military

Last week, in my story on veterans and class, I reported on the rate of unemployment for veterans in Michigan. That rate was 13.1 percent last September, and it's likely much higher for Post 9-11 veterans (younger males tend to have higher unemployment rates).

Now, the federal government is stepping in to trying to improve the situation.

Today, President Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, a law that will give companies thousands of dollars in tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans. It also beefs up employment training for veterans.

The Associated Press reports it passed both houses of Congress without a single "no" vote:

The legislation, which creates tax breaks for companies that hire jobless veterans, marks the first proposal from Obama's $447 billion jobs bill to be signed into law. The rest of the package of new taxes and spending has largely failed to garner support from Republican lawmakers.

"Because Democrats and Republicans came together, I'm proud to sign those proposals into law," Obama said during a signing ceremony Monday.

In a statement, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America released a statement praising the bill:

“With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a solid victory for the over 2.3 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families facing the toughest economy in decades. As Congress stalls on so many other issues, it’s good to see them come together in realizing that one of the smartest investments they can make is supporting the New Greatest Generation. While IAVA’s work in fighting veteran unemployment is not done, today is a big step in the right direction.”

According to the White House, the new law will give companies the following tax credits:

  • A "Returning Heroes Tax Credit" of up to $5,600 for businesses that hire veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months
  • A "Wounded Warriors Tax Credit" of up to $9,600 for businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
courtesy of Trevor Schewe

The country has been at war for the last decade, but less than one percent of the U.S. population has been on active military duty in that time.

That’s a stark difference from World War II, when just about everyone had a relative serving overseas.

As part of our series on socioeconomic class, we wanted to find out who joins the military these days and why. And we wanted to know whether their service to our country can help them get ahead in life.

Ashley Dace / Geograph

Michigan Senator Carl Levin says the United States needs to crack down on counterfeit electronic parts coming from China.

Levin says thousands of fake parts have been discovered in the U.S. military’s supply stream.  Some missiles even had to be stripped apart to remove counterfeit parts from China.

He says it’s dangerous – and China won’t do anything to stop it.

Levin has proposed an amendment to require inspections of parts coming from China.

He says it’s not part of a China-bashing campaign. 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A judge has barred the state of Michigan from giving more work to a private contractor at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The injunction also prevents the layoff of state employees who are health-care aides. Gov. Rick Snyder wants to privatize certain services to save money, but critics say the plan could harm residents.

Ingham County Judge Paula Manderfield signed the order Friday, saying the injunction is in the "public interest." WOOD-TV reports the attorney general's office plans to appeal.

The home has 758 beds for veterans and many of its workers are represented by a union. A doctor last week testified that an abrupt change in personnel would affect the physical and mental health of residents.

Specialist 2nd Class Joel Carlson / United States Navy

President Barack Obama will attend a basketball game between Michigan State University and North Carolina. The game will be held on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Veteran's Day (11-11-11).

The game is being branded as the "Quicken Loans Carrier Classic" and it's billed as the "first ever carrier to host a Division 1 college basketball game."

From the Washington Post:

Obama is expected to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of Veterans Day and then travel to San Diego for the game.

“This Veterans Day, President Obama will honor our nation’s veterans by laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery and then by traveling to San Diego, California, to attend the Carrier Classic on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson,” the White House said in a statement. “He looks forward to a great game between Michigan State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

The nuclear powered aircraft carrier is famed for being the carrier from which Osama bin Laden's body was buried at sea. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Department of Defense

A Marine from Genesee County has been reported killed during combat operations in Afghanistan.
    

The military says Friday that 28-year-old staff Sgt. Nicholas Sprovtsoff of Davison and 27-year-old Sgt. Christopher Diaz of Albuquerque died Wednesday in Helmand Province.
    

Sprovtsoff was assigned to the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at Camp Pendleton, California.  Diaz was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California.
    

photo by Spc. Alyson Berzinski / 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

After soldiers in the Army return home, they're given time to recuperate  before being asked to deploy again.

It's called "dwell time."

Earlier this month, the Army announced they'll extend the dwell time for units that deploy starting in October.

It's welcome news for military families who saw loved ones return to service after a year home, or less.

From the Military Times:

Army units that deploy starting next month should enjoy two years of dwell time when they come home. That’s the Army’s plan for its war-weary troops even as it transitions from 12-month deployments to nine-month tours, a senior Army planner said.

