U.S. military moving forces in vicinity of Libya

As Libya tilts toward greater violence, U.S. naval and air assets are being repositioned in the area near the North African country, a Pentagon spokesman reported Monday.

Col. Dave Lapan wouldn’t say precisely what forces are on the move or what they might be called on for as Libyan rebels aim for the overthrow of embattled President Moammar Gadhafi. Pentagon planners are running through the full range of contingencies, he said.

Army to unveil new PT test on Tuesday

WASHINGTON – The Army will finally unveil the long-awaited new physical fitness test Tuesday at Fort Jackson, S.C., and Stars and Stripes will be there. With tennis shoes on.

Soldiers will finally find out how the Army plans to modify the test to better simulate battlefield conditions. The current test, which includes pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run, has not changed since 1980, according to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

DOMA moves don’t affect DADT repeal plans – yet

WASHINGTON -- Confusion over the future of the Defense of Marriage Act won’t have any effect on the ongoing “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal before the Defense Department – at least for now.

Last week, White House officials ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending court cases challenging DOMA, which allows the federal government to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions conducted in individual states. The law was also the basis for the Department of Defense’s decision not to grant housing stipends and family benefits to gay troops when “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed later this year.

Baseball tryouts Saturday for military all-star team

WASHINGTON – Nothing says America more than a friendly game of baseball in the summer … except maybe a baseball team filled with military personnel saluting the American flag. Organizers with the U.S. Military All-Stars team are again looking for servicemembers and veterans to help fill their baseball squad for exhibition games throughout the summer. Tryouts start Saturday at San Diego State University in California at 10 am.

The team, which has been playing since 1990, holds exhibitions throughout the summer against college and professional teams across the country and overseas. Manager Terry Allvord, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, said last year the team had about 150 military members, most playing for a few weeks at a time during breaks in their service.

NATO set for emergency meeting on Libya unrest

STUTTGART, Germany -- NATO leadership is gathering in Brussels on Friday for an emergency meeting on the unrest in Libya, where clashes between opposition forces and Moammar Gadhafi’s regime has some people demanding that the international community get more involved in the unfolding crisis.

One of the issues that could emerge is whether the allies should come together for the purpose of enforcing a no-fly zone over the country-- a measure that Libya’s own deputy ambassador to the United Nations says is needed to protect civilians from aerial assaults.

Rep wants Obama to put ROTC back on campuses

WASHINGTON -- Iraq war veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is asking the White House to take stronger action against any university that refuses to allow ROTC on campus, including shutting down all federal funding to those institutions.

The request comes in the wake of news last week that a wounded Iraq war veteran was heckled by classmates at Columbia University during a forum on bringing ROTC back to that campus. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Hunter called that and the refusal to allow military groups on campuses "an insult to anyone who has ever worn a uniform in defense of the nation."

NATO officer confers with allies on U.S. force levels in Europe

STUTTGART, Germany-- The consultations with allies appear to be well under way, but whether that means a decision is on the horizon regarding future troop levels in Europe is anyone’s guess.

Back in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called out U.S. European Command’s “excess force structure” as one of the areas he would be targeting for future cuts. However, before making those cuts consultations must take place with European allies, Gates said at the time.

Vets groups appalled by heckling at Columbia

WASHINGTON – Veterans groups are seething over news that wounded Iraq war veteran Anthony Maschek was heckled by fellow Columbia University students during a recent forum about bringing ROTC back to the school.

The former Army staff sergeant was shot 11 times and lost a leg in a firefight in northern Iraq in February 2008, and spent two years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering from his wounds. He was hissed and booed last week as he spoke out in support of the ROTC program and the military, according to news reports.

Message to troops in Bahrain: Avoid Facebook faux pas

STUTTGART, Germany-- So what advice do commanders have for troops stationed in a place like Bahrain, where thousands of demonstrators have been hitting the streets everyday as part of an effort to overthrow their autocratic government? Be mindful of what you say on Facebook.

