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Washington Report


Spc. Ross A. McGinnis was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House in June. Spc. McGinnis, only the second soldier to receive the medal for actions in Iraq, enlisted in the Army at age 17 through the delayed entry program in June 2004.

PFC McGinnis reported to 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infan-try Division, Schweinfurt, Germany, as the company was preparing to deploy to Iraq. Company C arrived in Iraq in August 2006, the first unit from the battalion on the ground, and was quartered at Combat Outpost (COP) Apache in Adamiyah, a northeast section of Baghdad. The area, which had lacked a U.S. presence for eight months, was steeped in sectarian violence. Two months into the deployment, Company C had lost two soldiers, one to a sniper and one to an improvised explosive device.

PFC McGinnis was only 19, the youngest member of his platoon, but he excelled in weaponry and marksmanship. The platoon sergeant handpicked him to serve as the machine gunner on his Humvee. On December 4, 2006, six vehicles left COP Apache to patrol the streets of Adamiyah and deliver a 250-kilowatt generator. As is typical for a standard patrol, the platoon sergeant’s vehicle was the last in line, with PFC McGinnis manning the machine gun.

As the last Humvee rounded a turn, the men in vehicles ahead heard a loud explosion. An insurgent on a nearby rooftop had thrown a fragmentation grenade at PFC McGinnis’ vehicle; all four doors were blown off. Maj. Michael Baka, then-commander of Company C, got a new driver for the still-running Humvee, and they returned to base. There, the four survivors told the story of PFC McGinnis’ bravery.

He sat in the gunner strap, his M2 .50-caliber machine gun ready, facing backward to ensure rear security. The driver and platoon sergeant rode in the front of the vehicle, two other soldiers rode in back. PFC McGinnis saw the gre-nade coming and tried to deflect it, but it entered the Humvee behind him. “Grenade,” he announced, and prepared to jump out of the vehicle as he had been trained to do. The other soldiers asked, “Where?” and PFC McGinnis saw that the grenade was sitting on the radio mount behind him. He had time to avoid the grenade, but the other four soldiers were combat locked in the Humvee and would not have time to escape. PFC McGinnis chose to save them rather than himself; he pushed the gunner strap out from under him, dropped down from the turret and laid his back on the grenade to smother the explosion. He was killed instantly when it detonated.

Although one of the other men in the Humvee was severely wounded, all four survived and credit Spc. McGinnis. “By all means, I should have died that day,” said retired SSgt. Ian Newland, who received part of the blast and was medically retired as a result of his injuries. “He gave me a life that he can’t have now. There isn’t a single day or hour that goes by that I don’t take in everything.”

“I think for me to thank him, is to do everything I can to live my life to the fullest,” said Newland. “Because if he can have courage like that, if he can give up his 19-year-old life, then I can live the rest of my life, however long it is, to every day’s fullest.”

PFC McGinnis was posthumously promoted to specialist and was awarded a Silver Star in December 2006. President Bush presented the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, to his parents at a ceremony in the East Room two weeks short of what would have been the gunner’s 21st birthday. His four surviving comrades attended.

Spc. McGinnis was then inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon. A new headstone erected at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery bears an engraving indicating that he received the Medal of Honor.

Gen. David H. Petraeus testified at his Senate confirmation hearing to become commander of Central Command in the same session as Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, nominated to receive a fourth star and succeed Gen. Petraeus as commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq. Confirmation is expected for both nominees.

Gen. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “My sense is I will be able to make some recommendations” on further reductions by “either redeploying or not deploying by fall.” He also said it was unlikely that Iraqi forces would take the lead in providing security for all of the nation’s 18 provinces by the end of the year, as Central Command and DoD predicted earlier. He does not believe provincial elections will be held on October 1, as scheduled, but thinks they will still take place in the fall.

