First Quarter 2004
KENNETH O. PRESTON SELECTED AS 13TH SERGEANT MAJOR OF THE ARMY
Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee and Army Chief of Staff GEN Peter J. Schoomaker formally announced on 18 November 2003 that CSM Kenneth O. Preston has been selected as the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army.
The SMA designee had been serving as the command sergeant major for V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, since April 2001. He has also served as the command sergeant major for Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Since he entered the Army on 30 June 1975, he has served in every enlisted leadership position from tank commander to corps command sergeant major.
Preston was sworn in as the Army’s newest senior enlisted advisor during ceremonies at the Pentagon on 15 January 2004.
As Sergeant Major of the Army, Preston serves as the Army Chief of Staff’s personal adviser on all enlisted-related matters, particularly in areas affecting soldier training, NCO leader development and well-being of Army families. He will travel extensively throughout the world observing Army training and operations.
Army officials said that as he travels throughout the Army, SMA Preston will be listening to concerns and providing feedback and recommendations to Army and Department of Defense leadership regarding improvements in quality of life.
SMA Preston will also be a member of a wide variety of councils and boards that make decisions affecting enlisted soldiers and their families. (For SMA Preston’s official biography, go to http://www.army.mil/leaders/SMA/bio.htm.)
GETTING AN OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT TRAVEL CARD? NOT WITHOUT A CREDIT CHECK
Until the approval of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, requiring a credit check before issuing a Department of Defense travel card was almost unheard of. But now, due to some 600,000 card revocations in the recent past, DoD and Bank of America are going to tighten travel-card policy and start punishing credit abusers.
The Defense Authorization Act for 2004, signed by President Bush on 24 November 2003, makes it mandatory for troops and civilian employees to be screened for creditworthiness before being issued a travel card. The law makes clear that cards won’t be issued to poor-credit-risk applicants.
The law states, “The Secretary of Defense shall evaluate the creditworthiness of an employee of the Department of Defense or a member of the armed forces before issuing a defense travel card to such an employee or member.”
The 1998 law that launched the official charge-card program implied that cards should be issued to all members, regardless of credit history. Until now, Bank of America has routinely checked the credit history of card applicants, but the screening has been optional, and servicemembers could refuse the right to have their credit history reviewed.
Current cardholders are not immune. Those who currently have cards will also have their credit checked. Those with high risk scores will have their cards revoked on a case-to-case basis.
The law now requires new disciplinary policy and penalties for those who are guilty of misappropriation.
Those who do not qualify or who have had their travel cards revoked may receive cash advances for expenses.
Credit checks are not shared with any individual’s chain of command.
Congress ordered the Defense Department to report on updates to the travel-card program by 1 February 2004, including how new regulations are being put into place and suggested actions or legislation required to ensure defense officials can “effectively take disciplinary action . . . for improper, fraudulent or abusive use of defense travel cards.” (From Army Times.)
SMALL BUSINESS LOANS BRING RELIEF TO DEPLOYED GUARDSMEN AND RESERVISTS
Overseas deployments are always tough on families. Naturally, the initial focus falls on the emotional cost of separation. But for Guardsmen and Reservists who own small businesses, the cost involved in a deployment takes on a whole new meaning.
For the past two years, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Military Economic Injury Disaster Loan program has provided loans to eligible small businesses to cover operating costs that can’t be met after a key employee is called to active duty in the Reserve or National Guard.
Often the “key employee” is a business owner whose family depends on the income generated from the company.
Small businesses may apply for Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $1.5 million if they have been financially affected by the loss of an essential employee. These working capital loans may be used to pay operating expenses that otherwise could have been covered if the Reservist or Guardsman hadn’t been called to active duty. The loans cannot be used to refinance debt (other loans such as credit cards, car loans, home equity loans, school loans, merchandise financing, etc.) or to expand the business, and the Small Business Administration determines the amount of economic injury.
