Walgreens to drop Tricare prescriptions on Jan. 1

WASHINGTON — Walgreens pharmacies will no longer accept Tricare insurance after Saturday, meaning those covered by Tricare must either pay for prescriptions out of pocket or fill them elsewhere. The change is the result of a months-long fight between the nationwide chain and Express Scripps, the company that handles Tricare pharmacy orders.

In a news release this week, Defense Department officials said troops and their dependents will still have plenty of options to get their medications, including military pharmacies on bases and 56,000 other network pharmacies.

Victim advocates want radical overhaul in handling of military sex assaults

WASHINGTON – Just a day after the Defense Department announced a sharp rise in the number of sexual assault reports at military academies, a pair of victims advocacy groups say the military needs a radical overhaul in how those cases are handled in order to end its problems with sexual violence.

Officials from Protect Our Defenders and the Service Women’s Action Network sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday asking for an independent office, staffed by military and civilian experts, charged with investigation, prosecution and victim care in all sexual assault cases, instead of the normal military chain of command.

The best of Stripes Central 2011

The past year delivered no shortage of screaming front-page headlines for military readers.

There were the victories: A team of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, and the Iraq War finally ended as the last U.S. troops crossed into Kuwait.

U.S. gives Pakistan a Christmas briefing on November border fight

WASHINGTON – On Christmas morning, U.S. time, a Pentagon representative showed Pakistan’s top general the unreleased report on a cross-border firefight that left 24 Pakistani troops dead, and the United States in a deepening diplomatic crisis with a key regional partner.

The unclassified report on the incident, which took place on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Nov. 25 and 26, was released to the public the following day. Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kayani was given the preview as an “appropriate professional courtesy.”

Army says religious head coverings are fine in JROTC

The Army has decided religious head coverings fit in with Defense Department standards on religious practice – at least at the high school level.

The decision follows a controversy that developed after a student in Tennessee was barred from marching with her peers in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps parade because she wore the hijab, a traditional headcovering worn by many Muslim women. The policy change covers other religious groups' headcoverings as well, such as the turbans worn by Sikh men.

DOD approves Android version for official use

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon this week approved a key security document that allows a version of Android to access Defense Department computer networks – but don’t rush to hook up your personal smartphone to work email just yet.

The Security Technical Implementation Guide, or STIG, put out by the Pentagon on Wednesday covers only Dell’s version of Android 2.2, which runs only on Dell devices. And there’s another caveat: Dell recently canceled its Streak series of tablet computers that ran on Android 2.2 and now sells only one Android 2.2 device, the Venue smartphone.

Soldier pawns Purple Heart for Christmas

WASHINGTON – Here’s a harsh reminder that yellow ribbons and care packages aren’t always enough support for the troops: A soldier on leave from Afghanistan walked into a Michigan consignment shop last week to pawn a Purple Heart to help cover his Christmas bills. From the Holland Sentinel:

The medal, which was sold in November by a West Michigan man serving in the military, now sits in a case at A-Z Outlet, a pawn shop on North River Avenue owned by Bryan VandenBosch. “He was falling on hard times,” VandenBosch said of the sale. “He said the same thing everybody else who comes in here says. He was short on funds.”

Return of colors ceremony closes out Iraq war

WASHINGTON – In the final operation of the Iraq war, U.S. Forces-Iraq commander Gen. Lloyd Austin returned the command’s flag to U.S. soil Tuesday in a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

“We have honored our commitment and our military-led mission has come to a successful conclusion, and today I am proud to safely return our colors to their rightful place, the United States of America,” Austin told an audience that included President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as well as returning troops and their families.

Panetta: US would stop Iran from getting a nuke

WASHINGTON – If the United States learns that Iran is putting together a nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised “we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it.”

In an interview with CBS News that aired Monday, Panetta said that should Iran decide to move ahead, it could build a nuclear weapon within a year. But if the country – under international sanctions for years because of its nuclear program – possesses fuel enrichment facilities unknown to the United States, he said, a nuke could be forthcoming sooner than expected.

Bills would force TSA to follow USERRA

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration has never been well loved by the American public – past polls have put its popularity on par with the Internal Revenue Service – but it’s even more reviled among military advocates.

That’s because the TSA is not subject to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which guarantees guardsmen and reservists their civilian jobs if they are called up for military duty. Now, a group of lawmakers is pushing to change that, forcing the agency to comply with the rules that nearly every other civilian employer has to follow.

Army suicide numbers dip in November

WASHINGTON – Army officials reported seven suspected suicides among active-duty soldiers last month. That’s the lowest monthly figure this year, but enough to push the Army near record suicide totals with another month still to go.

So far this year, 154 active-duty soldiers are believed to have taken their own lives (100 have been confirmed, 54 are still under investigation). In all of 2010, 159 soldiers killed themselves. In 2009, it was 162 active-duty personnel, a tragic record for the service.

Marine Corps apologizes for sending Purple Heart ornaments to fallen Marines

WASHINGTON - The Marine Corps accidentally mailed thank-you packages with Purple Heart ornaments to 1,150 dead Marines, the service acknowledged today.

The holiday ornaments, intended for living Purple Heart recipients, were addressed to the deceased Marines and went to their families, according to a USMC news statement.

