Chiarelli, who championed welfare of soldiers, retires as Army vice chief

WASHINGTON – Gen. Peter Chiarelli retired Tuesday, stepping aside as Army vice chief of staff but insisting that in civilian life he’d continue working to improve care for what he called “the signature wounds of this war” – post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Chiarelli, 61, who was honored in a ceremony at Joint Base Meyer-Henderson Hall, Va., led a task force to cut down the rising rate of soldier suicides and pushed to improve diagnosis and treatment for troops with invisible injuries.

Think tank asks troops to weigh in on pay, benefits

WASHINGTON — Researchers at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments are surveying troops and their families to see which pay and benefits packages are too important to lose, and which ones could be trimmed to help save the military money.

The survey can be found at www.csbamilsurvey.org. The work comes just days before the Pentagon unveils its fiscal 2013 budget proposal, the first spending plan featuring billions in defense cuts designed to help rein in the federal deficit.

With DADT done, gay rights groups shift focus

WASHINGTON — “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed last September, but gay rights groups say they still face a series of fights to define equality in the military for years to come.

Late last week, Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp introduced new legislation to “codify protections of religious liberty of chaplains and servicemembers” in the wake of the “don’t ask, don’t tell repeal.” The measure states that chaplains cannot be required to perform a same-sex marriage if they object to the union, and that military facilities cannot be used for any such ceremony.

Kelly nominated to be next SOUTHCOM commander

WASHINGTON — Marine Gen. John F. Kelly has been nominated to become commander of U.S. Southern Command, which encompasses 31 countries in Central and South America.

If confirmed, Kelly, who currently serves at the Pentagon as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s senior military assistant, would replace Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser at SOUTHCOM, a command that deals with a range of security issues including drug trafficking, Marxist insurgencies and leftist regimes with ties to Iran and Russia. Panetta also nominated Kelly, a lieutenant general, to receive a promotion to the grade of general.

Army adds international flair to this year's MREs

As you hungrily tear into one of this year’s new Meals, Ready to Eat offerings, the Army hopes it’s the best field ration you’ve ever had.

Army food scientists at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts have spent ages developing, testing and producing the two new main dishes for 2012 — Asian pepper steak and Mexican chicken stew. There’s also an array of new side menu items including a fiber-fortified banana nut Ranger bar, jalapeno-cheese-filled crackers, au gratin potatoes, multigrain snack bread and sour fruit candy discs.

'Big Miracle' tells love story of TAPS founder

WASHINGTON — As founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Bonnie Carroll is best known for becoming a champion for bereaved military families after her husband was killed in a 1992 crash of an Army C-12 transport plane in Alaska.

But a new movie coming out next month has shifted the focus to one of the happiest times in her life: the whirlwind romance with the National Guard colonel she married.

The film, “Big Miracle,” premiered Wednesday night in Washington with hundreds of TAPS families in the audience. It tells the story of three whales who were trapped in the ice near Alaska in 1988 and the efforts to save them.

Carroll was working at the time as a staffer in the Reagan White House, coordinating with the Alaska National Guard. She spoke often with then-Col. Tom Carroll.

Gay rights groups plan military families summit

WASHINGTON – Gay rights groups are planning a national summit in May to tackle issues of equality and support services for same-sex couples in the military community.

Organizers said the May 14-15 event will include outreach to lawmakers and defense officials to push for fairer laws regarding the treatment of gay troops and their partners or spouses. Since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed last fall, the rights groups have shifted their efforts to fighting for equal recognition by the Defense Department of same-sex couples, which would entitle non-military partners to base access, benefits and support services.


Aviano airman finds music in a monitor

Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles McDaniel was with his wife, LaQuita, at Italy’s Aviano Air Base hospital on Dec. 15, where she was waiting to give birth to baby Kingston.

Something on the heart monitor “slipped out of place,” McDaniel said, producing a rhythmic “beep beep.”