Gen. Odierno told the committee he did not anticipate the need for more troops in advance of the upcoming elections. “I will never say never, but my assessment now is, with the progress we’re making, the progress we’re seeing in the Iraqi security forces—and what I’m seeing is the security environment on the ground—currently I do not believe we will need an increase,” he said.

The Association of the U.S. Army honored Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) with its Outstanding Legislator Award at a reception on Capitol Hill June 4. Both men were recognized for their long-time and continuing strong support for the Army, national defense and national security.

Rep. Hunter, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, is in his 14th term. He served in the Army from 1969 to 1971, including a tour as a Ranger in Vietnam. Rep. Reyes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Armed Services Committee, is in his sixth term. He served in the Army from 1966 to 1968 as a helicopter crew chief and is a former border-patrol officer.

This is the 10th year AUSA has presented the award.

The House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill in late May by a vote of 384 to 23. It authorizes $531.4 billion for the DoD’s day-to-day activities and $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill authorizes:

• A 3.9 percent pay raise for military personnel.

• A rejection of increased TRICARE fees.

• An increase in Army end strength.

• Money for unfunded readiness initiatives requested by the services.

• Equipment for the Reserve and National Guard.

• Funds for repair and construction of defense facilities.

The bill contains measures that President Bush has threatened to veto. Among them are:

• Requiring congressional approval for any status-of-forces agreement with the Iraqi government.
• Mandating that Iraq pay for certain costs of the U.S. military presence.

• Cutting more than $700 million in funding for ballistic missile defense programs.

• Revoking the base closure law that would govern future base closure rounds and block the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center unless Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates provides certain information about the plan for relocating hospital services.

The Senate began debate on its version of the bill in June. Differences between the two bills—each more than 600 pages—must be reconciled before Congress can vote on a compromise version.

To cover the absence of requested supplemental funding, the DoD submitted reprogramming requests to Congress in late May. DoD proposes to borrow funds from other service accounts and then transfer a total of $9.7 billion to the Army and defense-wide accounts.

The Senate passed the emergency supplemental spending bill by a vote of 70 to 26 before adjourning for its Memorial Day recess. It approved $165 billion in war funding that was not included in the version of the bill passed by the House. The Senate also voted (75 to 22) for a GI Bill benefits package, previously passed by the House, that would spend more than $50 billion over a 10-year period to pay full tuition at a four-year public college or university, plus living expenses and a book allowance, for veterans who serve at least three years in the military.
The Senate version of the bill did not include language that called for troop withdrawals and restrictions on war operations approved by the House of Representatives. The Senate version also excluded a House-passed tax that would have been imposed on adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 for individuals and $1,000,000 for joint filers that would have raised funds to cover the veterans education benefit. The supplemental spending bill must now return to the House.

The inclusion of the GI Bill measure could prompt a veto from President Bush, who has opposed adding domestic spending to his $108 billion request to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pentagon officials, saying the veterans education package could make it harder to retain military personnel, want the measure to include a provision that those who stay in the military for at least six years would have the option of transferring benefits to a spouse or children.

Congress has passed the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008, or HEART Act, which is a combination of new tax benefits and extensions of expiring benefits for servicemembers and their families. Among its provisions, the bill would:

• Allow members of the reserve component who are mobilized to make penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans.

• Permit recipients of military death benefit gratuities to roll over the amounts received, tax-free, to a Roth IRA or an education savings account.

• Make permanent the ability to include combat pay as earned income for purposes of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

• Permit members of the reserve component called to active duty to withdraw amounts held in a flexible spending account without penalty.

The HEART Act has been sent to the White House.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake has established two panels of experts to recommend ways the VA can improve its programs in suicide prevention, research and education. Made up of members of the DoD, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health and other agencies, the five-member work group is expected to develop a report with recommendations for Secretary Peake by July.

The second panel is a group of nine nationally known experts in public health suicide programs, suicide research and clinical treatment programs. The civilian panel will give the work group professional opinions, interpretations and conclusions on data as well as recommendations on ways to improve VA programs.