Archive for April 2014

April 11, 2014

First, Second Ladies Urge Support for Military Caregivers

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2014 – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, urged Americans to support the nationwide work of military caregivers in an opinion piece published this morning on the website of Military Spouse Magazine.

In their op-ed, Obama and Biden announced that the Department of Defense is creating in-person caregiver peer forums at every military installation that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world. They will also be creating online tools, so that caregivers who aren’t able to attend an in-person forum can connect to their peers as well.

And, the op-ed said, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and many other organizations are committing to train 10,000 caregiving peer mentors — a commitment that will reach 50,000 caregivers nationwide.

The text of the op-ed follows:

“On June 7, 2012, Linda Mills received a phone call that changed her life forever: Linda’s husband, Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Mills, had been seriously injured when an IED exploded in Afghanistan.

“Almost immediately, Linda quit her job to become Andrew’s full-time caregiver. In the weeks and months after the explosion, Andrew underwent more than 30 surgeries. The two of them moved from North Carolina to Virginia, so that Andrew can rehab at a state-of-the-art military hospital. And every single day, Linda has stood by her husband’s side, helping with physical therapy, assisting with daily personal care, and managing the family’s legal and financial responsibilities.

“Today, after two years in her new role as a caregiver, Linda considers herself not just a military spouse, but a nurse, an advocate, a scheduler, and a coach. And as she often says, even a tragedy can lead to a new beginning — in a few weeks’ time, she and Andrew will welcome their first child into the world.

“And Linda’s story of commitment and resilience isn’t unusual.

“There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in our country, including 1.1 million who support our newest generation of post-9/11 veterans. According to a study commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, many of these caregivers don’t have much of a support network for themselves, and over time, the physical, logistical, and emotional demands of caregiving can take a serious toll. In fact, caregivers report more strains on their relationships at work and at home than non-caregivers. Often, their own health suffers, and they are at higher risk for depression. There are financial consequences too: military caregivers wind up missing as many as three or four days of work a month — and that means lost income as well.

“The burden that these women and men bear for our country is real — and they shouldn’t have to shoulder it all alone.

“That’s why, three years ago, the two of us started our Joining Forces initiative. We wanted to show our appreciation for the incredible families across America who do so much for our country. And we wanted to show our support not just with words, but with real, concrete action.

“This month, we’re celebrating our third anniversary of Joining Forces and taking pride in the progress we have made with help from individuals across the country who’ve stepped up to answer our call. In just three years, hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses have been hired or trained by businesses nationwide; all but a few states have streamlined their professional licensing requirements to better meet the needs of veterans and military spouses; and so many schools, faith communities, community groups, and neighbors have found countless ways to make a difference for our military families.

“But this month isn’t just about celebrating everything we’ve achieved — it’s about challenging ourselves to do even more for our military families. And that means reaching out to more and more of our military caregivers. We are thrilled to work with Senator Elizabeth Dole and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter to bring together leaders from across the country to make commitments on behalf of these courageous women and men. For instance, the Military Officers’ Association of America, USAA Bank, and the American Bar Association are working together to launch a new website to provide caregivers with legal and financial assistance. Easter Seals is expanding its caregiver training, so that thousands more caregivers can get the skills and resources they need to help their loved ones. And the Chamber of Commerce is expanding its Hiring Our Heroes program to help caregivers get more flexibility in the workplace, so that they can more easily balance their caregiving responsibilities with the demands of their jobs.

“Plus, we know how important it is for caregivers to be able to connect with their peers so they can lean on — and learn from — someone who’s stood in their shoes. So we’re proud to announce that the Department of Defense is creating in-person caregiver peer forums at every military installation that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world. They will also be creating online tools, so that caregivers who aren’t able to attend an in-person forum can connect to their peers as well. And on top of all that, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and many other organizations are committing to train 10,000 caregiving peer mentors – a commitment that will reach 50,000 caregivers nationwide.

“All of these new commitments are a big deal, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. Because they all come on top of the tremendous caregiver support offered by the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Four years ago, President Obama signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, and since then, thousands of caregivers have received travel reimbursements and financial stipends of up to about $2,300 a month. Thousands more have received comprehensive caregiver training, health insurance through the VA, and mental health care and counseling. And through this law, caregivers are eligible for up to 30 days a year of respite care, which means they can relax and re-energize — or just find some time to clean the house and buy some groceries.

