Thursday, December 20, 2007

Braley Continues Fight for Iowa Guard Members’ GI Bill Benefits

One thing that Iowa’s Rep. Bruce Braley has proven during his freshman year in Congress is that he’s not afraid to take on the entrenched powers of Washington, D.C. While serving on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Braley, D-Iowa, earned the respect of the blogosphere in March, when he grilled Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), over ethics allegations involving her role in briefing managers on the Republican Party’s prospects for 2008. (see video below the fold)

In October, Braley set his sights on the Pentagon. When he found out that 600 members of the Iowa National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry’s educational benefits had been shortchanged, Braley helped launch a formal congressional investigation into the matter. After returning home from 17 months of combat duty in Iraq, members of the 1-133rd were initially denied full GI Bill educational benefits because their active duty orders were written one to five days short of the 730-day GI Bill qualifying requirement.

"When the Pentagon's ineptitude leads to soldiers and their families being denied the benefits they deserve, it is Congress' role to provide oversight, accountability, and answers," Braley said in a press release. “While I'm hopeful that the cases of the members of the 1-133rd will all be resolved before classes begin next spring, the question of why the Army worded soldiers' orders just one to five days short of the 730-day requirement, when the Army clearly knows that this is the threshold for receiving Montgomery GI Bill Benefits, is still unresolved."

To help expedite claims and keep the soldiers and their families informed about the latest developments in the congressional investigation, Braley launched a website Dec. 12. “I’m also pleased to hear that over half of the 1-133rd members who were initially denied their benefits have been informed by the Army that they now qualify for full GI Bill educational benefits,” Braley said in a recent statement found on the new site. “I’m hopeful that the Pentagon will achieve their promise of getting full benefits to all of the troops affected by the error by the beginning of the spring 2008 semester in January.”

Rock Island Arsenal Furloughs: "Politics at its Worst"

Last week, Braley joined fellow Congressman Phil Hare, D-Il., to take on the White House and the Department of Defense, arguing it is unnecessary for the DoD to issue furlough notices to federal employees working at the Rock Island Arsenal.

In November, the White House and Defense Department warned that furloughs for 200,000 civilian employees could be sent before the holidays if they did not receive additional funding for the war in Iraq. However, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued a report Dec. 13, “Extending Army Operations in Advance of a Supplemental War Appropriation,” that found the DoD could continue operations on current DoD funds until March 2008.

Despite this, the Defense Department apparently intends to move forward with notifying civilian defense employees of possible furloughs as soon as this week. “Threatening Rock Island Arsenal and other Defense Department employees with ‘possible’ layoffs in the days before Christmas is politics at its worst,” Braley said. “The Congressional Research Service report has demonstrated that furloughs are unnecessary. The President’s politics of fear only serve to intensify the partisanship that is already poisoning politics. I’ll be working with Congressman Hare to do everything possible to protect Arsenal jobs from becoming a casualty of these ridiculous Washington games.”

In fact, the president has already approved billions of dollars of funding for Defense Department operations in FY 2008. Last month, President Bush signed the $459.3 billion Defense Department appropriations bill (HR 3222) into law. That bill included money for operations at the Rock Island Arsenal and represented a funding increase of $37.9 billion from FY 2007.

Bruce Braley Questions GSA Administrator Lurita Doan

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Remains of Fallen MIA Vietnam War Pilot Return to Le Mars

Lt. j.g. Norman L. Roggow, who was killed in action Oct. 8, 1967, yet had been missing in action (MIA) for the past 40 years will finally be put to rest next to his parents Friday in Le Mars.

In honor of Roggow’s service and sacrifice, Gov. Chet Culver has ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half staff on Friday, Dec. 14. Services, beginning at 11 a.m., will be held at the Grace Lutheran Church in Le Mars. Surviving members of Roggow’s family will be presented with a POW bracelet, a bronze plaque, a grave marker, the American flag and a videotape of his memorial service.

"It finally gets to the point where all questions to Norman's disappearance have been answered and our family is grateful to now have closure as he finally returns home,” Myron Pingel of Cherokee, a second cousin of Roggow's, told The Sioux City Journal.

The POW/Missing Personnel Office in the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., announced Oct. 24 that the remains of five servicemen, including Roggow, had been accounted for and would be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.

