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Air Force officials launch new community Web site

9/18/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Beginning Oct. 1, Air Force officials here will introduce a new Web site for Airmen and their families that provides a 24/7 resource for information on topics like relocation, military child education and finances.

The new site phases out the "AF Crossroads" Web site while assuring most of the same services are still available to all users. 

Programs such as "Plan My Move," spouse employment job sites and scholarship information can be found there, as well as new features like videos and podcasts of Air Force news and events from around the world.

"The Web site was created with our Airmen and families in mind," said Maj. Karen Terry from the Pentagon Airman and Family Services Division. "We wanted to be able to offer them helpful information on topics that affect their daily lives, and give them the ability to access it whenever and wherever they wanted. This site allows us to do that."

The site's appearance is streamlined to make it easier for users to find what they are looking for within a few clicks of the mouse. Although the Web site is now a "dot mil" site in order to comply with security requirements, it will still be accessible by all Airmen and their families from any computer.

Visitors interested in joining chat rooms and discussion boards to communicate with other Air Force family members can do so at www.militaryonesource.com or www.militaryhomefront.com. Also beginning Sept. 30, GI Mail will no longer be available.

The new Air Force Community Web site will be located at www.afcommunity.af.mil. For more information, contact the local Airman and Family Readiness Center or visit the new site.

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Senate passes defense bill, pay raise


By Laurie Kellman - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday Sep 18, 2008 5:54:23 EDT 

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a massive defense bill Wednesday that includes a pay raise for military personnel, despite Republican objections to billions of dollars in special projects lawmakers had added.

Seven weeks from Election Day, blocking the measure in wartime was not a political risk many senators were willing to take. The measure passed 88-8 after negotiations on amendments failed at midday.

Retiring Sen. John Warner of Virginia led the negotiating for Republicans who objected to the added projects, called earmarks. But he, too, said he could not cast a vote that implied disrespect for soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Warner said Democrats and Republicans alike objected to parts of the bill or proposed amendments.

The bill passed Wednesday because it earlier had attained the support of 61 senators — barely clearing the required 60-vote threshold — on a test vote. Following Warner’s lead, a dozen Republicans voted to advance the measure, many of them in tough re-election bids.

Many more switched from opponents to supporters on the final vote. Of the eight who voted no, only five were Republicans: Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, David Vitter of Louisiana and Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Also voting no were Democratic Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, as well as Bernard Sanders, an Independent from Vermont.

The measure would permit $612.5 billion in spending for national defense programs in 2009, including $70 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes a 3.9 percent pay increase for military personnel, half a percentage point more than President Bush requested. A separate bill will have to be passed to actually appropriate the money.

The House passed its own version in May, which will have to be reconciled with the Senate version before the legislation is sent to the White House for Bush’s signature.

Republican opponents objected to $5 billion in pet projects that Congress added to the bill. But proponents characterized “no” votes as showing disrespect for military personnel. On Election Day Nov. 4, voters will choose a new president, all 435 members of the House and a third of the 100-member Senate.

Those absent included three senators engaged in the presidential race: Republican nominee John McCain of Arizona and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama of Illinois, along with Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden of Delaware.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was absent as he recovers from treatment for a brain tumor.

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Senate passes bundle of veterans benefits


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 18, 2008 11:55:31 EDT 

After months of delay, the Senate passed an omnibus veterans’ benefits bill Tuesday night that includes bigger benefits for veterans and their families, expanded home loans and a variety of other programs.

The bill, S 3023, had passed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in June but lingered in limbo because of disputes over dozens of details. With congressional leaders aiming to end this legislative session of Congress as early as next week, passage of the Senate bill was essential for any hope of passing a compromise bill in conjunction with the House this year.

The Senate passed the bill by voice vote and with no debate.

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the veterans’ committee, and Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s ranking Republican, said the bill passed by the Senate includes a host of compromises.

Akaka said one key provision would order VA to simplify what it tells veterans when it denies benefits claims or asks for more information.

“Notification letters to veterans about the status of their claims have become increasingly long, complex and difficult to understand,” Akaka said. “These notification letters must be simplified. They should use plain and ordinary language rather than bureaucratic jargon. Veterans should not be subjected to confusing information as they seek benefits.”

The bill also would temporarily extend an increase in veterans’ home loans through the end of 2011. The temporary measure allows loans of up to $730,000, but it is due to expire at the end of 2008.

Akaka said extending the loan limits for several more years “would enable more veterans to utilize their VA benefit to purchase more costly homes.”

The bill also applies the maximum loan limit to home refinancing, and lets homeowners refinance with a veterans’ loan if they have 5 percent equity in their homes instead of the current 10 percent requirement.

Another key provision of the bill would require more federal help for service members who have problems with employment and re-employment rights. Under the bill, the Labor Department would investigate more complaints and federal agencies would provide more assistance. The bill calls for mandatory training for federal human resources workers in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Burr said every employer should obey the law, but the federal government has a particular responsibility to be a “model employer.”

“The federal government should make sure that not a single returning service member is denied proper reinstatement to a federal job,” Burr said. “Unfortunately, this is not happening yet.”

Burr highlighted one provision of the bill that is especially important to the families of severely injured service members: Granting spouses of disabled veterans up to 20 years after the veterans are discharged to use education benefits, twice the time currently allowed.

The bill also includes a provision that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from making changes in its disability rating schedule without first notifying Congress.

Burr said the current ratings system is “riddled with outdated criteria that do not track with modern medicine,” especially in the areas of combat stress and traumatic brain injuries.

VA has been working on several studies that could lead to an overhaul, but many veterans and lawmakers remain concerned that a change could result in lower benefits. Burr said the bill would “make sure these studies do not get put on a shelf to collect dust” by requiring a report to Congress on the findings and what action is planned by VA.

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Defense delays fix for household goods moves


By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 11, 2008 6:33:16 EDT 

U.S. Transportation Command officials have postponed the start of a new system designed to fix the process that moves service members’ household goods.

Originally scheduled to begin for families at 18 locations, including all of U.S. Army Europe, on Wednesday, the start has now been delayed to mid- to late October.

“We have decided it would be prudent to wait on the rollout of the program until we have conducted additional testing and additional training,” said U.S. Transportation Command spokesman Army Lt. Col. Fred Rice. The Defense Personal Property System “is an important program of the DoD Families First initiative, and we need to ensure the rollout goes smoothly and people are properly trained to use and operate the system,” he said.

“A delay is not what we envisioned, but we want to make sure DPS serves our service members in a positive way.”

The delay will not affect the scheduled worldwide rollout Jan. 22, Rice said.

Defense officials have been trying to fix this process for about 15 years. In one big change for service members, the new, Internet-based system will automatically assign the best-qualified moving company available at that time to the move, replacing a system where the primary criterion was the lowest bid.

The new program will also include elements such as direct communication between service members and moving companies, electronic claims filing, and online tracking of household goods. It also includes full replacement value when household goods are lost or damaged, but that has been mandated by law and in effect for nearly a year in most places.

“All parties, all stakeholders are happy we’ve been afforded this additional time to work through some of the remaining issues and tasks,” said Terry Head, president of the Household Goods Forwarders Association of America, which represents part of the moving industry. “From industry’s perspective, we did not have a good comfort level we would be invoicing and receiving payment,” he said.

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Recruiting Service reorganizes, increases recruiting force

by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs


9/10/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Big changes are underway for Air Force Recruiting Service, but despite the scope of things to come, officials here say people interested in joining the Air Force should hardly notice.

Effective Oct. 1, AFRS realigns its four groups into three, reduces recruiting squadrons from 27 to 24, and reorganizes Health Professions recruiting into 24 regional hubs throughout the United States. In addition to the reorganization, AFRS is adding 124 recruiters and 76 support staff members to the command.

The changes are in response to Program Budget Decision 720 and the Air Force's recent announcement to increase the force size from 316,000 personnel to 330,000. PBD 720 is the plan that charts how the Air Force will save billions of dollars for use in replacing aging aircraft and equipment by streamlining its force, and by increasing the efficiency of select organizations and processes. The plan was initiated in fiscal year 2007 and is scheduled to continue through fiscal 2009.

"The vast majority of our customers won't see any changes to the way we conduct business," said Lt. Col. Anthony Young, AFRS Plans and Resources Division chief. "The impacts of the restructuring and reorganization are mostly internal. The biggest impact will be to the members of the closing units."

The 367th Recruiting Group, headquartered at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., will be deactivated Sept. 12; and the 318th Recruiting Squadron in New Cumberland, Pa., the 330th RCS in Indianapolis, Ind., and the 342nd RCS in Ft. Snelling, Minn., will also close. All recruiting squadrons, offices and functions from the 367th RCG will be absorbed by the other three recruiting groups.

Brig. Gen. A.J. Stewart, AFRS commander, said that although recruiting service has shrunk to three groups, the Air Force is still hiring and recruiting offices will remain open. He also said that the regionalizing of the Health Professions offices is a major change in the right direction.

"The Air Force has been recruiting quality men and women with the right skills, at the right time, in the right numbers for eight consecutive years; and we are going to meet our goals again this year," the general said. "While we are restructuring our force in response to PBD 720 and the increase in the Air Force's endstrength, we have made smart changes that will help us focus our enlisted and Health Professions recruiting so we'll have continued recruiting success in the future."

For people interested in a Health Professions career in the Air Force, the reorganization means that rather than visiting a recruiting office, they will schedule appointments for the specialized recruiter to meet with them. Officer accessions recruiters are also slated to move, sharing space with the 24 new HP flight locations across the United States.

As a result of the restructuring, AFRS manning, and recruiting office numbers and locations will change throughout fiscal 09. The organization's number of authorized personnel will increase slightly to 2,848 from the 2,621 assigned as of July 31. However, the number of enlisted, and line officer and Health Professions recruiting offices, and their locations in the United States and overseas is still being determined.

For more information about the Air Force or to find the nearest recruiter, visit www.AIRFORCE.com. The site averages 500,000 visitors monthly, providing information about Air Force career opportunities and benefits, online advisors, and recruiting office locations and contact information. In addition, people can call 1-800-423-USAF for the location of the nearest recruiting office and the phone number.

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Every Monday Now Blues Day for Airmen

WASHINGTON - Beginning Sept. 8, Airmen now will be required to wear a combination of the blues uniform on Mondays.

At a recent four-star conference, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz discussed the issue with other senior leaders.

"We all agreed that part of our image, culture and professionalism is instilled in our blues," General Schwartz said.

The policy is mandatory for most career fields, with installation commanders retaining the authority to adjust for mission requirements.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, blues were the primary duty uniform for most Airmen.

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I received this email the other day- I'm not sure if this is still "active" but the website is still up and running if you'd like to give your two cents worth...
 
Please send this to everyone in your address book. If there was ever a time when our voices and choices should be heard, this is one of those times. If you're receiving this, it's because I think you will take the 30 seconds to go to vote on this issue and send it on to others you know who will do the same.

There's a bill called the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act which will require insurance companies to cover a minimum 48-hour hospital stay for patients undergoing a mastectomy. It's about eliminating the 'drive-through mastectomy' where women are forced to go home just a few hours after surgery, against the wishes of their doctor, still groggy from anesthesia and sometimes with drainage tubes still attached.

Lifetime Television has put this bill on their web page with a
petition drive to show your support. Last year over half the House signed on. PLEASE!! Sign the petition by clicking on the web site below. You need not give more than your name and zip code number.

http://www.mylifetime.com/community/my-lifetime-commitment/breast-cancer/petition/breast-cancer-petition

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All -   You will see that congress and others have a lot on their plates, as all of you do.  Of course, the issues congress will work will determine a lot of what we have on our plates.
  As we wrapped up the Air Force Sergeants Association Convention last week, it was obvious to see that more membership in all professional organizations is the key to our successes in retirement and future years.
  Please, encourage all to join at least one professional organization.
  We have special pay and benefits in AFRS that came from decisions supported by private orgs.  Whether it be AFSA with its special paid lobbyist, Air Force Association (AFA), NCOA, or another, please encourage all your people to join at least one private organization and to stay a member.
  When senators and congressmen see our numbers of membership they know that our lobbyist and other representatives only represent a small number of our Air Force members, not all of them.  Let's see if we can change that.
 v/r

CMSgt Vance M. Clarke

Status of 2008 Legislative Goals

Congress is about to return from the long August recess, but Hill  leaders plan to adjourn by early October so legislators can go home to  campaign for election.

With only a few weeks left on the planned legislative agenda, it's worth taking stock of where we stand on the legislative goals we  established at the first of the year.

TRICARE/Medicare Payments to Doctors: Goal Achieved.  Congress reversed  the planned 10% cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments that had been  scheduled for July 1, 2008, and implemented a 1% increase for 2009.

GI Bill: Goal Achieved. Congress passed a major new program that will  take effect Aug. 1, 2009. Members serving 36 months on active duty after  9/11/01 will be eligible for full tuition at any state school, plus  allowances for housing and books. In the interim, Montgomery GI Bill  rates are raised 20%. DoD is preparing regulations that will let members  who commit to extended service transfer their new GI Bill benefits to a spouse or children, but details won't be known until we see the regulations.

Military Pay Raise: Initial Goal Achieved. The House and the Senate  Armed Services Committees have both agreed with MOAA's recommendation to  increase the military pay raise to 3.9% for 2009, vs. the 3.4% proposed  by the Pentagon. The House went a step further to plus up the pay raise  by an extra one-half percent each year for the next five years. We hope to win Senate consideration of a similar plan when they return in
September.

Concurrent Receipt: Goal in Progress. The House didn't address the issue this year, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), will offer two amendments when the Senate considers its version of the Defense Authorization Bill next month. One would eliminate the offset for all with 20+ years of service; the other would cover non-combat disabled medical retirees with 15+ years of service.

TRICARE Fees: Goal in Progress. The House version of the annual defense bill contains language barring any increases in TRICARE fees through the end of September 2009. Senator s Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will offer an amendment to the Senate defense bill that would establish permanent principles in law that military health care is provided to offset arduous service conditions, that military people pay large up-front premiums of service and sacrifice in addition to their cash fees, and that the percentage fee increase in any year shouldn't exceed the percentage increase in military pay.

SBP-DIC Offset: Goal in Progress. The House defense bill would extend the modest survivor indemnity allowance to survivors of members who died on active duty. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) will offer an amendment to the Senate defense bill to end the offset Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities by the VA's Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).

Guard and Reserve Retirement: Goal in Progress. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) will offer an amendment to the Senate defense bill that would provide retroactive credit for each 90 days of active duty service since 9/11/01 towards an early Guard or Reserve retirement. Last year's improvement only provided credit for active duty service after Jan. 28, 2008.

________________________________

Absentee Voting; Start thinking about it now

MOAA is concerned that troops and families deployed or otherwise assigned away from their voting residences could face daunting challenges in obtaining and filing absentee ballots. DoD, the military services, and state voting officials must do all they can to ensure access to the franchise by those who are defending the rest of the nation.

DoD maintains a Federal Military Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) office that provides information and resources for military voters who wish to file an absentee ballot. The FVAP Web site <http://www.fvap.gov/> offers state-by-state voting instructions and on-line registration and absentee ballot request forms. The FVAP also provides links to Service
voting information Web sites.

MOAA and our Military Coalition partners are working with the PEW Charitable Trusts Center on the States on a long-term project to update and streamline state laws governing absentee military and civilian voting procedures. DoD and the Services also need to develop and field secure electronic voting technologies to assure deployed members’ voting rights.

MOAA continues to recommend that all states accept on-line voter information from deployed troops and other absentee voters, and establish flexible deadlines for accepting military votes.

________________________________

Carter Pushes Spouse Bill

Military spouses who are tired of changing their voting residence, driver's license and income tax payments after every military-directed move have a champion in Rep. John Carter (R-TX).

Carter's new bill, H.R. 6070, is intended to solve these problems by extending Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act coverage to include military spouses along with servicemembers. If enacted, it would let spouses select the same domicile as their servicemember, consistent with the state's domicile eligibility requirements.

Spouses who move with a servicemember may be able to select and keep the same domicile the military member holds. If the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is modified in the manner lawmakers and MOAA hope, spouses would not pay employment taxes on money they make in the state they reside in - if they select the same domicile as their servicemember. (States determine their own domicile eligibility requirements.)

Currently, the SCRA allows the military member to avoid paying state tax on personal property such as cars or boats in the state they are stationed in if their domicile is elsewhere - thus avoiding duplicate taxation. If passed, it would allow the same benefit for a spouse who chooses to share that servicemember's domicile.

Carter's intent is to also protect working spouses who have home businesses from having to pay higher state income taxes when assigned to a state with higher tax rates, and his staff is working to address that in future legislation.

MOAA strongly supports this initiative and will work with Rep. Carter to win congressional approval.

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National POW/MIA Recognition Day

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is traditionally observed on the third Friday of September. This year, the day will be commemorated on Sept. 19, 2008. The theme for 2008 commemorates the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. POW/MIA Recognition Day posters can be ordered at the following website http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/Posterform.htm or by calling 703-699-1131. For more information, visit the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office website. By law, the black POW/MIA flag can be flown over federal facilities and cemeteries, post offices and military installations on that day.

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Temporary VA Home Loan Limit Increase

The VA Home Loan limit was recently increased for some geographic areas. The new VA Loan limit for loans requiring no down payment has been increased to $729,750 for some locations within the continental U.S. and $1,094,625 for Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, and other overseas locales. This increase is only good through December 31, 2008 and the law will be rescinded on January 1, 2009. The new limit does not include refinance loans. The new temporary loan limit increase varies depending upon the median price for a single-family residence in a given location; many locations will not see an increase. There is a loan limit calculator available at https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/hicostlook.cfm. The user must select the appropriate state, enter the name of the county, select "Fannie/Freddie" for the "Limit Type," and click "SEND." The applicable maximum loan amount is found in the column labeled "One-Family." Read the full article.

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AAFES Hunting Sweepstakes

Authorized customers at Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) BXs and PXs across the Continental United States can enter to win one of seven prizes tailored made for sporting enthusiasts. AAFES and vendor partners are teaming up to offer the following prizes as part of the 2008 "AAFES Hunting Sweepstakes:" (1) 2009 Season Rocky Mountain Elk Hunt for 1, (2) 2009 Season Sportsman's Lodge Deer Hunt for 1, (3) $750 Rocky Apparel Shopping Spree, and (4) $500 AAFES Gift Card. No purchase is necessary. Entry forms are available at BXs and PXs in the Continental United States to Sept. 4, 2008. Winners will be randomly selected on or about September 30, 2008.

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VFW Offers Scholarships

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is once again sponsoring its two, annual scholarship contests. The Patriots Pen is an essay competition that gives youth an opportunity to write essays expressing their views on democracy with the prospect of winning U.S. savings bonds. Patriots Pen is open to all 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students enrolled in school. The Voice of Democracy program asks participants to submit an audio essay to be judged. Interested high school students should contact the local VFW Post to get specific guidelines and rules for the contests. The deadline for both contests is Nov. 1, 2008. For more information, visit the Veterans of Foreign Wars website.

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400 spouses awarded scholarships


By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Aug 14, 2008 5:45:01 EDT 

The National Military Family Association has awarded nearly 400 scholarships totaling $392,000 to military spouses for the coming fall semester.

Among those receiving scholarships are 180 spouses of service members killed or disabled in the line of duty, with funding from the new Folds of Honor Foundation.

Of the spouses who received scholarships, 56 percent are married to soldiers, 17 percent are married to sailors, 15 percent are married to airmen, 10 percent are married to Marines, and 2 percent are married to Coast Guard members, according to NMFA.

More than 75 percent of the spouses are married to enlisted service members. A list of winners can be found online, along with more information on the scholarship requirements and application process.

NMFA created its scholarship program to provide financial assistance to military spouses working toward their education goals, often made more difficult by frequent moves and lengthy deployments.

The need for these scholarships was brought into sharp relief two years ago when there were 8,000 applicants for 28 scholarships, said Kathleen Burke, director of development for NMFA. Last year, NMFA provided 63 scholarships. The amount of scholarships was increased to 400 this year with donations from new partners, Fisher House Foundation and Health Net Federal Services, as well as Folds of Honor Foundation. There were 4,832 applicants for the 400 scholarships this year, she said.

The amounts of scholarships range from $500, mostly for those attending vocational schools, to $10,000 each for four spouses of wounded warriors and one spouse of a service member killed in the line of duty.

NMFA likely will start accepting applications for next year’s program in December, Burke said. The scholarships are open to spouses with a valid military ID card.

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Air Force components meet July recruit goals


Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Aug 12, 2008 5:59:50 EDT 

The Air Force’s active, Guard and Reserve components all met or surpassed their July recruiting goals, the Department of Defense announced Monday.

The active-duty force brought in 2,555 new airmen, 101 percent of its goal.

The Air Force Reserve hit its target of 819 exactly, while the Air National Guard continues a streak of surpassing its monthly goals — signing up 936 recruits against a goal of 725, for a rate of 129 percent.

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DoD study urges sweeping retirement overhaul


By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Aug 11, 2008 17:22:21 EDT 

The “inequitable, inflexible, inefficient” military retirement system should be replaced with a combination of cash and deferred compensation that would allow for vesting with as few as 10 years of service and special pays that would give service officials the tools to retain or separate service members based on force requirements, a Pentagon study recommends.

And to try it on for size, the Defense Department should initiate a multiyear field test with volunteers who, at the end of the test, could choose to opt back into the traditional system and its 20-year retirement baseline.

That is the biggest issue to come out of Volume II of the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, released Tuesday at the Pentagon.

Read

Report of the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation Vol. II

Report of the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation Vol. I

Unlike Volume I, published in March with a focus on cash compensation for active-duty members, the new study covers deferred and noncash payments in the areas of retirement, Tricare premiums and fees and other quality-of-life programs, and also addresses the recruiting and retention of military medical professionals.

The study’s recommendations are just that — recommendations. The QRMC, conducted every four years by law, does not set policy but periodically attempts to shape the tenets of the military’s compensation programs, which in 2007 totaled more than $118 billion — 23 percent of the defense budget.

Any proposal to change the retirement system draws immediate concerns about the potential impact on retention and anger over a possible delay in the receipt of retirement pay, as did somewhat similar proposals made in January by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves. Some of the new study’s other convention-busting proposals also are sure to spark heated debate.

For instance, the QRMC recommends that “working-age” retirees — those under age 65 — pay more for Tricare Prime, reflecting their ability to do so, as well as the QRMC’s recommendation that their rates be made more equitable with those of older retirees, who must pay Medicare Part B premiums in order to qualify for Tricare for Life insurance coverage.

The study also concludes that the services should adopt dependent care and flexible spending accounts for military beneficiaries to cover the costs of common expenses not covered by Tricare, such as eyeglasses and dental braces.

And with a sense that the Tricare system “should be biased toward prevention rather than treatment,” the QRMC calls for eliminating co-pays for preventative care, the idea being to encourage enrollees to seek out that care, stay healthier and reduce overall health care costs.

The QRMC also said the Pentagon should create education vouchers from Impact Aid — federal money that subsidizes the cost of public school education for military dependents — to provide more choices for parents unhappy with the education systems near their assigned bases.