Here was the directive given out by e-mail last week to sailors in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet:

Clinton calls for more support in Somalia

STUTTGART, Germany -- Soon after four Americans were killed by Somali pirates on Monday, the U.S. government quickly issued a statement condemning the murders, offering sympathies to the victims’ families and making a plea to the international community.

“This deplorable act firmly underscores the need for continued international progress toward confronting the shared security challenge posed by piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a press statement. "The United States encourages those members of the international community concerned about stability in Somalia and piracy to contribute to (African Union Mission in Somalia ) by providing material, financial, and logistical support. The United States also encourages additional African contributions to the AMISOM peacekeeping force.”

Trial starts for JBLM soldier accused in murder cover-up

WASHINGTON _ Another 5th Stryker Brigade soldier goes to trial Wednesday in the aftermath of potentially the worst case of American war crimes to come out of the Afghan war.

Spc. Adam Kelly is one of seven Lewis-McChord soldiers charged with crimes related to the cover up of three alleged murders of unarmed Afghans during the unit's deployment to Afghanistan last year. Five other soldiers in Kelly's platoon are accused of killing civilians for sport during patrols in Kandahar and taking body parts as trophies.

Lawmakers seek military flex spending accounts

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to set up flexible spending accounts for military families to potentially save them hundreds of dollars a year in certain health care and child care expenses.

The accounts, already available to Defense Department civilian employees, allow workers to set aside a portion of their income before taxes to cover out-of-pocket child care expenses and certain medical payments, like physician co-pay costs and purchase of eye glasses. A family that spends $5,000 on child care costs a year could see up to $1,200 in savings because of the tax breaks involved.

In Bahrain, Navy downplays impact of protests

STUTTGART, Germany-- As thousands of Bahrainis gathered on Friday to mourn the deaths of five protesters killed during the ongoing unrest in Bahrain, U.S. military personnel living and working in the shadow of the upheaval continue to keep a low profile.

More than 4,000 servicemembers are stationed in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. And remarkably, since start of anti-government demonstrations and a subsequent crackdown by Bahrain’s autocratic government, the U.S. Navy has quietly continued operations amid all the tumult.

Bill Cosby made honorary chief petty officer

WASHINGTON – Bill Cosby went from a boy to a man during his four years in the Navy. For Cosby, getting up at 4:30 a.m. for boot camp was a “wakeup call,” both literally and figuratively.

“At that time, you have to be up, you have to be awake with this call, and that’s the beginning of the obedience, and I think that’s the thing that also pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made guiding my life and what I could do with myself,” said Cosby.

Rep expects troops to remain in Iraq into 2012

WASHINGTON – The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee believes that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq after this December, even though the current status of forces agreement calls for all American servicemembers to be out of the country by 2012.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he expects the Iraqi government to amend that agreement to permit some U.S. trainers and counterterrorism units to remain past the deadline. And, despite past opposition to the war from many Democratic lawmakers, Smith said he expects support from both political parties for leaving “a small number” of troops there.

Fail! British army fires senior non-coms via email

RAF MILDENHALL, England – Call it a face-palm or just a massive fail. Either way, British army Maj. Andy Simpson isn’t having the best of weeks.

Simpson has been at the center of what the Brits call a “row” with the revelation in recent days that he fired 38 senior non-commissioned officers via email, one of whom was deployed to Afghanistan at the time.

Vets groups want more money for VA budget

WASHINGTON – The White House in its new budget proposal has asked for about 3 percent more in discretionary spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs than it did a year ago, making the VA one of only a few agencies scheduled for a funding boost. And while veterans groups are praising that news, they’d also like to see just a little bit more.

On Monday, a coalition of veterans advocacy groups – authored by AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America – released its annual Independent Budget, which calls for $65.3 billion in VA discretionary spending next fiscal year.

DOD official: Cyberdefense is not a military mission

WASHINGTON – It’s not the military’s job to defend U.S. computer networks from attacks, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official said Tuesday, but the nation needs no less than Y2K-level focus to prevent a catastrophic cyberattack.

As Congress and the White House continue to wrangle over how various federal agencies will be responsible for U.S. cyberdefense, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn met with executives from Google, Intel and Microsoft in California, and laid out the Pentagon’s vision for cybersecurity.