Roggow was one of five Navy personnel whose E-1B Tracer plane was reported missing Oct. 8, 1967, while returning to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. Records indicate that radar contact with the aircraft was lost approximately ten miles northwest of Da Nang, Vietnam, and adverse weather conditions hampered immediate search efforts.

Three days later, the plane wreckage was located by a search helicopter on the face of a steep mountain in Da Nang Province but the challenging terrain and hostile forces in the area prevented a ground recovery.

Roggow was a member of the Brook Country School class of 1959, the last class to graduate from the rural school located north of Aurelia. He is survived by three sisters, Connie Fraser, Marva Hanson and Diane Roggow, and a brother, Curtis Roggow.

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

Monday, December 10, 2007

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Poses Clintonian Catch-22 for GOP Hopefuls

Imagine a stage full of Republican presidential candidates standing underneath the national spotlight and agreeing with one another. Better yet, try imagining all of them agreeing with former President Bill Clinton.

CNN and YouTube helped make this scenario a reality Nov. 28 when the two hooked up and hosted a Republican presidential debate. Just two days before the 14th anniversary of the enactment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, the candidates were asked to tell what they thought about the law.

During the debate, retired Brigadier Gen. Keith Kerr asked: “I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.” Kerr, a Santa Rosa, Calif., native, served in the armed forces for 43 years, and, without being asked, told the audience that he’s an openly gay man.

Now the catch. The candidates could either agree with President Clinton’s initiative, or disagree with DADT, which implicitly supports Sen. Hillary Clinton’s stance. Sen. Clinton says the “outdated and outmoded” and should be repealed. Either way, the GOP hopefuls still end up agreeing with a Clinton, a major political faux pas in the Republican Party.

The plot thickens. It turns out Kerr had been named a co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s National Military Veterans group. After the debate, Kerr told CNN that he had not done work for the Clinton campaign. CNN claimed that Kerr told them he is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and was representing no one other than himself. The day after the debate, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said the retired general "is not a campaign employee and was not acting on behalf of the campaign."

Regardless of who Kerr was representing, the question had been asked and who asked it does not negate the question itself. The same question was asked at a Republican presidential debate in June. However, despite the legitimacy of Kerr’s question, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who moderated the debate, felt compelled to apologize to the Republican candidates. “We never would have used the general's question had we known that he was connected to any presidential candidate."

True, there are some ethical issues to consider about the process of how the question was asked, but this merely serves as a distraction to how the candidates responded (see video below).

California Rep. Duncan Hunter took first swing at DADT and played the Colin Powell card, who Hunter quoted as saying that “having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion.” However, nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians (Zogby International & the Michael D. Palm Center 2006 study).

Hunter, a military veteran, attempted to defend DADT with the unit-cohesion fallacy, while simultaneously negating the notion that 23 of the other 26 NATO countries are open to gays serving in the military. “Even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives,” Hunter argued. “They have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. To force those people to work in a small tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles, and it is their principles, is I think a disservice to them.”

Is Hunter suggesting the military segregate soldiers based on ideology to maintain unit cohesion? The military has a history of being one of the first governmental institutions to implement desegregation policies, yet Hunter wants to reverse this trend, which his fellow Republican President Harry S. Truman initiated in 1950.

In an attempt to appeal to his conservative base, Hunter opened up a new can of discrimination against moderates and liberals serving in the military. The big question is, if elected, would Hunter expand DADT to include anyone whose ideology isn’t consistent with the conservatives?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee echoed Hunter’s unit-cohesion stance. However, Huckabee did manage to undermine the premise underlying Hunter’s argument about protecting conservative principles. “The Uniform Code of Military Justice is probably the best rule, and it has to do with conduct. People have a right to have whatever feelings, whatever attitudes they wish,” Huckabee said. “But when their conduct could put at risk the morale, I think that's what is at issue. And that's why our policy is what it is.”

Here, Huckabee argues that it’s a homosexual’s conduct that jeopardizes morale, and by conduct I assume he’s referring to sexual conduct. However, no other soldier’s sexual conduct is put under the morality microscope, so under a Huckabee administration, soldiers who indulge in pre-marital sex or adultery are given a free pass.

