30 January 2015

Highest & Lowest BAH Rates Across America

Do you ever wonder which cities offer the highest BAH rates? How about the lowest? Rank and dependency status rates have been averaged out to give you the 5 highest and 5 lowest. Surprised by anything?

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28 January 2015

Have We Forgotten as a Nation?

POW, MIA, Killed in Action/Body not Recovered (KIA/BNR) - what do those words really mean to Americans?

Today, you still see flags flying everywhere you look…but does everyone know the true meaning of the flag? When you see the acronyms above, are they just letters? Think about it for a moment - do we really take the time to know what they mean beyond the surface definition? Many talk about the sacrifices that are made, but do they really know the heartache and pain that is still carried with family members of those who have been lost? Do they know the pain they feel from not knowing what happened to their loved ones?

The sad afterthought seems to be all that has become of our POW, MIA, and KIA/BNR. I’m afraid even us men and women who have served, or are serving, may have forgotten a little along the way. All too many times when we think about those who have come before us, we only think of those who made the sacrifice and died on the battle field. We only think of our heroes who have been awarded our highest awards or those who have done the most selfless acts. 

In ways, our POW, MIA, KIA/BNR are getting lost in the shuffle. We are doing great things for all those who have been injured in today’s wars: trying to make sure veterans are aware of their benefits, thanking veterans for their service to our country, giving discounts for services and things of that sort. And that is what should be done for those who served - we deserve it! But the plight of our lost service men and women also deserve the same recognition. We can never give up on them, for they would not give up on us. We must never give up on the idea that everyone comes home.

How can we remind our nation to recognize our brothers and sisters who were lost along the way?

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26 January 2015

When, Not If, Will We See Open Transgender Military Service?

On November 23, 2014, the Palm Center released a statement entitled "Military Services Have Failed To Comply With New Defense Department Rules On Transgender Personnel.

This followed a report from last March where former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders led a group that concluded there were no sound medical reasons why transgender people couldn't serve in the military services. It also followed an August report outlining a blueprint for how transgender people can be integrated into the military services - integrated much in the same way as 18 of our allies have already accomplished within their military services.

Military Times covered release of this latest report by the Palm Center. "A change to a Pentagon personnel policy three months ago loosens the rules barring transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military," stated the Army and Navy Times in their article entitled Report: Loophole could allow transgender troops to serve under new DoD policy, "giving the individual services leeway to retain these personnel." The article further stated, "The update -- to Defense Department Instruction 1332.18, Disability Evaluation System -- provides a loophole for the services to let transgender troops serve instead of requiring administrative separation, the Palm Center says."

The same socially conservative religious organizations that argued against repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) such as the Center for Military Readiness, the Center for Security Policy, and the Family Research Council, are using almost identical arguments. In the end, those arguments didn't work and DADT was repealed.

DADT was a federal law passed in 1993 that barred lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members from serving openly in the military services, and the law needed repeal before LGB service members could serve openly in recent years. All that bars transgender people from serving openly now is the DoD and individual service regulations. And, it appears that the overarching DoD regulation was weakened last August so that the four DoD military services could change their rules now to allow open transgender service.

The military didn't implode when LGB service members could serve openly in the American military services; the military won't implode if – or when - transgender service members can serve openly in the American military services. Honestly, does anybody currently serving in the military, who has given more than a moment's thought to this, really believe there won't come a point in the next five years or so where transgender service members are serving openly? I think most people who've put some thought into this know that it's not a question of whether America will have openly transgender service members at some point, but rather a question of when we'll have it. 

So with that in mind, do you agree it's a question of "when" and not "if"? And if you agree it's a "when," how soon do you believe we'll see open transgender military service?

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23 January 2015

American Forces in Afghanistan - 2014

2014 was a year of transition for the US military in Afghanistan. Take a look at the major shifts that occurred from the beginning until the end of 2014. Does anything surprise you?

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21 January 2015

How important is mentorship? Does it stop when you reach a certain pay grade? Does it stop when you retire from active service?

