“The overwhelming majority of VA workers are truly dedicated to serving veterans in a professional manner. However, we know that this isn’t always the case,” Schmidt said. “All of us who served in the military understand accountability and that’s what this new law is intended to deliver. The American Legion believes that you cannot fire your way to excellence, but the VA Secretary must have the ability to remove poor performers who are harming an otherwise excellent veterans health care system. We appreciate the Trump administration’s support in not just bringing accountability to the system but in protecting whistleblowers who shed light on areas that need to be fixed.”
The bipartisan legislation, which the House passed on June 13 following a 368-55 vote, will enhance accountability at the VA and provide the department with the tools it needs to improve the care veterans receive. It is designed to:
In addition, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline, according to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s (SVAC) website.
“This is one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history,” Trump said. “VA accountability is essential to making sure that our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears. This law will finally give the VA secretary … the authority to remove federal employees who fail and endanger our veterans — and to do so quickly and effectively.”
As SVAC noted, S. 1094 also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable as it:
Requires VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;
Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;
Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and
Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.
“At the same time, this bill protects whistleblowers who do the right thing. We want to reward, cherish and promote the many dedicated employees at the VA,” Trump said. “This legislation also gives the VA secretary the authority to appoint new medical directors at VA hospitals – something which was almost impossible to do in the past.”
Trump said this is only the beginning and his administration will not rest until the job is 100 percent complete. This new legislation is about striving to better support and serve incredible veterans every single day, he said.
“We won’t be able to accomplish any of the reforms that we need to have in the VA if we don’t get the right people in place,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin. “Veterans deserve a VA that they can trust and take pride in. VA is a national resource that must be protected in order to serve veterans and their families for generations to come.”
To view this post on the original source, Click Here.
Scammers often target veteran organizations to get money, but it's important to be even more vigilant when giving around the Independence Day holiday.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) wants to remind residents to make sure an organization is legitimate before they donate.
While many Veterans charities are genuine and do a lot of great things, some could be nothing more than a scam.
Jim Steeples with the Quincy American Legion said for organizations that really do try to help our Vets, its difficult to see scams trying to take advantage.
"It irritates me," Steeples said. "It's hard to explain, but I know when they call me on the phone wanting this and that I just tell them that I'm a member of the American Legion, so I do my donating through them."
Here's more advice from the BBB to take into consideration before contributing to a charity:
Army veteran Sgt. Joshua Geartz talks with singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier outside of the Sportsmen’s Tavern Sunday. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- A North Tonawanda veteran rode into Buffalo Sunday with a police escort. He was greeted by a crowd waving American flags.
U.S. Army veteran Joshua Geartz completed an emotional 422 mile ride from Angola, Indiana to Buffalo.
“It reminds me of where I was and seeing that group of people, mostly friends and family, it kind of hit me I almost gave up on all of that,” he told News 4.
Geartz served in the Army from 1999 to 2004.
In 2003, he was hit by an explosive device and suffered traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
He received an honorable discharge but struggled when he returned home. Geartz eventually attempted to take his own life.
“You get to a place where you feel like people are better off without you, that you’d be doing them a favor, you’d be helping them out by not being around,” said Geartz. “There could be nothing further from the truth than that.”
He said the organization Songwriting With Soldiers helped save his life.
Geartz uses music to tell the story of his service with the help of musician Mary Gauthier.
“Telling her stuff no one knew and I never told anybody because you’re afraid of what they’re going to think of you, or how they’re going to judge you, how they’re going to look at you after they know some of the things you did,” he explained.
Geartz said Gauthier responded by saying “I’m glad you’re here.”
He told us that working with her to create music gave him a new purpose. Their work took them to the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, where audience members told him the music changed their lives.
He’s now trying to spread a message of hope.
According to the VA, about 20 veterans die from suicide every day.
Geartz has spent the past month riding along bike trails, paths and roads to raise awareness in order to save lives. He wants to encourage other veterans to keep fighting.
“No matter how bad you think something is, how dark you think something is, you can always find a way to use it for good,” said Geartz.
He celebrated his ride at the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Black Rock. Gauthier greeted him with tears and joined him to perform their songs.