“So we want to encourage all eligible caregivers to take advantage of these benefits and connect with a host of other resources by visiting and

“In the end, that’s really what Joining Forces is all about — connecting military families with the resources available to them, and rallying our country to do even more. So we’ll be asking everyone across America — whether you’re a business owner, a faith leader, or simply a neighbor down the street — to ask yourself what more you can do to help these families that have done so much for us.

“And most of all, we want all of our military spouses and caregivers — like Linda Mills and millions of others — to know how awed we are by their strength, determination and service to this country. We’re going to do everything we can to keep rallying people all across this country to step up in ways that make a real difference for them and them families. And we’re going to keep working until we have served them as well as they have served us.”

April 9, 2014

Obama Eulogizes Soldiers Killed in Fort Hood Tragedy

By Nick Simeone American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2014 – For the second time since a mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, five years ago, President Barack Obama returned to the Army post today to again pay tribute to soldiers cut down by one of their own, offering condolences to the families of those killed by an Army specialist last week and acknowledging that “part of what makes this so painful is that we’ve been here before.”

“Once more, soldiers who survived foreign war zones were struck down here at home, where they are supposed to be safe,” Obama told mourning families and members of the Fort Hood community. “This tragedy tears a wound still raw from five years ago,” the president said during a ceremony held at the same location where he eulogized the 13 people killed by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in November 2009 in what stands as the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base in history.

“It was love for country that inspired these three Americans to put on the uniform and join the greatest army the world has ever known. … They lived those shining values of loyalty, duty, honor that keep us strong and free.”

Obama recalled how all three of those killed — Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Michael Ferguson, Staff Sgt. Carlos Lazaney Rodriguez and Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens — served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that Ferguson and Owens were cut down while trying to prevent the gunman, Spc. Ivan Lopez, from claiming further victims.

“As we’ve heard, when the gunman tried to push his way into that room, Danny held the door shut, saving the lives of others while sacrificing his own,” the president said. “And it’s said that Timothy, the counselor, even then gave his life walking toward the gunman trying to calm him down.”

As this second shooting at Fort Hood has shown, the president said, it will never be possible to eliminate the risk of such incidents. “But as a nation, we can do more to help counsel those with mental health issues, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are having such deep difficulties,” he added.

He pledged that as commander in chief he is determined that “we will continue to step up our efforts to reach our troops and veterans who are hurting, to deliver them the care that they need and to make sure we never stigmatize those who have the courage to seek help.”

While Obama said the exact motive for last week’s shootings is still not known, investigators have said Lopez had argued with members of his unit just prior to opening fire and also was being evaluated for mental health issues, although mental illness has not been identified as a factor in the rampage.

As he wrapped up his solemn remarks, Obama said the three soldiers were “members of a generation that has borne the burden of our security in more than a decade of war,” calling them extraordinary citizens in an era when fewer Americans know someone in uniform.

“Like the 576 Fort Hood soldiers who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were taken from us much too soon,” he said. “Like the 13 Americans we lost five years ago, their passing shakes our soul.” Yet, he noted, the people affected somehow bear what seems unbearable.

April 7, 2014

DOD Must Meet New Challenges With Smaller Force

By Amaani Lyle American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 – The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request recognizes that the U.S. military must meet homeland and global objectives with a pared-down force, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine H. Fox said today at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa.

“The budget is based on strategic imperatives and recognizes a time of continued transition and uncertainty for the U.S. military in terms of its roles, missions and the available resources,” Fox said. “The last decade has been dominated by protracted land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, … but now our focus has to move to preparing to counter a variety of security threats and embracing opportunities on all points of the compass.”

The decision to maintain the U.S. technological edge at the expense of size was based not only on stark lessons of history, Fox said, but also on rigorous analysis.

“Past major drawdowns — World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War — all kept more force structure in the military than could be adequately trained, maintained and equipped given the defense budgets at that time,” she said. This, she explained, forced the U.S. military at those times in history to disproportionately cut into accounts that fund readiness and modernization, which created a hollow force.

To determine the size of the forces needed, Fox said, officials used two critically important inputs: existing operational plans and the global force management allocation plan that provided an estimate of steady-state requirements for U.S. forces to support the day-to-day needs of combatant commanders.

“This analysis showed that for the active Army, a force size of 440,000 to 450,000 was adequate to meet these demands when accompanied by a Reserve force of 195,000 and a National Guard of 335,000.”

