Tuesday, November 27, 2007

State Buildings Fail to Comply with Gov. Culver’s First Executive Order

Gov. Culver’s intentions may have been in the right place when he signed his first executive order as Iowa’s commander-in-chief, a directive that calls for flying flags half-staff to honor Iowa’s newly fallen soldiers. But the question still remains whether the governor intends to put his foot down and enforce its compliance. Although the flags on the State Capitol grounds were flying half-staff on Saturday under a directive signed by Culver, two buildings flanking the capitol, the Iowa Workforce Development (pictured to left) and Iowa Department of Public Safety buildings (pictured below the fold), failed to comply.

Culver’s first executive order in office, signed Jan. 27, recognizes and honors all of Iowa’s soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Culver’s order stipulates that Iowa’s state flag and the flag of the United States of America are to be flown at half-staff on all properties under the state’s jurisdiction when:

1. A member of the Iowa National Guard is killed in the line of duty.
2. A member of the Iowa Air National Guard is killed in the line of duty.
3. An Iowa resident serving as a member of the United States Armed Forces is killed in the line of duty.
On Saturday, all flags in the state were supposed to be flown half-staff in honor of Army Sgt. Adrian Hike of Sac City, who died while serving in Afghanistan on Nov. 12. Hike, who was awarded a Purple Heart after sustaining injuries while serving in Iraq in 2005, was killed in Afghanistan when insurgents set off an improvised explosive device next to his vehicle during a combat patrol in Bermel. His funeral was in Carroll on Saturday.

Noncompliant flags fly full-staff in Iowa Deptartment of Public Safety, which is located just southwest of State Capitol

The governor’s executive order also encouraged individuals, businesses, schools, municipalities, counties and other government subdivisions to fly the flag at half staff on Saturday as well as a sign of respect for the fallen soldier. This recommendation presents a problem, however: How does the governor’s office effectively communicate this directive to the aforementioned entities?
This communication gap was highlighted in an August column by Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson, who related the incident of a “borderline disgusted” caller, who was upset by the number of flags that were not at half-staff in honor of Marine Sgt. Jon Bonnell, Jr., 22, of Fort Dodge, who was killed in Iraq on August 6, 2007.

P.J. Sesker Green, the aunt of Sgt. Daniel Sesker, an Iowa National Guard soldier killed last year, wondered why a number of businesses were not flying their flags at half-staff on the day of Bonnell's funeral. So Sesker-Green stopped at a few places and asked questions. "I told them the governor asked everybody to do it on the day of a funeral as a sign of respect," she told Carlson over the phone. "Some people told me they'd never heard such a thing. Some told me they didn't know anything about the Marine being buried that day. I think all of them were embarrassed."

To help address this communication gap, the governor’s office added a new feature to its refurbished web site, which allows people to sign up for e-mail updates regarding flag notifications. The e-mails are a start, but on Saturday, the majority of Des Moines’ businesses’ flags were not lowered in recognition of Hick’s sacrifice. While patrolling the downtown area in my car, the only businesses and institutions I observed flying their flags at half-staff were the Principal Financial Building, WOI television station, and Central Campus.

Granted, it was Saturday, a day when most government buildings shut down for the weekend holiday. Unfortunately, for those government employees serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war does not take a holiday.

U.S. flag flies half-staff Nov. 24 2007 in honor of Sgt. Adrian Hike, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Culver Orders Flags Lowered Half-Staff to Honor Fallen Iowa Soldier

Gov. Culver ordered that all flags in the state be flown at half staff on Saturday, Nov. 24 in honor of Army Sgt. Adrian Hike of Sac City who died while serving in Afghanistan on Nov. 12, 2007. Hike’s funeral is set for 9:30 a.m., at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Carroll.

Hike was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan, where he was serving as a paratrooper in Afghanistan. Hike had received a Purple Heart for his service after suffering injuries during a tour in Iraq in 2005. After undergoing several surgeries, Hike returned to active duty before being deployed to Afghanistan.

Hike graduated from Sac City High School and is survived by his mother, father and four brothers. Hike is the 63rd person with Iowa ties to die in Afghanistan or Iraq since March 2003.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Iowa Guard Unit Spends Veterans Day Weekend on Road to Iraq

While many Iowans spent Veterans Day weekend recognizing veterans and their sacrifices, members of the 186th Military Police Company, a Johnston-based Iowa Army National Guard unit, were bus-bound to Fort Dix, N.J. For the fourth time in the past 17 years, the Combat Military Police Company has been ordered to federal active duty. The 186th will report to their mobilization station at Fort Dix, N.J. for additional training and preparation before assignment to a specific location sometime after Christmas.

A community sendoff ceremony was held Saturday in the Ankeny High School gymnasium, where an estimated 2000 friends and family members gathered to wish their loved ones a safe deployment. The sendoff was also attended by political dignitaries, including Gov. Chet Culver, who reassured the soldier’s that their families will be in good hands during their deployment. “To the families, please know that we stand ready to assist you if there is anything we can do to for you,” Culver said.