The QRMC would also permit the formation of military charter schools; implement a child care voucher system to make that benefit more convenient for people with long commutes; and ask national and regional grocers to provide military discounts, which would benefit those not living close to installations with commissaries.

Under the retirement pay proposal, which active and reserve forces would share, retirement pay would equal 2.5 percent of their average basic pay over their three highest earning years in uniform, multiplied by years of service.

Vesting would begin at the 10-year mark. So someone who serves the minimum 10 years and then leaves the military would qualify for a retirement annuity of 25 percent of their basic pay over their three highest earning years in uniform.

That would be supplemented by a defined Pentagon contribution to service member’s Thrift Savings Plan accounts. The Pentagon would continute nothing in the member’s first year of service, but after that, it would contribute 2 percent of the member’s basic pay in the second year, 3 percent in the third year, 4 percent in the fourth year and 5 percent in each subsequent year.

Service members would not have to contribute anything themselves to receive the defined Pentagon contributions, but they could if they desire, up to the limit currently allowed for 401(k) plans —$15,500 per year. This plan would also vest after 10 years of service, and would begin paying out at age 60.

Reservists, however, would generally earn less because they serve fewer days than their active-duty counterparts over the course of a career.

The aspect of this plan that is likely to draw the most reaction from troops is that annuity payouts would be deferred for many years.

Under the current system, active-duty members with at least 20 years of service begin receiving annuities immediately upon retirement, without penalty.

Under the new proposal, those with less than 20 years of service would begin receiving retirement payments at age 60; those with more than 20 years would have to wait until age 57 to get their full annuity.

Those with 20 or more years could withdraw the money early, but it would be subject to an early withdrawal penalty — a reduction in their annuity of 5 percentage points for each year the member is short of age 57.

For example, a 45-year-old service member who retires with 25 years of service and waits until age 57 to begin drawing retirement benefits would receive the full annuity of 62.5 percent of his average basic pay over his three highest earning years in uniform. If that same retiree opted for an immediate annuity at age 45, the benefit would be reduced by 5 percentage points for each of the 12 years he is under age 57, or 60 percentage points. So the member would receive 40 percent of the annuity he otherwise would have been paid at age 57.

The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves made a similar retirement plan proposal in its final report.

To further sculpt the retirement system, the QRMC recommended the introduction of two new incentives: “gate pay” and separation pay.

Gate pay would be cash compensation given to service members at specific time-in-service milestones; it would be offered as an incentive to encourage longer careers in select critical skills.

Separation pay would do just the opposite, providing what retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Denny Eakle, QRMC executive director, called “a check to walk out the door” — compensation for a combat arms specialist who voluntarily leaves before 20 years of service, for example.

Under the current system, said Eakle, former deputy director of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, “the compensation system is actually shaping the force, rather than having the force managers be able to do any force-shaping.”

Defense officials said that the vast majority of those who serve never come close to qualifying for retirement pay under the current 20-years-or-nothing system.

“We’re trying to draw people to the 10-year point,” Eakle said. “And this is how we’ll do it.”

With both cash and deferred elements, the QRMC’s proposed system would cost less but provide more to the service member, Eakle said.

With the ability to retain service members longer, she said, “we also could maintain the force with many fewer people. It would reduce the pressures on recruiting. And you would save all of the recruiting and training costs.”

If adopted in this form, current service members could opt to remain in the current retirement system. But, Eakle said, the QRMC envisions the Pentagon allowing troops the opportunity to transfer into the new system “because we believe that 10-year vesting might appeal to enough people that some will actually want to leave the current retirement system and enter this.”

An earlier study by the 2006 Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation recommended that any new retirement system include a defined retirement benefit at age 60 that would vest after 10 years of service; it also called for gate and separation pays. The 10th QRMC used that study as the basis for its own proposals.

The QRMC was careful to note that while its behavior model on the retirement system “provided valuable estimates” of the potential impact, “it is still a theoretical analysis.”

As such, any demonstration project should include a broad cross-section of the services and run a minimum of five years, the group said.

The Pentagon for years has tried to convince Congress to raise Tricare fees for military retirees under 65. The annual enrollment fee for Tricare Prime has never changed from $230 per month for single retirees and $460 for families. And there has never been an enrollment fee for Tricare Standard.

As a result, due to inflation and other costs, Tricare beneficiaries have seen their share of the military’s overall health care costs decline from 27 percent in the mid-1990s to 12 percent by 2006, the QRMC said — in the process turning Tricare into one of the lowest-cost health insurance plans in the nation.

Meanwhile, retirees over 65 who want to enroll in Tricare for Life are required by law to carry Medicare Part B and pay its monthly premiums, which this year, start at $96.40 per month for single people with less than $82,000 in annual adjusted gross income and married couples with less than $164,000 in annual adjusted gross income. Premiums increase on a sliding scale as adjusted gross income rises.

The QRMC proposes that Tricare Prime premiums for single retirees under age 65 be set at 40 percent of the Part B premiums, with family rate set at double the single rate, regardless of family size.

Premiums for Tricare Standard and Extra would be set at 15 percent of the Part B premium for single retirees under age 65, with the family rate again set at twice that.

“There needs to be some parity between our older and our younger retirees,” Eakle said. “It’s not fair to ask the oldest retirees, who make the least, to pay far more for a benefit that is just somewhat more generous.”

The QRMC also expressed concern about the services’ inability to meet recruiting goals in the health care field. As of fiscal 2006, the Pentagon had 98.4 percent of its needed active-duty physicians but only 90.9 percent of its required nurses and 89.1 percent of its required dentists.

The shortfalls occurred even though authorizations for these caregivers declined between fiscal 1995 and 2006 and the military hired more civilians and contractors, the QRMC said.

Moreover, actual inventories have dropped even more sharply, with active-duty declines of 14 percent in physicians, 24 percent in nurses and 21 percent in and dentists.

To help remedy this shortfall, the QRMC proposes increasing the mandatory retirement age for health professionals from 62 to 68, recruiting noncitizens with U.S. health degrees, leveraging the interservice bonus program to encourage doctors with “overage” skills to transfer to services with shortages in those skills, and recruiting nondegreed registered nurses to bolster the Nurse Corps.

The QRMC would also improve conditions for participants in the Health Professionals Scholarship Program, the most widely used program for recruiting doctors and dentists.

Participants would be given access to Tricare health coverage, a housing allowance and funds to cover the costs of all required equipment.

The QRMC also recommends expanding the program to cover the costs of additional training for U.S. citizens who attend foreign medical schools, and residency opportunities for certified foreign medical school graduates.

Major changes in pay have resulted from past QRMCs, sometimes even before the reports were published. A recommendation from Volume I of this QRMC to consolidate more than 60 special and incentive pays into eight broad categories, for example, was adopted early and signed into law in January.

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Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO) Notification
31 July 2008
1300 EDT
Subject: Airline E-ticket Email Attack

Issue: We are aware of public reports indicating that a new email attack is circulating. This attack uses email messages that appear to be from legitimate airlines and contain information about a bogus e-ticket.

Impact: These email messages instruct the user to open the attachment to obtain the e-ticket. If a user opens this attachment, a file may be executed to infect the user's system with malicious code. Reports indicate that these messages have the following characteristics.  Please note that these attributes may change at any time.
  * The subject line "E-Ticket#XXXXXXXXXX"
  * An attachment named "eTicket#XXXX.zip"

Suggested Action: We encourage users and administrators to take the following preventative measures to help mitigate the security risks:
  * Install anti-virus software, and keep its virus signature file up
    to date.
  * Do not open attachments in unsolicited email messages.
  * Refer to the Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams (pdf) document for more information on social engineering attacks.

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VA offers new online resource service


7/28/2008 - SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is offering a new online service, My HealtheVet, which is a gateway to veteran health benefits and services.

It provides access to trusted health information, links to federal and VA benefits and resources, the Personal Health Journal and online VA prescription refill service.

In the future, MHV registrants will be able to view appointments, co-pay balances and key portions of their VA medical records online.

My HealtheVet is a powerful tool to help veterans better understand and manage their health, according to VA officials.

The Web site also features a section called "Learn About" which provides resources on a variety of topics such as computers, the Internet, phishing scams and telephone scams. Health information from A to Z plus medical dictionaries, an encyclopedia, journals and more will be available soon.

To visit the My HealtheVet site, go to www.myhealth.va.gov

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Defense secretary praises military kids


The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Jul 27, 2008 14:34:01 EDT 

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the nation’s 2 million military children are just as heroic as their parents.

But he says they have extra hurdles to clear and burdens to bear — such as the stress of moving, attending new schools and dealing with a parent’s injury or death.

Gates says some programs are helping, such as GI Bill benefits now being able to be transferred to spouses and children.

Gates spoke Friday at the Military Child Education Coalition’s conference in Grapevine, just outside Dallas.

The nonprofit organization focuses on educational opportunities for children in military families.

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AA Discount Airfares Through 2008

American Airlines Extends Special Fares and Other Offers for U.S. Military Personnel Through December 2008

FORT WORTH, Texas -- American Airlines has extended through Dec. 31, 2008, several special offers that are available exclusively for active-duty members of the U.S. military. These offers include discounted airfares, relaxed advance purchase requirements, and preferred boarding privileges.

"American Airlines has extended our special fares and offers for members of the military and their families several times over the past few years, and we're delighted to do so again," said Dan Garton, American's Executive Vice President - Marketing. "We sincerely appreciate the courage, dedication and sacrifice that our troops and their families exhibit on a daily basis, and all of us at American look forward to seeing them on one of our flights very soon."

Active-duty members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, National Guard and Reserves who are on leave or furlough (including those who are traveling within seven days of discharge from active service), and their spouse and dependent children, are eligible for the special military fares. The fares are available for travel to domestic and various international destinations.

In addition, the discounted military fares may be purchased up to a week after reservations are made -- versus 24 hours for most non-military discount fares -- making it easier for military personnel and their families to make travel arrangements. Otherwise, the discounted military fares have no advance purchase requirements, unlike most non-military discount fares.

Following are samples of American's great low fares for the U.S. military. Fares shown are each way, based on a round-trip purchase:

Travel arrangements can be made at American Airlines ticketing locations or by calling American's reservations number at 1-800-433-7300 (en Espanol 1-800-633-3711) within the United States and Canada. Outside the United States and Canada, call the local reservations number. Military ID must be presented at the time of airport check-in.

These military fares are not available via the Internet. Other restrictions apply. For complete rules and restrictions, see the terms and conditions below.

As a thank you to U.S. troops, American, a founding member of the global oneworld(R) Alliance, continues to invite uniformed military personnel and their families to pre-board with First-Class passengers or at any time during the boarding process.

Also, U.S. military men and women who are participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom are welcome to be American's guests at Admirals Club facilities between flights when they are on emergency or Rest and Relaxation (R&R) leave from their overseas duties. This invitation for complimentary access has been extended through Dec. 31, 2008, at all airport locations that do not have USO facilities. Eligible military personnel in appropriate uniform need only present their emergency or R&R leave forms from Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom to access an Admirals Club location. In addition, the Admirals Club welcomes family members and relatives accompanying military personnel who are part of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

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Release No. 07-05-08

July 24, 2008

Officials release facts about new GI Bill

      
by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs officials are working out the details of a new education benefit recently approved by Congress that goes into effect Aug. 1, 2009.

"The absolute most important part of the new G.I Bill is that none of  it takes effect until next year," said Rita Hughson, the chief of  education and training at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.  "No one should make any definite plans until the details are worked out."

The new education bill, commonly called the Post-9/11 G.I Bill, will govern payment and reimbursement plans for veterans and servicemembers who seek to further their education.  The new plan will be open to most servicemembers who served on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001.  This includes people who have not been eligible for the Montgomery G.I.  Bill, such as Air Force Academy or ROTC graduates, those who declined to participate in the program, and those whose service started before it went into effect in 1985, she said.

According to Ms. Hughson, the implementation of particular benefits and how they will apply to former and current servicemembers have yet to be established.  There are, however, a few facts that are known since the bill was signed into law:

TUITION -- The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will cover tuition with payments sent directly to the school.  The formula for determining the amount of tuition and fees paid will be based on the highest cost of a state-supported bachelor's degree program.  The tuition amount will be paid directly to the college.

HOUSING -- A housing allowance will be made available to prior
servicemembers who attend as civilian full-time students.  The rate will be that of a staff sergeant with dependents.

BOOKS & SUPPLIES -- A maximum of $1,000 per year will be allotted to the member to cover the costs of books and supplies needed for classes.  The stipend will be divided by terms, so if someone attends a two-term school, the allotment will be $500 per semester, whereas the student will receive $333 if they attend a three-semester school.

TUTORING -- $100 a month for 12 months will be available for tutor programs should the servicemember require extra help outside of his or her studies.

AVAILABILITY -- Servicemembers can take advantage of the program up to 15 years after they are honorably discharged or retire from the service.


CERTIFICATION -- An extra $2,000 is available to pay for one license or certification test as approved by the VA.

Besides the listed benefits, a portion of the tuition stipend, as well as the tutoring allowance, may be available for servicemembers to transfer to family members.  Many of the details for this, however, are still being worked out between DOD and the VA, Ms. Hughson said.

Although the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill tuition benefit will be available to most people while they are on active duty, it is actually most
advantageous to use all the benefits after separating, Ms. Hughson  said.

"There are so many other educational programs and benefits people can take advantage of while they're on active duty, like the various free tests for college credit and tuition assistance funding," she said. "But just like the current G.I. Bill, people will get the greatest benefit if they wait until they are no longer serving on active duty before they begin using it.

"That way they have the option to use all their G.I. Bill benefits for the longest amount of time," she added.

Once the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill becomes available Aug. 1, 2009, Ms.
Hughson expects people who have already elected to participate in the Montgomery Bill program will have the option to use the new plan, if they wish; however, it may be in a member's best interest to stick with the Montgomery Bill for certain distance-learning programs or if they would prefer money be sent directly to them, Ms. Hughson said.

"Whatever they decide to do, people should do as much research as they can as details become available," she said.  "As is normally the case with legislation, details remain sketchy until implementation guidance is made public, and since nothing goes into effect until August of 2009, people shouldn't make any sort of determination until then."

For more information, visit the educational office on base or the VA Web site <http://www.va.gov/>  (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)

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Bill would give spouses same residency rights


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jul 21, 2008 12:29:42 EDT 

A House committee has voted to expand legal and financial protections for service members and their families with legislation that would allow spouses to maintain a permanent home of record, just like their military sponsors.

The bill also would expand troops’ ability to cancel or suspend personal service contracts, including cable television, telephone and Internet contracts, when they get orders to deploy or move to a new duty station.

The provisions are included in HR 6225, approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee by voice vote July 16.

Under the bill, a spouse could maintain the same state of residence for as long as he is married to a service member, regardless of how many times the member moves on reassignment orders.

Service members have long been allowed to maintain the same state of residence for the duration of their military careers, which allows them to avoid such things as having to refile for a new driver’s license and reregister to vote when they move to a different state.

There are also tax implications; service members stationed at some point in their careers in a state that has no state income tax can claim and keep that state as their legal residence no matter how often they move.

That has major ramifications for military families, said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, who was the initial sponsor of the spouse residence bill.

Carter said being able to keep the same legal residence would simplify paying state and local income taxes and maintaining driver’s licenses, vehicle registration and other legal documents. Spouses could even continue voting in their hometown. He said it also would make a difference if a marriage ends in divorce, because it would not leave a couple facing the complicated issue of determining where to divorce in order to meet residency restrictions.

During a service member’s career, a spouse may “face multiple changes of voter registration and driver’s licenses, will pay income tax to a state they never intended to live in, and likely not have their name on any property titles — leading to a feeling that they are second-class citizens,” Carter said.

The bill could put more money into a family’s pocket because they can avoid paying higher tax on a spouse’s income, which often drops simply by virtue of the move when a spouse has to start over at a new job.

The committee plan says that a person absent from a state because his is accompanying someone on military orders may not lose his right to vote or register to vote if he leaves the state, regardless of whether he has any intention of returning.

Additionally, several activities often viewed as changing residences — such as buying a home — could not be used to determine that a military spouse has changed state residency.

Similar language is included for tax purposes. Buying a home does not make the spouse of a service member the resident of a state for tax purposes as long as the spouse is accompanying a service member on military orders.

Service members already have the right to cancel leases for housing and vehicles when deployed or ordered to change duty stations, but the committee has agreed to allow other contracts also to be canceled without penalty for those deployed 90 days or longer in support of a contingency operation, or assigned outside the service area covered by a contract.

The bill would make canceling a contract easy. Service members could deliver a cancellation notice, including a copy of the military orders, by hand, by private messenger service, by fax or by mail, as long as they use an envelope with sufficient postage and request a receipt that proves the message was received. Termination or suspension of service would take effect on the date the notice is delivered.

Failure to suspend or cancel a service member’s contract upon such request would be a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $5,000 per person or $10,000 per company.

A service member also would have the right to sue for damages, with a court allowed to award up to three times the amount of damages plus attorney fees to the member.

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Rate the Military Health System

The U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System is encouraging servicemembers and their families to take the online Military Health System Poll. By participating in the poll, you will help the Military Health System understand the areas that need improvement.

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Education Grants for AF Family

The Air Force Aid Society's (AFAS) General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program provides $2,000 grants to selected dependent sons and daughters of Air Force retirees, deceased retirees, and the surviving spouses of Air Force retirees. Use of funds is limited to tuition, books, fees, or other curriculum-required materials. AFAS sections receive bulk quantities of grant applications by Nov. 1 of each year, and the application deadline is mid-March of the following year. For more information, visit the Air Force Aid Society website.

Remember: Not applying for scholarships is like turning down free money. Get started on your search for scholarships today - visit the Military.com Scholarship Finder.

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TRICARE Provides Crisis Information

TRICARE wants to assure beneficiaries and families affected by the recent flooding in seven states that their health care benefits will be maintained and that service and support will continue during this critical time. For beneficiaries living in West Region states, TriWest Healthcare Alliance recently launched its Crisis Connection webpage. The website also provides general updates and flood-related resources. For those in the North Region, information can be found on Health Net Federal Services Pre- and Post-Disaster Resources webpage. Additional information on disaster preparation is available on the TRICARE website and on TRICARE's Preparing for a Disaster webpage.

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TRICARE Helps Out in Flood States

Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI), the TRICARE pharmacy contractor, has been authorized to add provisions for early refill of medications for TRICARE beneficiaries and families in seven states affected by recent flooding -- Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana. These early refills are only authorized for beneficiaries who specifically indicate they are impacted by flooding. Those beneficiaries may take their prescription bottle to any TRICARE retail network pharmacy. Contact Express Scripts at 1-866-363-8779 to find the nearest network pharmacy. TRICARE beneficiaries who are impacted by flooding are also able to use their once-a-year override.

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Bill would ease rules on cell phone contracts


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Jul 18, 2008 7:36:34 EDT 

A House committee passed legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for service members to cancel cell phone, cable and utility contracts if they are deployed or move to a new duty station.

The legislation also would let deployed troops keep their phone numbers when they return and reactivate their accounts.

Under provisions of HR 6225, a bill amending the legal and financial protections of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, a service member could terminate or suspend a contract for a cell or regular phone, cable or Internet service, and utilities such as electricity, gas, oil or water if they are deployed for 90 days or longer in support of a contingency operation, or are ordered to make a permanent reassignment move to a new location.

Service members could not be charged fees for early termination of a contract, but could be charged if they have company equipment, such as a cable box. If there is a fee, payment could be deferred until the deployment has ended.

Canceling a contract would be easy, under the bill. A service member could deliver a cancellation notice, including a copy of their military orders, by hand, private messenger service, fax or mail, as long as they used an envelope with sufficient postage and request a receipt to prove the message was received. Termination or suspension of service would take effect on the date the notice is delivered.

A company that fails to suspend a contract under those terms would face misdemeanor penalties of up to $5,000 per person or $10,000 per organization.

A service member also would have the right to sue for damages, with courts allowed to grant up to three times the amount of damages, plus attorney fees, to the member.

Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., said the ability to cancel a contract in the face of deployment is important so that service members are not paying for something they cannot use, and the provision allowing them to keep the same number when they return from deployment is equally important to help them pick up where they left off.

Keeping the same phone number is not guaranteed under the proposal. The bill merely calls for that “to the extent practicable.”

The bill is called the Improving SCRA and USERRA Protections Act of 2008, which refers to the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act.

Also in the bill is extra relief for service members whose college educations are disrupted by military duties, including a requirement that schools refund tuition and fees if a service member does not receive academic credit for courses they had to drop because of military orders; and changes in military spouse residency rules to allow them to keep the same state of legal residence as their service member, regardless of where the family may live. The rules would apply to such issues as income taxes, car registration, driver’s licenses and voter registration.

The bill, passed by voice vote, is expected to be voted on by the full House of Representatives this summer. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has been working on similar legislation.

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President Signs Tax Relief Act

President Bush recently signed the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act (H.R.6081) into law (public Law 110-245). The HEART Act will allow tax-exempt pay received in a combat zone to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and permits contributions of military death gratuity payments to Roth IRAs and Education Savings Accounts.

Read more about the HEART Act on Military.com.

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DeCA Scholarship Kicks Off

This year, 600 military children received a $1,500 scholarship each from the Scholarships for Military Children Program. The average GPA of the applicants was 3.8 to 3.9. It is the intent of the program that a scholarship funded through contributions be awarded annually for each commissary operated by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) worldwide. The 2009 Scholarships for Military Children season kicks off Nov. 1, 2008. For more information about the program, visit the Military Scholar website. To find more family resources visit the Military Spouse Network.

On Military.com we have over $300 million in scholarships exclusively for service members, veterans and their family. Don’t pay for school – apply for scholarships. Conduct a search now.

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AAFES Back-to-School Essay Contest

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service's (AAFES) "Back-To-School Essay Contest" gives students, in grades first through 12th, the opportunity to submit an essay of 200 words or less on "What AAFES means to me and my family." The essay contest runs through Aug. 31, 2008. First place winners will receive a computer, second place winners will be awarded $500 savings bonds, and $200 savings bonds will be issued to third place winners. Complete rules, including release forms and specific instructions on submitting essays, are available at the AAFES website under the Patriot Family Connection link.

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Active, Guard, Reserve meet recruiting goals


Staff report
Posted : Friday Jul 11, 2008 10:39:02 EDT 

All three Air Force components — active, Guard, Reserve — met or exceeded their June recruiting goals, according to data released by the Defense Department on Thursday.

The active-duty force brought in 2,203 new airmen, nine more than it was planning on.

All the other services met or exceeded their active-duty recruit goals as well.

The Air Force Reserve hit its goal of 690 exactly, while the Air National Guard again surpassed its monthly goal by signing up 910 recruits against a goal of 767, for a rate of 119 percent. In April and May, the Guard also brought in a few hundred more recruits than it needed.

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Latest Recruiting Numbers Underscore Strength of All-Volunteer Force

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2008 – Defense officials today pointed to the 13th consecutive month of recruiting success as a sign that the all-volunteer force, now 35 years old, remains solid.

Recruiting and retention statistics for June, released today, show that all services met or exceeded their active-duty recruiting goals. The June figures mark more than a full year of across-the-board recruiting successes.

Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said this trend, particularly during a protracted conflict, demonstrates the strength of the all-volunteer force.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed appreciation earlier this week for military recruiters and the big role they play in filling the ranks in a challenging recruiting environment. He noted during his June 8 visit with enlisted troops in Mosul, Iraq, that only 30 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are eligible for military service.

“I’ve seen tremendous success in recruiting all across the services,” he told the troops during an “all-hands call” at Forward Operating Base Marez. “My hat goes off to those who recruit as they continue to make their numbers from month to month.”

The June recruiting and retention figures reflect recruiters’ hard work and young people’s continued willingness to step up and serve, Lainez said. The Army signed up 9,365 new soldiers in June, 101 percent of its 9,250-soldier goal. The Marine Corps recruited 4,531 Marines, topping its monthly goal of 3,934 recruits by 15 percent. The Navy met its goal of 4,209 sailors, and the Air Force brought in 2,203 airmen, six recruits over its June goal.

In the reserve components, the trend lines remained positive as well, Lainez said. The Army National Guard recruited 5,290 soldiers in June, 100 percent of its goal. The Marine Corps Reserve reached its goal with 1,054 recruits. Despite falling 1 percent short of its June goal, the Army Reserve, with 3,138 new recruits in June, stands at 108 percent of its year-to-date goal, Lainez said.

The Air National Guard recruited 910 airmen, 119 percent of its June goal, and the Air Force Reserve met its 690-airman goal. The Navy Reserve and Air Force Reserve both met their June goals, recruiting 725 sailors and 690 airmen, respectively.

Meanwhile, retention remained strong in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Lainez said, with each service meeting or exceeding its year-to-date goals.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, praised troops’ commitment to continue serving as he re-enlisted 1,215 servicemembers during a Fourth of July ceremony in Baghdad.

“Volunteering to continue to serve our nation while deployed is both noble and inspiring,” he said. “It is, as award citations often state, in keeping with the finest traditions of our military services.”

July 1 marked the 35th anniversary of the U.S. armed forces consisting solely of volunteers. Until July 1973, the military operated under an involuntary draft policy to produce manpower to fight the country’s wars. Draftees served during both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Since then, volunteers have served the armed forces through peacetime and war, including the Cold War and conflicts in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere around the world.

Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel and policy, said the all-volunteer force has continued to prove itself during ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There were concerns about how today’s fight would affect retention, and yet, retention has been as strong as any period in our history,” he said on the all-volunteer force’s 35th anniversary. “Volunteers want to serve; their performance is strong, their behaviors are strong, and their discipline is high.”

Their choice to become members of the armed forces “speaks volumes for the dedication and loyalty of our nation and its volunteers,” Carr said.

Related Sites:
Defense Department News Release on June 2008 Recruiting
Special Report: 35th Anniversary of All-Volunteer Force

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Pentagon Has New Recruit Waiver Policy

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has revised its policy for recruits who must get waivers for past bad behavior, but officials stopped short of eliminating waiver requirements for petty crimes, The Associated Press has learned.

After a lengthy review, the Defense Department bowed to insistence from the services that they be allowed to set their own guidelines for what offenses trigger a waiver. Instead, officials say the Pentagon will unveil a policy July 2 that improves and simplifies the reporting process, grouping the waivers into four broad categories.

Several officials spoke about the new policy on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been released.

Last year, under the continuing strain of Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of recruits with waivers for bad conduct increased. Senior military leaders at the time suggested the department might be able to eliminate waiver requirements for some less serious crimes or lay out guidelines for what offenses demand a waiver.

After months of discussion with the military services, however, that did not pan out.

Marine officials, in particular, said they were reluctant to relax their standards for requiring waivers.

Instead, officials have now decided to create four waiver categories for major misconduct, misconduct, traffic offenses and non-traffic offenses. Under the new policy, each branch of the armed forces will set its own guidelines on what behavior requires a waiver, as long as it can assign each offense to one of the four categories.

Marines are known for their more strict waiver requirements, which result in a higher percentage of their recruits needing a special exemption to join. The most glaring difference is that one-time marijuana use warrants a waiver.

Thus, roughly half of Marine recruits require waivers to join, largely because more than a third of recruits require a waiver for previous drug use.

In pressing for waiver changes last year, military leaders said they wanted to streamline what can be a complicated, lengthy and cumbersome waiver process. The new policy - in development for nearly two years - will allow the Pentagon to better compare how recruits with certain waivers perform.

Last year, Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said a review of the process was necessary to make the military services more consistent. At the time, he noted that many recruits who were arrested as juveniles for what can be considered youthful indiscretions - minor fights or theft - are forced to get waivers even if they were never convicted of the crime.

"There are really anomalies out there," he said.

Overall, about three in every 10 military recruits must get a waiver, according to Pentagon statistics. About two-thirds of those approved in recent years have been for some type of criminal behavior - mostly minor infractions.

In addition to waivers for bad behavior, recruits also may need waivers for a host of reasons including health problems such as asthma or flat feet, low aptitude scores - and even for some tattoos.

Getting a waiver approved requires paperwork and at times lengthy investigation, from detailed health screenings and doctor referrals to testimonials from neighbors and relatives about past bad behavior. Depending on the seriousness, the final decision can be made by senior recruiting officers or higher-ranking commanders.

The policy changes come as the Army on July 1 celebrated the 35th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, and as the services continue to meet their recruiting goals on a fairly consistent basis.

Standing in the sun-drenched Pentagon courtyard, Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army, swore in 15 new recruits and re-enlisted 16 Soldiers for another tour.

He said later that any changes in the waiver policy will make the process better and "it will allow us to move a little quicker."

Casey, who joined the Army 38 years ago, entered when the draft was still in effect. These days, he said recruits who volunteer to enlist often face questions about why they are joining.

As he looked out at the Soldiers - most of whom can expect to see combat in Iraq or Afghanistan - he said they believe in their ideals and believe "they can make a difference."

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Misinformation clouds new GI Bill


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jul 9, 2008 6:45:25 EDT 

Full-tuition educational benefits included in a new veterans’ program signed into law on June 30 will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2009, unless Congress approves a change in the new law.

There will be a 20 percent increase, effective this Aug. 1, in Montgomery GI Bill benefits for active-duty veterans and veterans who have served two or more years of active duty, raising the maximum benefit to $1,321 for a full-time student who has three or more years of active service, under terms of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.

Full tuition benefits, plus stipends for living expenses and books, will not take effect under the law until Aug. 1, 2009, despite earlier claims by aides to the bill’s chief sponsor that those payments would be retroactive to when the bill is signed.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Webb, D.Va., chief sponsor of the new benefits package, said the fact that the benefits are not retroactive came as a surprise; the final bill passed by Congress omitted crucial paragraphs of Webb’s legislation.

The spokeswoman, Kimberly Hunter, said a technical correction bill fixing other problems with the bill could include language that would restore the retroactive benefits Webb wanted in the bill.

That is not the only thing Webb’s staff promised that ended up being wrong.

People who previously enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill program must continue to make their $100 monthly installments until they have fully paid the $1,200 contribution required to participate — even though the post-9/11 benefits program will be completely free.

Pentagon officials said ending contributions is not allowed under either the new or previous law, and that enrollments in the Montgomery GI Bill continue because there are some types of post-service education, including on-the-job and vocational training, that are not covered by the new program. Military officials are working on a briefing for new recruits that will explain the differences between the old and new veterans’ benefits programs. It will recommend that troops continue to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill program if there is any chance they might need non-traditional education.

The disappointing news about the lack of retroactive benefits and continued enrollment charges came from the departments Veterans Affairs and Defense, who have staffs poring over the details of what is now Public Law 110-252 to determine how it will be implemented.

Defense and VA aides said they are working with congressional staff to implement the benefits plan that was passed by Congress and to suggest changes when errors were made.

 

For more information about the GI Bill, you can check out the following link:

GI Bill 2008

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New GI Bill Becomes Reality

By Terry Howell

In an effort to push through Sen. James Webb's (D-VA) popular "Post 9/11 GI Bill" (S. 22), Congress inserted it in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (HR 2642).

The New GI Bill provides servicemembers or veterans with over 36 months of active-duty service since Sept. 11, 2001, an increase of up to about $2,000 a month over the current Montgomery GI Bill payment rate of $1,101.

Although the proposed Webb GI Bill had support among veterans groups and strong bi-partisan support in both houses, it faced numerous obstacles, namely the threat of a presidential veto. However, after adding a provision to let servicemembers transfer GI Bill benefits to family members, President Bush agreed to sign it into law.

It is important to note that Sen. Webb's proposed Post 9/11 GI Bill is not a replacement for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). Many servicemembers and veterans will be able to choose the program that best suits their personal situation.

At-a-Glance GI Bill Comparison

The following table highlights the differences between the Montgomery GI Bill and the proposed Post 9/11 GI Bill. The data presented here reflects current language found in the pending legislation (H.R. 2642). As is normally the case with legislation some details remain sketchy until the final version is made public.

 

Montgomery GI Bill
Chapter 30

Post 9/11 GI Bill
Proposed - Chapter 33

Payment Rate for
Full-Time Student

Annually set - nationwide - monthly payment rate. Currently set at $1,101. The payment rate will increase to $1,321 for the 2008-2009 academic year+

A payment indexed to full in-state tuition for public schools. Paid per term.*

Additional expense
payments

No additional payments for expenses.

Living Expenses - stipend based on local BAH for E-5 with dependents – paid monthly*

Books and Fees

Eligibility Requirements

Entered military after June 30, 1985

Active-duty service since Sept. 11, 2001***

VEAP-era 
Eligibility

No - Except those who elected to convert in the past.

Yes – those who meet the eligibility criteria above.

Benefit Expiration

10 Years after separation or discharge.

15 Years after discharge or separation.

Transfer benefits
to families

Limited - Currently Limited to Army for Critical MOS only.

Yes open to those who serve more than six years.

Enrollment fee

 Yes - $1,200

None

+ This MGIB rate increase is included in H.R. 2642.

* Based on current State's highest public college/university undergraduate tuition and fees rate. In addition this payment is determined by the length of post 911service. The less time in service since Sept. 11. 2001 the lower the payment rate.

Note: According the College Board and Senate reports, annual state tuition and housing rates run between $12,554 (Wyoming) and $22,094 (Michigan).

** Traditional or On-campus students only. Distance learning and online students are not eligible for this stipend.

*** Any servicemember (including Guard and Reserve) who has or was placed on active-duty since Sept. 11, 2001

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Bush signs war funding, GI Bill overhaul


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jul 1, 2008 16:13:04 EDT  

A $162 billion war funding bill that includes a $63 billion overhaul of GI Bill education benefits was signed Monday by President Bush.

“The bill shows even in an election year, Republicans and Democrats can come together to stand behind our troops,” Bush said, predicting the GI Bill increases would be a boost to military recruiting and also a boon to families if educational benefits are transferred to family members.

The signing of HR 2642 brings an end to a Pentagon cash-flow crisis that threatened to disrupt military and civilian payroll, cancel or delay maintenance, and postpone nonessential training and travel.

And, for the first time since the Vietnam War, there will be a completely free veterans’ education benefit program that pays enough to fully cover the cost of getting a four-year college degree.

There was a lot of back-patting as the Senate gave final approval to the measure Thursday with a 92-6 vote, but the lawmaker getting and appearing to deserve the greatest praise for the GI Bill initiative was Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a freshman senator and Vietnam veteran who said he was just trying to give combat veterans the benefits they deserve.

“Eighteen months ago, we began with the simple concept that those who have been serving since 9/11 should have the same opportunity for a first-class educational future as those who served during World War II,” Webb said before Thursday’s vote. “Today, we have accomplished that goal. I would like to emphasize that this is not simply an expansion of veterans’ educational benefits. This is a new program, a deserved program.”

Bush praised Webb and Republican senators John Warner of Virginia, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona for working out the GI Bill compromise.

After a lot of debate, lawmakers have decided the new GI Bill program will be called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, the name Webb used when he first introduced the bill in January 2007, shortly after he took office. While the name is cumbersome and doesn’t appear suited for a spiffy acronym, congressional aides who worked on the bill said some veterans groups objected to calling it the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights, a name used by many supporters, because an education-only benefits plan is nothing like the original World War II GI Bill of Rights, which included education and unemployment benefits, loans to buy a home or start a business, and other readjustment benefits.

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TRICARE Availability Still in Jeopardy

In an effort to give Congress time to block a scheduled 10.6 percent Medicare (TRICARE) fee cut, the Bush administration plans to delay paying doctors for treating Medicare patients in early July. The administration's decision merely delays the cut, scheduled to take place Tuesday. It's up to Congress to decide whether to block it or not. Congress will almost certainly act quickly when it returns to Washington the week of July 7 to prevent the cuts in payments for some 600,000 doctors who treat Medicare/TRICARE patients. The cuts are scheduled because of a formula that requires fee cuts when spending exceeds established goals.

Contact your public officicial to let them know how you feel about this issue.

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Jury Duty Scam

This has been verified by the FBI (their link is also included below). Please pass this on to everyone in your email address book. It is spreading fast so be prepared should you get this call. Most of us take those summonses for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic duty, that a new and ominous kind of fraud has surfaced.

The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you
never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Give out any of this inormation and bingo; your identity was just stolen.

The fraud has been reported so far in 11 states, including Oklahoma ,Illinois , and Colorado . This (swindle) is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to try to bully people  into giving information by pretending they are with the court system. The  FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud.

Check it out here: http://www.fbi.gov/page2/june06/jury_scams060206.htm
<http://www.fbi.gov/page2/june06/jury_scams060206.htm> 

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE

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Supreme Court says Americans Have Right to Guns

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history. 
 
The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact.

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, criticized the ruling. "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home for protection in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood as the court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.

The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.

Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

In a concluding paragraph to the his 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns."

The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes, if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.

Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves. The Washington government says no one would be prosecuted for a gun law violation in cases of self-defense.

The last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what that case means but agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.

Forty-four state constitutions contain some form of gun rights, which are not affected by the court's consideration of Washington's restrictions.

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Officials Sign Children's Memo

WASHINGTON - Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon signed a memorandum of understanding between their agencies at the Pentagon June 26 that addresses the quality of education and the unique challenges faced by children of military families.

Hundreds of thousands of students in military families will be affected by moves precipitated by recent Base Realignment and Closure Act decisions and the relocation of military units from overseas bases to stateside installations as part of global defense posture realignment moves, Secretary England said.

Children of U.S. military members who have sacrificed so much for the nation "deserve to have to a good education," he said during his remarks before the signing ceremony.

"And so, we have an obligation, both as a department and as a nation, to make sure not just the children in our military, but all of the children in the United States of America get absolutely the finest education that they can," the deputy defense secretary said.

The failure to provide a good education for America's children could result in the forfeiture of the United States' premier position in the world, Secretary England said, as well as the loss of freedom for its citizens.

"So, I'm an extraordinary strong proponent of anything we do to improve the education of our children, especially the children of our military," he said.

The memo of understanding generally defines how the Defense and Education departments will work together with local educational organizations to strengthen and expand school-based efforts to ease student transitions and help military students develop academic skills and coping strategies during parents' military deployments.

Secretary Simon hailed the agreement, noting that its implementation will "honor the sacrifice that these families make every day."

The agreement supports defense and education department efforts to:

-- Promote and enhance policies that will improve military children's education and overall well-being;

-- Advance the quality of educational opportunities for all military children;

-- Provide research-based academic, social-emotional and behavioral supports to facilitate seamless transitions for military children;

-- Provide leadership and advocacy programs to help military students cope with issues surrounding deployments;

-- Support foreign language education, including programs for strategic languages;

-- Explore legislative options to address transition issues for military students;

-- Extend opportunities for student learning through support of online, virtual and other research-based teaching models;

-- Provide research-based teacher and administrator professional development programs;

-- Forge effective partnerships with local schools and districts;

-- Coordinate Defense Department and Education Department impact aid programs;

-- Communicate with military families and organizations to show appreciation for their contributions; and

-- Increase awareness of resources and tools available from the Education and Defense departments.

Congressional officials have provided financial assistance to local school districts through the impact aid program since 1950. Current legislation provides financial assistance to school districts with concentrations of children residing on military bases who have parents in the military. Military families that reside in government-provided quarters do not pay local property taxes, a portion of which are used to manage and operate public schools.

More than 1.1 million students who belong to active duty and reserve-component military families are expected to benefit from activities outlined in the agreement.

Tech. Sgt. Michael J. Naquin, a security forces noncommissioned officer posted at Bolling Air Force Base here, and his 6-year-old son, Aaron, were among several military families personally greeted by England and Simon at signing ceremony.

"Progress is being made, and it is nice that our two communities can come together as one," Sergeant Naquin said of the bi-departmental education agreement.

"It is one less worry, not having to worry about the education my children are getting," Sergeant Naquin said, noting education is a "very, very important" component of quality of life. A special panel will now begin work to implement the initiatives, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said.

"We all have just one goal in mind, and that is to provide a quality education for the children of all military families," Undersecretary Chu said.

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 Death Gratuity Benefit Expands
 

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas - Airmen will be able to select one or more persons of their choosing to receive death gratuity benefits beginning July 1.

"This is a significant change to the (death gratuity) benefits election option for all Airmen," said Steven Kelley, the director of Air and Space Expeditionary Force Operations at the Air Force Personnel Center here.

Prior to the change in law, payments were restricted to the spouse, then children if applicable and then to a family member as elected by the Airman. It didn't allow a married Airman to leave the death gratuity to anyone else.

"Since the amount of death gratuity increased to $100,000, payment to minor children requires guardianship over the child's estate and can be a lengthy and costly process depending upon the state in which the child resides," Mr. Kelley said. "This change provides more flexibility to the servicemember in designating the gratuity benefit. "

Beginning July 1, Airmen will be able to select persons to receive death benefits in increments of 10 percent. For example, an Airman will be able to choose 20 percent to a cousin, 10 percent to a friend and the remaining 70 percent to a spouse for a total of 100 percent. The death gratuity designation will no longer be restricted to a spouse, child or blood relative.

To implement this change, AFPC officials will update the vREDs of members who are married and/or have dependent children to reflect a "by law" designation on July 1. "By law" means that 100 percent of the death gratuity payment is paid in the following order of precedence: Surviving spouse, surviving children in equal amounts, descendents of any deceased children in equal amounts, executor or administrator of the servicemember's estate or Airman's other next of kin under the laws of domicile at the time of death.

Airmen who would like to designate a specific beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries by name must access the virtual Military Personnel Flight on or after July 1 to provide the information on their beneficiaries.

An unmarried Airman with children will be able to designate a person of his choice, such as a parent or other person to receive the death gratuity directly thus eliminating the need to be a court-appointed guardian over the minor child's estate. However, the member still has the responsibility to ensure their wishes are followed through a will or trust. Married Airmen may elect to leave less than 100 percent of the death gratuity to the spouse. The law; however, requires the spouse be notified in writing when such as election is made. The letter will be sent from the AFPC Contact Center whenever such an election occurs and will not disclose any percentages, or identify any additional beneficiaries.

Because of the changes, AFPC officials recommend every Airman go into vMPF after July 1 and review the vRED. Once the vRED is reviewed, the Airman will need to submit the vRED to AFPC, even if there are not any changes, to change the date on the vRED and to show their vRED reflects their proper beneficiaries.

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House Passes New GI Bill

WASHINGTON - A long-delayed Iraq war funding bill sailed through the House of Representatives on Thursday along with historic increases in college aid for returning troops and help for U.S. unemployed and flood victims of the American Midwest.

Republican allies of President George W. Bush provided the winning margin in a 268-155 vote to provide $162 billion to pay for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan well into next year.

Nevertheless, Democrats opposed to the war used the Iraq funding bill as an engine to drive past White House resistance a sweeping revision to GI Bill college benefits for returning veterans and a 13-week extension of unemployment checks for those whose benefits have run out.

Related Podcast: Behind the New GI Bill

Resource: Military.com's New GI Bill Overview

Lawmakers separately approved the domestic add-ons by a 416-12 vote, sending the combined bill to the Senate for a vote next week. The White House issued a statement supporting the legislation.

The measure also provides a quick $2.7 billion infusion of emergency flood relief for the Midwest, although more is expected to be needed to deal with the major losses in Iowa, Illinois and other states.

The bill would bring to more than $650 billion the amount provided by Congress for the war in Iraq since U.S.-led troops invaded five years ago. Nearly $200 billion in additional funding has gone to operations in Afghanistan, according to congressional analysts.

The plan accepted by the House also would give Bush's successor several months to set Iraq policy after taking office in January, and it spares lawmakers the need and political embarrassment to cast more war-funding votes closer to the Nov. 4 Election Day.

"The way it's been set up now, whoever ... is president will have a few months to think through how we are going to extricate ourselves," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Democrat and major negotiator on the package.

The relatively brief debate featured only glimpses of the bitterness that consumed Congress last year as the new Democratic majority tried and failed to force troop withdrawals and other limits on Bush's ability to conduct the war. Most war opponents expressed frustration and a sense of resignation at having to yield to the lame duck president.

"The president basically gets a blank check to dump this war on the next president," said Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern. "I was hoping George Bush would end his war while he's president."

Republicans cited progress in Iraq since Bush reinforced troop levels last year to create stability in the devastated nation.

"Our troops have made tremendous gains, and forcing them to reverse course - as most in the Democratic majority want them to do - would be both irresponsible and reckless," said the Republican minority leader, Rep. John Boehner.

The new GI Bill essentially would guarantee full scholarship at in-state public universities, along with monthly housing stipends, for people who serve in the military for at least three years. It is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans of World War II and more than doubles the value of the benefit, from $40,000 today to $90,000.

The GI Bill measure, offered by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, a Vietnam War veteran, had such extraordinary support from both Democrats and Republicans that White House objections were easily overridden.

Administration representatives sought to curb its costs in private talks, Obey said. Instead, the chief concession by Democrats was to add an administration-backed plan, costing $10 billion over 10 years, to allow veterans to transfer their benefits to their spouse or a child.

The White House tried much harder to kill the effort to extend unemployment benefits as part of the war funding bill. Just two weeks ago, it appeared the administration probably would prevail. But after the unemployment rate jumped a one-half of a percentage point to a nationwide average of 5.5 percent, House Democrats engineered a veto-proof tally in support of the 13-week extension.

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Moseley likely to step down as chief June 27


By Erik Holmes - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jun 18, 2008 6:57:20 EDT

Outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley will leave office as soon as June 27, an Air Force spokeswoman said.

Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan McNabb will take over as acting chief of staff until Moseley’s replacement, Gen. Norton Schwartz, is confirmed by the Senate.

A confirmation hearing at which the Air Force’s proposed new leadership team will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee has been scheduled for June 24, the spokeswoman said.

Appearing before the committee will be Schwartz; Michael Donley, who has been nominated to replace Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne; and Lt. Gen. William Fraser III, who has been nominated to replace McNabb as vice chief.

The full Senate will then have to vote on the nominations. Each nominee must receive a majority of senators’ votes in order to be confirmed and take office.

Wynne is scheduled to step down Saturday, when Donley will take over as acting secretary.

Wynne and Moseley were forced to resign June 5, after Defense Secretary Robert Gates received a damning report revealing widespread problems with the Air Force’s nuclear weapons surety.