Not to mention, the morale for combat troops in Iraq has already been plummeting, even with the DADT policy in place. Released in May, a Pentagon mental health study of troops in Iraq found 45 percent of junior enlisted Army soldiers rated their unit's morale as low or very low. Twenty percent of soldiers and 15 percent of Marines were found to have a mental health problem, defined as anxiety, depression or acute stress.

The report was based on data collected from some 1,300 soldiers and nearly 450 Marines in Iraq last fall. About two-thirds of those surveyed said they knew someone who had been killed or injured. More than three-quarters of soldiers and Marines said they had been in situations where they could have been killed or seriously injured.

The report also indicated 56 percent of soldiers were highly concerned about the long tours, something Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., tried to address with an amendment (S. AMDT. 2012) that would improve military readiness and require periods of down time between redeployment. The amendment was successfully filibustered by the Republicans in the Senate, much to the chagrin of Webb, a Vietnam War Veteran, who shared his disappointment on the Senate floor: "Today the Republicans decided to filibuster an amendment that goes straight to the well-being of our troops. I deeply regret this move. They expect us to take the sort of positive action that might stabilize the operational environment in which are troops are being sent again and again.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Arizona Sen. John McCain borrowed a tactic from the current Commander in Chief George W. Bush and deferred their commander-in-chief obligations to the military leaders in the field. “I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops, and I listen to what they have to say,” Romney said.

McCain reassured the audience he has his ear to the ground in Iraq and keeps in constant contact with military leaders in the field. “Almost unanimously, they tell me that this present policy is working, that we have the best military in history, that we have the bravest, most professional, best prepared, and that this policy ought to be continued because it's working.” Even if McCain’s assertion is proven to be true, one would have to question the sources. To openly question or refute an order that was signed by someone at the top of the chain-of-command goes contrary to a soldier’s training. Military personnel are trained to follow orders, and this includes generals.

McCain’s intelligence gathering doesn’t hold the same weight with retired generals. A group of 28 retired U.S. generals and admirals released a statement Nov. 29 urging Congress to repeal the current ban on openly gay troops:

We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights
of our citizens to believe whatever they wish. As General Colin Powell, Former
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said when the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was
enacted, it is not the place of the military or those in senior leadership to
make moral judgments.

Scholarly data shows there are approximately one million gay and lesbian veterans in the United States today, as well as 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in our armed forces. They have served our nation honorably.

We support the recent comments of another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, who has concluded that repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would not harm, and would indeed help our armed forces. As is the case in Britain, Israel, and other nations which allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality. Such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy.
The post-debate dust has already settled, and the GOP candidates have resumed their silence on the issue of DADT -- at least until the general election. While they can afford to choose silence, or risk losing their conservative base, the same luxury does not hold true for the 65,000 gay soldiers still serving in the military, who have had no choice but to remain silent their entire careers under DADT.

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

Monday, December 3, 2007

Culver Orders Flags Lowered to Honor Soldier Killed in Korean War

Cpl. Clem Robert Boody and his family can finally rest in peace.

The Independence native who served with the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, in the Korean War was declared missing in action after heavy fighting near Unsan, North Korea, on Nov. 2, 1950. He was presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953.

In April, Boody’s remains were positively identified by the Department of Defense as a result of DNA testing. His remains were among the remains of six American soldiers that North Korean military leaders turned over to a delegation led by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

"More than a half-century after Corporal Boody was reported missing in action while fighting for our country, he will finally receive a dignified burial next to his parents in Iowa," Richardson said following a private meeting in Des Moines with Boody’s relatives. "Cpl. Boody made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. I hope his relatives can get some closure after so many years of wondering what happened to their Uncle Clem."

Boody’s will be laid to rest in Independence on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and in honor of his sacrifice, Gov. Chet Culver has ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-staff on Tuesday.

Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, has been working on the issue of retrieving remains of soldiers for several years. During the April meeting in Pyongyang, General Ri said Gov. Richardson's involvement was a factor in sending North Korean soldiers to the Unsan region during recent months to look for additional remains. The remains of one soldier had been found in October 2006, and Ri ordered 10 North Korean soldiers to the region to search for more remains, Ri told Gov. Richardson.