It’s strange, but I used to think mentorship was a bunch of corporate rubbish. I used a much stronger word than ‘rubbish’ when I was a younger lad, but I’ll keep it clean for the sake of consumption and professionalism. Only when I became a chief petty officer did I really understand and begin to appreciate what the importance of good mentorship is. To be fair about it, mentorship, while fairly informal, is something we should be doing almost subconsciously. I found myself in the habit of thinking: ‘Hmm, I haven’t talked to (insert name) in a while. I wonder how he or she is doing.’ And then I would contact them whether via phone, e-mail, text or smoke signal; whatever works best. As the mentor, it’s up to you to initiate a dialogue.

As junior enlisted we should all have mentors. I would argue that a good portion of American youth could really use mentorship. Did I have mentorship when I first went active in 1993? No, not really - I kind of went my own way. Perhaps I even thought deep down that I didn’t need a mentor. But, it hadn’t really taken on its current luster back in the early 1990s. As mid-grade NCOs, we could probably use both a mentor and one (if not several) protégés at the same time. As a senior enlisted NCO, whether command master chief, command sergeant major, chief petty officer, or master sergeant, we should be doing mentorship almost full-time.

It doesn’t stop when one has reached the pinnacle or even a major benchmark of a service member’s career. If anything, it becomes more profound the more rank and seniority we accrue. After all, what mentor wouldn’t leverage his or her depth of experience to make the whole enterprise more enriching?

Now to the crux of the matter: does it stop once you leave active duty? Short answer:  it does if you want it to. But by the same token, it carries on if you want it to, and I think it should. I currently mentor between four and six active and formerly active service members. In some ways, my role as a mentor has become even more multi-faceted and more personally fulfilling than when I was on active duty. How is that possible?

Firstly, I have a lot more time on my hands than when I was in uniform. That alone makes for the facilitating of several mentorships. Secondly, I can give a candid and unfettered view of what I think somebody’s situation is, whether it’s a personal problem, a professional quandary or advice on life in general, or even the politics of the day. It’s not that I didn’t do that on active duty. Rather it’s the fact that I’m not really bound by hierarchical convention any longer and I can attribute a lot of what I’ve seen and done without concerns over retribution. (And, no, I’m not talking about violating OPSEC or the National Security Act when I say that.) Thirdly, and I’ve been doing a lot of this over the last year or so, I can and have put together point papers and recommendations based on observations in training ramp-ups and in combat zones. I have a certain detachment now that I’m retired from the job, but only to put it in historical perspective. In most, if not all other senses, I’m the same guy I was when I wore the uniform. In other words, I’m only as irrelevant as I want to be.

If I wanted to be a has-been that doesn’t give a damn about the future of the DoD, the Navy and my community, I could easily fly the “I-don’t-care” flag on my front lawn. There are some who have and do. Perhaps this is the Chief Petty Officer Creed still ringing in my ears from 2003, but I’m not ready to go over the hill and die just yet. I’ve still got a lot to contribute and I know you do, too, if you’ve read this far. If you want to be a part of the discussion, join one. If you want to change or advance a different point of view, initiate one. And if you want to stay active subsequent to leaving active duty, be one.

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20 January 2015

Have you ever met someone you instantly knew was going to make waves in the world?

This year, I had the pleasure of visiting with our class of 2014 Commencement speaker.

A 20-year Army veteran and recent graduate from the Grantham online master of business administration-project management program with distinction, retired Sergeant First Class Charles Lamp is a man of vision, conviction and promise.

Lamp didn’t let difficult situations define his reality. He simply found ways around the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He knew that his lifestyle and circumstances required the innovative and creative methodologies not available at traditional brick-and-mortar campuses. For Charles, Grantham was that solution.

With great power comes great responsibility: “My education has always been very important to me,” said Lamp, “It ensures that I can take care of my family, myself and make a difference in every opportunity I come across since retiring from the military.” 

I love that, during his commencement speech, he addressed the audience as future managers and leaders. It was as if he didn’t even acknowledge there was a chance his cohorts wouldn’t want to be in those positions. He reminded them that, with the power of their accredited online degrees, came a new responsibility.

Seeing beyond today: One thing that makes Lamp successful is that he was acutely aware of the changing world around him. Instead of fighting the inevitable change of expectations in his industry and hiring managers at-large, he lowered his head and got to work!

“I completed 20 years in the Army…[where it] used to be if you had on-the-job training or skills, you could get the job.” he said, “Nowadays, you have to have the diploma. There is no hiring manager that is going to pick you up. I knew that and had to push myself a little harder.”