Coffman: It’s time to completely end the draft

WASHINGTON — No American has been drafted into military service since 1973, but for the last 31 years every 18-year-old male in the country has been required to sign up for the draft just in case. Now, at least one Republican lawmaker wants to dismantle the draft altogether.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has introduced legislation to abolish the Selective Service System, calling it “an outdated program that has cost us well over $700 million in the last 31 years.” The Army and Marine Corps veteran, who served in Iraq in 2005, said the move could save taxpayers up to $24 million a year and free up military personnel currently assigned to handle paperwork associated with the program.

Gates: ‘No idea’ on size of Afghanistan drawdown

WASHINGTON – Don’t read too much into the Pentagon’s 26 percent slash to the overseas war budget.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon does not yet know how many troops will draw down from Afghanistan this year. Instead, the Defense Department is budgeting to hold level at 98,000 troops through 2012. Just don’t bet on that.

Though most of the $42 billion drop can be attributed to the pullout from Iraq, Gates said the DOD is not taking chances.

Great lengths, cost as U.S. identifies remains of 11 missing in WWII bomber

ARLINGTON, Va. – The 11 men inside a B-24 Liberator bomber that went missing over Papua New Guinea in November 1943 were among more than 2,000 World War II flyers whose bodies are believed littered across the archipelago’s towering, mountainous terrain. Now they are finally, officially, found.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that the remains of all 11 have been recovered and identified, 67 years after they disappeared, and 26 years after officials first learned of the wreck site in a dangerous, landslide-prone ravine in 1984. It is the latest example of the extraordinary determination – and high cost – of the U.S. military’s mission to recover the human remains of fallen fighters scattered across the world.

More protection for troops working near burn pits

The military is looking to expand the availability of breathing masks after two Democratic senators asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month to provide them to troops who work near burn pits.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer, of New York., and Bill Nelson, of Florida, made the request after Army Sgt. William McKenna, 41, died from a rare case of lymphoma, which the lawmakers believe was linked to toxic fumes from exposed burn pits in Iraq.

Pentagon: Alleged Egyptian military attacks on journalists “have to stop”

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Any involvement by the Egyptian military in detaining and abusing journalists “are inappropriate and have to stop,” a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday.

Col. David Lapan acknowledged the Pentagon has seen such reports. “I don't think we know exactly who might be participating in these,” he said. But, he added, they did not reflect the overall performance of the Egyptian military.

Senators want caregiver benefits now

WASHINGTON – A group of senators is asking White House officials to speed up plans to train and pay caregivers of wounded troops, noting that by law the first checks should have gone out to those families last month.

In a letter released this week, 17 senators – including the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee – wrote that “very seriously injured veterans and servicemembers should not be made to suffer by being denied care essential to daily living.” The caregivers benefits were passed by Congress last spring, but the Department of Veterans Affairs still has not provided a report, due last November, on implementation of the program.

Mullen: U.S. military shifting focus to Asia-Pacific, needs partners to face changing threats

ARLINGTON, Va. – In a new strategy document released Tuesday, Adm. Mike Mullen said the U.S. military must continue to build allies and focus more on deterring conflicts by remaining forward deployed in regions where threats are growing, especially Asia and the Pacific.

The U.S. must prepare for an “increasingly dynamic and uncertain future,” said Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by forging deeper security partnerships with U.S. allies and new players.

Gates silent as Egypt roils

 ARLINGTON, Va. – As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime teeters from massive protests that have captivated Washington and U.S. officials continue to monitor the discipline – and loyalties – of the crucial Egyptian military, Defense Sec. Robert Gates has gone silent.

“He’s just not interested in talking about this subject,” Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said Friday morning.

Gauging security through Porta-Johns

Might something as lowly as bathroom facilities indicate progress, or the lack thereof, in Afghanistan? The Marine fortress in Helmand province, Camp Leatherneck, features a Porta-John on every corner plus tents and trailers full of airplane toilets that flush with a loud whoosh.

