European edition letters forthe week of Dec. 22-Dec. 28, 2002
Former spouses act
Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)
December 22 Former spouses act Educational benefits Dining thanks response Church scandalDecember 23 Loss of trees Owning puppiesDecember 24 Take control of healthDecember 26 Uniform debate Civil War flap Force protection
December 28 Giving credit where it's due Thanks for help
Our government continues to let stand the Uniform Services Former Spouses Protection Act, which unfairly and unconstitutionally allows states to award up to 50 percent of a military member’s retired retainer pay to a former spouse through the premise that it’s property. I don’t advocate not supporting former spouses, but I feel that current state laws dealing with alimony and child support are adequate to ensure that ex-spouses receive fair compensation and their children receive adequate care.
I feel this way for the following reasons:
1. Servicemembers sign a contract to lay down their lives to protect our country’s interests. Spouses do not.2. Retired pay is retainer pay. We can be recalled to active duty, just as retirees were during Operation Enduring Freedom. Spouses cannot be recalled.3. Retirees remain subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Spouses never were or will be subject to it. In fact, if we break any laws under the UCMJ and are court-martialed (a felony conviction), we forfeit our right to retired pay. But spouses could smoke dope and commit adultery, be prosecuted and found guilt of crimes, and still receive payments from the government.4. Alimony normally ends. USFSPA allows for lifelong payments.5. The USFSPA allows spouses to benefit from future promotions of servicemembers, even after their divorces are final.6. Servicemembers must maintain American citizenship. The act allows payments to foreign nationals who never swear allegiance to the U.S. or obtain U.S. citizenship.7. If retired retainer pay was truly property, why does the IRS view it as taxable income? If it were truly property, ex-spouses should assume tax responsibility after division.
Our elected officials and military leadership need to act to correct this injustice to military members who are defending our country against terrorists and enemies. It takes 20 or more years to earn our retirements. Please help us to protect that which we have sacrificed for. Repeal the USFSPA now!
Senior Master Sgt. David E. McGuireAviano, Italy
The letter “Soldiers and education” (Dec. 10) made my blood boil. It was about soldiers’ Veterans Affairs educational benefits and the lack of authority commanders have to deny these benefits.
The writer suggested that unit commanders should have the authority to deny soldiers their right to use the GI Bill for education while on active duty. He said commanders lack the authority to stop soldiers from using the GI Bill because it’s considered an entitlement and not a benefit. The writer also implied that there’s a double standard for unit commanders trying to enforce the same standard for all soldiers, and that unit commanders should have the authority to deny soldiers the right to use the GI Bill for educational reimbursement while on active duty. This is exactly why the GI Bill is a congressionally-mandated entitlement and not just an Army benefit. It protects soldiers’ right to use their educational benefits during off-duty hours, even if their commanders think they performed poorly on a physical fitness test.
If soldiers want to continue their education, why would their physical fitness tests even be a factor? What if a command sergeant major with 20 years of faithful service failed to pass an important inspector general inspection? Should his commander have the authority to subtract that year from his retirement plan? Of course not. It would be absurd. The same applies to the GI Bill.
The writer also said, “Entitlements are benefits that are judiciously rendered when a commander and unit mission can afford it.” Therefore, he suggested that unit commanders should have the same authority to deny VA educational benefits as they do to deny annual leave based on mission need. But I fail to see how off-duty education can adversely affect mission need or negatively impact a unit’s ability to conduct operations. In fact, if a soldier would rather spend his non-working hours attending college courses rather than playing video games or drinking, it would only serve to increase that unit’s performance.
Thirteen years ago I walked into a Marine Corps recruiting office as a rebellious 18-year-old with a 9th grade education and a GED. Because of the discipline and dedication the Marine Corps instilled in me and the educational entitlements the VA provided, I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in Geography and a master’s degree in Geographic Information Technology. I’ve also been accepted into an Information Science Ph.D. program at Nova Southeastern University. Fortunately, my VA education entitlements were never at risk from being denied if I performed poorly on a physical fitness test or failed to qualify expert at the rifle range.