The real keys to the kingdom: Lamp’s charge to his class was to “specialize until you’re special”. He likened a diploma not to a sword that would slay every hindrance, but as a key that would open many doors.

“You hold that key in your hand,” he said. “But, you can’t stop there…we must seek out that which makes us stand out as top-notch professionals in the workplace.”

He also encouraged the graduates, “Don’t be afraid of failure along the way.” He’s been knocked down by its grit but has found the inner-drive to get back up. He believes that you only learn from failure and from failure comes growth.

To close his remarks, he quoted the signature line of every email he sends: “In the words of Samuel Beckett:  Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Learn more about Grantham University: http://rly.pt/GranthamU


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19 January 2015

Mitigating the Threat to your Digital Profile

Like it or not, we all have a digital profile or “footprint” that we leave all over the internet and it can be used against us by all sorts of nefarious characters.  It is important for service members in particular to pay close attention to their digital profiles.  Both state and non-state characters have been known to target service members specifically in order to gather open-source intelligence or plan attacks. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to make this harder and help mitigate the various threats to our digital profiles.

One of the easiest things we can do when it comes to social media is use the available privacy settings to the fullest extent and know all online friends personally.  Iran is just one country that has been known to use fake profiles (social engineering) on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media sites to target military and political leaders in order to gather login data and infect computers with malware (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/29/iran-hackers-idUSL1N0OE2CU20140529).  

Another recommended practice is to limit the use of location services as much as possible.  Google tracks the location history of your smartphone constantly.  It displays all this information on a nifty website with locations, dates and timestamps overlaid on Google Maps, and it is fairly accurate.  If someone has your Google account login info and your phone number, they can see where you live, work, and anywhere you visit as long as you have your phone with you and your location services are switched on.  The patterns of daily life are unavoidable but when you see it all on a map, over time it is easy to figure out where you live, where you work, who your friends and family are, and where you like to hang out.  This information is stored indefinitely until you go and delete it.  I looked at mine and saw over a year’s worth of location information stored, which was easily searchable.  Just Google search “Google location history” and you can see your own.  I found it kind of creepy but also enlightening.  I now keep my location services off most of the time.

One more tip is to never use default passwords.  Never!  Many things such as webcams, home security systems, and even baby monitors have default passwords that are also publicly available online (like the customer service section of a particular products webpage).  There are even websites that stream live footage from cameras with easily hacked default passwords or no passwords at all (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/21/how-a-russian-web-site-peers-into-your-home-even-your-babys-room-by-hacking-webcams/).  Military and government websites like AKO require strong passwords and you should meet the same requirements for your own social media and online bank accounts.  Just be sure to never use the same password for different accounts.  If someone gains access to one password, they can use it to access additional accounts if you aren’t careful.

It only takes a few pieces of information for an adversary to start connecting the dots.  A full name and partial address is usually enough to yield results in a public records search.  If you know an email address, username or phone number, sites like Spokeo.com can generate lots of information on a specific individual by searching white pages, public records, and social media.  If you have kids, try a search using their full name, age, and the town they live in and see what results come back.  If you get a lot of accurate hits from social media accounts or other sites, you might want to think more about access, privacy settings and shared information.  The lesson learned is to be careful with your Personally Identifiable Information and don’t spread this sensitive information all over the internet for someone to use against you.  

With the persistent threat from both state and non-state actors targeting service members online, we must all take a few simple steps to help safeguard our digital profiles.  Failure to do so makes you a much easier target for bad actors and, unless your job already makes you a high-profile target, the bad guys prefer the easy targets.  Being aware of this threat and taking these basic precautions will help you mitigate the chances of being targeted online.  Today, terrorist groups are using social media to target service members and their families.  Taking these basic precautions while online will help protect you and your loved ones from those who wish to do us harm.

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

16 January 2015

US Presidents with Military Experience

Ever wondered which of the US presidents had military experience? Take a look and see how many of them served!

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14 January 2015

Popular Military Discounts in Washington DC

One of the best sightseeing and historical cities in the United States is Washington, D.C. You can go see the Smithsonian, Washington Monument, Capitol building and much more. What makes this place even better is that most of those places are already free. There are a few popular places that are paid attractions though. Below is a list of the top 7 military discounts in Washington, D.C.  Just make sure to bring your military ID!