Patrol Base Jaker in Nawa comes equipped only with Porta-Johns. And bases in Marjah are provided with the most primitive of all — “wag bags” short for “waste alleviation and gelling” bags — plastic bags into which one actually goes to the bathroom.

AWWW YEAH! New tanker time! Maybe.

RAF MILDENHALL, England – Yes, February has the Super Bowl. It also marks Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, but forget all that. Here at Stripes we’re all amped for…THE NEW AIR FORCE TANKER CONTRACT AWARD ANNOUNCEMENT!

Well, at least there’s hope for an announcement. The service has been trying for a decade to replace its current in-air refueling fleet. Regardless, we are dubbing February the Month of the Tanker. I am anyway.

New Army helmet can stop some 7.62mm rounds

This year, the Army expects to start fielding a combat helmet that can stop some 7.62mm rounds, said Col Bill Cole, of Program Executive Office Soldier, the Army’s center for advanced equipment.

“Right now, the Army is committed to buying 200,000 [helmets],” Cole said. “I’d be surprised if we stopped at that number.”

Air Force gets ready to push out more officers

RAF MILDENHALL, England – Some Air Force officers could see themselves involuntarily out of a job by this fall under a new force management program announced Wednesday.

Despite the service implementing a multi-year program in 2010 to reduce the size of the ranks, the Air Force still ended Fiscal 2010 approximately 2,300 officers over its 331,700 end-stength, according to an Air Force news release.

Activists: New strategy against LRA needs work

STUTTGART, Germany- President Barack Obama is getting mixed marks from human rights groups for how he is implementing a newly crafted strategy to dismantle the Lord’s Resistance Army—a notorious rebel group based in central Africa that is known for filling its ranks with abducted children who serve as soldiers and sex slaves.

In November, the Obama administration released a strategy that committed the U.S. to helping civilians threatened by the LRA, which formed more than two decades ago in Uganda and in subsequent years has served as a destabilizing force in the broader region. That strategy was mandated by the bipartisan LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which has been described as one of the most widely supported pieces of Africa-specific legislation in recent history.

Mullen confident Egypt military can secure country through crisis

WASHINGTON – The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, told his Egyptian counterpart this morning he wanted to see a “return to calm,” and offered his confidence that the Egyptian military could secure the country and the strategically vital Suez Canal. It is the latest round of praise by American leaders for the restraint of the Egyptian military, which is armed with decades-worth of American-made weaponry and training.

The statement from Mullen’s spokesman, however, came as live cable news accounts from Cairo depict Egyptian military forces in tanks doing little or nothing to stop waves of attacks on peaceful protestors in the heart of Tahrir Square from Molotov cocktails and baton-wielding horse and camel riders.

Veterans vow to fight Bachmann budget cuts

WASHINGTON – Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann earlier this week unveiled her latest plan to rein in government spending, proposing more than $400 billion in budget cuts in lieu of raising the nation’s debt ceiling again. In a statement, the Minnesota Republican said she’s calling on lawmakers to “do the hard work of making real and necessary cuts in federal spending.”

But the proposal immediately upset veterans groups, because it includes $4.5 billion in cuts to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an area where most conservatives on Capitol Hill have been reluctant to even suggest cuts.

USF-I: Iraq buys F-16s — wait, never mind

The Iraqis have wanted F-16s for years, and on Tuesday, it looked like they were finally going to get them when U.S. Forces-Iraq issued a news release saying the Iraqi government had agreed to purchase 18 of the fighters.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki signed an agreement on Jan. 31 to buy 18 of the fighters, which are scheduled to be delivered in mid-2013 the news release said. The United States will train Iraqi pilots and ground crews. Ten Iraqi pilots are already being trained in the United States.

Happy birthday, Frank Buckles!

Frank Buckles was 16 years old in 1917 when he lied about his age to enlist in the military. It took three tries before he found a recruiter willing to buy his fib, but he wound up in the Army and soon was off to Europe.

He survived World War I, and he survived a Japanese prison camp during World War II, and he survived, well, everything else that life has thrown his way.

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