The filing period for the loans ends 90 days after the date the business owner or key employee is discharged from active duty. As with any loan, the money has to be paid back. (From dtic.mil.)
RESERVISTS RECEIVE FULL COMMISSARY PRIVILEGES
Shopping at the commissary can save a military family 30 percent or more compared to shopping at civilian grocery stores. Now, stateside National Guard and Reserve members, so-called gray area retirees and their family members have unlimited commissary shopping privileges.
Military IDs are the only required documentation those people need to get into the stores under a long-sought provision that took effect 24 November 2003, when President Bush signed the 2004 Defense Authorization Act into law.
The change removes the long-standing limit of 24 commissary visits per year for reservists.
“Instructions have gone out to all continental U.S. stores informing them that reservists now have unlimited shopping and telling store managers how to welcome members of the National Guard and Reserve to the full use of the commissary benefit,” Patrick Nixon, deputy director of the Defense commissary Agency, said in a prepared statement.
The situation is different for overseas commissaries, where officials are bound by Status of Forces agreements that may limit reservists’ shopping.
Nixon praised Charles Abell, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, for “acting decisively and immediately” in providing interim authority for reservists to shop.
Under the new law, unlimited store access is extended to members of the Ready Reserve, Selected Reserve, Individual Ready Reserve, Inactive National Guard, and Retired Ready Reserve, gray-area retirees and dependents of these members who have a Defense Department ID card or a distinct ID card used as authorization for benefits and privileges.
This move will save taxpayers money. The mailing and annual administrative costs for special commissary privilege cards ranged from $17 million to $40 million per year.
To find a commissary nearest you, visit the Defense Commissary Agency website at www.commissaries.com. (From Army Times.)
MIND WHAT YOU SEND. MIND WHAT IS SENT TO YOU!
Batteries make life a little more bearable when you are far away from friendly American wall outlets, especially when you don’t have a proper converter/adapter/transformer to make the best of the situation. But sending batteries through the mail isn’t always the best idea. In fact, it can be pretty dangerous.
Mail shipping pallets are often exposed to and self-insulate up to temperatures of 140 degrees. Such high temperatures cause batteries to explode, which can easily start a fire. Exploding batteries have been fingered as the cause of several mail fires in the recent past.
Officials responsible for military mail through Iraq and Afghanistan theatres discourage people from sending batteries to troops.
Another issue being raised at this time is the excessive pressure placed upon the Army Post Office (APO). With all the rotations, deployments and redeployments taking place, the APO is going into overdrive. One of the APO’s biggest problems is the rerouting of mail from theater to redeployment sites and vice versa.
“Troops leaving the theater should tell family, friends and correspondents to stop sending them mail,” according to LTC Robert Howard, 3d PERSCOM’s postal operations director. Notification should be given at least 15 and preferably 30 days before their units move from base camps to their redeployment sites. Mail can be sent from any redeployment site, but it is non-receivable at this time.
The military mail system will be taxed heavily during this redeployment period. On average, each soldier redeploying will be mailing two to three personal packages home. The reduction in redirected mail will only benefit the overall military mail system.
Redeploying troops need to complete change-of-address cards. One card is retained by the servicing mail clerk and one goes to the servicing APO.
Servicemembers mailing items from the theater before redeploying should mark parcels and letters “MPS” for free delivery of nonvaluable items. There is no reimbursement for lost or damaged items marked “MPS.” Servicemembers should insure items of value or use registered mail.
Items such as expended or unexpended explosives, certain war souvenirs and ammunition cannot be mailed. Mailing military equipment such as rucksacks and duffel bags is also prohibited.
The maximum weight for packages is 70 pounds, and they must measure no more than 138 inches in combined length and girth. When mailing to an APO address, the country name should not be used in the address.
Any questions should be directed to the unit mail clerk servicing APO or 3d PERSCOM Postal Operations Directorate at DSN 318-825-1208. (From dtic.mil and Army Times.)