1) Fords Theater – Blue Star Theaters’ program allows military personnel to receive a 50 percent discount on tickets to select Ford’s Theater performances.

2) National Archives – This is free for everyone, but this makes the list because service personnel in uniform or with a valid military ID get to enter through the special events entrance on the corner of Constitution Avenue and 7th Street. This includes family and guests and it can save you one hour in line during peak season.

3) International Spy Museum - All military save $6.00 off of the regular admission price.

4) Crime Museum - All military save $2.00 off of the regular admission price.

5) Newseum – They offer a 10% military discount.

6) Capital Segway Tours – They offer a military discount, and I suggest calling in advance as their tours often sell out.

7) Washington Nationals - When it is baseball season, you can save up to 42% with your military discount!

You can find even more military discounts in Washington, D.C. by downloading an app called Discount Soldier.  This app will show you military discounts in and around Washington, D.C. or anywhere else in the country. What are some of the best military discounts you’ve ever used or heard of?

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12 January 2015

Career Sacrifice

Greetings fellow warriors! I hope I will be able to impart some knowledge and initiate some meaningful and rewarding conversations around our profession of arms.  Although I have some joint experience, most of my commentary will center on the Army Reserves. The subject of this article came to mind with the receipt of an email from LG Talley, USARC CG, regarding the recovery of unsatisfactory participants (unsats) from troop program units.  This missive doesn’t really have much to do with unsats, but more about the conversation regarding the memo from the Commander of the Army Reserves (CAR).

I have spoken with many active duty and retired military personnel regarding their overall experiences of service. Among them, I have heard many stories of how a person’s civilian career has suffered because of their involvement with the Army Reserves.  I have personally experienced it in some form or another, probably not as severely as others, but an impact nonetheless.  It affects people differently.  You may think that your company supports your service, and they may even think they do, until you start to get promoted in the Reserves or are mobilized.

In my case, when my first deployment came, my company said all the right things.  They gave me the company policies, they told me that my job would be waiting when I got back, they even paid me during the first two months I was gone.  The issues only surfaced upon my return.  When I got back, my peers had all been promoted and been given offices, yet I was an afterthought.  Later when my company was acquired, I was no longer thought of as the Director who had led production support for 10 years and had enacted good and meaningful change, but was simply the guy who had recently returned from deployment, completing “odd” jobs until a place was found for him.  I was not even on the list of employees to be transitioned to the new organization.  I did eventually, through networking, find a position within the new company. However, it had not been acquired through the sanctioned transition process, therefore I was bypassed for an advancement.  Eventually, a year deployment had turned into a three-year stagnation of my civilian career.

This is not an anecdotal story.  I once talked with an officer who worked for a law firm, and while his military career was stellar, achieving the rank of Colonel, he could not advance within his firm.  They even told him he needed to make a choice — he could achieve success in his civilian career or in his military career, but not both.

I know what you’re thinking: “We have the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act!  We have ESGR!  They can’t do that.”  I beg to differ, because they still do it. In fact, they do it every day, and they do it creatively.  It makes people think long and hard about their continuation in the military.  In the example of the Colonel who was given a choice, he had already gotten past the point of no return, so he stayed. Usually, it is at the O3 level when an officer decides, and at the E6 level where an NCO decides whether they have had enough.  Coincidentally, these are also the grades for which the Army Reserve is most in need.  It is also at this point in a Soldier’s career when the Reserve system asks much more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year - most of which is unpaid, unscheduled, and falls at some of the most inopportune times.  Imagine, you have worked your way up only to work your tail off for less than minimum wage once all the hours are factored in.  If you question this rationale, ask any Battalion Commander or Command Sergeant Major to show you the hours he/she puts in. 

This is my experience and that of those I have worked with. Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences?  What does your employer think of you not being able to work over the weekend on a big system implementation, because you have battle assembly?  What if your company has scheduled an important town hall meeting, but you can’t go because annual training is scheduled, or you have to leave a meeting because your Brigade Commander is at a conference and needs to know the latest influenza inoculation statistics?  What can be done to make it better on both ends of the spectrum?  Or do we need to settle for a mediocre civilian career in order to serve our country?

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