Staff Sgt. Kenny J. HebertGrafenwöhr, Germany
Dining thanks response
The letter “Thanks to dining facility” (Dec. 12) thanked the 44th Dining Facility and its cooks in Mannheim, Germany. I don’t want to take anything away from them, because the 44th DFAC cooks deserve it for all their hard work. But another group was left out — the cooks at the 72nd Dining Facility. They work just as hard. Both the 72nd and the 44th dining facilities are open during Thanksgiving to serve the communities. Their displays this year could compete in the best of any competition. They spent many hours preparing for Thanksgiving.
What happens during the holidays is that one of the dining facilities stays open while cooks from the closed facility assist the open facility. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that all the credit goes strictly to the 44th dining facility when soldiers from the 72nd also support the community. On Christmas Day, the 44th will be closed and the 72nd will be open.
The 72nd dining facility has quality, hard-working cooks. One of them, Sgt. Camin, has been on the All-Army Culinary Team for two years in a row. For the past two years, a pair of 72nd dining facility cooks, Spc. Ivey and Sgt. Williams, have won the “Cook of the Quarter” and “NCO Cook of the Quarter” boards. Another cook, Sgt. David Johnson, has won the “Cook of the Quarter,” “Cook of the Year,” “NCO of the Quarter” and “NCO of the Year” boards for the 7th Signal Brigade. These aren’t only quality cooks, but also quality soldiers who perform well in their jobs.
Many times the cooks don’t receive the recognition they deserve, so I have no problem with the thank you from the letter writer. But all cooks need to be thanked for all the hard work they do throughout the year.
Capt. Nicole Y. RobertsMannheim, Germany
This is regarding the Ellen Goodman column “Uniting the financially and morally bankrupt” (Dec. 10), which compared the Roman Catholic Church to the Enron scandal. Goodman did little comparing and more Catholic-priest bashing. She appeared to blame everything on the church’s “all-male rules” and “celibate regulations.”
Let’s knock out the feminist, chauvinistic idea that the world, politics, and the church would all be in order if ruled by women since women are all perfect. Some of history’s queens and rulers have destroyed this premise. The key issue in the scandals involves fidelity to what one is supposed to believe in and to live by those principles. Goodman mentioned pedophiles, but not once did she mention homosexuality. The number of abuses committed by pedophile clergy is very small compared to the tremendous harm that’s been done to teenagers by gay clergy. To say so is not gay-bashing, but the truth.
When the pope says no women or homosexuals can be priests, he’s following the teachings of Christ and the scriptural and traditional concepts of his church. A Catholic priest is a male because he is to act, follow, and be a witness to the discipleship of Jesus Christ. Celibacy is a gift that a priest or nun offers to God so that they may devote themselves to prayer, holiness, and good works. And what’s the result? Thousands of priests, brothers, and nuns are providing housing for the poor, building schools, teaching at all levels, and feeding the poor.
Goodman also mentioned an accused priest who was charged with abuse and yet transferred to the Army chaplaincy. True, a bishop is accountable if he sends a priest or minister with such a record to our Army Chaplaincy. But again, one must not smear the good names of thousands of good men and women who are serving in the various chaplaincies of the U.S. Army around the world because of a very small number of those accused of sexual impropriety.
We’ve gone more than a year now hearing about nothing but sex abuse scandals. What are we going to do about them? Should not Hollywood and the TV and film industries clean up their acts and end the constant diet of violence, sex, and pornography? Seminaries and schools of theology should also go back to the basics and stop developing far-fetched ideas.
The cause of clergy sexual abuse has been a falling away from orthodoxy and fidelity to either Catholic teaching or, in the case of some Protestant clergy, a denial of the true meaning in Holy Scripture. The only way to correct the abuses is by getting back to the basics of what we believe in our faith and to the traditional principles that have guided America in the past — whether clerical, political, or social. These principles maintained us during World War II. What principles will we fight for should, God forbid, another war descend upon us?
Jean-Paul PoninskiChievres, Belgium
Loss of trees
I’m writing on behalf of myself and other faculty members to express our grief over the coming loss of yet another portion of the forest surrounding Bamberg Elementary School in Germany. Once, the school was in an area of the post that was heavily wooded. The school was surrounded by beautiful trees. Two years ago, construction began on an enormous family housing project. With this addition, we lost the woods on the east side of the school.
