Saturday, March 29, 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Freedom Never Cries

This is a must watch video. Freedom is not free.

What's really going on in Iraq

Five years ago this week 170,000 American and coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines launched Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). When they commenced their attack they were outnumbered nearly three to one by Saddam Hussein’s military, yet it took U.S. troops just three weeks to liberate Baghdad. No military force in history has ever gone further, faster or with fewer casualties.

Despite a lightning-fast victory over the dictator’s Army, Republican Guards and Fedayeen, the challenge of leaving Iraq better than we found it proved to be daunting and dangerous. Unfortunately, few Americans know what their countrymen in uniform have accomplished in the Land Between the Rivers...

Thankfully America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines have generally ignored the press and the politicians. Instead, they have been busy fighting a vicious adversary -- and winning. Here are some inconvenient facts about why they believe they can -- and must -- finish the job in Iraq:

** Despite how they have been portrayed, today’s all-volunteer U.S. military is the brightest, best educated, trained and equipped armed force ever fielded by any nation. More than 1.6 million American military personnel have served in Iraq. Notwithstanding the perception that our armed forces are stretched beyond the breaking point, reenlistments have never been higher and every service is exceeding its recruiting goals.

** Iraq’s police, military and security forces, widely depicted as ineffective or worse, have grown by more than 100,000 in the past year and have assumed responsibility for 9 of 18 provinces.

** In the last 12 months the Interior Ministry has opened 13 new training facilities, the Iraqi military now has 134 active combat, infrastructure and Special Operations battalions with a total of nearly 647,000 Iraqis who have volunteered to serve in uniform.

** After we first reported on the “Al-Anbar Awakening” in December, 2006, the “Sons of Iraq” movement has crossed the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide and now has 91,000 members. In the same time-frame, attacks against Iraqi civilians and coalition forces have dropped by more than 70 percent.

** Since 2004, more than 4,000 civil reconstruction projects -- including 325 for electrical distribution and 320 water treatment facilities have been completed. More than 3,000 schools and 75 hospitals, clinics and health care facilities have been renovated or built from the ground up while nearly 3,200 primary health care providers and physicians were being trained.

** There are now more than 100 privately owned radio stations, 31 television stations and 600 newspapers published in Iraq -- a nation just slightly larger than California.

** In February, crude oil production exceeded 2.4 million barrels per day and this year the Iraqi economy is projected to grow by 7 percent.

In the half decade since OIF began, our FOX News War Stories team has made nine trips to Iraq -- spending months in the field embedded with more than 30 U.S. combat units -- from “shock and awe,” to the “thunder runs,” to gunfights in “bloody Anbar,” to “the surge.” The brave Americans we have documented deserve better than what they have gotten from the mainstream media and far too many of our politicians.

Oliver North, Human Events

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Supporting our Marines in Berkley, CA

Berkeley hosted a decidedly different kind of protest today when about 400 flag-waving, leather-clad, pro-troops bikers roared into town to show their support for an often besieged Marine recruiting center in the city.

“I’m here because I support my Marines,” said Steve Bosshard, a retired San Francisco police officer who came from Santa Rosa. “I don’t like what Berkeley’s done. They don’t realize the effect it has on the troops.”

The center was criticized by the Berkeley city council and is often the target of protests.

Today’s demonstrators, most of whom are military veterans, said they were protesting the Berkeley city council decision in February to waive the amplified-sound permit fees and provide reserved parking in front of the Marines’ office for Code Pink, an anti-war group that stages protests at the recruiting center.

The Marine supporters gathered at the recruiting station and sang the Marine Corps hymn and national anthem, revved their motorcycles and waved flags. A small contingent from Code Pink stood on the fringes, having mostly peaceful conversations with their pro-Marine counterparts.

The pro-Marine demonstrators said they plan to boycott Berkeley businesses until the council is recalled, apologizes or grants free permits to a pro-troop group.

The group that organized today’s protest, Eagles Up, had to pay for their permit.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Legislative Update - March 2008

At Your Service!!!

