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January/February 2001

January/February 2001

AUSA is happy to report that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has introduced HR 244, a bill that calls for a 7.3 percent increase in military pay. This bill is the culmination of months of legislative effort by AUSA. Closing the gap between military pay and that of the private sector has been AUSA's focus for some time.

AUSA's president, GEN Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret., said that this legislation would be another major step toward closing the civilian/military pay gap. "A goal of this association is to close the pay gap by 2006. Without bills such as this one introduced by Rep. John Murtha ... and the commitment of a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress and the administration, the gap will not be closed until 2026."

GEN Sullivan also noted the efforts begun in the 106th Congress to begin correcting the problem. The pay gap was estimated to be about 14 percent three years ago, but with the recent pay raises that number is down to 10 percent.

At the first annual Nominative Command Sergeant Major Conference held at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, TX, 8-12 January 2001, the Army's senior NCO urged soldiers to stay focused in their lanes of responsibility.

"Too often people get concerned and off track worrying about things they are not responsible for nor have any control over," SMA Tilley said. "My message to all soldiers is to stay focused on the things within your lane of responsibility -- let others take care of the things they are responsible for."

One thing soldiers should not be concerned with, according to the Sergeant Major of the Army, is the black beret. "The decision has been made and it is not up for discussion," Tilley said. "It is time to move on and start preparing our soldiers by teaching them now how to wear and maintain the beret."

In addition to delivering his own message, Tilley also gave updates of DA issues that directly affect soldiers. The top issues soldiers want to hear about are pay, quality of life, retention, TRICARE and retirement, Tilley said.

As an outcome of the conference, Tilley now has a new NCO vision for the Army with five messages he will take to the field. Those messages are: "lead by example," "train from experience," "maintain and enforce standards," "take care of soldiers" and "adapt to a changing world."

Attendees chose these leader skills the Army needs today by consensus from among about 25 choices, said Tilley. (From an ArmyLink story.)

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld read the following message from the President during a 26 January ceremony at the Pentagon: "To the armed forces of the United States and to the men and women who support them:

"Your service in the cause of freedom is both noble and extraordinary. Because of you, America is strong and the flame of freedom burns brighter than at any time in history.

"Your country can never repay you for the sacrifices and hardships you endure, but we are grateful for the liberties we enjoy every day because of your service.

"As your commander in chief I will always support you and your families so that this great nation continues to have the greatest armed forces in the history of the world." (Courtesy of American Forces Press Service.)

The 107th Congress has 11 new senators and for the first time in over 100 years, neither party has a majority. The House of Representatives has 41 new members; the Republican Party maintained a slight majority with 221.

Eight of the new members of Congress have significant Army service:

  • Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri)
  • Rep. Henry Brown (R-South Carolina)
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California)
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida)
  • Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Nebraska)
  • Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho)
  • Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan)
  • Rep. Robert Simmons (R-Connecticut)

    A national telephone survey of veterans will be conducted from February through August 2001 by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help the government plan its future programs and services for veterans.

    This fifth nation-wide survey enables VA to:
  • follow changing trends in the veteran population;
  • compare characteristics of veterans who do and do not use VA services;
  • study VA's role in the delivery of all benefits that veterans receive; and
  • update information about veterans to help the department analyze its policies.

    Interviewers will use a sample of 20,000 veterans; 13,000 will be selected at random and the other 7,000 will be selected from files of veterans currently enrolled in health care or who receive disability compensation from the VA.

    Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi and H.E. Francois de l'Estang, Ambassador of France to the United States, announced that the French government will present certificates to World War II veterans to thank them for their participation in the liberation of France.

    To be eligible, a veteran must have served on French territory, in French territorial waters or in French airspace between 6 June 1944 and 8 May 1945. The certificate will not be issued posthumously. Presentation of the certificates is expected to begin later this year.

    An application form is available from veteran services organizations and on a special Internet site maintained by the French government. For more information, call 202-273-6000.

