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Green plastic Army women figurines will be out by Christmas 2020.
Green plastic Army women figurines will be out by Christmas 2020. ()

This story is part of a Stars and Stripes special report on what's ahead for the U.S. military as a new decade begins. See the list of stories here.

Welcome, shoppers Starting Jan. 1, all service-connected disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and primary veteran caregivers became eligible to shop at commissaries and exchanges.

It’s the largest patronage expansion — up to 4 million people — in more than 60 years, said Virginia Penrod, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs.

They join active duty, Guard and Reserve members, military retirees, Medal of Honor recipients and authorized family members who already shop there.

The on-base stores sell discounted groceries to authorized customers, including their own private label brands. Check for restrictions at overseas commissaries.

To find out what form of ID you need to shop, or to find bases near you, go to www.commissaries.com.

2020 holiday wish list Green plastic Army women figurines will be out by Christmas 2020 in four poses, including a female captain holding a handgun and binoculars, and a kneeling female solider holding a bazooka.

The upgrade comes from BMC Toys, whose president Jeff Imel decided to expand the line after he got a letter from a 6-year-old girl asking why there were no “girl Army men.”

“Every kid wants to be the hero of their story,” he told NPR. “Girls should be able to connect to the toys just as much as boys do.”

3.1% pay raise January ushered in the biggest pay raise since 2010 for U.S. service members, and also brought a long-awaited salary increase for federal civilian employees. The raise should show up in paychecks issued Jan. 15.

Service members and Defense Department civilians are each slated to receive an average 3.1% bump in annual pay as part of the $737 billion military budget for 2020 — $22 billion more than last year’s defense measure.

The 2020 raise is the largest for service members since a 3.4% annual pay hike in 2010. Since then, annual increases have ranged from 1% to 2.6%.

COLA boost for retirees, survivors Military retirees and eligible survivors will receive a 1.6% boost in their monthly pay beginning this month based on the Pentagon’s annual cost of living adjustment.

The increased pay will be doled out to most military retirees, survivors of service members who died on active or inactive duty and survivors of retirees who participated in the Survivor Benefit Plan, which pays the family of someone who opted for monthly annuities following the death of an eligible military retiree. The 2020 adjustment is less than last year’s 2.8% increase, but it is comparable to adjustments in other recent years.

Uniform changes • There’s another color option this year for soldiers sporting black fleece caps — coyote brown.

Until now, the brown fleece cap has mostly been for the Marine Corps and Navy, while soldiers were only allowed to wear the black one. The Army will continue to issue the black caps, but soldiers can buy their own brown ones.

• The Air Force adopted the Army’s utility uniform for improved fit and comfort, planning a three-year slow death for the current airman battle uniform, or ABU. By April 2021, the ABU will be history. The six-color operational camouflage pattern uniform will help troops blend with each other on deployments, and it’s said to fit better and work in all climates. By June, airmen must be wearing boots, socks and T-shirts to match the OCP. Just last year, the Army officially retired its green-blue-gray universal camouflage pattern to make way for the OCP.

VA support for caregivers The VA’s Caregiver Support Program, which now assists only caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, will expand. Starting in June 2020, caregivers of veterans who served after 1974 will be able to apply for full services, and sometime in 2021, caregivers of veterans who served during or after World War II can apply.

Once the expansion is fully phased in, caregivers of all veterans who served from World War II on will be eligible for full benefits from the Caregiver Support Program.

To be eligible for full benefits, caregivers must be caring for veterans with medical conditions linked to their service.

The program expansion is part of the VA Mission Act passed in 2018 by Congress.

The final frontier Space Force became the sixth branch of the military in December with the signing of the 2020 fiscal year NDAA. The independent branch is nested within the Department of the Air Force, much as the Marine Corps is connected to the Department of the Navy, officials have said.

“Establishing a Space Force is going to be one of the most important things that happen in the next year, and it is vitally important for America’s defense and America’s way of life,” new Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said in December.

Its mission: “Deter aggression and conflict, defend U.S. and allied freedom of action, deliver space combat power for the Joint/Combined force, and develop joint warfighters to advance U.S. and allied interests in, from, and through the space domain.”

The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, has been redesignated as the Space Operations Center — or SPOC. (Who says the military has no sense of humor?)

Lots of details are still to be determined:

• Which state will be the permanent home of the Space Command? California, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Colorado and Texas have been mentioned since Trump’s announcement.

• What will the uniforms look like? Will the logo be out of this world?

• How can you join the Space Force?

Watch for cosmic updates at the official website: spaceforce.mil

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