UNCHARGED CIVILIAN LEAVE CARE OF PRESIDENT BUSH
Federal employees returning from Guard and Reserve duty in the terror war are receiving an extra five days’ uncharged civilian leave.
President Bush directed the move in a 14 November 2003 memorandum issued to the heads of all executive departments and agencies.
“As we welcome home returning federal civil servants who were called to active duty in the continuing global war on terrorism,” the President wrote, “we recognize the contributions they have made in the defense of freedom. Whether they served with the Reserve forces or the Air and Army National Guard,” he continued, “each of them has my personal gratitude and the respect and admiration of a grateful nation.”
According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the President’s request covers all employees who were activated for military service in connection with Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
According to OPM, agencies may grant this period of excused absence prior to the employee’s resumption of duties, or at a time mutually agreeable to the agency and the employee, if the employee has already returned to duty.
The OPM memo also provides guidance to agencies on the requirement to reinstate reservists who apply for reemployment within specified time limits.
In granting the extended leave Bush wrote, “We are guarantors of the rights of returning service members under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, and I am personally committed to providing each of them with our full support, recognition and assistance. The federal government will continue to be the model for employer support to the Guard and Reserve,” President Bush emphasized.
More information on agency requirements for returning reservists can be found at the OPM website: http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/2001/2001-09A.asp. (From dtic.mil.)
COLLEGE LEVEL EXAMINATION PRO-GRAM COMING ONLINE
The College Level Examination Program (CLEP), a popular route for servicemembers seeking degrees, will introduce 14 new paper tests in April 2004.
These will replace some tests that will no longer be available in paper form, beginning in early 2004. “These are aged exams,” said Len Lipp, Exam Programs Manager for the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), referring to the CLEP tests now used by DANTES. “The current paper-based exams, after their withdrawal date, will no longer be considered valid examinations and will have to be pulled.”
According to the DANTES website, subjects such as social science, history, sociology, psychology, humanities, college algebra and mathematics will be reintroduced in the paper form. The test material will be based on computer versions of CLEP exams being administered at national test centers located on college and university campuses.
Since July 2001, more than 1,300 campus test centers have offered electronic computer-based CLEP tests. Lipp said the reintroduced paper-based exams are considered “high volume” exams. “They are most popular, they have the best success rate and they meet a majority of educational requirements of most degree programs that use CLEP,” he noted.
Lipp said the hardcopy exams will still be available because of the “recognized need for paper-based testing in the military.” He pointed to locations and environments in DoD where paper-based education is a good alternative—“where it would be very difficult to deliver computer-based testing—for example, ships at sea and numerous remote locations, particularly in the Middle East and other areas.”
CLEP tests offer servicemembers a chance to earn up to 30 semester hours’ credit toward a bachelor’s degree. The exams, widely accepted by colleges and universities, cover material taught in most college freshman and sophomore courses.
Lipp said that of the three credit-by-exams programs recognized by colleges, CLEP is by far the most popular and accepted among the military. He said the program has been used extensively, particularly in the Air Force, which he said constitutes nearly 55 percent of the military testing volume.
“Until just recently, we were averaging in the neighborhood of about 70,000 to 75,000 exams a year,” he explained. He said that number “far exceeded” the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) testing pro-gram, the second largest with a volume of around 55,000.
According to Lipp, in the near future, CLEP tests might soon become even more popular and convenient for servicemembers.
He said that DANTES and the College Board, the well-known organization that provides college information, testing and financial-aid sources, are working to introduce a new web-based CLEP program, hopefully by fiscal year 2006.
For more information about CLEP tests and the locations of the nearest national test center, visit http://www.collegeboard.com/clep. (From dtic.mil.)
LOST IN THE FRAY OF THE ANTHRAX DEBATE? THIS SHOULD HELP
Troops in Iraq have plenty to turn over in their minds—guns, mortars, missiles and the general threat of mayhem. And then there’s anthrax.