The bonds of brotherhood unbroken for 90 days

WASHINGTON _ When the Commandant visited the Marine unit in Afghanistan that had suffered the most casualties of the 10-year-old war, the battalion commander told him his Marines wouldn't need any hand holding when they got back to Camp Pendleton.

They were just fine, thank you.

U.S. Central Command has Facebook page in Farsi

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Central Command has a new Facebook page written in Farsi, the official language of Iran.

The U.S. military command in Iraq posted a link to the Facebook page on Friday along with this message: "We are making an effort to reach the Farsi-speaking audience in particular and increased ‘like’s on our page will help pull in even more of the target audience. We need your help to reach this important audience, particularly from Iran, so we appreciate your comments, suggestions, and help in getting the word out about CENTCOM’s Farsi page."

Army/Navy pre-game social media fight

WASHINGTON -- Kickoff for the annual Army-Navy game is still hours away, but the off-field fight is already in full swing.

Take a look below at the rivalry before the rivalry:

Senator wants Purple Heart in Arkansas shooting

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from Texas and Arkansas have been pushing the Army for years to award Purple Hearts to the victims of domestic terrorist attacks such as the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, but have seen little success. Now, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said he’ll take up the cause, too.

At a hearing Wednesday, Lieberman said he will try to insert an amendment in the annual defense authorization bill (currently in conference committee) to award a posthumous Purple Heart to Army recruiter Pvt. William Long, who was killed in a brazen 2009 shooting by a radical Islamic adherent. The case drew national headlines but was not technically classified as an international terrorist attack, preventing Long’s family from collecting the military honor.

70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor - and a love story

WASHINGTON -- Seventy years ago today, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and drew America into WWII. But for one couple, a date of infamy for the country was also a date of love.

From the Facebook page of filmmaker Lee Whitman:

On this date in history my grandfather, Dale Whitman, went on his first date with a beautiful girl named Betty Nelle. He was so taken with her that upon arriving home he woke his mother to inform her that, "he had found the girl he was going to marry."

"That's nice, dear." His mother replied. "The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. We're at war."

Dale and Betty ended up getting married and having seven kids.

Important anniversaries like this one bring about commemoration ceremonies with wreaths and VIP speakers, but personal recollections of "what I was doing that day" shared from one generation to the next are another way to remember.

Analysts: Switch US troops to advisory mission in Afghanistan in 2012

WASHINGTON – Afghanistan is no longer the United States’ war to win, analysts from an influential Washington think tank said Monday, advocating a U.S. policy shift that would quickly transition U.S. troops to advisory and support roles while pushing Afghans to the lead in combat.

With the clock ticking on U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, the United States should end the current counterinsurgency mission by October, when U.S. surge forces are scheduled to be out of the country, according to a policy brief by the Center for a New American Security, a group with strong ties to the Obama administration and the Pentagon. The United States should then switch to a “security force assistance” mission that sets Afghan forces up for success against the Taliban and Haqqani Network after 2014, the report said.

Navy, USDA tout largest government biofuel purchase

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is buying a swimming pool’s worth of renewable fuel as part of a long-term effort to green up the Navy’s worldwide operations and cut dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck announced Monday that the Defense Logistics Agency was purchasing 450,000 gallons of biofuel that can directly replace fuel powering Navy ships and planes. Though a largely symbolic amount, the officials said it is likely the largest-ever single biofuel purchase by the U.S. government.

VA adds reproductive-organ injuries to insurance

WASHINGTON The signature injury of the current wars is traumatic brain injury, but that’s not what a wounded servicemember asks about when he comes to at the hospital.

The first thing he often wants to know? Whether his penis is still there and still works.

Pentagon will teach high-tech minerals prospecting to Afghans

WASHINGTON – Last year, the Defense Department and the U.S. Geological Survey mapped out what the Pentagon says is “at least $1 trillion in mineral resources, fossil fuels, and rare earth elements within Afghanistan.”

In a move announced this week, DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations said it would work with USGS to teach Afghans how to pinpoint the location of the riches and market them to investors.

Email phishing scam targets USAA members

Scammers are sending out an email that looks as though it is from USAA to steal your personal information.

Some USAA members have received the email, which asks you to "Click here to register and secure your account," according to USAA. Those who click on the link are asked for their PIN, card number, billing address and other important information.

Military spouse unemployment at 26 percent

WASHINGTON — Think a 12 percent unemployment rate for recently separated veterans is bad? Officials from the Pentagon’s office of Military and Community Family Policy reminded lawmakers during a Capitol Hill event today that the unemployment rate among military spouses currently sits at 26 percent.

That’s not shocking to military families. Frequent duty moves and inconsistent state credentialing rules create constant headaches for military spouses looking for jobs.

Chief scientist: Army may change standard for classified information on smartphones

WASHINGTON – The Army may take another look at how it decides what information is classified as it looks to ease the integration of popular mobile devices like iPads, iPhones and Android-based smartphones.

The only popular smartphones now approved for widespread use on DOD computer networks are Blackberries, and only for unclassified email. But an Android-based phone from Dell was recently approved for use in testing and pilot programs, and many experts say the Pentagon is likely to open the door wider in coming months.