A month ago, preparations began for a new Child Developmental Center across the street from the school. Within one week the area was bulldozed of all vegetation, including a large number of endangered birch trees. Recently, signs announcing the cutting of the forest were placed on the west side of the school. We were aware that this area was going to be cut to make way for a bus parking lot, but we had requested that a small, two-meter strip of trees be left to block the classrooms from pollution and noise. Our request was made last January in the form of a petition signed by the majority of our staff. The School Advisory Committee also wrote a letter supporting this view. Several years ago when new housing was built on the south side of the school, a band of trees was left between the older officers’ homes and the new housing. If this was possible on one side of the school, then why not on the other side?
Our tax dollars will be used to pay for the destruction of the woods. More tax dollars will then be used to build a “berm” (small hill) and have trees planted. Our tax money is being used to chop trees down and then buy new trees. Since our school budget has been brutally slashed, this cutting and replanting of trees seems a real abuse of our tax dollars.
The destruction is set for Monday, the first day of school holidays. This was probably planned so as not to disrupt school. But any potential teacher opponents will also be on vacation. What a great present to find when we return to a new year — the last section of our beautiful forest destroyed.
The National Arbor Foundation has recognized our military community as being an Arbor City. We are the only community outside the United States to have received this honor. Classes have used these woods to study ecosystems. Sixth-grade classrooms have adopted trees and studied how they change through each season.
As teachers of our future leaders, we’ve attempted to give our students an appreciation of our planet and of conservation of our natural resources. What message are they going to gain from this destruction? All we are asking for is a small strip of trees to be spared for us to study and enjoy.
Karen PetersonBamberg Elementary SchoolBamberg, Germany
I’ve been alarmed and saddened by ads for puppies, especially those highlighting the fact that the pups will be available “just in time for Christmas.”
People considering adding a dog to their family should think of the decision as more along the lines of having a child than buying a toy. Far too many puppies are purchased for all the wrong reasons, mistreated and eventually abandoned. If readers are thinking about getting a dog, they should understand that they’re making a commitment for 10 to 15 years. If they’re not willing to make the commitment, they shouldn’t get a dog. Abandoning a dog because it has become inconvenient is like abandoning a child.
Many breeders also sell puppies only for profit. Particularly suspect are sellers who offer multiple breeds or appear to have dogs available continuously. There are many Web sites that offer good advice about evaluating breeders. Here’s a few tips:
• Ask to see a puppy’s parents.• Ask to see where the puppies are being kept.• Puppies shouldn’t be separated from their mother until they are at least 10 weeks old.• Puppies should have vaccinations and the breeder should provide customers with their health records.• If readers are purchasing a particular breed, they should research the genetic problems that the breed may face. A responsible breeder will have had the necessary medical screening done before selling the dogs.• A good breeder should be willing to take a dog back, regardless of the reason, if a customer can no longer keep it.
If readers want a purebred dog, they should research the breed. There was recently an ad offering Border collies and Dalmatians. Both are high-maintenance, highly-energetic breeds that require an enormous amount of time and work. Border collies, in particular, require several hours of work a day, every day, regardless of weather. Neither breed is appropriate for a first-time dog owner or someone who does not have a lot of time to dedicate to the dog.
Readers should also please consider rescuing a dog from a shelter. Dogs in German animal shelters are not killed, but life in a “tierheim” is still not wonderful. There are many good dogs (and cats) that are available for adoption. Many are already housebroken and trained. Puppies are nice, but saving a good dog that has been abandoned is a true gesture of Christmas.
Mark RayHeidelberg, Germany
Take control of health
I read with interest the article “Medical billing change stuns civilian workers” (Dec. 15). The article described Department of Defense civilians and family members who are concerned with the increased costs of their medical care due to itemized billing at military medical facilities. As a health care professional, I see this as an excellent opportunity for all people, civilian or military, to take control of their health, utilize resources in a responsible way and reduce the necessity for medical care and its subsequent high cost.