    Army Reserve soldiers delivered most of the 500 tons of mail to the half million servicemembers in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This is just one of the facts and other such information tidbits depicted on a new website commemorating the 10th anniversary of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

    The Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, in Washington, DC, opened the site as a tribute to the men and women who took part in America's largest reserve call-up since the Korean War.

    The Army's top soldier speaks out on the NCO-ER on PERSCOM's website. According to Sergeant Major of the Army Jack L. Tilley, focusing on the following areas will make the NCO-ER a better prepared, more meaningful and accurate document:
  • Counseling. Tell the soldiers what is expected of their performance. Proper counseling precludes surprises and ensures the rated NCOs know where they stand at all times. Enforcement of the Army's values and standards is both responsible and caring.
  • Ratings. Now that you have called it like it is, rate them that way. Honest ratings help the soldier and the U.S. Army. In addition, soldiers appreciate honest ratings that are qualitative and quantitative. Preparing justifiable bullets is easy when they are based on the solder's actual job performance.
  • Check and recheck. Rated individuals, raters, senior raters and reviewers all have areas they are responsible for completing, checking, rechecking and verifying. These steps are essential to ensure an accurate depiction of the rated soldier.

    The SMA closes his article with: "It is clearly evident that our NCO corps is better trained and educated than it has ever been. This is due, in a large part, to your total and untiring efforts in support of the NCO-ER report. Year 2001 promises to be even better. I thank you for your support and ask for your continued dedication in enhancing the capabilities of our Army. Best wishes for the year 2001."

    In a recent news release, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Hershel W. Gober announced that the latest medical research does not justify a change in the normal procedures for awarding disability pay to veterans affected by illnesses after serving in the Persian Gulf War.

    "The welfare of Gulf War veterans is one of the highest priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Gober. "Research continues, and VA will review all studies. If new scientific evidence reaches the threshold established by law, we'll act accordingly. But so far we haven't reached that threshold."

    In a report released in September 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) looked at more than 10,000 published scientific studies related to four potential causes of Gulf War illnesses. Based on the IOM report, a link could not be established between the problems that veterans report today and the things they were exposed to during the Gulf War.

    Gulf War veterans can receive free specialized medical examinations at VA facilities. VA provides heath care for Gulf War veterans with medical problems potentially related to military service. Gulf War veterans may be eligible for disability compensation for illnesses or injuries related to their military service. Currently, VA provides disability compensation to more than 190,000 Gulf War veterans, including more than 3,000 with undiagnosed illnesses.

    VA has a toll-free number (800-749-8387) to inform veterans about VA programs on Gulf War-era benefits.
    View IOM Report

    Soldiers wanting more money for higher education should report to their local education center, the Army has announced.

    The Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvements Act of 2000, signed into law 1 November, offers soldiers and their family members new options to fund higher education. One big change will allow soldiers who are enrolled with the Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP) to convert to the much more generous Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). The VEAP offered a total of $8,100 to help pay for higher education based on a $2,700 individual contribution. Critics have said it didn't go far enough in helping soldiers meet the rising costs of education.

    The new law provides another window for VEAP-era soldiers to convert to the MGIB and it allows them to convert even if their account was inactive in 1996.

    In order to be eligible to convert under the new window, soldiers must have served continuously on active duty from 9 October 1996 through 1 April 2000. Those wishing to convert must make an irrevocable election to change to the MGIB; they must withdraw any balance left in their VEAP accounts; and they must make or complete a $2,700 payment during an 18-month window beginning when they opt to convert to the MGIB. Those eligible and wishing to switch must do so by 31 October 2001.

    View these and other significant changes to education funding. The Education and Incentives and Counseling Branch at PERSCOM can be contacted at 800-872-8272. (From ArmyLINK News.)