Together, Fox added, this force of 980,000 soldiers would meet the priorities specified in the strategy as laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review, which ultimately means that after years of growing the Army, the time has come to shrink it.

“[The current] Army has born the burden of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it’s a bitter pill to be rewarded in this way,” Fox said. “We have no choice but to get smaller for all of the services.”

Still, Fox noted, the opportunities for the future U.S. forces will be endless. “There are tremendous opportunities for Army to contribute in securing the gains in Afghanistan, keeping the peace in Korea, engaging in Africa, or delivering humanitarian relief to countless nations,” she said.

The specific tenets of the president’s strategic defense guidance weighed heavily in DOD budget request choices, Fox explained, include shifting operational focus and forces to the Asia-Pacific region while sustaining commitments to key allies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Fox also underscored the concurrent need to be able to defeat a major adversary in one part of the world while denying victory to an opportunistic adversary elsewhere and reducing the force planning requirement to conduct large, prolonged counterinsurgency and stability operations.

DOD also will aggressively pursue terrorist networks and counter weapons proliferation while enhancing cyberspace and missile defense capabilities and maintaining a smaller but credible nuclear deterrent, the acting deputy secretary said.

“The world has gotten no less dangerous, no less turbulent or in need of American leadership,” Fox said. “And unlike previous drawdowns, there is no obvious peace dividend as there has been in the past, such as at the end of the Cold War.”

At the same time, Fox said, there is a strong possibility in fiscal year 2016 that national defense resources may not reach the levels envisioned to fully support the president’s strategy.

While Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had no choice but to prepare for the current austere budget environment, Fox said, the president’s fiscal 2015 budget request provides $115 billion more over the next five years than sequester-level funding. Meanwhile, current law requires sequester-level spending cuts to resume in fiscal 2016.

“This budget plan and the associated proposals provide a sustainable path toward shaping a balanced force, a force able to protect the nation and fulfill the president’s defense strategy, albeit it with some additional risk,” Fox said. “Attempting to retain a larger force in the face of potential sequester-level cuts would create a decade-long readiness and modernization holiday on top of the program cancellations and delays that we’ve already had to make.”

Going forward, Fox said, DOD must figure out a way to institutionalize the lessons from the past 13 years knowing that the desire of the nation is to move away from these wars.

“The Army cannot turn into a large garrison force waiting for the next land war,” Fox said. “There is just too much to do in the world, and we need clever ideas on how to be everywhere, do everything with fewer forces across the entire joint force.”

The challenge persists to regrow and reshape the Army into the future, Fox said.

“We must determine what we need to retain in the smaller force to allow you to get to a larger force quickly if necessary when needed in the future,” she added.

April 3, 2014

Army Mourns Loss of Soldiers at Fort Hood

By David Vergun Army News Service


WASHINGTON, April 3, 2014 – For the Fort Hood, Texas, community and the Army family worldwide, “this is a time once again to come together, to stand as one as they have so many times before, drawing strength from each other,” Army Secretary John M. McHugh told lawmakers today.

McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno appeared before a Senate Armed Services Committee posture hearing that was supposed to focus on readiness, manpower, modernization and the budget. But after the hearing opened, the focus quickly shifted to yesterday’s tragedy at Fort Hood, in which a soldier allegedly killed three other soldiers and then killed himself.

Sixteen other soldiers were injured, three critically, but the rest were reported to be in stable condition. The gunman killed himself when confronted by a female military policeman, McHugh said.

“We lost people who are part of our Army family,” Odierno told the senators, “and we take that incredibly seriously.”

The general said he spent a lot of time at Fort Hood as a commander at various levels and understands the “resilience of the community” and that the soldiers there are incredibly proud of the jobs they do. Odierno said he’s confident of the leadership of the Fort Hood commander, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, who recently returned from Afghanistan.

In November 2009, Fort Hood suffered a similar shooting incident. Then, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured others. Odierno said he believes the alert procedures developed after that shooting, as well as the training provided to soldiers, may have helped prevent yesterday’s tragedy from developing into something “much worse.”

The FBI, the Veterans Affairs Department and the state of Texas are all providing valuable assistance, he said.

McHugh provided facts about the tragedy that lawmakers requested, describing the investigation as still “fluid.”