Lee F. Kichen

March 2008


Federal Legislative Update

Florida’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Takes the Battle Inside the Capital Beltway-The Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative and Community Service Conferences met March 2-5, 2008 in Washington, DC. Department of Florida Commander Jack McDermott and Auxiliary President Jodi Nierney led a delegation of Comrades and Auxiliary members to this very important event which culminated in meetings with members and their staffs of the Florida Congressional Delegation and National Commander-in-Chief George Lisicki’s testimony to a Joint Session of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees. We were able to meet with a majority of the 27 members of the Congressional Delegation or their staff.

VFW Commander in Chief Testifies Before a Joint Session of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee- VFW Commander-in-Chief George Lisicki presented the VFW's legislative priorities on March 4 before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees. Lisicki called on the members to provide full funding for VA healthcare and benefits for veterans of all generations, and to fully support current legislation that would create a 21st Century GI Bill. Other major issues included the VFW's strong opposition to the Dole/Shalala Commission recommendation that would compensate veterans with similar injuries differently based on their age, opposition to prescription copayment increases and enrollment fees. Commander-in-Chief Lisicki also decried the inordinately high error rate VA has in adjudicating claims for compensation and pensions. Lisicki said, “The VFW is greatly concerned with the accuracy of VA’s claims ratings decisions. VA’s own quality measurements show that VA makes a significant error in over 100,000 cases each year. This is grossly unfair to our sick and disabled veterans. After waiting months for a single ratings decision, they are too frequently left with an incorrect decision. We cannot accept this. The poor quality of these decisions only exacerbates VA’s problems. In most cases, a veteran will file an appeal, adding to the swollen backlog. This clearly could have been avoided had the case been resolved accurately in the first place. Of special concern to the VFW, however, is the number of veterans who give up out of frustration.” To read the entire testimony or to view the taped hearing, go to:

Heard on the Hill-The Commander-in-Chief’s testimony and our visits with members of Congress and their staffs elicited open and frank dialogue on a myriad of issues we are following:

  • Health Care Funding-Both Senate VA Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ranking Member of the House VA Committee Steve Buyer (R-IN) indicated that Congress will increase health care funding over the level requested by the White House. Senator Akaka sees a $4.6B increase while Rep. Buyer spoke of a $3.8 B increase over the Administration’s numbers. As this is an election year it is certain that we will see the Congress appropriate at far higher levels than those requested by the President. House VA Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-IN) states that he supports sufficient funding to reopen the VA Health Care System to Priority 8 veterans.

  • Veterans Education-Both political parties apparently support some reforms to the current GI bill and it is reasonably certain that we will see some movement this session towards that end. The fact that Senator John Warner (R-VA) is now supporting Senator Jim Webb’s bill S. 22 Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 will now attract even greater bi-partisan support. However, it is now clear the Administration will oppose this bill. One Defense official, who declined to be named, described the bill as a "retention killer" for the all-volunteer military. Defense officials believe enhanced post-service education benefits, particularly if enacted while troops face multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, could trigger an exodus severe enough to put the viability of the volunteer military at risk. DoD’s position a realistic GI Bill for the 21st Century would result in many young service members, trained at great expense, to voluntarily separate after completing their initial service obligation to go college fulltime.

The Defense official said that World War II was a different era when the government was worried about long-unemployment lines from millions of returning draftees. A robust GI Bill now would make it difficult to keep careerists. "Why would anybody stay for another deployment when they can go out on a four-year free ride, with guaranteed rent and utilities at the E-5 standard, which by long-standing DoD policy is a two-bedroom townhouse?" This is an absurd turn around on the part of DoD, in the eighties and the nineties, during the “Be All You Can Be” days the Army and the other services used as educational benefits as a major recruiting incentive.

  • Dole/Shalala Disability Compensation Recommendations-Both Senate VA Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) and House VA Committee Ranking Member Steve Buyer (R-IN) have introduced legislation which could lead to implementation of the recommendations of Secretary Shalala and Senator Dole. We are still looking at S. 2674 and

H.R. 5509, however, while purporting to streamline the transition of wounded and injured service members, these bills apparently call for revamping of the disability system that has worked well since World War II and it includes language which precludes this new cohort of medically retired service members from receiving Combat Related Special Compensation.