Readers can take a self-care class offered by Community Health Nursing at Wiesbaden Army Air Field, Germany, and at many medical facilities overseas. Adult class participants receive a nice book which employs simple pathways to follow for self-care before seeking medical care.Simple over-the-counter treatments with medications such as Motrin and Tylenol frequently solve problems. Patients are directed to a provider if and when simple self-care remedies don’t work or symptoms escalate. This model helps preserve clinic appointments for those who truly need them and empowers patients to take more control of their health.
Health promotion and preventive medicine is frustrating for health care professionals. Staying healthy or trying to improve one’s health takes a lot of work. It’s so much easier to seek a cure with a pill than to do the work necessary to improve one’s health. Methods such as exercise, weight loss, and a better diet with less fatty foods and more fruits and vegetables have been proven to reduce the development of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.
Medications for these conditions can be expensive and sometimes become unnecessary with lifestyle changes. Civilian workers can sign up for the civilian fitness program at their local gym and exercise during work time for up to six months. The idea is that the exercise and fitness habit will become well-established and be continued when the six months is up.
Wearing vehicle seat belts, slowing down, not drinking and driving, wearing helmets when biking and skateboarding and using mouth guards for certain sports all increase safety and reduce injuries. Smokers should think seriously about quitting as their New Year’s resolution. Community Health Nursing in Wiesbaden and at other military communities offer tobacco cessation classes. The next one in Wiesbaden starts on Jan. 7. Call 0611-705-5332 for information. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke greatly contribute to many of the diseases that require expensive medication and medical treatment.
This is not meant to minimize any health problems that patients have or people’s concerns about the cost of health care. We just have it in our power to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Maj. Jean DavisWiesbaden, Germany
This is concerning the letter “Uniform policy” (Dec. 17). I’m one of the many “emergency essential” civilians employed by the Department of Defense who had to sign a mobility agreement for terms of employment. We civilians who must deploy downrange are required to possess certain military clothing items including battle dress uniforms and TA-50s. As I understand it, physical training uniforms are optional. But it’s recommended that we deploy with them so that when we’re “off duty” we may comfortably relax in something other than BDUs and yet still blend in with our military counterparts.
I’m retired from the Army and familiar with Army Regulation 670-1. I submit that there may be some civilians working for the DOD who may not have served a day in the military, much less be familiar with the regulation which covers proper wear and appearance of Army uniforms.
As far as overweight civilians wearing the uniforms, I’m guilty. After serving our country for 21 years, I was deemed overweight and forced into retirement. Although I no longer look like “Sgt. Rock” in uniform, I’m still willing to work for my country and deploy to areas of the world where others may fear to tread. I’m still willing to continue to suffer through the hardships of family separation and sacrifice the comforts of home to support our troops (including the letter writer) as best I can and help them successfully accomplish the mission.
The writer’s suggestion to have deployed civilians wear a different type of uniform so as not to discredit the “professional military” sounds good. But it’s probably not feasible due to the cost and logistics involved. If it were, I’d suggest the “Magnum P.I.” look.
Tony AdamsGiebelstadt, Germany
Civil War flap
This is in reference to the letter “Civil War debate” (Dec. 19). I suggest the writer get his “facts” straight.
Famous Abraham Lincoln quotes include, from 1862, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slave I would do it.” I also suggest the writer read part of the text from the 1858 “4th Debate” with Stephen Douglas in which Lincoln said, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,” and, “In as much as they (the races) cannot so live (together), while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This is hardly someone who I’d say “understood the issues at the core of the conflict,” nor someone I’d call enlightened.
The Civil War was fought for many reasons. Does the writer know that only one in 70 of the U.S. population in 1860 were slave holders? Or that 11 percent of African-Americans enumerated in the 1860 census were “free,” with 50 percent of those living in southern states? It’s estimated that 13,000 to 60,000 African-Americans fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, depending on who or what one chooses to believe.
During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass reported, “There are at the present moment many Colored men in the Confederate Army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but real soldiers, having musket on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down any loyal troops and do all that soldiers may do to destroy the Federal government and build up that of the rebels.”