The alleged shooter joined the Army in June 2008 as an infantryman, McHugh said. He deployed to the Sinai with the Army National Guard for a year, then became a truck driver. In 2011, he deployed to Iraq in the active component during the final four months of the U.S. presence there.

His records show no wounds, no direct involvement in combat and no injury that would warrant further investigation of a battlefield traumatic brain injury, the Army secretary said. He was undergoing a variety of treatment. He had diagnoses for mental health conditions ranging from depression to anxiety to some sleep disturbance, McHugh continued. He was being prescribed a number of drugs to address those, including Ambien.

Last month, the soldier was seen by a psychiatrist. There was no indication or sign of likely violence to himself or others and no suicidal ideation, McHugh said. The plan forward was to continue monitoring and treating him as deemed appropriate.

The soldier’s service record is clean in terms of major misbehaviors, he said.

The weapon believed to have been used in the attack was a .45-caliber pistol that the soldier had recently purchased, McHugh said. The weapon wasn’t registered, and when he brought it on post it was there illegally, he added.

The alleged shooter lived off post and was married. His wife is being questioned, the secretary said.

Thus far, there’s no indication of involvement with extremist organizations of any kind, according to Army records. “But we’re not making any assumptions,” McHugh said. “We’re keeping an open mind and an open investigation. We’ll go where the facts lead us.”

McHugh laid out what the Army is doing in the tragedy’s aftermath.

“Our first responsibility is to the families of the fallen, those who have been wounded and those close to them,” he said. “We have ordered all possible means of medical and investigatory support as well as added behavioral health counselors.

“Any time the Army loses a soldier, we all mourn,” he continued. “When that loss comes at the hands of another soldier, … it just adds to the sorry and the all-consuming sense of loss the Army is feeling this day.”

Another Shooting at Fort Hood Texas, please keep those affected in your Prayers…

April 2, 2014


One person was dead and at least eight others were wounded in a shooting at Fort Hood, Texas — the same base where a military psychiatrist killed 13 people 4½ years ago — military officials told NBC News.

Military officials said that the shooter was dead and appeared to be a lone gunman who took his own life.

U.S. officials told NBC News the gunman was identified as Ivan Lopez, 34. It wouldn’t confirm reports that Lopez was in uniform or that he had taken his own life. His address was in the Ft. Hood area.

Four of the eight wounded were “extremely grave” condition, according to U.S. military officials.

The Associated Press reported that as many as 14 people were injured, quoting a senior U.S. defense official.

President Barack Obama spoke after the shooting, saying, “We’re heartbroken something like this might have happened again.”

He added, “We’re following it closely. The situation is fluid right now … I want to just assure all of us we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Few details were immediately available, but a supervisor at Scott & White Memorial Hospital told NBC News that the hospital was “setting up a command center.”

Bell County and state public safety deputies were securing the perimeter of the area, a senior local law enforcement source said.

The FBI was also on scene to support law enforcement, according to the sources.

Shooting at Fort Hood

Waco police told the public to avoid the fort, saying on Twitter that “there is an on-going active shooter.”

Nevertheless, dozens of friends and relatives of Fort Hood personnel gathered in the base’s visitors’ seeking information about loved ones, NBC station KCEN of Waco reported.

Witnesses and military officials said the shooting occurred about 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET). The base’s emergency alert system immediately sounded, and all personnel were told to shelter in place.

Antonio Ortiz, 30, who lives a quarter of a mile from the east gate of Fort Hood, said he heard a commotion and went outside to hear alarms going off and announcements for people to stay inside.

He went back in and turned on the TV news, then soon after heard a barrage of gunshots.

“It sounded powerful,” he said, adding that while it seemed to be coming from the base, he couldn’t rule out the possibility someone in the civilian neighborhood was shooting.

“I’m scared for my son. He’s 7,” Ortiz said. “But I do have a 12-gauge pump shotgun.”

Central Texas College nearby was being evacuated, and all Thursday evening classes at the college and at Fort Hood were canceled, the college said.

And several lawmakers — in and out of Texas — called for prayers afterwards.

Maj. Nidal Hasan was convicted in August of the killing in November 2009 and injured 32 others.

In September, a gunman opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 and wounding 4 before being slain by police. Last month, a civilian shot dead a sailor aboard a ship at a U.S. Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia.

Courtney Kube and Tom Winter, Tracy Connor and Monica Alba of NBC News contributed to this report. This is a developing story. Refresh this page for more.

First published April 2nd 2014, 3:12 pm