Moreover, Culver reassured members of the 186th that he’ll keep fighting on their behalf on the Iowa home front. “As your governor, please know that I will do everything in my power to help you when you return and transition into civilian life. We will fight for you when it comes to health care, housing and educational assistance," Culver said. “I’m grateful to the 186th for your service to our state and our nation and all the sacrifices you are making, including putting yourselves in harms way. Being away from loved ones is a testament to your dedication to all Iowa citizens and to your entire country.”

Culver was not the only one promising to keep watch on the home front. Several friends and family members of Sgt. Owen Fuller donned t-shirts with Owen’s name on the front and “Got Your Back…” on the back.

“They wanted to surprise Owen and let him know that they’ll help take care of his wife and infant daughter while he’s deployed,” said Tom Healy, a longtime friend of Fullers. “The First Sergeant told me I had a whole platoon of people here to see me,” Fuller joked to his friends and family as they gathered around him. (below)

Having previously served in Iraq during 2003-2004, the 186th will be mobilized for its second deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq “There an outstanding unit and have terrific soldiers from top to bottom of the ranks,” Iowa National Guard Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood told the Iowa Independent. "They will have a successful mission over there, because they have worked and trained hard to get them as proficient as they are at this point.”

Culver echoed these sentiments with the closing remarks of his brief speech during the ceremony: “I’m grateful to the 186th for your service to our state and our nation."

Gov. Culver makes his rounds and pays respects to members of the 186th Military Police Company

Friday, November 9, 2007

Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus to Release ‘Four Points of Honor’ Platform Today

On the eve of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) Jefferson Jackson Dinner and Veterans’ Day Weekend, the Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus (IDVC) will unveil their federal policy platform priorities, “Four Points of Honor,” at a press conference today at the Iowa State Capitol Building in Des Moines. The event will be held in the rotunda and will be attended by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

The Four Points of Honor grew out of the IDVC, which has been pushing veterans’ issues to the forefront of the political agenda with the intent of elevating theses issues during the build-up to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses Jan. 3. The IDVC, which considers their efforts “Our Second Call to Duty!” hopes to set the stage for veterans all over the country. In addition to building a network of politically active veterans and pushing a national agenda, the IDVC will be working with Gov. Chet Culver and the Iowa General Assembly to elevate veterans’ issues at the Statehouse.

Given the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush administrations’ failure to provide for the growing number of veterans and veteran-related issues, the IDVC feels that veterans need to get organized and advocate for themselves. “This is an historic time in our country, and I urge you to answer this ‘second call to duty,’” says Bob Krause, chair of the IDVC. “Your country needs your involvement now as never before.”

The IDVC is also concerned that veterans, who served prior to the current wars, will be left behind and will continue its fight to keep these voices heard in the political discourse. These veterans know what it’s like to be ignored, forgotten, and cast aside in the political arena and have adopted the battle cry as part of its IDVC mantra, “Never Shall One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another!”

The Four Points of Honor bring more focus on veterans’ issues regarding veterans’ health care costs and budgets, eligibility requirements, equity for Guard and Reserve veterans, and special medical needs. The IDVC has passed the following resolutions that reflect these Four Points of Honor:

1. VETERANS HEALTH CARE COSTS AND BUDGETS: The Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus supports mandatory federal funding for veterans’ health care for all veterans.

2. VETERANS ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS: It is the unwavering position of the Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus that the Veterans Administration (VA) health care provisions are a contractual agreement earned by veterans. As such, we insist that financial means testing, co-pay and any or all other devices utilized to exclude or limit veterans’ health care benefits be rescinded.

3. EQUITY FOR RESERVE AND GUARD VETERANS: The Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus is deeply troubled and concerned that both Reserve and National Guard veterans are treated differently under the terms of the Montgomery GI Bill than are active or Regular Armed Services veterans. We call on each Democratic presidential candidate and each member of the Iowa Congressional delegation to review the status of veterans’ educational benefits for the Reserve and Guard and bring them to parity with the educational benefits of Regular Armed Services veterans.

4. VETERANS’ SPECIAL MEDICAL NEEDS: The Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus supports increased emphasis on the provision of and delivery of medical special needs for all Veterans. These special needs include services for the following physiological and psychological service-related injuries and disabilities:

-Mental Disorders (with particular emphasis placed upon and directed toward PTSD)
-Medical and mental health services specific to Women Veterans
-Traumatic Brain Injury,
-Orthopedic injuries and amputation services.

For more information on the Four Points of Honor, including the rationale behind the resolutions, go to the IDVC website to read the policy platform in its entirety. Any Iowa veterans interested in learning more about the IDVC or becoming a member of the organization are also encouraged to visit the group’s website. The IDVC’s next meeting will be held at the Communications Workers of America headquarters in Des Moines tomorrow, Nov. 10th, at 10:00 a.m.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bush Signs Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill into Law

With the stroke of a pen President George W. Bush signed the Joshua Omvig bill into law, ending a drawn-out political chapter that overcame a procedural hold in the Senate. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who named the bill after one of his constituents, Joshua Omvig of Grundy Center. Omvig committed suicide in Dec. 2005 after returning from an 11-month deployment in Iraq.