Geartz is trying to bring a Songwriting With Soldiers retreat to Buffalo.
After our story aired, Paul Billoni, the president of Colvin Cleaners, reached out to Geartz to donate $16,000 to the cause.
To view the Article from the original source, Click Here.
Steve Euvino, NWI Times Correspondent
Photo by Steve Euvino, The Times
VALPARAISO — As race director Mike Bottom introduced the Northwest Indiana Soap Box Derby Saturday, he told those in attendance, “We’ve crammed a lot in a small space.”
For several hours Saturday along Lincolnway, children of various ages, sizes and skills took to the street for a chance to compete in the national finals next month in Akron, Ohio.
“We’ve worked a lot over the last nine months to see a smile on a kid’s face,” said Bottom, whose children have competed or assisted in the All-American Soap Box Derby program that dates back to 1934. The Northwest Indiana chapter started six years later.
“It’s all for the kids — that’s why we do it,” Bottom noted.
For Blake Mote, 8, of Kouts, his first race left him feeling excited and nervous. “I’m excited to be driving a car, but nervous about not winning,” Mote said.
Depending on age and body size, the derby is divided into four categories: stock (7-13 years), super stock (9-18), master (10-20) and super kids (7-18), for special-needs youth.
“Some kids are in it to win it, but these kids are just doing it for fun and they’re excited just to be here," said Martha Luke, an adult in charge of super kids contestants.
This year’s race featured two super kids contestants — Garret Kuiper, of Valparaiso, and Noah Biegel, of Hanna. Cindy Biegel, Noah’s mother, said she enjoys “seeing the excitement on the faces of the kids as they’re going down the ramp or those competing for the first time.”
Chris Cunningham, the owner of Service Plus Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, didn’t have the honor of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, but he’s always had a deep respect for those who do.
He gives veterans priority status when he hires, but he wanted to do more.
Cunningham started a Salute to Service program through which his company will annually donate and install a new air conditioner for a veteran in need.
On Thursday, June 22, he and a crew from his company spent the day in Franklin, Indiana, installing a new furnace and air conditioner for a disabled Marine, former Police Officer and Legionnaire, Mark Gahimer.
Gahimer is a member of American Legion post 205 in Franklin, Indiana.
“This absolutely is a life saver for him,” said Debra Gahimer, who nominated her husband for the program but didn’t tell him about the possibility for fear of him being disappointed if he wasn’t selected.
After weeks of waiting for word, she’d given up, but took some comfort in thinking that whoever won surely needed it more.
Cunningham said it would be difficult to find someone who needed the project more.
Mark Gahimer left the Marines after only a year of service due to knee injuries, but went on to spend 33 years in Indiana law enforcement.
He served with the Capitol Police, Hendricks and Johnson counties and the town of Whiteland.
Now 60, he suffered a stroke last year, He’s diabetic, has recurring issues with dehydration as well as severe back and neck issues.
Summer is especially difficult as heat worsens his dehydration issues.
For the past three years, the Gahimers have relied on window air conditioners because they haven’t been able to afford to fix their central air conditioner.
"A Week to Shape a Life Time"
ANGOLA, Ind., – The American Legion, Department of Indiana celebrated the 80th Anniversary of Hoosier Boys State as more than 400 students graduated the 2017 class on Friday, June 16 at Trine University in Angola, Ind.
The week-long program, “A Week to Shape a Life Time,” provides scholarship opportunities and leadership guidance to exceptional young men by way of creating a fictional, and functional, state government based on Indiana’s process.
The program is held annually in June for Junior-aged high school students to actively work together to win elections, propose laws, negotiate bills and enforce the legislation and procedures established from the local, county and state levels. By the end of the week, graduates will know more about Indiana’s state government than 90% of their fellow Hoosiers.
“Boys State is a program sponsored by The American Legion about government and politics,” said HBS Assistant Director Scott Weyler. “We develop a political party structure, the students develop a slate of candidates, we have elections, we have debates, we have rallies, all the things we do in real life.”
See Frequently Asked Questions about Hoosier Boys State here.