Military guests at tonight’s State of the Union

WASHINGTON – The White House has announced its guest list for tonight’s State of the Union address. Here’s a quick look at the military members and veterans who will be attending the event (bios supplied by the White House):

Army Sgt. Ashleigh Berg -- Berg is from Malibu, California, and joined the United States Army in July of 2004. She has been stationed in South Korea and Germany, and has served two tours of duty in Iraq. Her husband, Army Sgt. Matthew Berg is currently deployed to Afghanistan on his 3rd combat tour. She is currently assigned to the 94th Army Missile Defense Command in Fort Shafter Hawaii, and is serving a three year tour as the Commanding General’s Executive Administrative assistant.

Gay troops overseas let teens know "it gets better"

NAPLES, Italy – In a move that would have gotten them kicked out of the military just a few months ago under “ don’t ask, don’t tell,” a group of gay troops stationed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan have produced their own “It Gets Better” video.

Posted on YouTube, the two-and-a-half minute video features members of the gay-rights lobbying group Outserve talking about the importance of being true to one’s self.

Time for troops to think about absentee ballots

WASHINGTON – The Republican presidential nomination could be all but sewn up after tomorrow’s South Carolina primary, but Army voting officials are reminding soldiers that doesn’t mean election season is finished.

Human Resources Command officials this week are highlighting their new public service announcements and online election tools to encourage soldiers to update their voter registration information before the rest of the spring primaries and the November general election. Lt. Col. Stewart Stephenson Jr., chief of the soldier programs branch at the command, said that’s particularly important in light of the thousands of troops who shifted out of Iraq in just the last few months.

Lawmaker warns against too harsh punishment for Marines in video

WASHINGTON – Marine Corps veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday not to “make a statement” with the punishment of four Marines shown urinating on Taliban corpses in an online video.

Hunter, who served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, says the Marines’ actions were clearly wrong and warrant some punishment. But, in a letter the defense secretary, he questioned Panetta’s public remarks that the men will be “held accountable to the fullest extent,” saying that prison time is likely too extreme a reaction.

Group calls Marine corpse abuse video overblown

WASHINGTON -- Members of the conservative group Move America Forward have lashed out at media coverage of a video of Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, calling the stories sensationalized and insisting that any discipline leveled against the troops should be light.

The video, made public last week, shows four members of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, during their 2010-2011 deployment to Afghanistan. The men joke about the fallen enemy fighters and appear to relieve themselves on the bodies, actions which could violate U.S. military rules and international war crime statutes.

Pentagon: Military buildup near Iran not aimed specifically at Iran

WASHINGTON – The number of U.S. combat troops in Kuwait has risen sharply “based on the need” in the Middle East, the Pentagon conceded Friday, denying the recent influx is aimed squarely at Iran.

Tension between Iran and the United States has ratcheted up in recent weeks, with Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on the Iranian oil industry to punish the country for its nuclear program. U.S. officials have said Iran will be stopped if it tries to make good on its threat.

Troop cuts in Europe: How far should they go?

STUTTGART, Germany — For the past 10 years, U.S. infantrymen stationed in Europe have deployed time and time again to Iraq and Afghanistan. During that decade of near constant absence from their respective garrisons, Europe has remained secure.

Would anything change for Europe if some or all of the four Europe-based U.S. Army brigades in Germany and Italy redeployed to the U.S. or disbanded as part of an effort to cut Pentagon costs?

Marines investigating video allegedly showing troops urinating on Taliban corpses

WASHINGTON — Marine Corps officials are investigating a video that allegedly shows four servicemembers urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, an offensive act which could again inflame anti-American sentiment worldwide.

The video, posted Tuesday on YouTube, shows four men in U.S. military uniforms standing above the corpses, joking and making references to relieving themselves on the dead men.

Erratic driving an increasing problem among returning combat veterans

WASHINGTON — Does climbing behind the wheel of the family SUV make you nearly as nervous as you were behind the wheel of a military vehicle in Afghanistan or Iraq? Do you get anxious at intersections or stopped in heavy traffic, jittery when you pass garbage strewn across the road?

Erratic driving by combat veterans is increasingly a problem on American roadways, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a report by USAA, a leading insurer of active-duty troops. The study found that accidents in which the servicemembers were at fault went up by 13 percent after deployments. The riskiest period appeared to be the six months returning from a deployment.

