Obama: DADT repeal in ‘weeks, not months’

WASHINGTON – Earlier this month, gay rights groups lamented Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement that he would not certify the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” before leaving office. Now, President Barack Obama is signaling that those supporters won’t have to wait long for the new defense secretary to end the controversial law.

In comments at a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual pride month event at the White House last night, Obama said that “in a matter of weeks, not months, I expect to certify the change in policy –- and we will end ‘don't ask, don't tell’ once and for all.” He told supporters that said the repeal is part of a broad swath of policy changes that shows he “delivered on what I promised” during his presidential campaign.

Army, Marine Corps rated most important to defense in survey

NAPLES, Italy — In a potential nod to 10 years of land wars in two countries, a recent Gallup poll found Americans view the Army and Marine Corps as most important to national defense, followed by the Air Force and the Navy.

This differs from the pre-Iraq war years when, according to Gallup, Americans named the Air Force as the most important branch.

Obama, Pentagon plan big send-off for Gates

WASHINGTON — Few government employees get a retirement party like what’s in store for Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a farewell dinner Monday night. Gates’ staff held a dinner Tuesday night. President Barack Obama and the first lady host a dinner at the White House on Wednesday evening. And on Thursday, Gates’ last day in the Pentagon, Obama will attend the formal Armed Forces Farewell Tribute outside the Pentagon, complete with 19-gun salute.

Military recruitment and retention stay strong

NAPLES, Italy — All four active-duty military services have met or exceeded recruitment goals as of May for this fiscal year.

According to a Defense Department release, the Army recruited 44,950 new soldiers, above its 44,200 goal. The Navy recruited 20,942 people, its exact goal number, according to the release. Air Force ranks were also right on the money, with 18,444 “accessions.”

New website helps military spouses find jobs

WASHINGTON -- With unemployment among military spouses at 26 percent, the Defense Department is kicking off a new program to help spouses find jobs.

The Military Spouse Employment Partnership website allows spouses to enter their zip code and see what jobs are being offered by employers in their area who have partnered with the Defense Department specifically to hire military spouses.

Did you know today was PTSD Awareness Day?

Today is PTSD Awareness Day.

We know this because the Department of Veterans Affairs has a website devoted to the day, and because the American Federation of Government Employees issued a press release calling on the VA to hire more mental health professionals.

Marines in Afghanistan get ballistic underwear

UPDATED JUNE 24, 10:07 A.M.

WASHINGTON --More than 15,000 pairs of ballistic underwear have been issued to Marines serving in Afghanistan, according to the Marine Corps.
Made from "scientifically-tested ballistic silk," the underwear is meant to provide extra protection against roadside bombs, a 2nd Marine Division news story said. The garment is designed to stop small fragments from a blast and prevent sand and other fine particles from getting into blast wounds, staving off potentially deadly infections.
The goal is to give each Marine who regularly goes outside the wire three pairs of the special underwear and one pair each for those who stay on base.

Wanna be in a zombie film? BRAINS!!!!!

NAPLES, Italy – Are you into zombies? Dream about battling them, or being there as war is waged against the undead hordes?

If so, the makers of "World War Z," starring Brad Pitt, want you.

Hollywood talks military suicide prevention in PSA

In two new public service announcements for suicide prevention, celebrities Michael Chiklis, Melissa Leo, Terrell Owens, Omar Epps and others encourage servicemembers and their families to get help if they need it. 

They "don't know what it's like" to be in the military but they do know "your family needs you; we need you," the stars say in the PSA. 

Instant reviews of ABC's Combat Hospital

Last night, ABC premiered the latest military-themed television drama, this one based on combat surgeons and physicians serving in Afghanistan. From the show's website:

Modeled after the real Canadian-led NATO Role 3 Hospital, the set is a meticulous re-creation of a portion of the hospital compound and the vast Kandahar Airfield, including the helicopter landing zone, boardwalk area and barracks, which housed over 15,000 military and civilian personnel.

Army considers more uniform changes

Soldiers who hate the black beret won the day, but those who think the entire Army should adopt the MultiCam pattern uniform that troops wear in Afghanistan won’t get their way.

Introduced in 2000 and made a formal part of the Army’s uniforms in 2001, the beret was controversial from the start. When Stars and Stripes reported a week ago that it was (mostly) going away, the story became one of the most popular and most commented on at stripes.com for days afterward.

1.6 percent raise for troops next year all but final

WASHINGTON — Bad news for troops hoping for a last-minute pay bump from the Senate’s defense budget planners: On Friday, leaders there backed a 1.6 percent pay increase for troops starting in January, the same slim plan already outlined by the House and president.

The inclusion of that mark in both the House and Senate drafts of the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill means that it’s almost certain that it will end up in the final measure. The pay raise is slightly above this year’s 1.4 percent boost but roughly half of the typical increases servicemembers received during the last decade.

Army suicides in May are most in nearly a year

Twenty-one active-duty soldiers are believed to have committed suicide in May, according to a statement released by the Army yesterday. That figure is the most since last June.

There were only seven suspected soldier suicides in March, but that number jumped to 16 in April before rising again in May. Last year, the Army reported 156 potential active-duty suicides. So far in 2011, there have been 67 suspected or confirmed suicides, leaving the service on a similar pace to 2010.

Lawmakers want Obama to halt DADT repeal

WASHINGTON — A group of 23 Republican lawmakers are asking President Barack Obama to halt any repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law while Congress renews debate on the future of the law.

The letter comes in response to a recent suggestion by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he may give the final OK for repeal of the controversial law barring openly gay troops in his final days in office. The lawmakers, led by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, say that ending the repeal now would be “premature,” considering a group of amendments on the issue pending before Congress.