  • Copayments and Enrollment Fees-The White House in its budget submission once again called for increased copayments and enrollment fees for non-service connected veterans desiring VA health care. The Administration also wants to raise the current TRICARE Prime enrollment fee of $460 to $2,000, increase the TRICARE Standard from $300 to $1270 annually and establish a $120 enrollment fee for TRICARE for Life on top the current Medicare premium. Virtually every Member of Congress or the staffers tell us that these copayment and fee schedules are a ‘no-go’ this year. Nevertheless VFW will continue to get our Senators and Representatives to support either S. 604 or H.R. 579.

Senator Bill Nelson’s Co-Sponsorship of Veterans Education Legislation-Upon learning that Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) agreed to co-sponsor S. 22, Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, VFW State Commander Jack McDermott said: “Senator Nelson clearly understands that the current GI bill is a vestige of the Cold War and that we need educational benefits meeting the reality of the Global War on Terrorism. The current package of educational benefits pays only $9,000 a year while the national average cost of tuition is $12,000 a year which does not include the cost of books, food and housing. We have asked service members, both active and reserve, to make immeasurable sacrifices since 9/11. We owe them more than a pat on the back. We owe them a GI bill equal to that given to veterans of World War II”.

If enacted into law this bill would increase educational benefits for members of the military serving on active duty since September 11, 2001. Veterans will receive funding for tuition and fees and a monthly stipend of $1,000. Under the existing Montgomery GI Bill a veteran has only 10 years to use his or her educational benefits while H.R. 2702 will give the veterans 15 years to use this benefit. It will also allow officers who graduated from the Service Academies or were commissioned through the ROTC program to attend graduate school. Additionally, it will also refund the $1,200 active duty members paid to participate in the Montgomery GI Bill.

McDermott went on to say “Once again, Senator Nelson has shown himself to be a true veterans’ advocate. He understands that by improving education benefits, the military improves its ability to recruit a quality of the force.”

Representative Buchanan Cosponsors H.R. 579 “Military Retiree Health Care Protection Act” -After learning that Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL 13) agreed to sponsor H.R. 579, VFW State Commander Jack McDermott, State said, “We are gratified that Mr. Buchanan is on record in opposition to the Defense Department’s proposals to make thousands of military retirees pay up to $2,000 more each year for their military health care and pharmacy coverage. Even allowing for inflation since the current fees were established, these proposed increases would far outstrip annual retired pay increases and greatly erode retired compensation values. Congress knew enacting TRICARE for Life (TFL) would be expensive. Forcing large fee increases on retirees to help pay for it would be wrong. The Congress believed in 2001 that TFL was earned by military service, why is the Defense Department now insisting on raising fees during a war?” Retirement benefits are the main incentive for a military career. Shifting a greater share of the cost of health care on military retirees would be penny wise and pound foolish when recruiting is becoming more difficult and an overstressed force is facing greater difficulty retaining service members.


State Legislative Update

VFW State Legislative Priorities Gain Critical Sponsors-State Senator Mike Bennett (R-21) and State Representative Mike Grant (R-70) at the Sarasota County Veterans Commission meeting February 28, 2008 indicated that they would cosponsor S.B. 108/H.B. 687 the Disabled Veteran Owned Business Preferences in State Contracting Bill and S.B. 620/H.B. 347 Veterans In-State Tuition Exemption Bill. State Representative Maria Sachs (D-86) who recently received the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Florida’s Legislative Achievement Award is also a co-sponsor of H.B. 687 and is cosponsoring H.B. 59 which would also expand tuition exemptions for veterans attending Florida’s colleges and universities. We truly appreciate the support of these legislators who are always willing to champion veteran’s issues in Tallahassee.