State rep wants DADT return for Oklahoma Guard

WASHINGTON – Gay troops have been allowed to serve openly in the military for fewer than four months so far, but one Oklahoma state lawmaker said that has already been long enough.

Republican Rep. Mike Reynolds has introduced legislation to reinstate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for Oklahoma Guard members, a move he said was prompted by requests from current Guard members unhappy with the change. The Tulsa World newspaper has been covering the story.

Washington job fair targets military spouses

WASHINGTON – An upcoming Washington employment fair aims to help servicemembers’ spouses, who bear a significant and overlooked share of the burden in many military families, find jobs of their own.

The event, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. National and local employers will meet with spouses of active-duty and reserve military members, as well spouses of retirees, veterans and fallen servicemembers. In addition to putting job seekers in touch with recruiters, the event will also feature coaching in skills such resume writing and job interviewing.

Ron Paul debacle prompts reminder for troops

WASHINGTON — A soldier’s on-stage endorsement of presidential candidate Ron Paul following the Iowa caucuses last week has prompted defense officials to send out reminders on how troops can and can’t participate in the upcoming elections.

The soldier, Army reservist Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, gave an interview in uniform on CNN speaking in support of Paul’s campaign, then later appeared on-stage with the Republican presidential hopeful at a post-caucus rally. Pentagon officials the next day acknowledged that Thorsen had violated military rules concerning election-year campaigning.

Navy rescues Iranian fishermen, creates awkward moment for Iran

WASHINGTON – Iran, which has more or less threatened to start a war in recent days over the presence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, apparently owes the U.S. Navy a big “thank you” for the rescue Thursday of 13 Iranian sailors who had been held by pirates.

According to a 5th Fleet press release, the crew of an SH-60S Seahawk flying off the guided missile destroyer USS Kidd in the northern Arabian Sea noticed what looked like a pirate skiff alongside an Iranian fishing dhow. After the crew of the dhow, the Al Molai, radioed a distress signal, a team from the Kidd seized the boat without resistance.

House Republicans attack new military strategy

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s unveiling of a new strategy for a leaner, more agile U.S. military drew positive but sparse reaction Thursday from House Democrats. House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., one of the few Democrats to offer a public comment, called it a responsible framework that “shows that simply spending more money on defense does not necessarily makes us safer.”

But House Republicans were much more vocal in their criticism of the plan and the president. Here’s a sampling of their reactions:

Obama to kick off defense budget strategy rollout

WASHINGTON - A rare presidential appearance in the Pentagon press briefing room on Thursday will kick off an overview of how officials are deciding what parts of the Defense Department fall under the budget-cutting knife.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to outline defense budgeting priorities, followed by an explanation by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey of the strategy guiding more than $450 billion in budget cuts over the next decade. Panetta and the White House argue those cuts can be made without damaging U.S. national security, a point influential Congressional Republicans don’t concede. Meanwhile the threat of over $1 trillion in cuts mandated by deficit cutting legistation hangs if a deadlocked Congress can’t agree on a budget solution.

Panetta to lay out strategy behind impending defense cuts

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday will lay out the thinking behind several hundred billion dollars’ worth of pruning from future defense budget growth, a Pentagon official said.

But details about the defense programs and personnel from which the cuts will be excised may have to wait until President Barack Obama submits his federal budget proposal. Deadline for the proposal is just over a month from now.

Chairman of Guard Bureau joins Joint Chiefs

The Joint Chiefs of Staff has grown by one, with existing members, however reluctantly, welcoming the chairman of the National Guard Bureau as a full member.

Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley took his place among the president’s top military advisers on Saturday when President Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

U.S. warships will continue their rounds in Persian Gulf, Pentagon says

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military won’t tiptoe around the Persian Gulf region because of Iranian threats, the Pentagon promised Tuesday.

“The deployment of U.S. military assets to the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “These are regularly scheduled movements in accordance with our longstanding commitments to the security and stability of the region and in support of ongoing operations.”