“If you’re a deploying unit for this coming quarter, when you return, can we tell you you’re on a two-year dwell cycle? The answer is yes for most Army units,” said Col. John Hort, a senior planner at Forces Command. “Our goal is to be able to provide a unit two years of dwell minimum when they return.

In addition to longer dwell times, Army officials say they're also transitioning away from 12-month deployments to nine-month deployments in fiscal 2012. Also welcome news to those who once experienced 15-month tours.

The changes are dependent on continued troop draw downs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an editorial, the Army Times said the changes are "long overdue":

It’s been a long time coming. The deployment rotations took a heavy toll on the morale of the troops and family members who made great personal, financial and emotional sacrifices to support their loved ones and the mission. The long separations often hurt marriages and caused great pain for deployed parents who missed birthdays and ballgames, graduations and anniversaries, and all those moments when it means so much to just be there.

Back home, the deployments in many cases contributed to an epidemic suicide rate among soldiers. Moreover, a Military Times investigation reveals, the number of military children killed through abuse and neglect doubled from 2003 to 2008, an increase “very clearly tied to specific events of the large-scale deployments,” said researcher Deborah Gibbs, who has studied child abuse under a Defense Department contract.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

UAW and automakers fail to meet deadline

Last night was the deadline for Detroit automakers and the United Auto Workers to reach agreements on new contracts. The UAW and Ford Motor Company officials agreed to extend their talks, but the Associated Press reports talks with GM and Chrysler broke off just after midnight last night.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne sent a letter to UAW President Bob King saying they had let down Chrysler workers - "you and I failed them today," he wrote - From the Associated Press:

Up until the deadline, the negotiations that began over the summer appeared to be proceeding without the acrimony that plagued them in the past. But just before the 11:59 p.m. EDT Wednesday deadline, the CEO of Chrysler fired off a letter to UAW President Bob King saying an agreement likely wouldn't be reached because King didn't come to the table Wednesday night to finish the deal.

"I know we are the smallest of the three automakers here in Detroit, but that does not make us less relevant," Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The AP reports that despite the talk extension, negotiations appear to be going more smoothly with General Motors.

Governor Snyder says Michigan should act on health care exchanges

In his healthcare message yesterday, Governor Rick Snyder said Michigan's health care system is a broken one.

He rolled out a list of ideas to improve the situation which included a request to set up a statewide healthcare exchange. As Lindsey Smith reported, "the new federal health care law mandates states create their own exchange, join a regional one or wait until the federal exchange is in place."

Rick Pluta reported the governor is likely to face opposition on this idea from Republicans in the state legislature:

Many Republicans oppose the law and resist enacting any of the federal mandates before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on them.

The governor says that will put Michigan behind other states if all or part of the law is upheld.

The resistance doesn't just come from legislators. Michigan's Attorney General, Bill Schuette, is actively fighting against the federal health care law in courts.

Michigan servicemen to deploy to Afghanistan

From the Associated Press:

About 90 members of the Michigan National Guard are preparing for a year of service in Afghanistan.

An event was planned for Thursday in Grand Ledge for the Lansing-based soldiers. They'll do about 14 weeks of training before going to Afghanistan to conduct intelligence work.

The soldiers are from B Company of the Brigade Special Troops Battalion with the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

Filmmaker Heather Courtney didn't set out to make a war story. "I set out to make a story about rural America," she says. Her new documentary, Where Soldiers Come From, is both war story and small-town homecoming saga; it follows a group of young men who sign up for the National Guard, serve in Afghanistan, and then return home to their families in Michigan's woody Upper Peninsula.

Courtney joins NPR's Scott Simon to discuss the documentary, along with two of the young soldiers featured in the film, Dominic "Dom" Fredianelli and Matt "Bodi" Beaudoin.

Update 1:44 p.m.

A federal judge has struck down the Michigan law that bars protests at funerals.

Detroit U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington says the law violates free speech rights and is too vague too enforce.

Lewis and Jean Lowden challenged the law after they were stopped and removed from a funeral procession by police.

They had signs critical of President George W. Bush taped to their car windows.

They were on their way to the burial of a family friend who died in Iraq.

Dan Korobkin is the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented the Lowdens. He says it is still illegal to disrupt a funeral.