Gates announced his picks for the new Air Force leadership June 9.

McNabb, who had been considered a leading contender to take over for Moseley, will replace Schwartz as commander of U.S. Transportation Command.

Moseley has requested retirement from the Air Force effective Aug. 1, after 36 years in the service.

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Air Force Charts New Course for '09

WASHINGTON - Air Force officials here currently are deciding how to carry out force shaping plans in the coming year following an announcement by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Monday to halt personnel cuts.

Active-duty end strength was projected to decrease from 328,600 to 316,600 by the end of fiscal 2009.

Stating his desire to ease the burden reduced staffing has created for some Airmen and their families, Secretary Gates told Airmen at Langley Air Force Base, Va., he intends "immediately to stop further reductions in Air Force personnel."

"This is good news for our Airmen," said Col. Chuck Armentrout, chief of the military force policy division at the Pentagon. "We'll have the resources we need to carry out the mission requirements of the required force."

The halting of force reductions does not mean those officers and enlisted members already in the pipeline to separate will be required to stay, Colonel Armentrout said.

"We're not talking large numbers here," he said. "We're talking about staying where we are [in terms of personnel numbers] for 2009, and then increasing slightly to 330,000 in 2010."

While force reductions will be halted, other force shaping measures are still necessary to balance the force, Colonel Armentrout said.

The first step for Air Force manpower and personnel is to identify the skills needed in the increase to 330,000. Simultaneously, the Air Force will be focusing on ensuring Airmen who are in overage specialties are retrained into shortage career fields.

Officials are also looking at the possibility of initiating a cross-flow program for junior officers -- beginning with a small test group -- to explore the possibility of retraining officers currently in overage career fields.

The personnel increases that do take place will be targeted toward new and emerging missions, and high-demand areas," said Colonel Armentrout.

"Obviously, there will be no reduction in force, voluntary separation pay or selective early retirement boards for 2009, but we will continue to shape the force using other force shaping tools already in place," he said. "We'll continue programs to retain people in the 'in-demand' skills, retrain when possible and target accessions toward those skills."

Secretary Gates' announcement came just earlier this week, but "as specifics become clearer, we'll have a better site picture [of how we'll proceed]," Colonel Armentrout said.

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Air National Guard recruits hundreds over goal


Staff report
Posted : Thursday Jun 12, 2008 11:41:50 EDT

The Air National Guard had another successful month of recruiting.

According to a Defense Department press release, the Guard recruited 892 airmen — well over the goal of 680 — in May, an uncommonly strong showing for late in the fiscal year, especially after several years of recruiting shortfalls.

The bigger numbers come on the heels of the Air Guard announcing that country music artist Laura Bryna is the voice of its new advertising campaign.

Bryna, who released her newest album in January, has signed on to appear in radio, TV and print ads for the Air Guard. The service commissioned her new song “Hometown Hereos,” which debuted May 30 and will be soon followed by a music video. Filming starts June 25 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Air Force Reserve beat its recruiting goal of 636 by two in May, and the active-duty side met its goal of 1,888, the press release said.

Retention was “within acceptable limits” for the reserve components, according to the release. However, the active side again was not mentioned among for meeting retention goals for May.

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Military Spouses: This Survey is Your Chance to be Heard

Previous Spouse Survey Results Used to Benefit Military Families

You may have been selected to complete the 2008 Survey of Military Spouses. If so, please take the time to complete the survey - it is entirely confidential.

Results from the 2006 spouse survey were used to start an entirely new program for spouses. In that survey, the majority of spouses reported that they would like more college or training, but that money was the main reason they were not in school. This information resulted in a pilot program in 8 states at 18 installations, where spouses of active duty Service members can receive grants of up to $6000 for education, training and licenses or credentials costs, over a two year period.

We also know that military spouses experience a great deal of loneliness during deployments, and that deployments have both positive and negative impacts on kids. These findings have resulted in more child care, counseling and recreational services to support you and your family. If you were randomly selected, please complete the 2008 Survey of Military Spouses so that we can better understand your experiences - as well as pave the way to make better programs for all military families.

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Mullen: New Air Force picks based on talent


By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jun 11, 2008 11:49:19 EDT

Collective talent, more than background, was the primary consideration when Defense Secretary Robert Gates settled on his nominees to fill the top two leadership slots in the Air Force, the Joint Chiefs chairman said Tuesday.

“In my view, you go into this kind of search and decision trying to get the best people,” said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, speaking with reporters in Washington. “And it’s my belief — and I endorsed this decision — wholly, certainly, from the military standpoint — that that decision has been both wrung out well and made.”

The jobs were vacated when Gates on Friday forced the resignations of the Air Force secretary, Michael Wynne, and chief of staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, over what he said were significant and systemic problems with the security and handling of nuclear weapons materials.

Much has been made of the fact that neither the prospective chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, nor his nominated No. 2, Lt. Gen. William Fraser, is a fighter pilot, although both are fliers. If confirmed, Schwartz, an AC-130 special operations flier, would be the first non-fighter pilot to serve as chief in the past 26 years. Fraser, who currently serves as Mullen’s assistant, is a B-52 bomber pilot.

In a parallel move, Gates recommended that the current vice chief of staff, Gen. Duncan McNabb, take Schwartz’s place as the commander of U.S. Transportation Command. McNabb is a transport aircraft flier with time in both the C-141 and C-17.

Mullen admitted that not having a fighter pilot in one of the top two slots is “certainly an important message” but would not elaborate except to add, “That doesn’t mean fighter guys go away from the Air Force.

“I mean, you can read that a lot of different ways,” Mullen said. “But I can assure you that what drove that more than anything else was the talent search for the best combination and also the need to have somebody go in behind General Schwartz as he left.

“So it was much broader than just, well, these are the signals we want to send, let’s pick the individuals to send them,” Mullen said.

But, Mullen added, “I think it’s also very important that we have somebody like Fraser, who’s got the bomber background, given the reason all this happened, so that his expertise will be applied to fixing this problem.”

The problems cited by Gates included the incident last summer in which a B-52 was mistakenly loaded with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and flown across the country.

Mullen also noted that Fraser once served as the vice commander at Air Combat Command. “So he’s been around both the bomber and the fighter side as well,” Mullen said.

Mullen said he wasn’t as familiar with Mike Donley, Gates’ choice as the next Air Force secretary, but noted both his background in Army Special Forces as well as his tenure as an Air Force executive — he served as acting Air Force secretary for seven months in 1993. “So he’s got a pretty rich history of serving, both on the military side and the civilian side,” Mullen said.

“So I think it’s a great team. And it comes at a great time.”

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Moseley and Wynne forced out


Staff report
Posted : Monday Jun 9, 2008 10:39:01 EDT

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary Michael W. Wynne were forced to resign Thursday during hastily arranged meetings with their Pentagon bosses.

Moseley was summoned from the Corona leadership summit at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to an early morning meeting at the Pentagon with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss a report on the Air Force’s problems handling nuclear weapons.

The report, by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, revealed widespread problems and convinced Defense Secretary Robert Gates that senior officials must be held accountable.

Multimedia:

Moseley-Wynne photos

Moseley resigned in response.

Later in the morning, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was dispatched to Wright-Patterson to ask for Wynne’s resignation, sources said. Wynne resigned during the meeting.

At a Pentagon press briefing Thursday afternoon, Gates said his decision to seek their resignations was “based entirely” on the Donald report, which uncovered a “gradual erosion of nuclear standards and a lack of effective oversight by Air Force leadership.”

Gates, who began his career working nuclear security issues as an Air Force intelligence officer in the 1960s, also said a “substantial” number of Air Force general officers and colonels more immediately responsible for recent lapses could still be reprimanded or fired in the wake of the report.

It is not clear how quickly Wynne and Moseley will leave their positions. Moseley has requested retirement effective Aug. 1 and will take terminal leave before that, according to a memo from Moseley, but it is not clear when he will leave his position.

“I think the honorable thing to do is to step aside,” Moseley said in a statement released to the press. “After consulting with my family, I intend to submit my request for retirement to Secretary Gates.”

Gates is likely to recommend Michael B. Donley, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management to succeed Wynne, a senior defense official said Friday.

Donley was acting secretary of the Air Force for seven months in 1993 and served as the service’s top financial officer from 1989 to 1993.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Duncan McNabb will likely become acting chief of staff.

The stunning development follows a series of high-profile scandals and disagreements between Air Force leadership and Gates in the past year, during which both the Pentagon and congressional leadership have increasingly expressed frustration about the Air Force’s top bosses.

But a senior defense official said the nuclear report was the most significant factor. “Everything that preceded that is insignificant by comparison,” the official said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement praising Gates’ decision.

“Secretary Gates’ focus on accountability is essential and had been absent from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for too long,” the statement says. “The safety and security of America’s nuclear weapons must receive the highest priority, just as it must in other countries. The Secretary took appropriate action following the reports of the Defense Science Board, the Air Force’s own internal review, and now most recently, the report of Admiral Donald.” Wynne became Air Force secretary in November 2005, and Moseley took office in September 2005. Moseley’s term was to expire in September 2009, and Wynne served at the pleasure of the president.

Moseley, a former fighter pilot, has been in the Air Force since 1972. Before becoming chief, he served as commander of U.S. Central Command Air Forces and then as vice chief of staff from August 2003 until September 2005.

Wynne served as an Air Force officer from 1966 until 1973 and then began a nearly 30-year career in the aerospace industry. He rose to become president of General Dynamics’ space division and general manager of space launch systems at Lockheed Martin. He re-entered government service in 2001 and served four years as principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics before becoming Air Force secretary.

While the simultaneous removal of a service’s top civilian and uniformed leaders is unprecedented, there has been speculation for months among defense insiders that Moseley, Wynne or both could be in trouble.

The Air Force has been rocked by a series of missteps during the past year, and Moseley and Wynne’s relationships with Gates, England and members of congressional defense committees have steadily eroded.

Both men are well-liked personally, but that apparently was not enough to make up for a perceived lack of leadership.

Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute in Fairfax, Va., said the writing has been on the wall for several months, and that Moseley’s demeanor has changed noticeably during that time.

“It was clear the relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force was deteriorating,” Thompson said. “But it wasn’t clear what that would mean for Air Force leadership. … “This [is] the final chapter in a long list of grievances between OSD and the Air Force.”

Those grievances include criticism of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling, two major acquisitions programs that have been stalled by protests, the service’s inability to rush more surveillance drones to the war zones, apparent conflicts of interest of current and retired senior officials related to a $50 million contract to produce a multimedia show for the Thunderbirds, and repeated clashes with Pentagon leaders over the number of F-22s the Air Force will buy and other budget issues.

The most serious blow to the credibility of the Air Force and its leadership has been a scandal spawned by the service’s accidental transfer in August of six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

A B-52 from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot was supposed to transfer unarmed air-launched cruise missiles to Barksdale to be decommissioned, but munitions loaders accidentally attached nuclear-armed missiles to the pylons. The missiles were flown to Barksdale and sat unguarded on the tarmac for several hours before anyone realized what happened, some 30 hours after the mistake was made.

The 5th Bomb Wing commander, two group commanders and the 5th Munitions Squadron commander were relieved of their commands.

Moseley ordered a service-wide review of the nuclear enterprise two months after the incident, resulting in 36 recommendations for improvements. The review report was presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee, members of which were highly critical of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling.

The 5th Bomb Wing in late May failed its defense nuclear surety inspection, despite having months to prepare and being under close scrutiny since the incident. Inspectors found glaring deficiencies in the wing’s ability to protect its nuclear stockpile.

Then, in March, it was discovered that the Air Force had mislabeled nuclear warhead fuses, which led to the classified components accidentally being shipped to Taiwan in 2006. Gates said the incident made him realize that problems with the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling procedures were systemic rather than isolated.

“The Taiwan incident was clearly the trigger,” he said.

In response, Gates ordered a military-wide inventory of nuclear weapons and components. That report was recently submitted to Gates.

It is believed to contain damning conclusions about the Air Force’s nuclear weapons handling practices.

Without naming Wynne and Moseley, Gates said “individuals in command and leadership positions not only fell short in terms of specific actions, they failed to recognize systemic problems, to address those problems, or – where beyond their authority to act – to call the attention of superiors to those problems.”

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., the chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, said he agreed with Gates’ decision to relieve Wynne and Moseley in the wake of the nuclear problems.

“There is nothing more important than the security of nuclear weapons, and it appeared that the Air Force investigation was not thorough,” Murtha said.

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DoD backs automatic TSP enrollments


By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jun 8, 2008 9:45:38 EDT

The Pentagon supports proposed changes to the government’s Thrift Savings Plan that would automatically sign up troops and offer an investment option that provides tax-free earnings at retirement, if draft legislation now being considered makes it into law.

The idea behind automatic sign-ups is simple. “The consensus within the financial community is that you should be investing for your retirement,” said Army Maj. John Johnson, director of the Pentagon’s Armed Forces Tax Council. “And a big reason why a lot of people don’t is inertia. They just don’t take that action.”

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, which oversees the TSP program, shares that view. “Automatic enrollment [is] a good way to make inertia work in favor of participation,” said Tom Trabucco, the board’s legislative director.

Under the proposal, troops who are automatically enrolled could opt out of TSP if they desired.

If lawmakers approve, the proposal to add a Roth IRA option to the TSP would be a boon to many combat troops who do not pay taxes on earnings or bonuses received in the war zones.

Normally, contributions to Roth accounts are made in after-tax dollars, which reduces take-home pay but allows participants to withdraw the principal and interest tax-free at retirement.

In a normal IRA or 401(k), participants contribute pre-tax dollars — meaning their take-home pay is higher because a lower amount is taxed — but the money is taxed when withdrawn at retirement.

With a Roth IRA, troops who re-enlist in the war zone and get a tax-free bonus could contribute thousands of tax-free dollars into Roth IRA accounts and never have to pay tax on the earnings.

“That’s the biggest reason we support the Roth,” Johnson said. “The benefits will be greatest for deployed members in combat zones, and junior troops.”

Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs have advantages, Johnson said. Money contributed to a traditional IRA, for example, can be claimed as a tax deduction.

To figure out which choice makes sense, investors have to look ahead and try to determine whether they’ll be in a lower tax bracket now, or later.

For anyone in a zero-percent tax bracket — such as troops in a combat zone — “it’s a no-brainer,” Johnson said. “They obviously should be doing Roth. And a lot of military people are in a zero tax bracket. I mean, most military members deployed pay no taxes. So it’s a huge benefit.”

But those in higher brackets may also benefit. In the course of providing financial advice, said Phil Dyer, deputy director for financial education for the Military Officers Association of America, “I routinely find military retirees who are in a higher tax bracket in retirement than they ever were during any of their active-duty years or even second-career years.

“If they’ve done a good job saving, they’ve got their military retired pay, they’ve got Social Security ... they’ve got a lot of money in 401(k) plans,” he said.

At that point, withdrawn traditional TSP earnings, which are taxable, are “just going to increase the tax burden,” he said. “And so that’s where Roth, I think, offers another benefit.”

But Dyer added a cautionary note: “We have no idea what taxes are going to look like 25, 30 years from now,” he said.

Most war-zone troops in the TSP program can invest their tax-exempt pay in the TSP, up to annual limits — although under the current options offered, the interest would still be subject to taxation on withdrawals.

“If somebody’s in the combat zone and contributing to TSP, there actually is a de facto Roth that’s created because when that money comes in, if they’re in a combat zone, they’re tax-free up to the maximum enlisted pay rate,” Dyer said. “If they’re contributing to TSP, that money’s going to be segregated ... into a parallel TSP account to maintain that tax-free status” on the contributions.

Again, interest earned on those tax-free contributions would be taxed upon withdrawal.

While a tax-free Roth would be most beneficial for TSP participants in a war zone, Dyer said, it would be a potentially boon for nondeployed troops as well, even though they would be investing after-tax dollars.

“It goes into the account, grows tax-deferred ... and then when the money comes out, provided it’s a qualified distribution on the back end, the money’s going to come out free from federal and state income taxes.

“With 15-, 20-, 30-plus years of compounding, it’s a huge advantage,” Dyer said.

Senior Pentagon officials agree.

“If given that option, we are confident that the Department of Defense would implement default auto-enrollment into Roth TSP accounts,” David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, wrote in a May 20 letter to the TSP board.

But Chu said that while the Pentagon favors the idea of automatic enrollment, he believes each agency head should be granted discretion on whether to implement it.

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Air Force Recruiting Service welcomes new commander
AFRS' new commander
Brig. Gen. Alfred J. Stewart, right, accepts the Air Force Recruiting Service guidon and AFRS command from Gen. William R. Looney III, Air Education and Training Command commander, during a change of command ceremony June 2 on Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. As AFRS commander, General Stewart is responsible for accessing qualified men and women to meet the personnel procurement requirements of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Rich McFadden)

by Lt. Col. Sean McKenna
Air Force Recruiting Service


6/2/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Brig. Gen. Alfred J. Stewart assumed command of Air Force Recruiting Service during a ceremony here today.

Brig. Gen. Stewart succeeds Brig. Gen. Suzanne M. Vautrinot who moves on to become the deputy commander of the Joint Functional Component Command - Network Warfare, U.S. Strategic Command, at Ft. George G. Meade, Md.

As AFRS commander, General Stewart is responsible for nearly 2,850 people in more than 1,390 recruiting offices across the United States and overseas. The Air Force has met its recruiting goal each of the last eight years and is on course to meet its fiscal year 2008 enlisted accessions goal of 27,800 airmen. He is the Air Force's 19th recruiting commander since the unit's inception in 1947.

The general's earlier years in his career as a KC-135 copilot from 1982-1984 at Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, helped shaped his philosophy.

"(Strategic Air Command) was a 'no excuses' command, and this prepared me for recruiting," he said. "Put your boom down, ready to refuel, period. The bombers will put their bombs on target, and we will win this war. That experience is what shaped me."

Referring to his numerous stateside and overseas assignments, and deployments in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, the general said he understands the critical need to find the right people, with the right skills at the right time to sustain the combat capability of America's Air Force.

"I have seen the Air Force in action and on every assignment there is one thing in common - amazing Airmen - and recruiting service put those Airmen on our team," General Stewart said. "The only guarantee we have for our continued dominance is the next generation of American Airmen ... I know there are candidates out there looking for a challenge - something special to be a part of. Once they've heard about us - who we are, what we do and why we it and how important we are to the nation - they'll realize we're the opportunity they've been looking for."

General Stewart most recently was commander of the 21st Expeditionary Mobility Task Force at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., where he led the efforts of one of Air Mobility Command's two contingency response wings and air mobility operations groups, and their subordinate units, providing worldwide expeditionary mobility support. A 1981 Air Force Academy graduate, he is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours in the KC-135A, KC-135R, T-1 and C-17 aircraft.

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TRICARE Beneficiaries About to be Turned Away?

Barring congressional action, the Medicare payment rate to physicians will be reduced by 10.6% in July of 2008. This directly affects TRICARE beneficiaries because TRICARE payment rate is based upon Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) update formula. This means that doctors will be forced to accept less money for medical procedures. In the past these reductions have caused doctors to turn away TRICARE patients and will likely do so again if the reduced payment rates are not blocked.

This issue will adversely affect survivors, retirees, members of the active-duty, Guard and reserve and their families, especially those living far from military installations. There are already some doctors in remote areas who refuse to see new TRICARE patients. Without congressional action to ensure these cuts don't take effect, more doctors may chose to turn TRICARE beneficiaries away.

How do you feel about this action? Let your public officials know how you feel!

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Absentee Voting Kicks Off

The Department of Defense (DoD) designated several absentee voting events throughout the year: (1) Overseas Citizens Voters Week, June 28 -- July 7, 2008; (2) Armed Forces Voters Week Aug. 31 -- Sept. 7; and Absentee Voting Week Oct. 12 --18. During these weeks, voting assistance officers will facilitate voter registration drives, distribute forms and provide servicemembers and their families with important absentee voting information. For more information on voting, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website and at the Army Voting Assistance Program website. Voters can receive additional assistance by calling 1-800-438-VOTE (8683), DSN 425-1584, commercial (703) 325-4530, or DSN 221-4530.

Read more election and voter information, visit the 2008 Election Center on Military.com.

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2009 Pay Raise Passes House

The House Armed Services Committee approved H.R. 5658, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009. H.R. 5658 authorizes $531.4 billion in budget authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the national security programs of the Department of Energy (DoE). The bill also authorizes a 3.9 percent pay military pay raise in addition to $70 billion to support ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal year 2009. A detailed summary of H.R. 5658 as reported by the House Armed Services Committee is available.

How do you feel about this action? Let your public officials know how you feel!

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New Spouse Financial Spouse Guide

Pioneer Financial Services, Inc., a division of MidCountry Bank, produced a guide to help families cope with the financial stresses of military life. The "Military Spouse Finance Guide: Financial Advice for the Homefront" is a reference guide on the fundamentals of personal financial management. Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) Family Programs has a limited number of copies to give to military family members at no cost. To request a copy, contact AUSA Family Programs by e-mail at familyprograms@ausa.org or by telephone at 703-841-4300, ext. 151. Chapter Seven of the Military Spouse Financial Guide can be downloaded from the Pioneer Financial Services website.

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Committee Approves National Parks Discount

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved legislation that would allow veterans to purchase a special, discount pass to see America's national parks. The Veterans Eagle Parks Pass Act (S.617) would establish a new $10 "Eagle Pass" that would allow former servicemembers to visit all national parks for a full year. The bill was amended by the committee to also allow active duty, reserve and guard members to be eligible for the pass.

How do you feel about this action? Let your public officials know how you feel!

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AF Marathon Set for September

The U.S. Air Force Marathon will be held Sept. 20, 2008 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Officials hope to make the Twelfth Annual Air Force Marathon the biggest year yet and plan to sign up 10,000 runners for the event. Marathon events will include the 26.2 mile marathon, a 13.1 mile half-marathon, a 10K individual and four-person team race and a family-friendly 5K race. The Air Force Marathon is open to the general public, all military members, family members, and civil service employees. Those who wish to participate or volunteer can register on the U.S. Air Force Marathon website.

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Servicemembers Ask Obama, Clinton & McCain Questions

Military.com and the American Legion have partnered together to offer Servicemembers and their families the chance to ask Obama, Clinton & McCain questions that matter most to you. Visit http://election.military.com/ to upload a video of your question. It's simple and you can even use a webcam to record your question now. The top 12 questions will be answered by all 3 candidates. Upload a video now or check out what others have asked.

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Compare 2009 Pay Charts

Earlier this year the Pentagon requested a 3.4 percent, across-the-board, military pay raise for 2009. Not to be out done, both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees have proposed and additional 0.5 percent increase, taking the 2009 military pay raise to 3.9 percent. Take a look and compare the two to see how the 2009 military pay raise will affect your bottom line.

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Better Pay and Benefits for '09
Tom Philpott | May 15, 2008

Better Health Benefits, Bigger Raises Voted For '09

Active duty and reserve component members can bank on a 3.9 percent pay raise next January as Congress continues to close a perceived military "pay gap" that a Pentagon pay study says no longer exists.