Gates dismisses widespread overseas base closings

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ testimony yesterday before the Senate Appropriations Committee focused largely on securing the department’s financial future, but he did turn away at least one idea to save more money: closing more overseas military bases.

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said they oppose further overseas base closings, both from a financial and a strategic standpoint. The comments came after several senators pointed to the military’s foreign footprint as a possible area of savings, especially as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

Petraeus set to present Afghanistan plans, prep for CIA

WASHINGTON — Gen. David Petraeus has arrived in Washington where he is expected to present President Barack Obama his plans to draw down the Afghanistan war.
He’ll also begin preparing for next week’s Senate confirmation for his new job as CIA director.

The July drawdown plan has remained one of the best-kept secrets from Washington to Kabul, perhaps because there has been no plan yet to leak. Pentagon officials have said Petraeus has kept his magic numbers extremely close to the vest, and though the final decision would come from the White House, the decision process has been a sharp contrast from 2009’s months-long, protracted and unintentionally public strategy review under previous commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
The result of that review: Obama ordered a 30,000-troop surge.

Reports on what the drawdown will look like and which plan various administration officials support have varied widely.

As ground commanders have reported back this spring that they have made significant security and territorial gains against Taliban fighters with those surge forces, some have suggested only a few thousand troops should leave while the momentum is hot.

Others have predicted a phased approach, such as a two-stage downsizing of 5,000 troops now and again at the end of the year, while still others have called for pulling back a full 30,000 troops, the most unlikely of options.

Recently, Democrats and a growing number of Republicans in Congress have grown louder in opposition to prolonging the war. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will retire on June 30, urged Obama to stiffen his spine against wavering political winds, in a Tuesday interview.

Obama selected Petraeus, the Afghanistan war commander since last June, to take over at CIA from Director Leon Panetta, who is the president’s choice to succeed Gates. A Senate committee approved Panetta’s nomination on Tuesday, and a full floor vote is expected soon.

105 mph to zero in two seconds aboard a Navy C-2

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH – Working for Stars and Stripes affords civilian reporters glimpses into the military world that most non-uniformed Americans never witness.

Last Friday, the Navy gave me an opportunity even few members of the military get to experience. I was COD’d. COD stands for "carrier onboard delivery," and involves an incoming aircraft snagging a cable on the ship’s deck with its tailhook, taking passengers from 105 mph to zero in about two seconds. It was a particularly awesome experience.

Cold Warrior Gates outlasts Cold War airplane

WASHINGTON – After 664,150 miles, the equivalent of 26 trips around the equator, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was set for the final flight home. But instead, an old Cold Warrior had enough, threw in the towel, and called it quits. Not Gates. I’m talking about his plane, which after a nine-day journey around the globe was grounded in Brussels on Friday by a brake problem, forcing the entire traveling party to move into a C-17 for the final trans-Atlantic flight to Washington.

The E-4B “Doomsday” plane, aka “Nightwatch,” – now aka “Big Brisket” – is a militarized, nuclear-proof 747, and a relic. Sure, it has the world’s most advanced communications systems, a five-mile long cable to secretly communicate with submarines, and can refuel and stay in the air for days. And Gates can run a nuclear war or watch NBA playoffs from its secure cabins. But there are still ashtrays in the restrooms, which has peeling wallpaper, dust-clogged vents, and more than a few loose screws. Armrests are known to…just fall off.  The electronic switches are vintage 1970s. And it’s freezing cold.

Panetta's son, an Afghanistan medal recipient, connects him to troops

WASHINGTON – Speaking in a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Leon Panetta cited his son, a Bronze Star recipient who served in Afghanistan, to stress his connection to the troops he would lead as secretary of defense.

James Panetta was awarded the medal as a Navy Reserve lieutenant in late 2008 for exceptional service as an intelligence analyst who tracked high-value al-Qaida targets.

RSA will replace SecurID tokens after cyberattack aimed at defense contractors

WASHINGTON – A leading computer security firm whose stolen data was used to break into the networks of defense contractors will replace the compromised network log-on technology for affected clients, the company announced late Monday.

The theft of information about systems designed to prevent unauthorized computer network access occurred in March at RSA Security, a division of the Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp.

Report: Many reservists don’t understand their health care options

WASHINGTON — Many reservists who could benefit from the Tricare Reserve Select system know little about the system because of shortcomings in how the Defense Department publicizes the program, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The study, which grew from lawmakers’ questions on whether reservists have adequate information on the health care benefits, notes that only about 67,000 individuals have enrolled in Tricare Reserve Select. About 390,000 reservists are eligible for the program, which allows certain reservists to purchase health care coverage through the Defense Department.

Car with 'VBIED' license plate parks at Pentagon

WASHINGTON – Vanity plates are meant to catch your eye, and this one certainly does.

A photograph obtained by Stars and Stripes shows a car allegedly parked in the Pentagon parking lot with a vanity license plate that reads “VBIED,” the military acronym for “Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device,” known in layman’s terms as a car bomb.

Medal of Honor numbers starting to rise

WASHINGTON — The White House announcement Tuesday that Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry will receive the Medal of Honor marks the fourth time that President Barack Obama has recognized heroism in Afghanistan with the nation’s highest military award, a dramatic difference from the lone medal awarded for actions in Afghanistan by President George W. Bush during his eight years in office.

Defense Department officials insist that no new rules or priorities have been established for awarding the medal in the last decade, and that the small number of awards for the two wars simply reflects the indirect nature of the fighting in both countries. Nearly 250 men received the medal for actions in Vietnam. Petry will be the ninth man to receive the award for the current wars.