    Some service-members in remote locations received an extra allowance in their January pay. Hardship Duty Pay - Location (HDP-L) is being paid in increments of $50, $100 or $150 per month to troops serving in certain overseas areas where the quality of life is extra-ordinarily arduous, according to Navy Capt. Chris Kopang, DoD's director of military compensation. The new allowance replaced Certain Places Pay (CCP) on 1 January. CCP was paid to enlisted members in amounts ranging from $8 to $22.50 per month. CPP covered about 160 areas, some of which had Public Health Service members assigned but no military. Kopang said some CPP areas will not be eligible for HDP-L, but enlisted members in areas not converting to HDP-L will continue to receive CPP allowances for the rest of 2001.

    Some of the many factors considered in identifying Hardship Duty Locations were:
  • Living conditions. This includes issues such as pest control, public health and pollution; proximity to medical facilities; and exposure to sanitation or disease problems not experienced in the United States.
  • Personal security. This includes areas experiencing political violence or a high crime rate.

    Areas receiving the highest level ($150 per month) include Diego Garcia, Johnson Atoll and the polar ice caps. Areas in Korea along the demilitarized zone qualify for $150 per month, while other areas in South Korea are in the $50 per month category, Kopang said in an American Forces Information Service interview.

    Areas will be reassessed every two years, but commanders can submit reassessments if their local conditions change. (From an American Forces Press Service story.)

    MSG Kittie Messman, the Army's noncommissioned officer who oversees uniform policy, gave a presentation at the Pentagon recently to talk about the "dos" and "don'ts" of wearing the black beret. Key points:
  • Soldiers will be issued their first beret in April with the Army flash sewn on.
  • The second beret will be issued in October.
  • The beret will be available for sale at military clothing stores in January 2002.
  • No black berets will be worn at Basic Training, Officer Basic Course, Warrant Officer Basic Course, Officer Candidate School, ROTC and the United States Military Academy.
  • Uniform policy on the black beret will be featured in "Hot Topics" in the May issue of Soldiers magazine.
  • Soldiers will begin wearing the beret on 14 June 2001, the Army's 226th birthday.

    (From an ArmyLink News release.)

    Popular Science magazine recently named the Army's Interceptor flak jacket as one of the "Year's 100 Hottest Products and Eye-Opening Discoveries" in its annual "Best of What's New" awards.

    The Interceptor flak jacket, made from a Kevlar-like material called KM2, can stop 9mm handgun bullets. When ceramic plates are inserted in the jacket's pockets, it stops rifle or machine-gun fire, offering a degree of protection that was not possible in the past. Despite the improved protection, Interceptor weighs only 16.4 pounds—nine pounds less than previous models. The jacket is being used by infantry and light artillery units and may soon be worn by police.

    The Military Star card is reducing its interest rate from 13.75 percent to 13.25 percent, effective 15 February 2001. On 17 January the interest rate on the Military Star card was lowered from 14.25 percent to 13.75 percent.

    The Military Star card is accepted at all AAFES, NEXCOM, MCX and Coast Guard exchanges, including catalog and military clothing stores operated by AAFES and Marine Corps exchanges.

    Earnings from the card go back into military communities as morale, welfare and recreation dividends. For online information, visit, or

    DoD's Special Needs Network, a website for military families with special medical or educational needs, went online 24 January 2001. Rebecca Posante, a program analyst at DoD's Office of Educational Opportunity, initiated the site to provide access to information and resources. The site not only provides assistance to families with special needs, but also offers access to information about assignments, community support, federal/state programs, advocacy/ training, relocation, education and more. The section on state and federal programs includes requirements for such programs as Supplemental Security Income, food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

    The site features a simple design and straightforward point-and-click access to information and also provides access to a confidential members' network where families and service providers can chat and exchange information. "The members' network will allow people to raise issues with others who might have the kind of information we may never have. Like, 'I'm moving to Fort Lewis, WA, and I need a dentist for my 5-year-old autistic child.' While most people wouldn't know any dentists with that specialty, another family in the same boat might," Posante said.