The House Armed Services Committee on May 14 joined Senate colleagues in approving, for a 10th consecutive year, a military pay increase that will exceed private sector wage growth by a half of a percentage point.

Both the House and Senate panels also agreed to block the Bush administration, for a third straight year, from raising TRICARE fees for working-age retirees or pharmacy co-pays under TRICARE's retail network.

Both panels also have directed the Department of Defense to lower premiums paid by drilling reservists and their families who enroll in the TRICARE Reserve Select program. TRS premiums by law are to be set only high enough to cover program costs. The Government Accountability Office recently found that Defense officials had set them too high. Premiums could drop for member-only coverage from $81 a month down to about $47 and for member-and-family coverage from $253 monthly down to about $175.

Another set of health care initiatives, approved so far only in House committee version of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill, would add "preventive" health care incentives. Co-pays would be waived or rebates given, for example, to patients who get routine health screen appropriate for their age and gender such as colorectal exams, mammograms, cervical screening, prostate exams, annual physicals or vaccinations.

Only TRICARE Prime patients receiving managed care through military treatment facilities now receive such services with no co-payments or cost-shares. The House bill also would waive costs for smoking cessation programs, and would establish a pilot program to pay a preventive health allowance, of $1000 to a family or $500 to a member, to beneficiaries who keep up on recommended health screens and maintain healthy lifestyles. 

Blocking the higher TRICARE fees sought by the president required lawmakers to find $1.2 billion to plug a hole in the military health budget, the House committee reported. But $345 million of that money, to prevent a jump in drug co-payments, required offsets of "direct spending" on other entitlements payable in fiscal 2009. Under the House committee plan, $45 million of that would come out of the pockets of military retirees by denying them one percent of their next cost-of-living adjustment for one month.

Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.), senior Republican on the personnel subcommittee, branded this part of the solution for sidelining Bush's drug co-payments a regrettable budget "gimmick."  McHugh vowed to find a more acceptable alternative to propose as the bill is debated on the House floor.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), chairman of the personnel subcommittee, shrugged off McHugh's criticism, saying difficult choices had to be made. The committee succeeded in backing significant pay and benefits gains, she said, despite the $1.2 billion hole left by a Republican administration in the defense health budget and the funds needed to boost the next pay raise beyond 3.4 percent endorsed by the White House, thus whittling a perceived basic pay gap down to 2.9 percent.

The House committee surpassed Senate colleagues on this issue too, accepting an amendment from Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.) to extend the string of above-average military raises through 2013. Even if the full House agrees, this change still would need to win Senate approval to become law.

Ignored by both committees in shaping the 2009 military pay raise was a conclusion made two months ago by the 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation that a military pay gap no longer exists if hefty increases in tax-free housing allowances over the last decade are counted.

But in an election year, with 150,000 U.S. troops still rotating through the unpopular Iraq war, lawmakers choose to ignore the findings of the 10th QRMC. One committee staff members called the report "persuasive" in describing how a large pay gap identified in 1999 not only has been closed but, when total compensation is considered, military pay might now exceed average wages for civilians of comparable age and education by 6.5 percent.

But this same staff member said he never heard the QRMC report even discussed by committee members since its release.

"We're in wartime, we're stressing our troops and [lawmakers] are going to take every opportunity to show their appreciation," he said.

Across the Capitol, in the others armed services committee, a staff member said his bosses aren't "ignorant" of the QRMC perspective. But for now they will continue to compare growth in basic pay that of private sector wages, ignoring gains over the years in housing allowances.

"Is it a perfect measure?  Slap my forehead, 'No.'…But their measure isn't perfect either," he said.  "What we're trying to do here is grasp relative comparability between two very diverse and different systems."

He dismissed the QRMC argument that because housing is a big expense for most Americans, therefore gains in military housing allowances are critical to assessing whether there's a pay gap.

 "The civilian world lives within their culture; we live within a military culture. The military culture is you get your housing," this committee staffer said, whether that housing is provided at no charge on base or through provision of tax-free allowances to be able to rent housing off base.

Besides, he added, the volunteer military is striving to keep its ranks full during a "very, very difficult period" and pay levels are a critical element.

This is no time, he suggested, to declare the pay gap closed and to try to introduce troops to a new method for tracking pay comparability

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Spouse Career Advancement Gets Better

WASHINGTON - Career and training opportunities for military spouses just got better, as the Defense and Labor departments' career advancement demonstration project has been expanded to include all active-duty military spouses, along with four additional career fields.

"In the first days of the demonstration project, we began hearing from spouses who, based on the ranks of their spouses, were ineligible," said Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy. "They explained quite articulately that all spouses have an overwhelming need for the program."

The career advancement demonstration project, announced in November, helps military spouses at 18 installations in eight states get the education and other credentials needed to pursue careers in high-demand, high-growth occupations.

The expansion, made in late April, came at the right time for Sonya Martinez, 36. When she and her husband, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Donovan Martinez, were married 16 and a half years ago, she was a student with an interest in a career in bio-chemical research. She knew she needed a transportable career and focused on clinical lab work. It's been a career path she said she's enjoyed.

Today, she's enrolled in the rigorous clinical lab scientist training program, and she's within one year of receiving her license as a clinical lab scientist. While pursuing this credential, she also works full time as a clinical lab specialist, where she performs laboratory work to identify, diagnose and treat diseases.

Last month, she said, a Navy wife told her about the career advancement opportunity; she checked into the program and was accepted right away.

Participating in the program will be a tremendous step toward her career goal, she noted, as the licensure will allow her to specialize in blood banking for critically ill children and supervise the lab.

Because education always has been a priority for them, she and her husband put many other desires on hold, she said. The career advancement account and the financial assistance it offers has given them valuable stability and will enable them to fulfill another long-standing wish.

"They made it possible for us to buy a house and go to school at the same time," she said.

Ms. Arsht said most military spouses -- 87 percent according to recent surveys -- would like to further their education and develop a portable career, but see the cost of education as a roadblock to further education or training.

This was true for Tangeray Mayhorn, 27, of Fort Carson, Colo. She has one year left in social work studies and is preparing for a career in hospital social work. Her husband, Glenn, is an Army staff sergeant.

"I've always wanted to be a hospital social worker, but didn't know how I was going to make this last year money-wise," Mrs. Mayhorn said. "I heard about the program from a friend and applied right away. I was approved on the spot."

Mrs. Mayhorn will attend courses this summer and in the fall. She said the financial support for books and tuition will go a long way. She encourages other military spouses to look into career development options.

"Your career can travel with you and will relieve the stress that comes with a move," she said. "You won't have to worry about what your next job will be."

Micaela Ayala, 33, at Fort Lewis, Wash., agrees. Her husband, Army Spc. Edgar Ayala, enlisted in the last year. At the time, she said, she didn't realize it would mean a positive career move for her, too. She said she's always wanted to work in the field of medicine, but for financial reasons it was never an option before.

"We just couldn't afford it," Mrs. Ayala said. "There's just no way I'd be able to go to school. I'm really grateful for this opportunity."

Now, she's enrolled in a certified nursing program and is excited about the upcoming coursework. She started a phlebotomy course last week.

All three spouses say enrolling in the program was much easier than they expected.

"I heard about the program on the news and went to the joint briefing to get more information," Mrs. Ayala said. "I talked to a counselor, set an appointment and then completed the paperwork. The whole process was really quite smooth."

The career advancement demonstration project is available to spouses at military installations in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, North Carolina and Washington. Military spouses can receive grants of up to $6,000 for education, training and licenses or credentials costs over a two-year period. The grants cover the costs for tuition, fees, books, equipment, and credentialing and licensing fees.

In addition to careers in education, health care, information technology, construction trades, financial services, the demonstration project now includes specific in-demand occupations within human resources, business and management, hospitality management and homeland security.

Since the program began in January, more than 1,000 military spouses have enrolled in career development programs. Ms. Arsht said she wants to be sure that other military spouses are aware of, and are able to use, this new resource.

"Military spouses are a large, untapped talent pool. They are motivated, dedicated and high-energy, just what the work force needs," she said. "Their career aspirations, too often, are put on hold because the military lifestyle simply gets in the way. We want to change that. These education and training opportunities are a strong step in the right direction."

To be eligible for the program, the military spouse's sponsor must be on active duty and have at least one year remaining at his or her current duty station. The spouse must have a high school diploma, GED or some post-secondary education. Training must be completed within two years and lead to a license, certificate or degree. Prerequisites and remedial coursework also can be included.

The career advancement demonstration project is available at the following installations:

-- In California: San Diego Metro and Camp Pendleton;

-- In Colorado: Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base;

-- In Florida: Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Eglin AFB, and Hurlburt Field;

-- In Georgia: Fort Benning;

-- In Hawaii: Hickam AFB, Naval Base Pearl Harbor, Schofield Barracks, and U.S. Marine Corps Base Hawaii;

-- In Maine: Naval Air Station Brunswick;

-- In North Carolina: Fort Bragg and Pope AFB; and

-- In Washington: Fort Lewis, McChord AFB, and Naval Station Kitsap

© Copyright 2008 Air Force Print News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Discount on Child Alert System

Military families can receive 50 percent off their membership to National Child Alert System, a system designed to reduce the amount of time that a missing child is away from home. To take advantage of the discount, visit the Child Alert System website. Enter the code AUSA50 during the registration process. The National Child Alert System is the only fully parent-controlled national child alert system available today and is designed to help parents find their child.

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House Panel Backs 3.9 Percent Pay Raise
Stars and Stripes | Leo Shane III | May 08, 2008

WASHINGTON -- A House panel Wednesday backed a 3.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel next year, mirroring Senate plans to give troops a bigger boost than Pentagon officials had requested.

Members of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee included the money in their draft of the new defense authorization bill, which sets spending and policy priorities for the military in fiscal 2009.

Chairwoman Susan Davis, D-Calif., said the larger pay raise is needed to help shrink the gap between military wages and private sector paychecks.

If passed, the pay raise would be the highest for troops since 2004 and the 10th consecutive year military pay has outpaced the employment cost index.

Defense officials had requested a 3.4 percent increase, equal to the index's inflation estimate. But earlier this month Senate lawmakers backed the 3.9 percent figure, indicating that both chambers will likely adopt the higher raise when they negotiate compromise legislation later this year.

For an E-4 with four years' military service, the Senate plan would mean an increase of $79.86 a month, about $10 more than the Pentagon plan. For an O-4 with four years, it would be $189.25 a month, about $24 more than the Pentagon plan.

The House panel also announced plans to eliminate co-pays for preventive care procedures such as cancer screenings and cholesterol tests in an effort to encourage more Tricare patients to seek medical advice before serious problems occur.

Davis said the plan covers all beneficiaries except those enrolled in Tricare for Life. She said lawmakers were unable to find enough money to extend the same coverage to that group along with other Tricare members.

It also includes a pilot program for military spouses to receive job training in "portable" careers as they move from base to base, and another to allow servicemembers a temporary gap in service to pursue family or education goals before completing their tours of duty.

But the draft excludes nearly $1.2 billion in pharmacy and doctors' fees backed by defense officials to cover the rising cost of health care. Lawmakers have rebuffed those efforts in recent years, saying military retirees shouldn't bear the brunt of those expenses.

The authorization bill does not set pay raises for civilian defense employees, but Congress often uses the military paycheck boosts as the basis for the civilian raises in later budget bills.

If passed, the raise would go into effect Jan. 1.

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Preventive care plan omits Tricare for Life


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday May 8, 2008 8:54:08 EDT 

Budgetary rules forced a House subcommittee to take the unprecedented step of creating a new Tricare preventive health care program that does not apply to 1.5 million for Medicare-eligible retirees and their families in the Tricare for Life program.

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Armed Services military personnel panel, said the plan, approved Wednesday as part of the 2009 defense authorization bill, is aimed at cutting the military’s long-term health care costs by providing preventive care.

The personnel portion of the defense policy bill, approved by voice vote and with no debate, includes:

* A 3.9 percent military pay raise.

* Increases in Army and Marine Corps active-duty personnel and in Army National Guard and Army Reserve support personnel on full-time active duty.

* A tuition assistance program for military spouses.

* Permission for a Pentagon-proposed experiment under which active-duty members could take a break of up to three years in their military career.

The full armed services committee will take up the bill next week.

Davis said her subcommittee rejected a Pentagon request for a $1.2 billion increase in Tricare health and pharmacy fees but wants to look for other ways to hold down costs, which is why expanding preventive care is attractive.

“Preventive health care is important to the long-term health of our beneficiary population, and may reduce the amount of care required,” Davis said.

She called the initiative “preferable” to the Pentagon’s proposed increase in Tricare fees.

The preventive care plan would waive co-payments for certain treatments such as vaccinations, smoking cessation help, and breast and colorectal cancer screening. It would apply to Tricare Standard, Tricare Select and Tricare Reserve beneficiaries — but, because of budgetary procedures, not Tricare for Life.

Aides named two areas in which Tricare for Life beneficiaries would be treated differently than other Tricare users: shingle vaccinations and MRIs for mammograms.

Younger retirees would receive these services for free, but Tricare for Life users would have to pay, either directly or by buying supplemental Medicare insurance, aides said.

Rep. John McHugh of New York, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said this would be the first instance of differences in what is covered under Tricare, and also promised to work to try to find funding to offset that action.

There are two kinds of spending in the defense budget: discretionary, which applies to personnel, operating and acquisitions costs and construction programs; and mandatory, also known as direct spending, for programs such as retired pay, GI Bill benefits for reservists, and some health care expenses, including Tricare for Life.

Davis said only congressional leaders can resolve the funding problem because direct spending involves programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and federal civilian retired pay that fall outside the jurisdiction of the armed services committee.

Congressional leaders could agree to an offset by cutting other direct spending or could find another way to fund preventive care, subcommittee aides said.

Steve Strobridge, government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America, said he understands the dilemma facing the subcommittee and agrees that what they did “is certainly preferable to not doing anything.”

“We have been very supportive of preventive care programs,” he said. “It only makes common sense that if you come up with programs like smoking cessation that it is going to save money in the long run.”

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Bush, Gates Honor Military Spouses

WASHINGTON - President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates paid tribute May 6 to about 1,100 military spouses who gathered for a Military Spouse Day celebration at the White House, where President Bush promised to continue pushing for more benefits for military families.

Following a tradition President Ronald Reagan established when he declared the first Military Spouses Day in 1984, Bush said he believes "we need to recognize military spouses every day."

"One way we can repay the service of our spouses is by making the burdens of military life a little easier," he told the group, who enjoyed breakfast at red-and-white-checkered tables dotting the White House's South Lawn.

President Bush noted that he signed a change to the Family and Medical Leave Act into law this year, drawing applause from the group. The law allows a spouse, parent, child or next of kin to take up to 26 weeks of leave from work to care for a seriously injured or ill servicemember undergoing therapy or treatment.

Referring to last week's revelations of poor housing conditions at Fort Bragg, N.C., President Bush promised to do better.

"When we find substandard housing, we'll take care of it," he told the spouses.

President Bush said he's hoping Congress moves quickly to pass legislation he sent to Capitol Hill to ease some of the burdens military families face. These initiatives, announced during his State of the Union address in January, would expand access to child care, create new authorities to appoint qualified spouses into civil service jobs and provide educational opportunities and job training for our military spouses.

But the initiative that drew the most cheers from the crowd would amend the Montgomery GI Bill to allow troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children.

"This legislation is moving. I hope to be able to sign it as quickly as possible," the president told the spouses. "It is the absolute right thing to do. It should send a clear message that we care for you, we respect you and we love you."

President Bush thanked military spouses who stand behind their loved ones serving the country during wartime.

"Whether you signed up for military life at the recruiting station or at the altar rail, each person -- each person's a volunteer," he said. "And when you married your Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman, you became more than just part of a family. You became part of our nation's military family."

The life of a military family is no easy calling, the president said. It involves frequent moves, living far from extended families and saying goodbye to a spouse who goes off to serve on the front lines in the battle to secure the United States and spread freedom.

"Being left behind when a loved one goes to war has got to be one of the hardest jobs in the United States military," President Bush said, noting the challenges of holding down the home front while praying for a loved one's safe return.

"In carrying out the burdens, you're serving our country and it's noble service, and it's necessary service," he said. "The United States of America owes you a huge debt of gratitude. And so, on behalf of our people, thank you for what you're doing."

President Bush said he's impressed during his visits to military bases to see how military families take care of each other.

"What I found is that there's always a close-knit community, people who are sharing a special bond and people who take time to look out after people," he said. "It's been an amazing experience to see the fabric of our military communities firsthand."

Secretary Gates said he makes it a point during his visits to military facilities to meet with families of deployed troops, most recently last week at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"I'm always tremendously impressed by your sacrifice, resilience and fortitude," he said.

The secretary said he first heard of the idea of expanding the Montgomery GI Bill to benefit military families while meeting with Army spouses at Fort Hood, Texas, and that President Bush quickly announced the proposal.

"That's how much we respect what you have to say," Secretary Gates told the group. He praised military families as the "power behind the power" who serve along with their loved ones and help them be successful.

"While our men and women in uniform may be called to pay the highest price, their families, and particularly their spouses, make a considerable sacrifice as well," he told the group. "Thank you for all you do to make their service possible."

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AF Spouses Encouraged to Take Survey

The Air Force Biennial Community Assessment Survey continues online through June 30, 2008. All spouses of Air Force active-duty members are eligible to take the survey and are encouraged to do so online at the 2008 Air Force Community Assessment webpage. Spouses must use the access code SpouseAFCA to sign on. Survey results will be reported in October 2008.

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Navy Announces New Recruiting Program

The U.S. Navy and NASCAR' five-time most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced the formation of the Dale Jr. Division, an 88-person boot camp division at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill. Potential Sailors will be able to start signing up for the division May 24, 2008 at their local recruiting station. Recruits who sign up for the Dale Jr. Division will ship to Recruit Training Command in late August 2008, and the division will be commissioned by Earnhardt Jr. after initial in-processing. The division is open to enlisted men and women interested in any of the 60 career fields the Navy has to offer. Contact a Navy Recruiter for more information.

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Free Amusement Park Admission

Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks are offering complimentary admission to active-duty military representing all five services, active members of a reserve or National Guard unit, and/or up to three direct dependents. The offer is valid for one complimentary, single-day admission per person, per year, to one of the following Anheuser-Busch Adventure Parks:  SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego, or San Antonio, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or Williamsburg, Sesame Place, Adventure Island and Water Country USA. For information on how to apply for the complimentary tickets, visit the Here's to the Heroes website.

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Senate Seeks Additional Boost to Military Pay
Stars and Stripes | April 30, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Senate lawmakers on Thursday backed a higher-than-requested 3.9 percent pay raise for all military personnel in their first draft of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill.

Lawmakers said the 3.9 percent pay raise, 0.5 percent above what defense officials requested, is designed to further close the gap between military and civilian pay.

If passed, the pay raise would be the highest for troops since 2004.

For an E-4 with four years military service, the Senate plan would mean an increase of $79.86 a month, about $10 more than the Pentagon plan. For an O-4

All military pay information can be found in Military.com's Pay Section

with four years, it would be $189.25 a month, about $24 more monthly.

The proposal released by the Senate Armed Service Committee has a $542.5 billion base budget, $27 billion above what Pentagon planners requested for fiscal 2009. It also contains an additional $70 billion in bridge funds to continue combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan past October.

Along with funding for ships and aircraft, the legislation contains a number of policy priorities for 2009, including the creation of new suicide prevention programs, increasing the maximum re-enlistment contract from six to eight years, and allowing 21 days of paternity leave for new fathers.

The bill also reauthorizes 25 bonuses and specialty pays used for recruiting and retention, and adds new incentives to entice medical professionals into the ranks.

Senators also included a provision to provide a 500-pound weight allowance during permanent change of station moves for military spouses’ professional books and equipment, and language providing travel money to reservists called to active duty who get stuck away from home over holidays.

Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he hopes the bill will come up for vote before the full Senate by Memorial Day. The House Armed Services Committee will begin its mark-up of the authorization bill next week.

Both the House and Senate must pass their separate versions of the budget bill before sending a compromise measure to the president later this year.

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Send Your Name to the Moon!

WASHINGTON - NASA invites people of all ages to join the lunar exploration journey with an opportunity to send their names to the moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, spacecraft.   The LRO is scheduled for launch in late 2008.

The Send Your Name to the Moon Web site enables everyone to participate in the lunar adventure and place his or her name in orbit around the moon for years to come.

Participants can submit their information, print a certificate and have their name entered into a database. The database will be placed on a microchip that will be integrated onto the spacecraft. The deadline for submitting names is June 27, 2008.

"Everyone who sends their name to the moon, like I'm doing, becomes part of the next wave of lunar explorers," said Cathy Peddie, deputy project manager for LRO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The LRO mission is the first step in NASA's plans to return humans to the moon by 2020, and your name can reach there first. How cool is that?"

The orbiter, comprising six instruments and one technology demonstration, will provide the most comprehensive data set ever returned from the moon. The mission will focus on the selection of safe landing sites and identification of lunar resources. It also will study how the lunar radiation environment could affect humans.

LRO also will create a comprehensive atlas of the moon's features and resources that will be needed as NASA designs and builds a planned lunar outpost. The mission will support future human exploration while providing a foundation for upcoming science missions. 

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is being built at Goddard. The mission also will be managed at the center for NASA's Explorations Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.

If you are interested in doing so, you can use the following link:

Send My Name To The MOON!

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Financial counselor training open to spouses


By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Apr 27, 2008 8:54:43 EDT 

The deadline for this year’s military spouse fellowship program, which will provide up to 200 spouses the education necessary to enter the financial counseling career field, is fast approaching.

Applications are accepted online only through midnight April 30.

This is the third year of the Military Spouse Fellowship for the Accredited Financial Counselor Program, designed to help military spouses interested in building a career in financial counseling — a job that can be both rewarding and flexible enough to accommodate the demands of military life.

It is a joint effort between the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation, which provides the funding for the program, the National Military Family Association, and the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE).

The fellowships cover the costs of completing the Associated Financial Counselor training and testing. When spouses finish the program and the required practicum, they will be awarded the Accredited Financial counselor designation from AFCPE, which provides the training through a distance-learning program.

Spouses are encouraged to do their practicum in the military community, because the program is designed to give back to the military community. But it is not required; the sponsoring organizations understand that many spouses do not live near an installation. The majority of the practicum should be spent providing supervised personal financial counseling or education.

There is an increasing need for financial counseling services. A variety of employers — including credit unions and banks, military family centers, community housing agencies, cooperative extension services, and bankruptcy courts — are searching for well-trained, ethical and caring financial counselors.

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Military Spouse Career Program Expands

Due to more than anticipated demand for a popular government assistance program for career-minded military spouses, Department of Labor and Pentagon officials have expanded the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account pilot program to better meet the needs of a wider range of job seekers.

Now spouses of service members in all pay grades can receive job training assistance.  The revised program also includes cash for remedial training, licensing courses, and expands the number of career fields targeted for spouse employment.

The CAA program, launched in November 2007, helps military spouses obtain certification and credentials in high demand, high-growth, portable careers. The program provides flexible education funding accounts that pay up to $3,000 a year for tuition, fees, books, equipment, credentialing and licensing fees.