In addition to help bring Boody’s remains home to his surviving family, Richardson ensured that Boody’s family finally received the Purple Heart he was awarded 53 years ago. In 1954, the U.S. Army sent a letter to Boody's mother, informing her that her son had been awarded the medal and telling her it would arrive soon. But the medal never came, despite repeated efforts by family members to obtain it over the past 53 years, Boody’s niece Stacey Brewer said at a private ceremony in Des Moines Nov. 5.

"My grandmother never gave up the hope that he would come home someday, because for her, the death was never final,” Brewer said at the ceremony attended by Richardson and 200 other guests in Des Moines. “She just couldn't get her arms around the fact that one of her kids didn't come home. There was no body. There was no goodbye."

In honor of Cpl. Clem Boody, the flag will fly half-staff at the Iowa State Capitol Tuesday, Dec. 4

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Human Right Campaign Calls Upon Democratic Hopefuls to Overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Friday marked the fourteenth anniversary of the enactment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. To mark the occasion, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) partnered with Servicemembers United (formerly Call to Duty), Log Cabin Republicans, Service Members Legal Defense Network and Liberty Education Forum, to host a three-day tribute this weekend. The event, “12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots,” took place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where 12,000 flags were displayed -- each one symbolizing a discharged service member under DADT.

To raise awareness against DADT on the campaign trail in Iowa, the HRC kicked off its “Legacy of Service Tour” in Des Moines in June. "The eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world are on Iowa as we elect our next president," HRC President Joe Solmonese told the audience at the Iowa Historical Museum. The HRC’s mission to repeal the law and educate politicians and the public about the facts have been addressed on its web site.

Moreover, the HRC wants to put a face on the campaign by enlisting veterans directly affected by the policy. Sensing this new call to duty, a number of former service members have stepped forward to share how the DADT policy has negatively impacted their military careers and personal lives. This includes Marine veteran Eric Alva, who lost a leg in the Iraq War. Alva, who has become a spokesman for the “Legacy of Service Tour,” told the Des Moines audience: “I am a man who survived a war, a man who survived a battle, only to come home to another battle, and that battle is for equality.”

Nearly six month have passed since the kick-off event, and the HRC’s efforts to repeal DADT have flown under the radar on the presidential campaign trail. Not until last week’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate did the DADT resurface, albeit under suspicious circumstances, on the national stage.

Meanwhile, on the Democrat side, the HRC has taken a more proactive role in soliciting responses from the leading Democratic presidential candidates to the question: “If you are elected President, what concrete steps would you take to overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?’” The candidates’ responses were posted last week on the HRC’s web site.

While all of the candidates promised they would repeal DADT, asserting the policy is outdated and discriminatory, only Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois provided concrete steps to overturn the law. Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Hillary Clinton of New York took the first step by initiating the overturn of the process, but fell short in providing a litany of concrete steps they would use to accomplish their objective. Dodd said he would call for a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up plans that would put an end to this policy within six months, whereas Clinton promised to work with high profile military leaders and retired military leaders who have called for the repeal of the law.

Although military leaders may share their insights as to what needs to happen, the DADT’s initial fate rests in the hands of the legislative branch, where the law was initially introduced and passed in 1993. If elected, Obama promised to work with Congress and place the weight of his administration behind enactment of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which will make nondiscrimination the official policy of the U.S. military.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246), which repeals the current Department of Defense (DoD) policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces, was first introduced in the House Feb. 28, 2007 by Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. The amendment prohibits the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation against any member of the Armed Forces or any person seeking to become a member. Moreover, the amendment authorizes the re-accession into the Armed Forces of otherwise qualified individuals previously separated for homosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexual conduct. Thus far, 136 House members have cosponsored the amendment, including Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.

“I will task the Defense Department and the senior command structure in every branch of the armed forces with developing an action plan for the implementation of a full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Obama said in a statement. “And I will direct my Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to develop procedures for taking re-accession requests from those qualified service members who were separated from the armed forces under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and still want to serve their country.”

Obama promises to go even further, claiming the eradication of DADT will require more than just eliminating one statute. “It will require the implementation of anti-harassment policies and protocols for dealing with abusive or discriminatory behavior as we transition our armed forces away from a policy of discrimination,” Obama said in a statement. “The military must be our active partners in developing those policies and protocols.”

Joe Solmonese speaks at 12,000 Flags event

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"