“By directing the Veterans Administration (VA) to develop a comprehensive program to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans the law will help thousands of young men and women who bravely served our country,” Boswell said in a press release following Bush’s Monday signing. “The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act not only honors Joshua’s service to his country but ensures that all veterans receive the proper mental health care they need.”

Boswell also had words of praise of praise for Joshua’s parents, who have been relentless advocates for the bill’s passage. “I commend Joshua’s parents, Randy and Ellen Omvig,. While suffering this personal tragedy they went on to help other veterans and their families, and have advocated for improving all mental health services at the VA,” he said.

Boswell’s efforts were picked up in the Senate by fellow veteran, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who helped push the measure through the Senate. "As a nation we cannot stand idly by when the needs of our brave soldiers are not being met," Harkin said. "We have a responsibility to truly support our troops by ensuring they have the services they need during their time in active service, and after they return home."

The bipartisan bill unanimously passed in the House March 21 by a vote of 427-0 before moving on to the Senate where it hit a procedural snag. Led by Harkin the bill was expected to overwhelmingly pass before going into the August recess until it hit a road bump. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. put the bill on hold, citing duplication and second amendment concerns that Harkin called (stronger verb) "bogus." Undeterred, Harkin kept fighting for the bill's passage and solicited fellow Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to help persuade Coburn to lift the hold. The bipartisan effort paid off and the bill cleared the Senate hurdle Sept. 27.

Grassley was pleased Bush signed the bill as well. “Today’s action helps give veterans who are suffering mental anguish a place to turn when all else seems lost,” he said in a statement “These are brave men and women who need to know that there is help out there and they deserve medical treatment just like any other veteran.”

The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327) is designed to help address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans by requiring mental health training for Veterans Affairs staff; a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility; and mental-health screening and treatment for veterans who receive VA care. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention. The VA had been implementing a number of these programs, but not in a timely manner, whereas the Joshua Omvig bill mandates these programs and subsequent deadlines as a means of expediting the process for returning veterans.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

In Case You Missed It, Flags Flown Half-Staff for Fallen Iowa Soldier Yesterday

If you did not know that all flags in the state were to be blown at half staff on Saturday, you are not alone. I also am guilty of not knowing that Gov. Chet Culver had issued an executive order in honor of Army Sergeant Joseph Milledge, 23, a native of Glenwood who died on October 5th, 2007, from wounds suffered in Iraq. I knew that Milledge’s funeral was planned for yesterday, but I assumed the governor’s directive would carry over to Monday, since most government buildings in Iowa are closed on Saturday.

Assume no more, for Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge have developed a proactive tool on their newly refurbished website that will provide flag notifications via email. The purpose of Culver’s first executive order in office is to recognize and honor Iowa’s fallen sons and daughters, but unfortunately, effectively communicating this directive to Iowans has had a few snags since Culver signed the order in January.

In a Des Moines Register column in Aug., John Carlson related the incident of a “borderline disgusted” caller, who was upset by the number of flags that were not being flown half-staff in honor of Marine Sgt. Jon Bonnell, Jr., 22, of Fort Dodge, who was killed in Iraq on August 6, 2007. P.J. Sesker Green, the aunt of Sgt. Daniel Sesker, an Iowa National Guard soldier killed last year, asked a number of businesses why they were not flying their flags at half-staff. So Sesker-Green stopped at a few places and asked questions. "I told them the governor asked everybody to do it on the day of a funeral as a sign of respect," she told Carslson over the phone. "Some people told me they'd never heard such a thing. Some told me they didn't know anything about the Marine being buried that day. I think all of them were embarrassed."

Milledge was buried last month in Washington state, the home of his wife, Amanda. A memorial service was held for his friends and family in Glenwood Saturday, where 200 people gathered in the Glenwood High School gymnasium to pay their final respects and honor Milledge, who was killed Oct. 5 in Baghdad, Iraq, when insurgent forces detonated an improvised explosive device while he was on combat patrol.

Survivors include Milledge’s wife of three years, Amanda, and his one-year-old son, Joseph, Jr. Milledge’s family said in a statement: “Joe loved his wife and son very much. His son will know his daddy was a hero and died for what he believed in.”

Joseph Milledge enlisted in the Army in August 2003, about a year after graduating from Glenwood High School. After training in Texas, he was sent to Iraq about a year later for his first tour of duty. After that tour ended in 2005, Milledge was stationed in Germany before being sent to Iraq for a second tour. Milledge was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany, according to a news release from the Department of Defense. He is the 62nd person with ties to Iowa to die from injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan since March 2003.