Learn more about this program for military spouses

The original plan targeted military spouses of active-duty troops in grades E-1 through E-5 and O-1 through O-3 who had a GED, high-school diploma or some post-secondary education. Since January 2008 more than 900 spouses have entered education and training programs through the CAA program.

According to the Department of Labor, military spouses suffer an unemployment rate that is three times that of their civilian counterparts.  Nearly 77 percent of them report they need work. The frequent moves required by the military often make it difficult or even cost-prohibitive for spouses to establish long-term careers or to meet state credentialing and licensing requirements.

Almost 75 percent of military spouses say the cost of continuing their education is more than they can afford, according to the Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs.

With so many qualified spouses clamoring for benefits, officials recently expanded the program to include military spouses in all pay grades. In addition, the program now covers renewing credentials – such as nursing and teaching certificates -- which may be required when spouses relocate. And spouses can now use the program for required pre-requisite and remedial courses. 

"Because of the early success of the program, and because of other employment needs across the nation, it was expanded to include additional career areas and to all ranks at each of the program's pilot locations." noted Gary Woods, head of the department responsible for DoD education, transition assistance and certain family and quality of life programs.

The assistance cash can be used to pay up to $3,000 in fees for one year, and may be renewed for one additional year for up to $6,000 per spouse. The high-growth, high-demand occupations targeted by the program include information technology, education, health services, financial services and construction trades. In addition to expanding eligibility to include all active-duty spouses, the program now covers an additional four career fields, including human resources, business management, hospitality management and homeland security.

The $35 million joint-agency program is currently available in eight states, including California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington targeting 18 military installations.

Installation Voluntary Education Centers and One-Stop Career Centers will collaborate to provide career counseling, guidance and assessments to support military spouse career and education choices. In addition, Military OneSource has set up a call center to support online and telephonic educational and career counseling to augment services at the local installations. Counseling includes referrals to services that help military spouses successfully achieve the education and credentials they need to obtain and retain portable careers in high-growth, high-demand occupations.

“This just further emphasizes the government's focus on the educational and career needs of our military spouses,” Woods said.

For more info on this topic:
Military Spouse Career Center

Related links at Military.com:
Military Spouse Network
Spouse Buzz

Going back to school?

© Copyright 2008 Military.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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States aim to ease transfers for military kids


By John Milburn - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Apr 15, 2008 6:55:09 EDT

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas and Kentucky are the first states to approve a compact that will make it easier for children of military families to change schools if enough other states sign on.

The compact seeks to provide flexibility for the 1.5 million children of military families in the U.S. They attend an estimated six to nine school systems between kindergarten and graduation on average, and differing educational requirements in different states often add to their burden.

“Changing schools and making new friends can be hard on children whose parents are in the military,” said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, whose signature Wednesday made Kansas the first state to approve the compact. “This bill will help ease the transition between schools by seamlessly transferring records.”

The compact, which would become operational with adoption by 10 states, is intended to prevent children of military families from needlessly repeating courses or being denied access to extracurricular activities. It would provide alternative coursework options for districts that do not waive graduation requirements for students. Compact members would work to create uniform standards of practice, including the transfer of records, course placement and graduation requirements.

“If you have ever known, or been a part of, a military family, you know the barriers to educational success for children due to frequent moves and deployments,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who signed a bill Thursday. “With Fort Campbell and Fort Knox at our back door this is especially problematic here in the commonwealth.”

Kansas and Kentucky have nearly 50,000 school-aged children whose parents are active-duty military members. Most of those in Kansas live near Fort Riley, which is home to the 1st Infantry Division.

Bills to create the compact have been introduced in 20 states, including Kansas and Kentucky, according to the Council on State Governments, which developed the proposal.

Defense officials say the education of service members’ children is a quality-of-life issue that affects recruitment, retention and readiness.

“Easing this burden is the right thing to do,” said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “We appreciate all the support and effort to implement the compact. We look forward to more states signing on.”

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Scholarship Deadlines are Quickly Approaching!

Not applying for scholarships is like turning down free money, missing the application deadline is like buying a lottery ticket after the winning number has been announced.

The approach of spring marks many events, but one event that seldom comes to mind is SADS - Scholarship Application Deadline Season. Okay, there is no such date on the calendar, but the truth is most scholarship application deadlines occur between March and June. This means that if you or a loved one are considering going to school in September, you better get off the stick and start applying for some of the $300 million in "free money."

That's right there is more than $300 million of military — and veteran — related scholarships and many of these scholarships go unclaimed each year. They go unclaimed because students don't know where to look or find them too late to apply. Fortunately, there is a great online resource to help servicemembers find  scholarships and learn how, where, and most importantly, when to apply. Visit the Military.com's Scholarship Finder today and get started on your way to finding free money for school.

Here are some quick tips to help your search:

  • Do your homework. Take advantage of the free online scholarship search at Military.com's Scholarship Finder. The Scholarship Finder lists over 1,000 scholarships from a variety of sources.
  • Don't limit yourself. You qualify for non-military related scholarships too. Visit your local library to find scholarship directories that list awards based on age, state of residence, cultural background, and field of study.
  • Search in your military community. Many service aid organizations and associations, like the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, offer scholarships, grants, and low interest loans to help cover education expenses. Click here to find out more about your Service Aid Organization's education assistance programs.
  • It's never too soon to start your scholarship search. Many scholarship application deadlines are as early as a year in advance.

Remember: Not applying for scholarships is like turning down free money, missing the application deadline is like buying a lottery ticket after the winning number has been announced. Get started on your search for scholarships today and apply as soon as possible - visit the Military.com Scholarship Finder.

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 More Providers Accept Tricare Standard

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - There's good news for Tricare Standard beneficiaries. More civilian providers are accepting new patients, according to a recently released survey. Yet, Tricare officials acknowledge that increasing the number of providers and types of providers across the nation remains a high priority, especially in remote areas.

The findings, part of the Department of Defense Survey of Civilian Physician Acceptance of Tricare Standard, show that in fiscal 2007, almost 93 percent of responding physicians in 53 hospital service areas were aware of the Tricare program, with 84 percent of physicians in those 53 HSAs accepting new Tricare Standard patients.

"The survey results are very encouraging," said Army Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, deputy director of the Tricare Management Activity. "It shows that more doctors are working with us to ensure that our reserve component warriors, retirees and their families have access to quality care."

The 2007 survey was the final installment of a three-year national effort to measure awareness of Tricare and to determine the number of physicians who accept new Tricare Standard patients. DOD officials randomly surveyed physicians in 20 states in both FYs 2005 and 2006. The 10 remaining states and Washington, D.C., were surveyed in FY 2007. Physicians in local HSAs also were surveyed each year. Approximately 40,000 physicians from a variety of medical specialties were randomly picked.

The aggregate results show that civilian provider awareness and acceptance is generally high, but may vary depending on location. In addition, the survey revealed a need for increasing both Tricare awareness and acceptance among psychiatrists, a specialty critical in meeting the behavioral health needs of veterans of the war on terrorism.

Specifically, the three-year findings across all states and HSAs show:

-- Approximately 87 percent of all physicians surveyed are aware of the Tricare program.
-- About 81 percent of physicians that accept new patients also accept new Tricare Standard patients.
-- Of those accepting new Tricare Standard patients, almost 91 percent do so for all patients, rather than on a case-by-case basis.
-- Reimbursement rates were among the most commonly cited reasons for not accepting Tricare Standard.

"The survey exceeded our expectations," said Rich Bannick, Ph.D., director of performance evaluations for the TMA. "In the three surveys completed since 2005, more than 50 percent of the physicians we surveyed responded. That's a very respectable survey response rate in the health care industry.

"The survey results provide us a reliable measurement as to our effectiveness in expanding access to Tricare providers and the challenges of getting more doctors on board. Congress has given additional guidance to continue the survey process through 2011," he said.

While active duty service members receive the bulk of their medical care at one of the more than 500 military treatment facilities, family members, National Guard and Reserve members, and retirees often rely on civilian physicians for their health care needs.

"In some locations, access to Tricare Standard providers remains a major concern for family members and retirees," General Granger said. "Some doctors limit the number of Tricare patients they see or refuse to see them altogether. This leads to fewer choices for beneficiaries."

States showing a need to increase acceptance and awareness of Tricare include Alaska, Maryland, Colorado, Hawaii, Oklahoma, New York, New Jersey and Texas. Hospital service areas with lower than average Tricare acceptance include Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, N. C.; Seattle and Olympia, Wash.; Lihue/Kealakekua/Wailuku, Hawaii; Dallas, Texas; and Falls Church, Va.

Tricare officials, with support from their managed care support contractors, are working to overcome these challenges.

"We are reaching out to state officials, medical associations and individual physicians to educate them and appeal to their sense of patriotism in accepting Tricare," said General Granger.

The outreach is showing promising results. For example, the Oregon legislature approved incentives including a one-time tax credit for new providers in the Tricare network, plus an additional annual credit for treating patients enrolled in Tricare. Since 2004, Oregon's Tricare provider network has increased by 35 percent.

In addition, the governors of 20 western states have supported Tricare's efforts to encourage more health care providers to accept new Tricare patients. Their combined efforts led to an overall increase in western region Tricare network doctors from approximately 80,000 in 2004 to more than 125,000 today.

"Expanding our network of Tricare providers is critical to our ability to care for our beneficiaries," said General Granger. "Today, more than 220,000 men and women are Tricare providers. We are grateful to them for seeing the value in supporting those who serve our nation, and we are actively seeking other physicians who want to become part of our Tricare provider team."

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DOD to phase out full Social Security numbers on IDs

by Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service


4/4/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- As a means of combating identity theft, the Defense Department will issue identification cards without full Social Security numbers printed onto them, a senior official said here April 3.
 
The Defense Department cares about protecting personal information as well as increasing database security, said Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center based in Arlington, Va.

Identity theft is a very real problem today, Ms. Dixon explained. Criminals who pilfer SSN-bearing identity cards can virtually assume someone's identity through a few computer keystrokes and clicks of a mouse, she said.

TriCare, the military services' health maintenance organization, already has removed Social Security numbers from its members' identification cards, Ms. Dixon said.

Plans are to remove the Social Security numbers from identification cards issued to military family members by the end of this year, Ms. Dixon said, noting that those cards still would display the sponsors' SSN, for now. Between 2009 and 2010, all department-issued identification cards will feature only the last four digits of a holder's Social Security number, she said.

About 3.4 million people now have department-issued common access cards, Ms. Dixon said. Around two-thirds of those card holders are military members, and some civilians who deploy overseas, who have full Social Security numbers printed onto the back of their CACs.

"You might lose that card," Ms. Dixon pointed out, noting that family members, including children, could misplace their identification cards, too.

Modern information technology precludes the need to have full social security numbers printed onto employee and family member ID cards, Ms. Dixon said.

"Today, all of our (computer) systems can 'talk' to each other, so we don't necessarily need to know all of that information printed on your card," she said.

New identification cards will be issued as they reach their expiration dates, Ms. Dixon said.

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‘Above All’ firm renews contract


By Erik Holmes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Apr 4, 2008 11:10:57 EDT 

The Air Force awarded on Wednesday a 10-year, $372 million contract to advertising firm GSD&M Idea City, which developed the Air Force’s recent “Do Something Amazing” and “Above All” campaigns.

The contract is for national advertising, media and event marketing duties for Air Force recruiting efforts, according to a GSD&M press release.

The Austin, Texas-based firm has worked with the Air Force since 2001 but had to recompete for the contract because of government contracting rules, said company spokesman John McGrath.

The “Above All” campaign the firm developed for the Air Force has come under fire from some lawmakers who say the television, print and online ads look too much like an effort to lobby Congress illegally for funding rather than a traditional recruiting campaign. Air Force leaders have denied that is the case.

GSD&M’s previous contract with the Air Force was worth $350 million over 7 years, McGrath said.

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Bill aims to improve absentee ballot delivery


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Apr 4, 2008 9:18:40 EDT 

A California congressman wants to ensure every military vote counts in the November elections by having couriers — not the U.S. Postal Service — deliver completed absentee ballots from deployed service members to state election officials.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is looking for a way to overcome one of the biggest voting obstacles for service members based or deployed overseas — getting a ballot far enough in advance that a service member has time to complete it and send it back to state election officials in time to be counted.

McCarthy calls his bill, HR 5673, the Military Voting Protection Act, and says he is just trying to apply a “common-sense solution” so that service members are not denied the chance to have their vote count through no fault of their own.

“We can and we must work to protect the votes of our troops serving abroad and ensure they are counted,” said McCarthy, the ranking Republican on the House Administration Committee’s elections panel, to which his bill was referred.

Chief cosponsors include Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., and Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., who are also members of the elections subcommittee.

The bill assumes the new rules would apply to the November elections.

McCarthy said his bill attempts to address problems such as those cited in a 2007 report by the Election Assistance Commission on service members’ use of absentee ballots by in the 2006 election.

The report found that only 47.6 percent of absentee ballots requested by members of the military ended up being counted, and that some of the problem appeared to stem from mail delays. Ten percent of ballots arrived too late to be counted under deadlines applied by states, which usually are a combination of the date the ballot is postmarked and the absolute last day for ballots to be counted before election results are certified.

McCarthy said late ballots are not the fault of service members, who have no control over where they are assigned overseas or how long the mail might take to get back to the U.S.

His bill would have the Defense Department assign people to collect completed ballots and ensure they are delivered to state election officials before polls close. This could be done by military personnel or by contractors. The bill also calls for setting up a process to track progress of the packages of ballots, similar to the way major commercial shipping companies track packages.

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DoD plan would allow sabbaticals up to 3 years


By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Apr 2, 2008 12:05:14 EDT 

Defense officials are proposing an experiment in which service members could take a break in their military careers of up to three years for personal or professional reasons.

This time off — with health benefits, but without pay — would be similar to sabbaticals offered by some private businesses in high-pressure fields and by colleges and universities to some professors, but with a major difference: Most academic and professional sabbaticals are limited to one year.

Officials are calling their proposal “career intermission.”

The Navy is the only service planning to use the pilot program right away, defense officials said, but the Navy’s experience with it could lead to its expansion to the other services.

While those taking the time off would not receive active-duty pay or allowances, they would still be on the military’s payroll because they would be required to participate in the Ready Reserve and would receive a monthly stipend of $100.

They would not have to take part in any military drills, but would have to report to a military office at least once a month and perform one day of active duty each year for medical and administrative screening.

Additionally, defense officials said they expect people taking a career break to maintain proficiency in their military specialty through online and correspondence courses and other means.

Time spent on a career break would not count toward retirement.

The volunteers who take a career break would be required to serve two months of active duty for every one month of time off they were granted, so that someone who took a full three years off would have a six-year obligation.

People returning to active duty after such a break would be reappointed to the same job they previously held, or a similar one, and would have their full pay and benefits, including special and incentive pays and bonuses as long as they remain eligible, defense officials said.

The idea has been discussed by defense and service personnel officials for several years as a way to make military service a little more like the private sector.

But the plan is going to get attention from Congress because the Pentagon’s top manpower official said it would be a way to give military women more time off after the birth of a child without making military men think women are being given an unequal advantage.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, mentioned a sabbatical program at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing and said it was one option for overhauling the services’ different maternity policies.

“I think we need to be a little careful that we don’t damage the standing of women as a key element of the force in saying that they should not share their part of the overall force burdens in terms of how we utilize them,” Chu said during a discussion of maternity rules.

A sabbatical, Chu said, “may be a superior alternative for those who would like room within which to develop a family.”

Chu said he expects most people would leave the military for one or two years, and that having some degree of benefits — like the small stipend and health care — would help keep them tied to the service.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees are expected to consider the proposal as they prepare the 2009 defense authorization bill for passage later this year. But congressional aides said the proposal represents such a dramatic change in military career policy that they could not predict how it will be received.

A formal proposal, sent to Congress as part of a March 14 package of proposed legislation, calls for a six-year test involving 60 officers and 60 enlisted members.

During the test, no more than 20 officers and 20 enlisted members each year would be granted an “intermission” in their career.

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The outlook for every rank in the coming year


By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Apr 1, 2008 12:56:41 EDT 

Despite continuing uncertainty about the proper size of the force, promotions should remain steady in the coming year.

Neither the Air Force’s stated intention to cut 12,600 positions in 2009, nor the service’s more recent attempt to win congressional backing for its plan to push end strength back up to 330,000, will affect promotion rates this year, which likely will be close to 2007’s numbers.

While the debate continues over the right size of the force, two factors are keeping promotion levels steady. First, the ongoing drawdown hasbeen spread across all paygrades, preventing a glut or shortage of airmen in any of the ranks that would lead to a large shift in promotion rates, said Lt. Col. Scott Brady, who oversees promotion and evaluation policies at the Air Staff.

And while the Air Force has proposed 2009 end-strength goals ranging from 316,600 to 330,000, the difference between the two isn’t enough to require large adjustments to 2008’s promotion goals.

Brady’s prediction of stable promotion rates is backed up by what has happened early in the 2008 promotion cycle. Only one rank has gone through the promotion process — master sergeants testing to become senior master sergeants. When the results were announced March 12, the promotion rate was 8.91 percent, up slightly from the 2007 rate of 8.77 percent.

The 2008 cycle also marks the debut of new enlisted and officer evaluation forms appearing in personnel files. But how much, if any, difference the new forms are making isn’t known, since the new evaluations will be one of many reviews in an airman’s records, Brady said.

Here is what to expect from 2008’s promotion cycle:

Airman basic, airman, senior airman

For junior enlisted airmen — airman basic to senior airman — promotions continue to be determined by time in service and time in grade, said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Long, who oversees enlisted promotions and evaluations at the Air Staff. The airmen do not compete for promotion.

Force structure changes — such as in 2005, when the service recruited a comparatively small class of 18,900, or about 10,000 less than other years — won’t affect promotion chances.

An airman basic is eligible to move up to airman after six months and approval from the enlistee’s commander.

The step up to airman first class should come for most when they have completed 10 months as an airman basic.

That is, except for airmen who joined with a six-year commitment. Their promotion is linked to completing technical training school or 20 weeks of technical training, or completing the combat controller or pararescueman indoctrination course, whichever happens first.

Most airmen sew on their senior airman stripes once they’ve been in the Air Force for three years, meet their 3-level skill requirements and earn commander approval. Airmen on six-year enlistments sew on at the 28-month point if they are a 3-level.

Staff sergeant, technical sergeant, master sergeant

While the requirements for noncommissioned officer ranks vary widely, their promotion rates tend to move in tandem. If the selection rate falls for technical sergeants, the rates for master and staff sergeants are apt to fall as well.

All three ranks had their lowest promotion rates of the decade in 2006, as the service began to trim back 40,000 full-time positions. In 2007, the rates bounced back.

Airmen testing for these noncommissioned officer ranks in 2008 could benefit from accelerated promotion rates if their career field is manned at 85 percent or less and their work is considered a critical “war-fighting skill.” Career fields that meet those qualifications are placed in the “chronic critical shortage” category, and members could then be promoted at a rate 20 percent higher than the overall average for that rank.

The downside to some career fields getting extra promotions is that for every extra airman promoted in a career field with a manning shortage, one fewer airman at the same rank is promoted in career fields without manning issues.

“For someone to gain, someone has to lose,” Long said.

The Air Force is in the process of determining which staff, technical and master sergeant Air Force Specialty Codes will qualify as critical skills in 2008, Long said.

For the 2008 senior master sergeant promotions, 40 AFSCs qualified.

Beginning with promotion to staff sergeant, airmen compete with other members of their AFSCs to advance. Senior airmen can compete for staff sergeant once they have three years of time in service and six months time in grade. They also must have earned a 5-level skill rating by their promotion eligibility cutoff date — March 31 for the 2008 promotion cycle.

The biggest factor driving how many airmen are promoted to staff sergeant is the retention of airmen for a second enlistment, Long said. If a large number of airmen are expected to leave at the end of their first enlistment, the promotion rate for the remaining airmen is higher.

In the past four years, the retention rate of first-term airmen has averaged about 59 percent, including a decline in 2007 to about 55 percent, according to Air Force budget figures.

During that same period, promotion rates have averaged almost 40 percent, with the 41.33 percent selected in 2007, the fifth highest rate since 1971. During the post-Cold War drawdown, the promotion rate was as low as 5.48 percent — in 1992.

This year, 36,332 senior airmen are eligible to test for staff sergeant, nearly the same as in 2007, and early indications are that the promotion rate again will hover close to 40 percent, Long said.

Airmen will learn if they are staff sergeant-selects in mid-August.

More airmen compete for promotion to technical sergeant than any other grade.

The number is the highest because there are more staff sergeants eligible for promotion at any given time than in any other rank.

In 2007, almost 39,800 airmen took a shot at making tech. For 2008, 43,722 airmen are trying to make it.

The testing window for technical sergeant runs through March 31.

To compete for promotion to technical sergeant, a staff sergeant should have five years time in service, 23 months in grade as a staff sergeant and a 7-level skill rating.

Over the past decade, promotion rates have ranged from a low of 16.76 percent in 2006 to 33.51 percent in 2002, the highest rate since 1971. The Air Force doesn’t expect to repeat that record-setting performance. Instead, the rate is likely to be in the 18.4 percent to 21 percent range, similar to recent years.

The announcement of the tech-selects is set for the middle of June.

To test for master sergeant, an airman needs eight years of time in service and two years as a technical sergeant.

Over the past four years, about 24,000 technical sergeants have competed annually for master sergeant positions. In this cycle, 26,757 airmen are in the pool, the most since 1995. Testing for promotion continues through March 31.

But a large group testing doesn’t necessarily equal a lower promotion rate. When 25,454 airmen competed in 2005, the selection rate was 26.05 percent.

This year’s selection rate should be around 24 percent.

The promotion announcement is due in mid-June.

Senior master sergeant, chief master sergeant

While the number of senior NCOs is constrained by law to no more than 3 percent of the enlisted force, their promotion rates have remained stable.

Of all the enlisted ranks, making senior master sergeant is the most competitive. Over the past two decades, the selection rate has exceeded 10 percent only twice.

No more than 2 percent of enlisted airmen can be senior master sergeants, Long said. There aren’t quotas for the lower enlisted ranks.

Tests for senior master sergeant promotions were in December, with the results of tests and evaluation board revealed March 12. Of the 14,404 master sergeants who sought promotion, 8.91 percent were selected, the highest rate since 2005.

Airmen in 40 career fields qualified for higher promotion rates because their manning at senior master sergeant fell below 80 percent and the specialties are needed for ongoing conflicts, Long said.

The promotion advantage varied among career fields. Explosive ordnance experts were promoted at a 16.66 percent rate, while most other critical AFSC candidates were promoted at a rate of 10 percent to 11 percent. Career fields that didn’t have manning issues had promotion rates as low as 7.05 percent.

Chief master sergeants are limited to 1 percent of the enlisted force.

Candidates for chief start testing in September and have their records reviewed by an evaluation board in October.

Although it is too early to say how many airmen will test for chief, or the number of openings, Long expects the promotion rate to be in line with recent years. Since 2003, the selection rate has been around 20 percent — except for 2007, when the rate dipped to 16.85 percent.

Chief candidates also may benefit from the critical skills promotion advantage, but it is too soon to say which career fields qualify, Long said.