Until 22 December 2003, before deploying to Iraq each and every soldier was required to take an anti-anthrax vaccine.
Then District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan issued a ruling ordering the military to stop requiring soldiers to take the vaccine.
Immediately following the judge’s order, the Pentagon announced it would still vaccinate troops who agreed to the precaution. Dr. David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, reversed that.
Dr. Chu released a memo reading, “Pending further notice, the Deputy Secretary has decided that DoD will stop giving anthrax vaccinations until the legal situation is clarified.”
On 7 January 2004, Dr. Chu officially reinstated anthrax vaccination program, stating, “The Department of Defense remains convinced that the program complies with all legal requirements, and there is now no judicial restraint on the anthrax vaccination program.”
Lawyers on sides of the anthrax vaccinations debate expect the issue to be resolved at a hearing scheduled in March. (From military.com.)
ANHEUSER-BUSCH GRANTS FREE FLIGHTS WITH OPERATION HERO MILES
During a press briefing on 30 December 2003 at the front gate of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Maryland representative C. A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger handed 680 free airline tickets to David Coker, executive director and vice president of operations at the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides temporary living quarters to military families visiting loved ones staying in military hospitals.
The congressman said that the free airline tickets are part of a new expansion of “Operation Hero Miles,” a program created to provide airline tickets to troops on emergency or rest and recuperation leave.
As part of a new expansion the program now includes free airline tickets to family members traveling to visit loved ones injured ones during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and recovering at military hospitals across the country
“We decided to expand this program even farther, because our program is about helping the troops—the men and woman who are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Ruppersberger, adding that having family close helps hasten the healing process.
The tickets were compliments of Anheuser-Busch (sponsors of the Fallen Hero Fund and Operation Salute), whose employees donated their frequent-flyer miles to the cause. Ruppersberger said that so far, more than 365 million frequent-flyer miles have been donated to Operation Hero Miles, enough for some 14,800 round- trip tickets for troops.
The Fisher House Foundation, which operates 32 Fisher Houses throughout the United States and overseas, will use the free tickets to help reunite wounded and injured servicemembers with their loved ones.
He said 16 Fisher Houses at 12 locations have supported families of troops injured during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. “It’s not uncommon for a family member to stay in more than one Fisher House as they follow their loved ones through the medical evaluation chain,” he said. “Room charges for family members have been waived or paid by the foundation, and in the past, the foundation also has helped to provide travel for some families.”
According to a Fisher House news release, the Fisher House Foundation has donated 32 comfort homes on the grounds of military and VA medical centers to accommodate families while a loved one is hospitalized. The foundation assists these families during their stay.
The donated airline tickets will be available to relatives or friends of inpatients as identified by the medical center staff. Family members should not contact the Fisher House Foundation, but should make their desires known to the hospitalized servicemember. The program includes complimentary airline tickets only. There are no provisions for assistance with local travel, overnight accommodations, meals or other expenses, according to officials. (From heromiles.org and dtic.mil.)
DOD LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE FOCUSING ON TRANSFORMATION
Defense Officials continue to improve their public face on the World Wide Web. DoD now has a website entirely devoted to military-wide transformation.
The new site has the same look and feel as the DoD homepage, but it concentrates on groundbreaking news in the transformation arena.
“This is another next step in our effort to focus more attention on the Defense Departments priorities,” says Chris Willcox, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Liaison. “The first step occurred in October 2001 when DoD introduced its Defend America website (www.defendamerica.mil) detailing U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism. The next step came June 2003 when DoD revamped its home page (www.dod.mil).”
Willcox said transformation is so vital to DoD’s efforts in the global war on terrorism, as well as to the department’s future in general, that it is important to have a separate, focused site.
“There is a lot of transformation news out there right now, but it’s scattered and people interested in the topic have to surf many sites to get the total picture. Our goal is to provide that total picture and highlight the broad range of initiatives in the transformation arena.”