Legislature Considering Establishment of a Veterans Direct Support Organization (DSO)-The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs is seeking legislative approval of a not for profit corporation with the purpose of raising funds from private donors to support its mission. Although the Veterans of Foreign Wars opposed this concept, we asked State Senator Charlie Dean (R-3) and State Representative Ron Reagan sponsors of their respective chamber’s versions (S.B. 1462 and H.B. 861) of this bill to amend them to allow veterans service organizations such as the VFW to share the revenues accrued to the proposed DSO.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Congressman Vern Buchanan Works to Extend Higher Mortgage Limits to Veterans

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL 13) cosponsored legislation today to extend higher mortgage limits to loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The economic stimulus package raised the maximum mortgage limits in high-cost areas for other federally guaranteed loans. The “Veterans Mortgage Stimulus Clarification Act” (H.R. 5561), extends the same increased mortgage limits to VA-backed loans.

“This bill fixes a huge oversight by adding veterans to the groups of homebuyers who will benefit from lower borrowing costs,” said Buchanan. “It will also help get the local real estate market moving again.”

In Florida’s 13th District, home sales have decreased and foreclosures have increased causing excess inventory.

“During the boom, many veterans in this region were priced out of federally backed loans. By increasing the limit for VA loans, we can show our gratitude for their service, increase homeownership and give the local real estate market a much-needed boost,” said Buchanan. “It’s all about making sure VA-guaranteed mortgages are treated fairly.”

The economic growth package temporarily reset loan limits for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration in 71 metropolitan areas to 125 percent of the metropolitan area’s median home prices, including the Sarasota, Bradenton, Venice market where the new limit is $442,500. VA Loan Guaranty limits are normally tied to Freddie Mac limits but the language in the stimulus package did not maintain that connection.

That means that unless the economic stimulus law is amended, VA-guaranteed loans will remain at the normal Freddie Mac limit of $417,000.

Congressman Buchanan is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gunny "Iron" Mike Burghardt - a legend

Thanks to USMC Major Jamie Purmort for sending us this story which appeared, with the above photograph, in the Omaha World-Herald.

Leading the fight is Gunnery Sergeant Michael Burghardt, known as "Iron Mike" or just "Gunny". He is on his third tour in Iraq.

He had become a legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star for disabling 64 IEDs and destroying 1,548 pieces of ordnance during his second tour. Then, on September 19, he got blown up. He had arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four US soldiers.

He chose not to wear the bulky bomb protection suit. "You can't react to any sniper fire and you get tunnel-vision," he explains. So, protected by just a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he began what bomb disposal officers term "the longest walk", stepping gingerly into a 5 foot deep and 8 foot wide crater.

The earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a wire leading from it. He cut the wire and used his 7 inch knife to probe the ground. "I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs," he says. "That's when I knew I was screwed."

Realizing he had been sucked into a trap, Sgt Burghardt, 35, yelled at everyone to stay back. At that moment, an insurgent, probably watching through binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the secondary device below the sergeant's feet. "A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded," he recalls. "As I was in the air I remember thinking, 'I don't believe they got me.' I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down."

His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt. None could believe his legs were still there. "My dad's a Vietnam vet who's paralyzed from the waist down," says Sgt Burghardt. "I was lying there thinking I didn't want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad and for him to see me like that. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real sharp pain and blood trickling down. Then I wiggled my toes and I thought, 'Good, I'm in business.'

As a stretcher was brought over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. "I decided to walk to the helicopter. I wasn't going to let my team-mates see me being carried away on a stretcher." He stood and gave the insurgents who had blown him up a one-fingered salute. "I flipped them one. It was like, 'OK, I lost that round but I'll be back next week'."

Copies of a photograph depicting his defiance, taken by Jeff Bundy for the Omaha World-Herald, adorn the walls of homes across America and that of Col John Gronski, the brigade commander in Ramadi, who has hailed the image as an exemplar of the warrior spirit.

Sgt Burghardt's injuries - burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks - kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father - who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam - he stayed in Ramadi to engage in the battle against insurgents who are forever coming up with more ingenious ways of killing Americans.