Second and first lieutenant

For many lieutenants, the question foremost on their minds since 2006 hasn’t been when they would be promoted, but whether they would still have a job as the service pushed hundreds of their peers out the door as part of its force-shaping efforts.

Air Force officials predict there will be no cuts aimed at lieutenants in 2009, but some officers may be told to retrain into a new career field.

The promotion opportunity to first lieutenant continues to be 100 percent once a line second lieutenant has two years of commissioned service, Brady said — unless a performance report finds a second lieutenant had substandard performance.

About the only factor that could stop a promotion is a poor performance report with low ratings.

Captain

A first lieutenant with four years commissioned service who is rated in reviews as “fully qualified” will be promoted to captain, Brady said. The promotion opportunity for captains remains 100 percent.

One change underway in the captain promotion process is switching from once-a-year announcements of captain-selects to a quarterly release of names. This change doesn’t affect when an officer will pin on captain’s bars, Brady said. The qualification date remains the four-year mark.

But getting a promotion may not guarantee that you’ll have a job in 2009. The Air Force’s proposed 2009 force-shaping plan calls for slicing the number of captains by 2,841 positions, a 13 percent cut.

Major

The chances of making line major while in the promotion zone is about 95 percent for 2008, the same as 2007, Brady said. Line officers in the zone for this promotion made captain in 2004.

There should be some job security as a major. No significant O-4 cuts are planned in 2009, according to the Air Force budget request.

Since 2004, the in-the-zone promotion opportunity for majors has ranged from 92.4 percent to 94.2 percent, even as the number of officers selected has ranged from 1,901 in 2005 to 2,211 in 2007. There have been no below-the-zone promotions for major since 1998. Above-the-zone promotions continue to be unusual — only 20 line officers above the zone were promoted to major in 2007.

Lieutenant colonel

The promotion opportunity to make line lieutenant colonel is predicted at about 85 percent, the same as recent years, Brady said.

The line selection board will meet Sept. 8-24. Brady said it is too early to say how many majors the board will review. In-the-zone line officers became majors April 1, 2004, through April 30, 2005.

The in-the-zone line promotion rate to lieutenant colonel has consistently been just below 75 percent since 2003. When promotions from below- and above-the-zone groups are added, the total is close to an 85 percent opportunity

Those officers who make lieutenant colonel could find themselves being eased out the door in 2009, as the lieutenant colonel ranks may be cut by 5 percent, according to Air Force budget plans.

Colonel

For line colonels, the promotion opportunity is expected to be 55 percent, Brady said. In-the-zone officers meeting the board will have made lieutenant colonel from April 1, 2003, through April 30, 2004.

The line colonel’s selection board will meet May 12-23 to consider the records of 978 airmen.

Brady’s prediction of a 55 percent selection rate is in line with promotion rates since 2000. The board has selected about 45 percent of in-the-zone candidates. When those officers are combined with those below and above the zone, the total rises to 55 percent.

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Educators learn about Air Force opportunities up close
AFRS educator tour
Air Force Recruiting Service Distinguished Educator Tour guests witness an Air Force Basic Military Training graduation ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, March 14. Following the ceremony, tour guests have the opportunity to congratulate the graduates and speak to them about their choice to enlist. Air Force Recruiting Service conducts two tours annually to show high school and community college counselors, teachers and principals that, for their best students, the Air Force may be an ideal choice. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey)

by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs


4/1/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Out of 100 contacts an Air Force recruiter makes, roughly one makes it to basic training. Of the more than 30.8 million Americans ages 17 to 27, only 27 percent of them would qualify for military service, primarily due to poor aptitude test scores, inability to meet physical standards, insufficient education, or conduct or legal issues.

During the Air Force Recruiting Service's latest Distinguished Educator Tour held March 11-14, many attendees heard these facts, did a double take and asked the briefer to repeat his statement.

It is tough, but true, "Today's Airmen must want to be in," said Col. Stan Chase, AFRS deputy commander.

To assist recruiters in reaching the right candidates for today's enlisted force, AFRS annually conducts two four-day tours in San Antonio for high school and community college counselors, teachers and principals from around the country, showing them that their star students may have a bright future in the Air Force.

Educators hear, witness and experience basic training while it is in progress. They participate in technical school course activities, tour Air Force facilities and aircraft, and have opportunities to speak candidly with trainees and experienced Airmen, both officers and enlisted.

"Every time you show us something, I think this is my favorite experience, but then you come up with another experience that's even better. It's amazing," said Suzanne Miller, a career technician from Claremont High School, Calif., following a luncheon with basic military trainees.

One typically impressive tour experience is witnessing Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and hearing from military training instructors how high school and undergraduate students learn to become Airmen. During the tour, the MTIs remain in character as role leaders. Tour guests are often surprised when they hear instructions bellowed at a trainee whose actions merit correction.

The tours are also a highpoint for the MTIs, said Tech. Sgt. Jeff Martin, who has served as a military training instructor for more than two years.

"I love doing these tours and showing off our future Airmen," he said. He enjoys them so much that he participates in several tours monthly for high school ROTC cadets and other guests because it gives him the opportunity to share his insight as to what kind of person makes a successful Airman. According to Sergeant Martin, personal integrity is one of the most important characteristics a trainee can possess, along with a willingness and aptitude to learn.

"I don't have the time to instill a sense of 'right and wrong' in a trainee in just six and one-half or eight and a half weeks," he said in response to question asked by one of the educators during a briefing. "I can teach any trainee sent here how to become an Airman if he or she has the right character."

The educator tours are also a highlight for top trainees who enjoy an extended lunchtime with the educators. Military training instructors pair tour guests with trainees, who dine in the same facility where trainees eat all their meals in an atmosphere of "relaxed" lunch rules, allowing trainees to talk and have more time to eat than they are normally granted while maintaining proper military bearing.

Conversations between the educators and trainees commonly center on the trainees' homes, why they chose to join the Air Force and what basic training is like. Some of the trainees even share their home mailing address with the educators so the guest can write to the trainee's parents and share the news about meeting their son or daughter.

"It was a good experience," said Kevin McCoid, a fifth-week Basic Military Training trainee from California, after clearing his and his guest's dirty dishes. "It was interesting sharing my training experiences with a civilian and good to hear what they think about us as Airmen."

Each tour culminates with front-row seats at Basic Military Training graduation on Lackland AFB parade grounds.

On March 14, the educators saw first-hand how well the weeks of discipline and training pay off as they witnessed hundreds of Airmen in flight formations parading in review for the presiding general officer, and carrying the U.S. and state flags. During the finale, the graduates stood at attention in front of the U.S. flag, the commander, and bleachers overflowing with family members and guests, held up their right hands and boldly recited the oath of enlistment.

The ceremony left tears in the eyes of many educators who witnessed the life-changing event earned by the few who were willing to do what it takes to achieve. It also helped some develop a greater understanding of the difference the Air Force makes in the lives of many young Americans.

"I have come away [from this experience] with a renewed spirit and greater sense of patriotism," said Donna Oshiro, a career guidance counselor from Covina High School, Calif.

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New VA benefits handbook available


Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Apr 1, 2008 8:25:44 EDT 

A new edition of the “Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents” handbook, issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, updates the rates for certain federal payments and outlines a variety of programs and benefits for American veterans.

Most of the nation’s 24 million veterans qualify for some VA benefits, which range from health care to burial in national cemeteries. In addition to describing benefits provided by VA, the 2008 edition of the 153-page booklet offers an overview of programs and services for veterans provided by other federal agencies.

Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents includes resources to help veterans access their benefits, with a listing of toll-free numbers, Web sites and a directory of VA facilities throughout the country. The handbook can be downloaded free from VA’s Web site.

The handbook is one of the top-selling consumer publications of the U.S. Government Printing Office. GPO accepts credit card orders for the publication at (866) 512-1800 for a cost of $5 each to U.S. addresses, or $67 for bulk orders of 25 copies. It can be ordered by mail from the GPO at Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 979050, St. Louis, MO 63197-9000 (stock #051-000-00233-4) or online from the GPO bookstore.

In addition to health care and burial benefits, veterans may be eligible for programs providing home loan guaranties, educational assistance, training and vocational rehabilitation, income assistance pensions, life insurance and compensation for service-connected illnesses or disabilities. In some cases, survivors of veterans may also be entitled to benefits.

The handbook describes programs for veterans with specific service experiences, such as prisoners of war or those concerned about environmental exposures in Vietnam or in the Gulf War, as well as special benefits for veterans with severe disabilities.

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Air Force Ends Force Shaping

Force shaping programs for the Air Force will be closed for the remainder of the year. March 31, 2008 is the last day Air Force officials would accept fiscal 2008 Voluntary Separation Pay program applications. Voluntary retirement programs close April 30, 2008. However, the Blue to Green program -- for enlisted and officers applying for transfer to the Army -- will remain open indefinitely. A decision on what force shaping programs may be utilized in fiscal 2009 is still pending. For more information, visit the Air Force Personnel Center's Force Shaping webpage.

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Little by little, more and more states are adopting this philosophy.  Keep contacting your state representatives!
 

4 more states offer benefits to spouses forced to quit jobs


By Karen Jowers - Staff writer 

New Jersey, Arkansas, South Carolina and Connecticut have joined the list of states that now allow military spouses to collect unemployment compensation when they must quit their jobs to follow their service members to new duty stations.

South Carolina changed its law in June. The changes are effective in Connecticut and Arkansas on Oct. 1, and in New Jersey on Dec. 9.

According to the Defense Department, 21 states now allow trailing military spouses to receive unemployment benefits. Eight states deny such benefits outright; the rest consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

The Pentagon is working this issue hard. Since defense officials launched a “USA 4 Military Families” state partnership program three years ago, 13 states have changed their policies to let spouses get unemployment compensation.

Ten regional representatives act as liaisons between the military services and state policymakers to provide information and resources on key quality-of-life issues.

In May, Leslye Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, was on hand when Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas signed a law making military spouses eligible for unemployment pay.

“This monetary bridge, when necessary, is important for sustaining family income while adjusting to the continual stress of relocation,” Arsht said in a press release.

Many spouses know firsthand what that means, and many are still fighting for change.

“You need that second income,” said Tera Fitzgerald, who left her job with Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation in Hawaii in March to move with her husband, a Navy E-7, to Meridian Naval Air Station, Miss. She has been looking for a job since, and trying to get unemployment benefits.

With her job loss and the difference in allowances — Hawaii’s cost of living is higher — the family’s income dropped by about $2,500 a month, she said.

“I had never applied for unemployment compensation before,” she said. “I never thought I was entitled. But then I wondered why I wouldn’t be entitled if I have to quit my job to move with my husband.”

She has appealed the decision to deny her benefits of about $210 a week, and was scheduled for a telephone hearing Oct. 1.

“I know I’ll be moving around in the future, but I want to help other people, too,” she said.

Family advocates applaud the states’ changes, as well as the Defense Department’s efforts to educate states on the importance of this and other issues to military families.

“I see it as a part of what DoD is doing today to connect these folks to military families and their communities,” said Joyce Raezer, chief operating officer for the National Military Family Association.

“For years, DoD’s attitude was that they couldn’t do anything about it, it wasn’t their issue,” Raezer said. “But now they are saying that if military spouse careers are important to retention, maybe they need to step up and do what they can to help spouses.”

New Jersey state Sen. Shirley Turner said she introduced a bill three years ago after receiving letters from some military spouses whose husbands were reassigned to other states.

DISCUSS: Relocating and employment

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Thunderbirds season off to flying start


Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Mar 19, 2008 13:21:38 EDT 

The Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron kicked off its 2008 schedule Saturday at the San Angelo Regional Airport at Air Fiesta 2008 air show, hosted by Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.

The team will commemorate the 55th anniversary of the “Ambassadors in Blue” with another 66 shows between now and Nov. 9, appearing in 25 states as well as Canada.

On June 14-15 the Thunderbirds will travel to Quebec City, Canada, to help the city celebrate its 400th anniversary.

This 2008 team comprises eight pilots, four support officers, four civilians and 110 enlisted airmen, and features the Thunderbirds’ first female lead-solo demonstration pilot, Maj. Samantha Weeks, who is in her second year with team.

The rest of the Thunderbirds’ 2008 schedule is listed below.

March

29 — Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

April

5-6 — Punta Gorda, Fla.

12-13 — Lakeland, Fla.

19-20 — Wilmington, N.C.

26 — Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.

May

3-4 — March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

10-11 — Langley Air Force Base, Va.

17-18 — Fort Smith, Ark.

24 — Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

28 — U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. (Invitation only)

31 — McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

June

1 — McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

7-8 — Rockford, Ill.

14-15 — Québec City, Canada

21 — Klamath Falls, Ore.

24 — Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska

28-29 — Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska

July

4-6 — Battle Creek, Mich.

12-13 — Milwaukee, Wis.

19-20 — McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

23 — Cheyenne, Wyo.

26-27 — Rochester, N.Y.

August

8-10 — Abbotsford, Canada

16-17 — Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

20 — Atlantic City, N.J.

23-24 — Kansas City, Mo.

30-31 — Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

September

6-7 — Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

12-13 — Reno, Nev.

14 — Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho

20-21 — Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

27-28 — Salinas, Calif.

October

4 — Vance Air Force Base, Okla.

11-12 — Fort Worth, Texas

18-19 — Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

25-26 — Houston

November

1-2 — Lafayette, La.

8-9 — Nellis Air Force Base, Nev

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Medical Leave Act Extended to Military

A provision of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will alter the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to assist military family members who need to take unpaid leave to care for an injured servicemember. The new law allows the spouses, children, parents or other next of kin who provide care for an injured servicemember to take as many as 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. Normally, eligible employers are permitted 12 weeks of unpaid leave for such family emergencies. For more information, visit the Department of Labor's Family and Medical Leave Act webpage.
Read the article on Military.com.

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Bill Seeks to Increase Benefit

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) introduced legislation to increase veterans' compensation through a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that alter the cost of living over time. The Veterans' Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2008 (S 2617) directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase, as of Dec.1, 2008, the rates of veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and additional related benefits. The rate of the COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients.

How do you feel about this action? Let your public officials know how you feel!

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Nominate your everyday hero

If you know someone who is committed 24/7, here is your chance to nominate them to receive the Military Times’ Service Member of the Year Award. Previous winners have cited their award as one of the highlights of their military career.

 

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Review Panel Recommends Military Pay Changes
American Forces Press Service | March 13, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The 10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation has suggested a new way of measuring military pay, proposed that more money be spent on special and incentive pays, and recommended restructuring the basic allowance for housing. Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jan D. “Denny” Eakle -- former deputy director of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service -- chaired the commission and briefed the media on the recommendations yesterday.

This was just the first release of the review, Eakle explained. A second volume, covering retirement and quality-of-life aspects of compensation, will be released in the summer.

Eakle said that whenever a QRMC convenes, the first question it examines always is whether military pay is comparable to pay in the private sector. The second is whether military pay is adequate to maintain the force, she said.

The 9th QRMC, released in 2002, concluded that for pay to be comparable, it had to be at or above the 70th percentile of the age- and education-matched civilian population, Eakle said. Military pay followed this guidance through 2006, and targeted pay raises in 2007 and 2008 ensure DoD exceeds the 70th percentile for enlisted personnel. Officer pay exceeded this goal in 2006 and has kept pace since then, she said.

Take Action: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.

Eakle said the current review studied whether the comparability formula is adequate. “Basically, what we wanted to do is create something which would give military members a better means of assessing how their pay stacked up in comparison to civilians,” she said.

Regular military compensation was the measure used in previous QRMCs. This included basic pay, subsistence, housing and a measure of savings on federal income tax. “But there's a lot more to military compensation,” she said.

The new system begins with regular military compensation and adds state and FICA tax advantages. Military personnel also do not pay out-of-pocket health care costs, such as co-pays, she explained, and all these folded into the panel’s calculations. The new measurement is called military annual compensation, and it sets the 80th percentile as the standard for military compensation comparability with the private sector. Pay for enlisted personnel and officers meets this standard, Eakle said.

Congress revamped the special incentive pay categories from more than 60 to eight, Eakle said. “That, in fact, was a recommendation of this QRMC, and it was enacted before the publication of this document, Eakle said. “And so now it's up to the department to begin the process of drafting out the instructions to adopt this.”

The review recommended increasing the size of the special and incentive pay budget. “Today we have an S&I budget that, quite frankly, is rather small in comparison to the size of the other pay accounts,” she said. “And because of that, it doesn't give the service as much flexibility for arranging pay.”

The review examined the basic allowance for housing and a previous recommendation to do away with the without-dependent housing rate. The review also proposed changes to the partial-BAH program.

Because some single servicemembers are making as little as 52 percent of the pay their peers who have families receive, the QRMC recommends raising that floor to no less than 75 percent at first, and to 95 percent over time. But the gap between married and single BAH should not disappear, Eakle said.

“What we have determined is that if it were completely closed, we would in fact then be over-compensating the singles, because of the difference in things like utilities and insurances,” she explained.

The review did recommend changes for singles living on post or aboard ships. “Today, a young man or woman who is living in the barracks (or) living on a ship forfeits their entire housing allowance for doing that, and we don't think that that's necessarily the most equitable way to operate,” Eakle said.

The proposal is a new variable, partial BAH based on the value of the quarters the servicemembers occupy. The DoD standard is a one-plus-one dormitory -- meaning each individual having a bedroom and a shared cooking facility and bathroom. “That's very much like sharing a two-bedroom apartment,” Eakle said. “And so for those people, we think that the BAH that they are giving up is actually pretty close to what they should be paying for it.”

For those living with three roommates, the review believes they are overpaying for their accommodations by forfeiting their entire housing allowance, and “we would recommend that they get a rebate on their BAH.”

“The range we are talking about is going from zero for people in the one-plus-one dormitories, up to a 25 percent rebate for those who are living in ships with hot-bunk arrangements,” she said. “So you'd be able to give people something in recognition of the fact that housing is not at the DoD standard.”

The review also recommended staying with time-in-service pay tables. A previous commission, the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation, recommended replacing the time-in-service pay table with a time-in-grade pay table. This would reward pay for performance, the commission members believed.

“We looked very seriously at this recommendation, but we've chosen not to accept it and are not going to endorse the change,” Eakle said.

She said it would exacerbate pay differentials, adding: “We don't think that's in keeping with our spirit of being fair and equitable to all members.”

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This is a VERY important topic-- please read and contact your representatives accordingly.....

 

No retirement pay before age 57?

 

Panel also recommends combining active, reserve retirement systems

By William H. McMichael - bmcmichael@militarytimes.com
Posted :
February 11, 2008

A congressionally chartered commission has called for scrapping the entire military retirement system and making active-duty troops wait until at least age 57 to begin drawing retired pay.

The proposal, which would spell the end of the current active-duty system that pays nondisability retirement immediately after a service member completes a minimum of 20 years of service, is among 95 recommendations in the final report of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserve, which went well beyond its original charter to review the structure and management of the reserve components and delved into personnel policies for active-duty members.

Under current retirement rules, an active-duty member is eligible for retired pay immediately after completing a minimum of 20 years of service, which can be as young as age 37. However, reservists must wait until age 60 to draw retired pay, although a law signed Jan. 28 by President Bush allows reservists to draw retired pay 90 days earlier than age 60 for every 90 days of mobilization in support of a contingency operation.

Under the commission’s plan, a revamped retired system would grant limited retirement benefits starting at 10 years of service, although payments would not begin until age 62. Those who serve at least 20 years could receive payments at age 60; those who serve 30 years could get them at age 57.

Under the plan, troops could begin drawing retirement pay at earlier ages, but the annuity would be reduced 5 percent for each year that a member is under the statutory minimum retirement age.

The commission said that would bring the military in line with the Federal Employees Retirement System.

The commission concluded that combining the training, promotion and management of active and reserve troops into one integrated manpower system is the only way the nation’s military can become a truly efficient operational force for the future.

“The increasing cost of personnel, and the challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified individuals, will, we believe, inevitably require reductions in the size of the active force,” states the 432-page report, released Jan. 31. “This shrinking active force will necessarily be accompanied by an increased reliance on reserve forces for operations, particularly for homeland missions. The overall effectiveness of those forces will depend on greater integration of the reserves with the active component.”

The commission argued that modifying the 20-year retirements would give the services an incentive to retain troops whom they want to keep for more than 10 years but for less than 20. Additional pay or bonuses would be needed to keep such troops in uniform beyond 10 years to maintain retention rates.

“As part of the reformed retirement system, retention would be encouraged by making service members eligible to receive ‘gate pay’ at pivotal years of service,” the report says. “Such pay would come in the form of a bonus equal to a percentage of annual basic pay at the end of the year of service, at the discretion of the services.”

Matching funds for TSP

In addition, the report says Congress should expand current law to permit all service members to receive up to 5 percent of annual basic pay in matching government contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan. Service members currently receive no government matching funds for TSP contributions.

“The government’s contribution would vest at 10 years of service, and the Thrift Savings Plan benefit would be portable and thus capable of being rolled over into a civilian 401(k) account,” the report says.

Among the report’s other recommendations:

• The military’s promotion system should be competency-based versus time-based.

• Active and reserve officer personnel management systems should be merged into a single system.

• The number of duty statuses should be reduced from 29 to two — on active duty or off.

• The Defense Department should implement a combined pay and personnel system to eliminate problems with incorrect pay, low data quality, multiple personnel files and inaccurate accounting of credit for service.

• The Guard and reserve should be given the clear lead in Defense Department homeland security missions within U.S. borders.

The recruiting and job market landscape has shifted in dramatic ways, the commission said, which means the Defense Department “must recruit, train and maintain a technologically advanced force in an era that will be characterized by ever-increasing competition for a shrinking pool of qualified individuals whose expectations about career paths and mobility are changing dramatically.”

“We need to look at our manpower assets with a totally integrated approach,” commission Chairman Arnold Punaro said.

For active and reserve service members, such a system would create a “seamless” transition to and from active duty — “on-ramps” and “offramps,” as Navy personnel officials have described the concept. Basing promotions on competency rather than time would keep troops competitive within the system.

Reserve reorganization

The 95 recommendations in the report also include a call for the reserves to be reorganized into two formal categories: operational and strategic reserve forces.

The operational reserve would consist of Selected Reserve units and individual mobilization augmentees who would deploy periodically. The strategic reserve would include Selected Reserve personnel and augmentees not scheduled for rotational active-duty tours and the “most ready, operationally current and willing members of the Individual Ready Reserve,” the report says.

The commission also calls for scrapping the Standby Reserve category and said members who are not “viable mobilization assets should be excluded from the total reserve force.”

The Defense Department would have to consistently provide the support needed to ensure the sustained viability of both forces, and Congress and the Pentagon would determine the missions each would perform.

“There used to be an understanding that if you were ready for the away game, you were ready for the home game,” Punaro said. “Most everyone admits that’s not the case anymore. We need a very ready force at home in peacetime, just like we need a ready force for the overseas mission.”

The reserves were conceived as a strategic force that would be called to active duty only in national emergencies. But they have morphed over the past 18 years, beginning with the 1991 Persian Gulf War and spurred by the military drawdown of the 1990s, into an operational reserve that is now regularly called upon to meet the demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s clear that if you hadn’t had an operational Guard and reserve, you would have had to go back to the draft, which I think everyone agrees is ... pretty unacceptable,” Punaro said.

