Pacific key to security, Panetta tells Annapolis grads

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told graduating midshipmen on Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy that as sailors and Marines, they’d be at the heart of the United States’ newly developed military strategy that defines the vast Asia-Pacific region as central to national security.

“America is a maritime nation, and we are returning to our maritime roots,” he told the nearly 1,100 graduates on Tuesday. The commissioning, which also featured remarks by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, was held on a sunny, unseasonably warm spring day in Annapolis and punctuated by a flyover of the Blue Angels squadron.

General's suicide commentary provides a teachable moment

In January, Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss in Texas, wrote some extremely harsh words about soldiers who commit suicide.

In what has now become a famous blog post, Pittard stated, “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act. ... I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”

Legislation saves leave days for long-deployed guardsmen

WASHINGTON – One advantage to being a citizen-soldier? Having a home-state congressional delegation to leverage.

When more than 2,000 deployed members of the Minnesota National Guard found out the Pentagon had stripped them of up to 21 leave days with a policy change, they rallied their representatives.

Senators considering military retirement review

WASHINGTON – Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee again broached the topic of major changes to military retirement payouts in their draft of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, finalized Thursday. Thus far, the idea has gotten a unhappy response from veterans groups.

The legislation calls for a new commission to “review elements of military compensation and retirement benefits to ensure the long-term viability of the all-volunteer force, enable a high quality of life for military families, and to modernize and achieve sustainability of the compensation and retirement systems.” The committee released few other details, but did note that current troops and retirees would be not be affected by any changes.

Soldier charged for fraticide headed to court-martial

 WASHINGTON –  After years of deliberating over his mental capacity, the Army has decided to prosecute the sergeant accused of one of the worst instances of fratricide in the Iraq War.

In May 2009, Sgt. John Russell allegedly stormed the Camp Liberty combat stress clinic near Baghdad and opened fire, killing five servicemembers and wounding two others.

DOD officials apologize for Medal of Honor delay

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday apologized to the family of Spc. Leslie Sabo Jr., a soldier killed 42 years ago in Cambodia and awarded the Medal of Honor this week.

“It has taken over 40 years to correct this wrong. I think we owe the Sabo family an apology for a citation that somehow got lost,” Panetta said at a ceremony inducting Sabo into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.

Gone from Sasebo, Essex set to arrive in San Diego

After 12 years as the Navy’s only permanently forward-deployed amphibious assault ship, the USS Essex will return to San Diego on Thursday.

“The Iron Gator” will be assigned to Expeditionary Strike Group 3, part of U.S. 3rd Fleet. It was replaced in Sasebo, Japan, by the USS Bonhomme Richard.

Troops, families get free pass to national parks

Want to check out the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone this summer?

Active-duty military, National Guardsmen, reservists and military dependents will have free access to those and more than 2,000 other national parks across the country through a program unveiled Tuesday morning during a ceremony at Colonial National Historical Park in Yorktown, Va. The program begins Saturday.

DOD pays for babysitter matching service

WASHINGTON - PCS season begins this month, and to help moving military families find trustworthy childcare at their new base while the kids are out of school, the Pentagon has paid for memberships to a website that prescreens babysitters.

Servicemembers can use Sittercity for free to get access to a pool of caregivers, as well as dogwalkers, housekeepers and tutors, who have passed a background check and have been reviewed by the service. Some of the caregivers available are able to get on base and are subsidized by the military.

Chinese defense minister to visit U.S. next week

WASHINGTON — Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie will visit the Pentagon and several U.S. military bases next week, Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters Wednesday.

Liang will meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other U.S. officials in Washington on Monday, Little said. He also plans to visit Naval Base San Diego; U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Florida; Fort Benning, Ga.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; and the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.