"But what’s not against the law is to express your own views on a public street and risk being arrested or penalized for that just because your views don’t accord with the views of other people – either at the funeral or, even in this case, the police officers who were directing traffic," said Korobkin.

The law was passed largely to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting at the funerals of fallen service members. Members of the church show up outside military funerals with signs that say the deaths were caused by America’s tolerance of homosexuality.

10:55 a.m.

This just came in from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

A federal judge has struck down the state law barring protests at military funerals.

The Michigan law was passed in 2006 to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from demonstrating at military funerals. More than 40 states passed similar legislation barring the practice, according to the First Amendment Center.

Last March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro protesters in the "Snyder v. Phelps" case.

Last month, a similar state law in Missouri was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge.

We'll have more from Rick Pluta later today.

About a thousand Michigan Army and Air National Guardsmen will spend the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend back home, after spending the past year in Iraq and Kuwait.  Two battalions of guardsmen have been arriving in cities and towns across Michigan during the past few days.  

Captain Aaron Jenkins is a Michigan National Guard spokesman.    He says moving the troops from the Middle East to Michigan is complicated by the need to bring their equipment back with the troops.   

The military says a 34-year-old Navy SEAL from Michigan was one of 30 American military personnel killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department released Heath Robinson's name Thursday, listing his hometown as Detroit.

The special warfare operator chief petty officer and others aboard the helicopter died Saturday in Wardak Province while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He is the only Michigan resident listed among the fatalities.

Of those killed 17 were SEALs and five were Navy special operations troops supporting them. Three Air Force airmen, a five-member Army air crew, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter also were killed.

The crash, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul, was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year Afghan war.

screenshot of CNN website

More than 6,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to iCasualties.org.

Several media outlets track this information and break it down by state.

CNN.com has an interactive map that lists the casualties separately from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their maps show where the soldier was from, and where they were killed.

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. military says a 28-year-old Army sergeant from Battle Creek has been killed in an enemy attack in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department said Thursday that Staff Sgt. Joshua Throckmorton died Tuesday in Afghanistan's Paktia province. The military says Throckmorton died of injuries suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Also killed in the attack were 24-year-old Spc. Jordan Schumann of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and 22-year-old Spc. Preston Suter of Sandy, Utah.

They were part of the 709th Military Police Battalion in Hohenfels, Germany.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Changing the state's motorcycle helmet law

Michigan is one of twenty state requiring motorcyclists to where a helmet, but that might change. The Saginaw News reports on two pieces of legislation aimed at allowing riders to go without a helmet:

Two bills repealing the state’s helmet law have been introduced in the state Legislature.

House Bill 4608, sponsored originally by Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, and co-sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Horn, R-Frankenmuth, would allow riders 21 or older to go without helmets if they carry at least $20,000 in personal liability insurance.

Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Sen. Phillip Pavlov, R-St. Clair, would not require helmets on riders 20 or older if they have passed a safety course or carried a motorcycle endorsement the previous two years.

The Saginaw News reports Governor Granholm vetoed two bills similar to these, and Governor Rick Snyder hasn't taken a stance on them.

Gas prices up again

AAA Michigan says the cheapest gas in Michigan can be found in Lansing, and the most expensive can be found in Ann Arbor. From the Associated Press:

AAA Michigan says gasoline prices are up 17 cents per gallon over the past week to a statewide average of $4.12.

The auto club says Monday the statewide average is about $1.37 per gallon higher than last year at this time.

Of the cities it surveys, AAA Michigan says the cheapest price for self-serve unleaded fuel is in the Lansing area, where it's $4.07 a gallon. The highest average can be found in the Ann Arbor area at $4.15.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily.

Flags lowered today

Governor Rick Snyder has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff today for Staff Sgt. Ergin V. Osman - a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Ranger Pathfinders. Osman was killed by an improvised explosive device on May 26.  From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags throughout Michigan to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a military serviceman who died in Afghanistan.

The order was in effect for today.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ergin V. Osman, who grew up in Macomb County's Harrison Township and Sterling Heights, was killed along with five other soldiers by an improvised explosive device on May 26. He was a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Ranger Pathfinders based at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Osman was 35.

Detroit Historical Museum

Active-duty military members and their families will get free admission to more than 1,000 museums in the United States this summer. It’s part of the National Endowment for the Arts Blue Star Museums program. 129 of those museums are in Michigan.