I’m not an apologist for the “Southern Cause,” but I believe that any study of history requires the study of both sides, as the truth usually resides somewhere in between.
Timothy D. VickersSeckenheim, Germany
I’d like to make a point regarding the recent letters on force protection in and around Germany.
The writers are concerned about soldiers being removed from checkpoints around certain housing areas. Who decides what gets guarded and by whom? In Schweinfurt, Germany, we have soldiers and Securtas personnel at all gates. Bamberg, Würzburg and a couple other places I’ve visited use only Securtas personnel. What is the deciding factor on when and where soldiers are used? In the spring, our unit will be going to Grafenwöhr and then on to the Combat Maneuver Training Center. Who will assume the guard then? I don’t think that they’ll stop the guard and then resume it upon our return.
While our leadership is doing what it can to train our soldiers, we’ll be forced to leave soldiers back from training in order to conduct guard duty. So while these families are concerned for their housing areas, I’d think they’d be more worried about the possibility of their husbands and wives going to war without proper training. I’m sure they’d sleep a lot better at night knowing that their spouses are properly trained for combat as opposed to being experts on proper installation access.
As for me, I’m making sure I know how to write letters to parents expressing my sorrow for our nation’s losses should it come to that.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew R. CloydSchweinfurt, Germany
Giving credit where it's due
I have an opinion on this whole travel card fiasco. We’re all spending a lot of time looking at how we can better teach card holders responsible use of the cards. Time is also being spent on why soldiers overcharge and misuse their cards. What I want to know is why it takes three to four weeks for my claim to be processed. I properly fill out my travel voucher, file six copies with a sheet that has my Social Security number, the bank’s routing number and my account number on it. (I feel this is illegal, but military officials say they won’t process a travel voucher without it.) Then I wait several weeks for my settlement. This is while my Air Force friend who got back a week after I did was paid in less than a week and has already cleared his account.
Furthermore, all this talk about how E-2s or O-1s are unsure how to use their “official” credit cards is a bunch of hogwash. Who can honestly say that a soldier entrusted to operate complex and expensive systems (while he maintains full control of his weapon and equipment) can’t handle a credit card? I want to meet these people and give them a lesson in leadership.
I know of units in which leaders take the cards away from the troops until needed. Hooah. I know of units that counsel soldiers on the use/abuse policy and then nail them to the wall when the policy is violated. Double hooah.
Maybe if leaders would lead and do what is needed to take care of their troops this wouldn’t be an issue. We will have the occasional soldier who runs a $5,000 tab at a casino or the like. But I’d guess that a soldier who’d do that probably has a pretty thick counseling file already and maybe should have already been put out of the military.
Capt. Victor M. Baez-anKaiserslautern, Germany
Thanks for help
For some reason this year, I was ready for Christmas. The tree was put up, the house was decorated, and Christmas videos and music started playing at Thanksgiving. My daughter has been here from college, and we enjoyed the Christmas markets. Everything was just beautiful until a recent evening when I stepped out of the eye clinic in Wiesbaden, Germany. There were no outside lights, and I fell down the stairs and broke my ankle.
As I lay face down on the cold concrete screaming in pain, my daughter went for help. Capt. Hutchinson, the optometrist, and Ms. Frankie Hill, the physical therapist who was also in the building, immediately gave me first aid. They also called an ambulance and my husband and stayed with me. Two soldiers passing by also came to my rescue. Within minutes I was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Father Reyes and Gabriella, the patient liaison, visited me the same night.
It is comforting to know that when an emergency occurs, I live in a community of people who care. I thank Karen Oliver and Melia Flanagan for being my friends and bathing me while I’m in bed in traction. Thanks also to Wanda Stabb for arranging meals for my family and visiting me. Thanks to Carmensa Domeir for helping with my children. Thanks to Marla Cohen for coming from so far to visit me in the hospital. Thanks also to Col. Keen and his staff for taking time out of their busy schedules to check in on me. Finally, thanks to Darlene Hall and the ladies of Catholic Women of Chapel for their visits and prayers.
In a busy time close to Christmas, they showed their love by taking time to show their support to me and my family.
Maria ReaganWiesbaden, Germany