That empty pocket, Marine? For the pup.

WASHINGTON _ Because I just can't help myself. Because I'm a sucker for Marines and puppies.

Check out the cutest picture to come out of Helmand, Afghanistan. Persistence paid off for the lil’ guy. The puppy followed the 1/6 Marines for miles before hitching a ride. (Hat tip to @Starbuck_WOI)

Tricare beneficiaries get letters on security breach

WASHINGTON — The Washington Post is reporting today that many of the 4.9 million Tricare beneficiaries whose personal data may have been compromised are just receiving word of the security breach now, through letters sent to their homes.

The security breach happened back in September, when officials from Science Applications International Corp. admitted they had misplaced backup data tapes with personal information on 4.9 million Tricare patients treated at military facilities at San Antonio from 1992 through 2011.

NASA posts help-wanted ad for astronauts

WASHINGTON – The final space shuttle launch ascended into the heavens in July accompanied by lamentations from politicians, former astronauts and space policy analysts that the United States was abandoning human spaceflight.

What a difference a few months makes. NASA recently projected flight tests in 2014 for its next generation space capsule. And now the agency has posted job openings for astronauts to serve on the International Space Station on a federal job search website.

Shirtless SEALs in a romance novel. For charity.

With budget cuts on the way, does that mean that Navy SEALs will no longer be issued shirts?

Maybe not, but a girl can dream. Or more accurately, 18 romance novelists can dream---and they did. Then they got together and published a collection of short, sultry stories in which the female protagonists take aim in their own special way at the heroic SEALs, whose chiseled faces and brawny physiques cannot obscure their poet souls. Or something like that.

Perry says Panetta should resign in protest

WASHINGTON — Texas governor Rick Perry raised eyebrows Tuesday night during the 14th Republican presidential debate by suggesting that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta should resign to protest the hundreds of billions scheduled to be cut from military funding in coming years.

Pentagon planners are bracing for $600 billion in cuts to projected defense spending over the next decade after the deficit reduction committee on Monday announced its failure to develop an alternative plan to trim the federal deficit. The department has already agreed to cut another $450 billion over that span, and Panetta has stated publicly that more than $1 trillion in trims could cripple the military.

Night raids will continue to target Taliban

WASHINGTON – The controversial tactic of U.S. troops using the cover of darkness to surprise Afghan insurgents sheltering in homes will continue, said Gen. Daniel Allyn, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in the hotly contested eastern region of the country.

Afghan leaders and civilians have complained of the jarring night raids, and point to high-profile mistakes that led to the death of innocent civilians.

Care packages for IED dogs headed to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – Military dogs get homesick too.

At least that’s what the folks at MoveAmericaForward.org believe. Officials from the conservative action group this week are sending two dozen care packages to military mutts serving in Afghanistan, in an effort to show appreciation for the work they and their handlers perform in the war effort.

As supercommittee deadline looms, Pentagon still focusing on $450 billion in cuts

WASHINGTON – As the seconds ticked down Monday, the Defense Department stuck doggedly to a plan to reduce spending by some $450 billion over a decade, even as it appeared likely that far deeper cuts would be required.

The Pentagon won’t consider how to cut an additional $600 billion from national defense – the penalty if a congressional committee fails to agree on ways to slash the federal budget deficit by a Monday deadline – unless the committee does not reach a deal, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday morning.

Who controls what you see of the Afghan War?

WASHINGTON – The folks over at the Kings of War blog (run by faculty and students at the King's College Department of War Studies in London) offered an interesting take on ISAF and US military efforts to shift popular opinion of the war in Afghanistan through photos made available to media worldwide. The author, Jack McDonald, argues that the government-sanctioned photos offer easy and compelling art for journalists writing about the war, but not necessarily an objective viewpoint.

What I think is happening here is essentially a new method of control over the representation of war, one that is beyond propaganda, censorship or even embeds. It is the military out-competing objective journalists at their own game, and selling them (and the public) a biased representation of the war on terms that their accountants cannot refuse.

Stimulus money at work: wounded soldier centers

 WASHINGTON _ In all the heated debate over the success or failure of the $787-billion stimulus package of 2009, which these days is focused on President Barack Obama’s endorsement of the failed solar company Solyndra, neither side of the aisle ever talks about the money that went to military projects.

More than $7 billion was appropriated for construction throughout the Department of Defense. At Fort Campbell, that meant a new center for wounded soldiers and their families. The final phase of the $31.6-million project opened Monday. The complex has barracks for more than 200 soldiers, a family assistance center and unique recovery tools like a wheelchair obstacle course.