Bob Sadler is with the Detroit Historical Museum. He says this is the second year the museum has participated in the program and they hope to continue:

user brother o'mara / Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

The U.S. Army / Flickr

President Barack Obama will address the nation tonight about the military role the U.S. is playing in Libya. It's been just a little over a week since the President ordered U.S. forces to protect Libyan rebels from Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

The President will speak from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. at 7:30 p.m. You can hear live coverage of the address on Michigan Radio beginning at 7 p.m.

Here's a roundup of what various media organizations are saying about the upcoming address:

NPR.org

For soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the biggest threats has been IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices. When these bombs go off, they can do enormous physical damage. But they can also cause damage to the soldier that often goes undetected.

NPR's Daniel Zerdling and ProPublica conducted an investigation of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) in soldiers serving in the U.S. military.

In the series, Brain Wars, they found that "the military medical system is failing to diagnose brain injuries in troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom receive little or no treatment for lingering health problems."

We're beginning to learn more about the persistent debilitating effects of these brain injuries from studies of football and hockey players and other athletes involved in contact sports. These are unseen injuries. Injuries that, prior to our understanding of them, might have gotten a "shake it off, you just got your bell rung" response from a coach.

As it turns out, the military has been slow to understand the effects of these brain injuries as well.

To get a grasp of how these unseen brain injuries can affect somebody - watch this video of Sgt. Victor Medina who says, "sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to get my leg blown off - you can see it.":

USMC Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks / U.S. Navy

We're coming up on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. led war in Afghanistan.

So far, there have been 1,429 U.S. deaths from Operation Enduring Freedom, according to icasualties.org.

Marine Sgt. Paul Boothroyd III of Midland is lucky not to be one of those.

Andrew Dodson of Booth Mid-Michigan has a piece on Boothroyd's remarkable story.

A sniper's bullet hit Boothroyd's Kevlar helmet while on patrol in southern Afghanistan.

Boothroyd thought the helmet stopped the bullet, but the bullet was later found lodged behind his right ear - millimeters away from a main artery and his spinal cord.

From the article:

Boothroyd III travels back to Midland this week with his wife Ashley Boothroyd from Maryland. Their 2-year-old son, Paul Boothroyd IV, is with his grandparents waiting for his parent’s return to Michigan.

He enlisted in the Marines following high school. After acing a linguistics test, the Marines sent him to school, where he learned to speak modern and traditional dialects of Arabic, including Iraqi.

After his time off in Midland, Boothroyd III plans to return to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina awaiting his next tour of duty. He says he appreciates his time off, but wants to return to the Middle East.

Boothroyd says he looks forward to "get back to the fight."

virtualwall.org

Officials at the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office say they've identified the remains of two U.S. airmen from the Vietnam War. The airmen were reportedly shot down in 1969 and have been missing ever since.

The government says the remains belong to 34-year-old Col. James E. Dennany of Kalamazoo and 27-year-old Maj. Robert L. Tucci of Detroit.

In a press release, the Defense Department explains how Dennany and Tucci's plane went down:

David Pope is an MP in the U.S. Navy
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A special lounge at Detroit Metro Airport is open for members of the military and their families traveling over the holidays.


David Pope checked into the lounge before his return flight to Okinawa, where he serves in the Navy. He says it’s nice to have a quiet spot away from other travelers to start the long trip:

Ban on don't ask don't tell may soon go into effect
Flickr user Umpqua / Creative Commons

Associated Press reports The Senate has voted to overturn "don't ask, don't tell." Today's 65-31 vote sends the bill to President Barack Obama, who's expected to sign it next week. The new law will allow gay service members to acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

 

More coverage of that story here.

Senator Levin speaks with military member
Carl Levin

Associated Press reports the senate has cleared the way for a vote on Saturday afternoon on a bill that would overturn the military's ban on openly gay troops. Senators voted 63-33 to advance the legislation. It's already passed the House and  now looks likely to reach the president's desk before the new year.

Earlier in the day Senator Levin gave a senate floor statement.

VFW Hall in Hoquiam, WA
Joe Mabel / Creative Commons

It's Veterans Day and there are a many articles around the state about those who have made significant sacrifices for our country. Men and women who fought in wars for the U.S. Here's a snapshot of the articles this morning:

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