    The network will automatically send interested members news about various issues. "People will be able to subscribe so that they will be alerted if something new comes up," she said.

    In addition to the chat network, visitors can use an e-mail form on the site to send recommendations, links and other information. (From an American Forces Press Service story.)

    Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, offers a list of URLs to help you complete your taxes this year. Questions unique to military service are addressed on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website in the Armed Forces Tax Guide.

    The IRS this year lets you file your return electronically, free and directly.

    Need forms? You can get those over the Internet at the IRS form page.

    How do you handle state taxes.

    (From an American Forces Press Service story.)

    DoD recently announced a new Internet resource for servicemembers leaving active duty. Dubbed the DoD Transportal, the site is designed to be the doorway to Internet transition and job assistance information and services for departing servicemembers and their spouses. The online service is intended to complement the existing network of transition assistance offices at more than 212 major military installations worldwide.

    The site has three main features:
  • Transition Assistance provides a brief overview of the program, including a general discussion of all benefits and services available.
  • At Your Service provides the locations and phone numbers of all transition assistance offices worldwide and links to other transition-related websites.
  • Your Next Career provides mini-courses on conducting a successful job search campaign and creating resumes, information on avoiding Internet scams, and links to job search websites and recruiting sites.

    In keeping with Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) announced the closure of six stores this year.

    In April, commissaries will close at Pope AFB, NC; Kelly AFB, TX; the Defense Supply Center, Richmond, VA; and Sierra Army Depot, CA. Commissaries at Brooks AFB, TX, and Cutler Naval Computer Telecommunications Station, Machias, ME, are scheduled to cease operations in September.

    According to DeCA spokesman Tim Ford, closing these stores will enhance the overall operation of the agency worldwide. The closures were approved after consulting the affected military services, the Commissary Operating Board, the DoD staff and Congress, Ford said.

    DeCA officials said that active duty servicemembers and their families are the primary beneficiaries of commissary services. The reduced numbers of personnel in this category and the aging condition of some of these stores were the main factors in the decision to close these commissaries.

    Ford stressed that most customers affected by these closings, to include military retirees, will be able to shop at other nearby commissaries. Lackland AFB's large commissary can serve former Brooks and Kelly AFB customers, he said. Patrons of the Richmond, VA, store could use the Fort Lee commissary.

    "We recognize the importance of the benefit to our patrons and encourage them to shop at their nearest commissary," Ford said. (From an American Forces Information Service story.)

    Active duty, Reserve, National Guard and recently separated military personnel can now access expanded pay information through a new Military Pay Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS).

    By using a preestablished personal identification number (PIN), the Military Pay IVRS will automatically determine the member's status and provide appropriate menu selections.

    Active duty personnel will be able to access their payday deposit information, a list of current allotments, the number of bonds in safekeeping, their leave balance, tax filing status, exemptions and year-to-date wage and withholdings information. Reserve and National Guard members have access to their payroll deposit history, current deduction for Servicemen's Group Life Insurance, tax status and withholdings information. Separated members will be able to research the last payment made on their pay account. All customers will have access to instructions on how to get replacement W-2s. General information recordings will be available for people not eligible for or who do not want to establish a PIN, including how-to information.

    Members should contact the Centralized Customer Support Office, 800-390-2348, with their questions.

    TRICARE has proposed new ways to make the TRICARE Pharmacy Benefit easier to understand. The copayments will be uniform for all beneficiaries and based on whether generic or brand-name medication is purchased. If the proposal is approved, it will go into effect on 1 April 2001, the same day the TRICARE Senior Pharmacy program begins.

    Under the new program, beneficiaries will pay $3 for generic prescriptions and $9 for brand-name medications at TRICARE-affiliated retail drug stores for up to a 30-day supply or through the National Mail Order Pharmacy program for up to a 90-day supply.

    If you have any further questions, consult the TRICARE website.