Panetta dedicates new Walter Reed

WASHINGTON – The nation owes wounded servicemembers the best possible medical care, and that’s what they’ll get, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised Thursday as he dedicated the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“To these warriors, this nation owes an irredeemable debt,” Panetta said. “And we owe them a health care system second to none that is equipped to meet their needs.”

150 years ago: The first Stars and Stripes

One-hundred and fifty years ago, the story has it, a group of Yankee soldiers having recently taken the small town of Bloomfield, Mo., came upon the abandoned offices of the town’s newspaper, the Bloomfield Herald.

Some within the group apparently knew their way around a printing press and put together a newspaper chronicling the activities of the units in the area. The next day, on Nov. 9, 1861, The Stars and Stripes was born.

Pentagon takes 'preliminary' look at nuclear cuts

WASHINGTON – Maybe everything really is, as they say, on the table.

The Pentagon today confirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is weighing a reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to help cut DOD spending and balance budgets.

Can a blood test reveal a traumatic brain injury?

WASHINGTON -- Public relations people are sometimes laughably off target. Like how, for example, did I end up on the media list for the American College of Emergency Physicians? Normally those press releases have nothing at all to do with what I cover as a military reporter, but today their release had the magic words: “traumatic brain injury.”

A new study published today in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that patients with TBI had a significantly higher amount of an acidic protein in their blood than those without TBI.

Hire veterans, Panetta urges business execs

WASHINGTON – U.S. troops have sacrificed for their country, and now it’s time for the country to give a little back as troops leave the military – not handouts, but job opportunities, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday at a forum with business executives.

Panetta met in New York with CEOs of major corporations including Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, as well as nonprofit and civic leaders.

Pentagon says new bin Laden raid book gets details wrong

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is dismissing an account of the Osama bin Laden raid contained in a new book by a former Navy SEAL.

Author and screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer says his still unreleased book, “Seal Target Geronimo,” is based on interviews of the elite SEAL team involved in the May 2 raid. The Pentagon said it could not confirm the participation of SEALs in Pfarrer’s reporting, but according to CNN, U.S. Special Operations Command has asked the troops whether they had been interviewed by the author. All claimed they had not, CNN reported.

Pentagon still figuring out "doomsday" specifics

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department will talk to Congress about specific consequences if the dreaded “doomsday mechanism” of automatic spending cuts kicks in, but not all the calculations of precise effects are ready just yet, a spokesman said Friday.

“The process that has been underway so far has been a strategy-driven process, and all the i’s have not been dotted and the t’s crossed on that process,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said.

Iraq troop numbers now falling quickly

WASHINGTON – The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen to about 34,000, and only 12 American bases are still operating, Maj. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq, said Thursday.

While the number of bases has been falling steadily for months, dropping from around 45 in August, troop numbers have now begun to decline in earnest, decreasing by about 7,000 in the last three weeks.

Congress approves disability pay raise for veterans

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers this week backed a 3.6 percent increase in veterans disability compensation for the coming year, sending the measure to the White House for final approval.

If signed into law – and the president is expected to do that in the next few days – the measure would mark the first cost-of-living adjustment for disabled veterans since 2008. The hike reflects an increase in the consumer price index, which gauges inflation increases for the coming year.

Commandant: Wear blue trousers to birthday ball

WASHINGTON -- Many Marine units will hold the Marine Corps Birthday Ball on Sunday, meaning those Marines are facing an important question: What pants to wear.

Sunday also happens to mark the fall time change, when Marines change from their summer to winter uniforms. That can be a conundrum for Marines, who have to figure out whether to wear the white or blue trousers with the dress blue uniforms.

Keys to preventing suicide: End the stigma, get better data

Stigma and a lack of good data are making it harder for the United States to combat the scourge of suicides among military members and veterans, according to a report released this week by the Center for a New American Security.

“I have no idea how many [veterans] die by suicide each day,” Jan Kemp, national mental health program director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said at a forum introducing the report. “You’ve seen [the statistic], 18 a day. Honestly I don’t know how correct we are. It’s our best guess right now.”

Pentagon: Afghan security handover to continue despite violence

WASHINGTON – Though Pentagon officials say an upsurge in attacks won’t stop the ongoing handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, there are signs the bloodshed may be giving the Afghans themselves second thoughts.

Rising violence has plagued Kabul recently, including a Saturday attack that killed 17 people – five NATO troops and eight civilians – who had been riding in an armored NATO bus.

Fort Monroe to become a national park

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama this morning designated former Army base Fort Monroe as a national monument, saying the move will preserve an important piece of American history and help bring new jobs to Virginia.

About 570 acres of the base, closed last month, would be set aside in a historic landmark district. Plans call for the preservation of the majority of the buildings left on the base and related improvements to create a full national park there, the 22nd in Virginia and 396th nationwide.

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