Harold Heilsnis, DoD’s interim director for Internet operations, explained that the transformation site will highlight the broad range of initiatives in the transformation arena, to include policy, equipment, training, people and programs.
“Visitors to the site will see the DoD perspective, as well as what the individual services and service members are achieving in the transformational area,” Heilsnis said.
“There are so many interesting stories to tell in the broad category of transformation. This effort gives us a new venue for getting those stories to both our internal military and civilian audience and to the general public.” (From dtic.mil.)
SAYING GOOD-BYE TO CONDITIONAL PROMOTIONS
The Army has done away with conditional promotions.
Officially, the Army is merely suspending conditional promotions, although no one expects to see them reinstated. This means soldiers promoted to sergeant, staff sergeant or sergeant first class will sew on the stripes with no strings attached, even if they have not completed the required schooling. The Army will assume responsibility for getting troops to the appropriate career development program after the promotion.
For troops already promoted, their advancements no longer are conditional. The Army will take care of their needed schooling, too.
Large-scale troop commitments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere have made it difficult for soldiers to attend school within the time limits, even after the Army relaxed the training deadlines and shortened some of the class lengths.
The only downside is that the Army has to make a concerted effort to get those soldiers to school.
The Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC), Basic NCO Course (BNCOC) and Advanced NCO Course (ANCOC) will continue to play a prominent role in soldier professional development. Training officials and personnel managers will work together to prioritize attendance based on the operational status of units.
Heading to school as soon as soldiers get home from deployment may be an attractive option for some troops in specialties that conduct NCO Education System courses only one, two or three times a year. Rather than wait several months or even a year or more for schooling, returning soldiers may opt to attend school immediately.
Soldiers will not attend school while they are deployed. They will not be penalized on promotion boards. There is no penalty for not going to school because soldiers need to stay with their unit when it deploys.
The 1 January 2004 policy is not retroactive. Conditionally promoted soldiers who lost stripes under the old rules must compete once again for promotion.
The change in policy does not apply to sergeants major who have been promoted to E-9 and who are waiting to finish the Sergeants Major Course (SMC) because sergeants major and promotable master sergeants are centrally selected for SMC attendance. (From Army Times.)
WEAPONS TO SHOOT RECON ROUNDS
The Georgia Tech Research Institute is developing a way for ground units to see past obstacles. Duly named the “reconnaissance round,” the technology would let soldiers use small artillery weapons almost like a periscope.
Currently, ground units requiring visual aerial information have to go up the chain of command to request satellite images or aerial photos from an unmanned aircraft. This technology will hopefully make the process faster and less costly.
The reconnaissance device would be used in weapons such as mortars. After it is fired, far above the battlefield a separation charge releases the surveillance device. Once separated, the digital surveillance camera opens a parachute and transmits digital images to the team’s laptop computer below.
The camera can take four to five photos before reaching the ground, whereupon it self-destructs, preventing possible enemy use. (From National Defense.)
THE MORALE BOOST A COKE AND A WHOPPER CAN DELIVER.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) does its best to accommodate for the troops no matter where they go. With such a large number of American forces in Iraq, AAFES has set up three Burger Kings and two Pizza Hut trailers in Baghdad International Airport, Talil Air Base and Kirkuk, giving a huge break to troops who have had their fill of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
Since its opening on 10 June 2003, AAFES’ Baghdad location ranks among the top 10 among all Burger King franchises on Earth, says the Burger King Corporation. The Baghdad International Airport Burger King now serves approximately 55,000 customers a month.
According to Richard Sheff, AAFES Vice President of Food and Theater, “The morale boost a Coke and a Whopper can deliver is nothing short of amazing.”
MG Kathryn Frost, commander of AAFES, feels the same way. “I asked one soldier squatting on the ground near the [Burger King] at Baghdad International Airport devouring a Whopper, ‘is that a little bit of home?’ He replied, ‘No, it’s a little bit of heaven.’” (From an AAFES News Release.)