Punaro is “very bullish” on the prospects for the commission’s work to receive serious attention.

Half of the 95 recommendations “can be done immediately,” he said. About 40 will require congressional or presidential action, according to the report.

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AAFES Rewards Academic Achievement
Military.com | AAFES | February 27, 2008

AAFES Delivers Valuable Learning Experience to Students Who "Make the Grade"

DALLAS - The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is extending a host of straight "A" savings to military students who are demonstrating above-average academic achievement. As part of AAFES' "You Made the Grade"
effort, students who maintain a "B" average are eligible to receive a variety of complimentary exchange offers for every qualifying report card they bring home.

The current "You Made the Grade" booklet includes coupons for a free Burger King Hamburger Kids meal, complimentary admission for two to the nearest Reel Time movie theater and a free magazine from the local BookMark. In addition to money saving offers, the booklet also contains an entry form for a quarterly savings bond drawing in which three winners are randomly awarded savings bonds of $2,000, $3,000 or $5,000.

"'You Made the Grade' offers a practical learning experience for AAFES'
youngest shoppers," said AAFES' Commander Brig. Gen. Keith Thurgood. "The coupons and the sweepstakes are tangible examples of how it pays to be smart and work hard in school."

To receive the AAFES "You Made the Grade" booklet, students simply present a valid military ID card and proof of an overall "B" or better average to their local BX/PX.

Students may receive one coupon package for every qualifying report card, but may enter the savings bond drawing only once per calendar quarter.
Military families can contact their local AAFES Main Store Manager or General Manager for more information.

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Free SAT-ACT Software for Military Families

For the second year, a group of NFL, NFL Europe, AFL and CFL football players have sponsored several million dollars worth of $199 SAT and ACT test prep programs to every family in the U.S. Military (all branches-active or retired). Specifically, the sponsorship allows any military person (active or retired) to request as many programs as they need for the students in their lives. The Department of Defense has created a secure website to quickly confirm a person's military status. Personnel can access the confirmation and request pages through several military related associations and organizations, including: Military Home Front website for families, offers access to the forms to confirm military status and process the order. Programs ship to domestic U.S. addresses and APO addresses. The sponsorship covers the regular purchase price of $199 and the family pays only the S&H. To learn more about the program and the NFL/CFL players who are providing this offer visit: eknowledge.com.

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Airman 'The Book' 2008 available online
Airman 'The Book' 2008 available online
"Into the Wild New Yonder" is the theme for the issue, traditionally called "The Book." The issue focuses on important facts and provides insight into today's Air Force. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

2/5/2008 - SAN ANTONIO (AFPN)  -- The 2008 almanac version of Airman magazine is now available online.

"Into the Wild New Yonder" is the theme for the issue, traditionally called "The Book." The issue focuses on important facts and provides insight into today's Air Force.

Data in the magazine highlights the service's major commands and their functions, weapon systems, demographics, statistics and other information. Also included is a pull-out map of Air Force installations suitable for framing.

Check out the magazine online at: www.af.mil/news/airman/0208/pdf.shtml 

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Recruiting group makes mark while preparing for nearing deactivation
BG Vautrinot
Brig Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot speaks to family members and onlookers at the Galleria Mall Feb. 19 before swearing in 25 new Air Force recruits. U. S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp

by Kendahl Johnson
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs


2/22/2008 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The 367th Recruiting Group, an Air Education and Training Command unit at Robins, will roll up its flag and deactivate in October. But the group isn't slowing down anytime soon; it's too busy bringing in quality recruits, as well as garnering recognition and winning awards.

The group, which brought more than 7,000 recruits into the Air Force last year, was presented with the Air Force Outstanding Unit award for its diligence and success.

"We are very proud of the award," said Col. Mike Brice, 367th RCG commander. "It represents the hard work of 750 people in this group. Everyone in the Air Force works hard, but to have it validated with that kind of award is a proud accomplishment for the entire group across 13 states."

Colonel Brice said the success came despite trying circumstances and major obstacles.

"In these times, when we have less recruiters and less money, and the propensity to serve is lower, recruiting is a real challenge," he said. "So to have the success we have had and to be recognized by our leadership as deserving of this award is very special to us."

Presenting the award to the group was Brig. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service. She said the group worked hard to earn the recognition. She also said she is disappointed that such a successful group will be closing. Because of a smaller AFRS budget, a complete reorganization was necessary. Hundreds of recruiting offices and flight offices were closed across the nation.

"If someone asked me what I need and do I have enough, I'd say absolutely not," General Vautrinot said. "We're barely hanging on here. But the Air Force is giving all they can afford to give us."

She said despite a decrease in budget, she is supportive of Air Force leadership and has confidence that money is being spent wisely.

"I would rather run short so the Air Force can have money it needs, so that every Airman I bring in, I can promise them they will have exactly the right training and exactly the right equipment, and it's going to work for them when they go into harm's way or support those in harm's way," the general said.

She said in addition to a smaller budget, fewer resources and a reduction in recruiters, it's a difficult time to recruit due to many other factors, including the war, less desire for young men and women to want to join the military and less encouragement towards military service from parents or other adult leaders.

Yet despite these obstacles, the Air Force recruiters are meeting their goals, and the 367th RCG's success is a testament to the team's hard work and integrity.

"One might ask, if the environment is so tough and resources are so scarce, why are we still doing well?" the general said. "One, the recruiters are working long hours and six days a week. The other part is integrity. 'Integrity first' is why we are absolutely successful.

"Everyone thinks recruiting must be easy because we are reaching our goals, but it is hard working recruiters and very, very honest recruiters who frankly and accurately describe the benefits and challenges of a tour in the Air Force to young people across the country. These recruiters are bringing us through," General Vautrinot said.

General Vautrinot said another reason for recruiting success is leadership.

"Our leaders are good at what they do," she said. "They have a leadership style that motivates and coaches effectively. Anyone can teach a recruiter the basics of the job, but a good leader will help recruiters find new ways to be creative and to use their best skills to do this difficult job effectively."

The general said she is very proud of the work done by the 367th Recruiting Group. And although the group will be closing its doors soon, the team is not slowing down.

"The unit is going to go out of business but we are going to go out standing tall because we did our best. We want to go out with a flourish," Colonel Brice said. "We had a great record last year and expect another great record this year."

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Air Force is 'Above All'
Air Force is 'Above All'
Air Force officials have launched a new ad campaign to accurately portray Airmen and how they're executing the Air Force mission to ensure the security and safety of America now and in the future. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs


2/20/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- The Air Force has a new advertising campaign to recruit the next generation of Airmen as well as better inform people about the Air Force mission:

"Above All."

"The new slogan is admittedly a bold one," said Col. Michael Caldwell, deputy director of Air Force public affairs, "but so are Airmen." This campaign accurately portrays Airmen and how they're executing the Air Force mission to ensure the security and safety of America now and in the future.

"'Above All' is about what we do and how we do it," Colonel Caldwell said. "The job of the Air Force is to defend America and we do that by dominating air, space and cyberspace. The new campaign and slogan captures our roots, but also illustrates where we're going as a service as the Air Force prepares to contend with future threats."

The purpose of the campaign is to create a dialogue with potential recruits, their parents and those most likely to influence young people to join the military about the critical role the Air Force plays in defending America's future, said Colonel Caldwell.

The "Above All" campaign kicks off this month and will be prominent on television, in print and, of course, in cyberspace. In addition to being shown at several sporting events, "Above All" ads will be seen in magazines and during commercial breaks on many top-rated commercial and television news and entertainment programs, Colonel Caldwell said.

The campaign will feature real Airmen performing their missions, like Staff Sgt. Lee Jones from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. He's featured prominently in the campaign as a warrior on the front lines of the Air Force's newest warfighting domain, cyberspace.

"I'm excited to be a part of this and to represent the Air Force this way," said Sergeant Jones, a computer systems operator and cyberwarrior. "'Above All' is a great slogan because it says how we shine in what we do to defend our nation and accomplish our mission."

The Above All slogan was chosen over several other phrases as the best description of the Air Force mission, Colonel Caldwell said.

"From all the research we did about how people feel about the Air Force - including civilians, Airmen and representatives from other services - this was the phrase that stood out the most," said Colonel Caldwell. "This campaign captures the professionalism of our Airmen, our technological edge and our ability to meet today's threats while at the same time prepare for future challenges.

"When anyone in our Air Force family sees an 'Above All' ad, we hope it reminds them that their role is important to America," Colonel Caldwell said. "This campaign makes it clear the Air Force's mission 'Above All' is national defense and protecting the American people." 

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Air Force snags top national advertising award
Technology Section welcome mat
The award-winning Air Force Technology Section welcome mat Web page on AIRFORCE.com invites visitors to "Enter the Hangar," in order to launch into the site. (U.S. Air Force illustration)

by Chet R. DelSignore
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs


2/14/2008 - DALLAS (AFPN) -- The Air Force earned one of the nation's top advertising honors Feb. 7, taking home a Golden Award at the 2008 ADDY Awards ceremony in Dallas.

The technology section of the AIRFORCE.com Web site won best in class in the micro-site category, according to Air Force Recruiting Command officials. 

The annual ADDY Award competition features 60,000 entries all vying for a handful of coveted advertising awards in various categories.

"It is gratifying to see our cutting-edge advertising paying off," said Col. Tim Hanson, the AFRS strategic communications director. "The public is really sitting up and taking notice and now the advertising industry is recognizing us for those efforts."

The AIRFORCE.com technology site features a factual look at several Air Force tools and weapons systems, including an explosive ordnance device robot that safely disarms live unexploded munitions as well as an unmanned aerial vehicle that surveys hostile environments from the air without a pilot on-board. Also featured are inside looks at the Air Force's next generation F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, the F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft and the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

"The technology section of AIRFORCE.com has a look and appeal designed to resonate with its young audience," Colonel Hanson said. "It was a total team effort between our marketing staff in Recruiting Service and our contracted Web site advertising partners, GSD&M and Virion, who set the requirements of this creatively interesting microsite."

This Web site contains summaries of each platform's mission, capabilities and specifications, and Air Force wallpapers for downloading. Users can watch videos and see action photographs of the technology in use, while background motion graphics keep visitors actively engaged in the site and wanting to know more.

"This is really significant for us to win what is really the advertising equivalent of an Oscar," said Brig. Gen. Suzanne M. "Zan" Vautrinot, the AFRS commander. "We are doing amazing things with Web-based technology to allow people to discover more about our Air Force."

The ADDY Awards claim to be the world's largest and one of the toughest advertising competitions. The awards represent creative excellence in all forms of advertising and receive entrants at all levels from anywhere in the world. 

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Air Force Aid Society provides alternative to pay-day loans

2/13/2008 - RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN)  -- Air Force Aid Society officials are pleased to announce the new Falcon Loan program available to Air Force members beginning March 3.  A Falcon Loan is an interest-free loan of $500 or less that can be used for emergency needs such as basic living expenses -- rent, utilities and food -- car repairs, emergency travel or other approved needs. Applying for a Falcon Loan is as easy as 1-2-3:

1. Download the application from the AFAS Web site.
2. Get your ID card and current leave and earnings statement 
3. Go to your Airman and Family Readiness Center

"The ease of the Falcon Loan program will hopefully encourage Airmen to turn to their Airman and Family Readiness Centers in times of financial need and not be ensnared by potentially career-damaging debt traps," said Chief Master Sgt. Pamela Derrow, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe command chief master sgt.

"This program is just another example of AFAS' continued effort to help take care of our Airmen," she said.

The streamlined application process for a Falcon Loan requires no budget information, backup documentation or first sergeant or commander approval. Minimal information required to process an allotment or Paymatic transaction -- automatic withdrawal from bank account -- and a signature is all that is needed to complete the application.

The relaxed approach to the loan process comes with the hope that Airmen will feel less threatened to come forward for help, and perhaps after getting a Falcon Loan will establish a relationship that draws them back to the A&FRC for a follow-up visit to discuss their financial situation.

"One of the important missions of Airman and Family Readiness Centers is to promote financial readiness," said Ms. Gretchen Shannon from the USAFE Airman and Family Readiness Branch. "The new AFAS Falcon Loan program will be helpful in diverting some Airmen faced with financial emergencies away from high interest pay-day lenders. The Airman and Family Readiness teams will be ready and available to assist members when the new program rolls out."

To be eligible for a Falcon Loan, you must be an active duty Air Force member or spouse with power of attorney stationed at an Air Force base with an A&FRC, and cannot have a current Air Force Aid Society loan. You will be expected to repay your Falcon Loan by allotment within 10 months or by your estimated-time-of-separation date if less than 10 months.

Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard personnel activated on Title 10 orders at the time of application are eligible for a Falcon Loan as well.

The Falcon Loan is a complement to the AFAS's standard emergency assistance loan/grant program. Receiving a Falcon Loan does not make you ineligible to receive a standard AFAS loan/grant while you are repaying your Falcon Loan.

For more information on the Falcon Loan program, please visit your Airman and Family Readiness Center or the AFAS Web site.

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Enlisted member, dependent children scholarships available

 
2/11/2008 - TEMPLE HILLS, Md. (AFPN) -- The Air Force Sergeants Association, Airmen Memorial Foundation and the Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force join together annually to conduct a scholarship program to financially assist the undergraduate studies of eligible dependent children of Air Force active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command enlisted members, and AFSA members in active, retired, or veteran status. 

The Air Force Sergeants Association scholarship program begun in 1968 with one $1,000 scholarship, the program has developed into a key source of funding for AFSA and Auxiliary members' children attending institutions of higher learning. During its 38 years of giving, AFSA has awarded 480 scholarships to the AFSA members' dependents. 

The AMF Scholarship Program awards funds to the dependent youth of Air Force enlisted personnel who meet the eligibility criteria. Last year the AMF offered 13 $1,000 scholarships, one $2,000 Richard Howard Scholarship as well as two $2,000 Memorial Scholarships in the names of Sharon Piccoli, and Julene Howard , and one $1,000 Memorial Scholarship for Audrey Andrews. The AMF also awarded one $1,500 BMT, three $1,000 United Services Automobile Association, and one additional $1,000 academic excellence scholarship Since 1987, the AMF has awarded $372,000 in financial aid.

The Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force Scholarship Program (formerly the CMSAF Richard D. Kisling Scholarships) was created in 1987 upon the death of the third CMSAF "Dick" Kisling. In 1997, following the passing of Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force (retired) Andrews and Harlow, the program was renamed.

The fund is governed by a committee appointed by the incumbent Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force. CMSAF (retired) Sam Parish serves as the CMSAF Scholarship Fund Committee Chairman. Since 1988, the CMSAF fund has awarded over $237,000 in scholarships. 

The Air Force Sergeants Association International Auxiliary conducts a program to financially help AFSA Auxiliary members with a valid need of assistance to enhance their income potential through formal education and/or training. The AEG program is designed for AFSA Auxiliary members to obtain effective education and/or training to acquire improved marketable skills. Since 1990, the AFSA Auxiliary has awarded grants and scholarships totaling over $117,000.

The AFSA, AMF and CMSAF scholarship programs award scholarships valued from $500 to $3,000 to students attending an accredited academic institution. The grant amount and total number of scholarships awarded are dependent upon funds available. To date, over $1.3 million dollars in scholarships have been awarded to Air Force dependent children.

Those interested in applying for any one of these scholarships can find more information by clicking on the Scholarship Eligibility Requirements and Scholarship Application links. One application is used for all three programs. Go to www.afsahq.org and click on "About", then "scholarships" 

To date, the AFSA Scholarship programs have granted 1.5 million to dependents of the Air Force enlisted.

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Your 2009 pay raise


The president’s next defense budget includes 3.4 percent raise; military groups want more
By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Feb 6, 2008 12:31:56 EST

The Bush administration is seeking a 3.4 percent raise for all service members next year — the minimum that could be requested under federal law and an amount that advocacy groups are already saying is too small.

The proposed raise, part of the White House’s 2009 defense budget request to be unveiled today, would equal the average growth in private-sector wages in 2007, as measured by the Department of Labor’s Employment Cost Index, or ECI. As such, it would be the minimum raise allowable under current law.

Military pay is tied by law to the ECI, which tracks quarterly changes in compensation for most private-sector and all state and local government employees.

Here are some examples of what a 3.4 percent pay increase would mean:

• An E-4 with more than three years of service now earns $1,949.10 per month; that would rise to $2,015.40 per month on Jan. 1 under the Pentagon plan.

• An E-7 with more than 10 years of service now earns $3,263.10 per month; a 3.4 percent raise would turn that into $3,374.10 per month.

• An O-3 with more than six years of service now earns $4,763.10 per month; that officer would earn $4,925.10 per month with a 3.4 percent pay increase.

The proposed 2009 raise is almost equal to the 3.5 percent increase for this year that was finalized Jan. 28, when Bush signed the revised 2008 Defense Authorization Act.

However, by merely matching private-sector wage growth, the proposed 2009 military raise would not continue to close a so-called “pay gap” that some say exists between military and civilian compensation.

The gap has supposedly existed since 1982, the second year of two massive pay increases under President Reagan that marked the last time rough parity is thought to have existed between military and civilian wages. The gap peaked at 13.5 percent in 1999, but in this decade, a series of raises slightly above the annual increase in the ECI has narrowed the gap considerably.

For 2008, the administration originally proposed a pay raise of 3 percent, which would have matched the ECI increase for 2006. The Pentagon argued that five consecutive years of robust increases had effectively eliminated any remaining gap.

But Congress eventually decided on a 3.5 percent raise for this year, in a nod to the idea that a gap still exists. According to military advocacy groups, the 2008 raise that took effect a few weeks ago has reduced the pay gap to about 3.4 percent.

Some advocates are already preparing to urge Congress to boost the administration’s proposed raise for 2009.

For example, the Military Coalition, an umbrella group of more than 30 military and veterans associations, said it hopes Congress will rally around a 3.9 percent pay raise, a half-percentage point above the Bush request, which would continue to slowly close the pay gap.

According to the 9th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, completed in 2002, overall regular military compensation — basic pay, housing and food allowances, and the tax benefits of those tax-free allowances — should be at the 70th percentile of comparable earnings of civilians with some college education. In other words, troops generally should be paid better than 70 percent of their civilian peers.

That figure was chosen as the target because the QRMC found that based on historical data, the military did not have recruiting or retention problems when pay was at that level.

The Congressional Budget Office issued a study in 2007 that found that in 2006, total cash compensation and the tax benefits of tax-free allowances for the average enlisted member exceeded the 75th percentile.

2009 Basic Pay: Proposed 3.4% Increase

Years of service: 0-20 22-40

2009 Drill Pay: Proposed 3.4% Increase

Years of service: 0-20 22-40

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Free foreign language education open to recruiters

by Megan A. Orton
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs


1/23/2008 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- All Air Force Recruiting Service active-duty, Reserve, guard, civil service and contractor employees interested in learning a foreign language are eligible to enroll in the Rosetta Stone Online Language Learning Center free of charge through the Air Education and Training Command library program.

Brig. Gen. Suzanne M. Vautrinot, Air Force Recruiting Service commander, who enrolled in Spanish through the online language learning center, says the program is a valuable opportunity for recruiters.

"With our wide recruiting demographic, a basic speaking ability in a second language can go a long way for a recruiter," the general said. "Recruiters enrolling in a program like Rosetta Stone can make all the difference when they talk with local communities and influencers."

The program is available to all interested Air Education and Training Command employees. The command purchased 1,600 access codes, which admit users to 30 different languages, including Spanish, Chinese, French and German, and less common languages like Arabic and Farsi.

Each code provides universal access to all of the available languages, so technically a recruiter could take classes in more than one language at a time.

Programs like Rosetta Stone not only serve to enhance a recruiter's education, but could also ease a future transition into an overseas assignment.

"Recruiters interested in learning a new language prior to a permanent change of station should begin learning the language a few months before they leave, giving them adequate time to learn the basics before putting the language to use in the overseas location," said Ms. Darlene Price, command librarian.

Before signing up, recruiters should visit www.rosettastone.com and click on "Learn More" to review a free online demonstration.

Recruiters can sign up by sending an email to darlene.price@randolph.af.mil. Spaces are first-come, first-served.

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Military absentee voting 'primary' concern for officials

by John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service


1/21/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- For Federal Voting Assistance Program officials, getting deployed troops and their families engaged in the current election season is a primary goal.
 
Ahead of the November general election, officials with the FVAP, which fosters voting participation by uniformed and U.S. citizens abroad, are assisting eligible absentee voters who wish to cast ballots in their states' primary election.

"It's important that voters participate in the upcoming primary elections," said Polli Brunelli, the program's chief. "We have over 20 primaries occurring in February, so now is the time, if you've received your ballot, to vote and get it back by the state deadlines."

Ms. Brunelli said registering to vote is a simple process. 

"Absentee voters fill out a federal postcard application form to request a ballot, send it into their local election official where the voter is legally authorized to vote," she said. 

The ballot will be sent to the voter, who then votes on the ballot and sends it back to the local election office.

Paper copies of the application form are available at military installations, embassies and consulates and from organizations of overseas citizens. Electronic forms are posted online at the Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site.

Citizens using this form should vote and submit it immediately using regular mail or, where allowed by state law, by fax or e-mail, to their local election officials. The FVAP's Integrated Voting Alternative Site shows citizens if fax or e-mail alternatives are permitted in their home state.

Voting assistance officers are stationed at military installations abroad to help implement FVAP program initiatives. Equipped with state-by-state voting assistance guides, the officers are available to assist servicemembers in navigating the registration process and election procedures, and inform voters of relevant deadlines, Brunelli noted.

FVAP officials carry out the responsibilities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which protects the voting rights of active-duty military members, Merchant Marines, eligible family members and citizens residing outside the United States.

Members of the U.S. armed forces traditionally represent an active component of overall voting-age Americans. The total voting participation rate among servicemembers was 79 percent in 2004, compared to the 64 percent rate of the general public, according to figures published by FVAP officials.

In a memorandum to military secretaries and top commanders sent Nov. 26, 2007, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscored the importance of extending voting rights to servicemembers at home and abroad.

"With the calendar of primary elections beginning early and stretching through September, 2008," Gates said, "it is important that the department and the services be prepared to carry out the voting assistance mission to inform and educate U.S. citizens of the right to vote, foster voting participation, and protect the integrity of the electoral process.

"Voting is a both a right and a responsibility of citizens in our country," Secretary Gates continued. "(Leaders of the armed services must) do everything we can to encourage participation and ensure that our servicemembers and families are able to exercise their right to vote and have that vote counted."

Federal Voting Assistance Program

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Air Force sponsors NASCAR truck


By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jan 16, 2008 6:34:28 EST
First, there was the F-15. Now there is the Air Force F-150.

The service has signed on to help sponsor a Ford F-150 pickup truck in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2008.

When the team showed up in Daytona, Fla. for testing Jan. 11, the No. 21 Ford driven by Jon Wood featured the Air Force logo on the hood.

The truck is part of the service’s sponsorship deal with Wood Brothers Racing that includes sponsoring a Ford Fusion in the NASACR Sprint Cup Series.

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