    The VA is cautioning veterans to beware of a new scam that offers lump-sum payments in exchange for monthly VA disability checks or pensions.

    Federal law outlaws the direct sale of VA benefits. The latest schemes attempt to avoid the long-standing federal prohibition by representing these transactions as loans. Companies persuade veterans to give up their disability and pension checks for a specified period -- up to eight years -- in exchange for a lump-sum cash payment typically worth 30-40 percent over that same period. In some cases, the veteran must also take out a life insurance policy naming the company as beneficiary.

    In the case of a veteran with a disability rated at 50 percent, it could mean receiving a one-time payment of about $20,000, then forfeiting a $609 monthly payment that in the course of eight years would bring in nearly $60,000.

    Call the VA at 202-273-5700 or visit their Internet site for more information.

    A DA selection board is scheduled to convene at the Enlisted Records and Evaluations Center, Indianapolis, IN, on 30 May 2001 to consider soldiers for promotion to SFC and automatic selection for attendance at the Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course (ANOC). Additionally, the board will review records for possible elimination under the Qualitative Management Program (QMP).

    For advancement to SFC the board will consider all staff sergeants with a Date of Rank (DOR) of 30 June 1999 and earlier and with a Basic Active Service Date (BASD) between 30 May 1982 and 30 May 1995. Primary Zone DOR is 30 June 1998 and earlier. Secondary Zone is 1 July 1998 - 30 June 1999.

    Students considering a career in local, state or federal government could earn up to $1,000 for college through the public Service Scholarship program. According to Jocelyn C. Travers, program coordinator, "The scholarship program is targeted toward bright and talented college students who plan to pursue a career in public service." She added that ten to twelve $500 and $1000 scholarships will be awarded this year. The $500 scholarships will be awarded to part-time students.

    Deadline for applications is 19 May, Travers said. Undergraduate and graduate students may apply. Applicants must have a 3.5 grade point average in all college work and are required to submit a two-page essay discussing their specific career goals and vision for the future. To obtain more information and an application form, visit the or send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Public Employees Roundtable, P.O. Box 75248, Washington, DC 20013-5248. You may also call for information at 202-927-3650. (From a Armed Forces Press Service release.)

    The drug "Ecstasy" (Methlenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA) is a federally controlled synthetic psychoactive drug with hallucinogenic properties. Its possession and use are a felony crime for personnel subject to the UCMJ. Ecstasy is also known by other names such as "E," "XTC," "Love Drug," "Hug Drug," "Lovers' Speed" and "Disco Biscuits." Physical symptoms of Ecstasy use include nausea, hallucinations, chills, sweating, increased body temperature, tremors, involuntary teeth clenching, muscle cramping and blurred vision. It is not uncommon for users to suck lollipops or pacifiers and to drink significant amounts of water. Long-term effects include impairment of learning and memory skills. Ecstasy cannot normally be detected via urinalysis or other drug-testing means if the use was more than 24 hours prior to testing (its effects normally last no more than six hours).

    The drug (usually an aspirin-sized pill) is rapidly becoming the designer drug of choice among the 18-25-year-old age group, and its use is escalating at an alarming rate. The Drug Enforcement Administration reported the seizure of 944,128 dosage units during 1998; during 1999, 12,144,319 dosage units were seized; during just seven months of 2000, eight million dosage units were seized. The current estimate is that more than two million units may now be smuggled into the United States weekly, mostly from European cities.

    NCO UPDATE is published bimonthly by the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare to help senior Army noncommissioned officers keep up to date on matters affecting the military profession and to better inform their soldiers. Reproduction is encouraged.

    MSG (Ret.) George E. Ehling, Sr., Editor
    Lori Johnston, Production
    CSM (Ret.) Jimmie Spencer, Director, NCO and Enlisted Affairs
    2425 Wilson Boulevard
    Arlington VA 22201-3385
    Phone 800-336-4570, ext. 632, or 703-907-2632
    Fax 703-243-9402

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