These students come here for a reason,” said Angola Mayor and Hoosier Boys State Alumni Richard Hickman. “They come and they suck up all the education and knowledge they can and take that information back to their own communities and hopefully make their home communities better.”
Since Hoosier Boys State started in 1937, the program has reached more than 60,000 Hoosier youths including some notable Hoosier Boys State like former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former U.S. Senator Dick Luger and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
Other famous alumni from across the nation include President Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Retired NBA Great Michael Jordan, Pulitzer Prize winning movie critic Roger Ebert, TV news personality Tom Brokaw and even Rock Star Legend Jon Bon Jovi, to name a few.
See more prominent alumni here.
Two exceptional students of this year’s class of more than 400 will go on to compete for more scholarship opportunities at Boys National in Washington D.C. later this year. Currently, 49 states conduct American Legion Boys State programs with a class of about 20,000 delegates annually.
“This program was born of an ideal The American Legion cherishes, that of unselfish service to community, state and nation,” said Indiana Legion Cmdr. James B. May of Bloomington, Ind., addressing the 2017 graduating class. “It is our earnest hope that you enjoyed every minute of your visit, and that you will go home with an awakened interest in, and a better knowledge of, the government of Indiana and the responsibilities of citizenship.
To learn how you can get involved, or to take advantage of this unique, time-tested opportunity, visit www.hoosierboysstate.org. Follow Hoosier Boys State on Facebook and Twitter.
Click below for pictures of every day's events. Click images to expand
The Iraq War killed former Minnesota Air National Guard Tech Sgt. Amie Muller. It just took a decade to do it.
That, at least, is how Muller’s family and friends see it. The 36-year-old’s pancreatic cancer, they believe, was caused by exposure to the massive burn pit used to dispose of waste at Joint Base Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad. Her doctors said there was a strong possibility the burn pit was to blame, but no way to definitively prove a link with the available evidence.
Regardless, a young mother of three died in February from a disease that typically is diagnosed at age 71.
“It makes me really mad,” Muller told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in June 2016, a month after learning she had Stage III pancreatic cancer. “I inhaled that stuff all day, all night. Everything that they burned there is illegal to burn in America. That tells you something.”
Muller was a beautiful person whose “nature was to care about others,” her friend Julie Tomaska told Task & Purpose. “She loved animals, loved people. On deployment, she would draw out the misfits, because she was an ear and a shoulder, listening without judgment.”
One day after a chemotherapy treatment at Mayo Clinic, Amie Muller rested at her home with her husband Brian Muller and their two children, June 17, 2016. Star Tribune photo by Elizabeth Flores
Even as her life came to an end, Muller sought to prevent others from suffering a similar fate. Despite being in physical pain from the cancer, and agonizing over the thought of leaving her children without a mom, she established a foundation with her husband, Brian Muller, to support military families fighting pancreatic cancer. She also became a voice for veterans who believe that the modern battlefield, with its burn pits, fine dust, and metal-laden soil, is an environmental killer.
By: Joe Gould, June 12, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis in Bedminster, N.J.,on Nov. 19, 2016. Carolyn Kaster / AP
WASHINGTON — As lawmakers grilled Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the gap between President Trump’s defense buildup promises and his 2018 budget, Mattis reassured them the “real growth” begins in 2019.
Mattis told members of the House Armed Services Committee he did not yet have funding projections for the troops, ships and jets Trump has talked about and offered assurances the budget released in May was the first step towards that goal. The military buildup will happen in 2019 to 2023.
“We didn’t get into this situation in one year, and we aren’t going to get out of it in one year,” Mattis said in response to questions about a 355-ship Navy. “We’re going to have to have sustained growth in ’19 to ’23, and this is where you’ll see the biggest growth: Army, Air Force and Navy as we’re digging us out of a readiness and maintenance hole.”
The outing, with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and DoD Comptroller David Norquist, was the first in a marathon week of congressional testimony on the president's budget released in May. Lawmakers critical of Trump’s $603 billion budget proposal as insufficient used the hearing to set up the fight to increase military spending as the House crafts its version of the budget in the coming weeks.
Together, we change lives for Veterans, their families and their communities.
Tell us Your Story