Tag Archives: Army

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger: Military must pursue alternatives to burning munitions

With President Barack Obama’s signature on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a nationwide grassroots campaign to ensure the safe disposal of conventional munitions stockpile secured a key victory.

The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will benefit hundreds of communities across the country where open air burning of hazardous waste is routinely conducted by the Departments of Defense and Energy, according to a news release.

“I have been working on cleaning up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant since I first entered Congress, so I was proud to fight for this reform to help other communities facing similar challenges,” Baldwin said, according to the release. “This provision will assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions to ensure that other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was.”

“I was proud to support and help shepherd through the Senate, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a provision important to Madison County and the Blue Grass Army Depot community allowing the Army to use cost-competitive technologies to safely and efficiently dispose of stockpiles of legacy conventional munitions,” added U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The new act requires the Secretary of the Army to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study of the alternatives to the current practice of open burning the conventional munitions stockpile of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense manages conventional ammunition that includes items ranging from small arms cartridges to rockets, mortars, and artillery to tactical missiles.

As of February 2015, the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal was approximately 529,373 tons.

By fiscal year 2020, the stockpile is expected to more than double, making the proper management and disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. 

“Open burning and detonation of munitions causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment,” said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin and an organizer with the Cease Fire Campaign – a national grassroots coalition of 60 environmental, labor, veterans and social justice organizations calling for safer alternatives. 

Sites like the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee are currently permitted to open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds net explosive waste per year — ignoring a 2012 Army Corps of Engineers study that concluded there are cutting-edge technologies that could be successfully deployed at Holston to replace open burning.

“There are over 100 hazardous chemicals released from open burning waste explosives and explosives-contaminated construction demolition debris that can be toxic and carcinogenic,” cautioned Connie & Mark Toohey with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice and residents living downwind of Holston. “Dioxins are highly toxic and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.”

Also, for more than 60 years, the U. S. military used the offshore Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for training exercises with live bombing, experimental use of conventional and non-conventional weapons, testing with napalm, agent orange, uranium and open burning and open detonation (OB/OD),” said Myrna Pagan with Vidas Viequenses Valen. “For over 10 years now there is a process of cleanup and restoration underway where OB/OD continues to contaminate this small island.”

“OB/OD is a dangerous, toxic and outdated method that feeds a health crisis of alarming rates of cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Myrna added.  “Our little children, our teen agers have more than three times the probability of dying from cancer than their peers in the rest of Puerto Rico. We citizens depend on responsible action from the government to protect our rights to good health in a safe environment. We deserve the use of reliable, alternative, advanced technologies to repair this disaster.”

The National Academy of Sciences study is due to Congress in 18 months. 

Civil rights groups urge clemency for Chelsea Manning

The American Civil Liberties Union and more than a dozen LGBT groups on Dec. 5 urged President Barack Obama to commute Chelsea Manning’s sentence for disclosing classified information to raise public awareness regarding the impact of war on civilians.

Manning is serving the seventh year of a 35-year sentence.

Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative, said, “Ms. Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States. Granting her clemency petition will give Ms. Manning a first chance to live a real, meaningful life as the person she was born to be.”

The letter to the president states, “Manning, a transgender woman who is being forced to serve out her sentence in an all-male prison, has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and denied necessary medical treatment related to her gender dysphoria. The Army even opposed her request to use her legal name and to be referred to by female pronouns. While the armed forces have finally opened the door to transgender men and women who wish to serve, the government has continually fought Ms. Manning’s efforts to be treated with basic dignity.”

The following groups signed the letter:

American Civil Liberties Union
BiNet USA
COLAGE
Family Equality Council
FORGE, Inc.
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
Immigration Equality
KhushDC
Lambda Legal
League of United Latin American Citizens
Los Angeles LGBT Center
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Organization for Women
Pride at Work
Transgender Law Center

On the Web

Free Chelsea Manning.

Governments researched using fentanyl as chemical weapon

Before appearing in global narcotics supply chains , fentanyl and substances like it were viewed as potential chemical weapons. Scientists struggled to figure out how to package the chemicals so that they would incapacitate but not kill targets.

Some highlights of those efforts:

UNITED STATES

Research into fentanyl as an incapacitating agent began in the 1960s and, by the 1980s, scientists were testing primates with aerosolized carfentanil, according to Neil Davison, author of ““Non-Lethal’ Weapons.”

In 1997, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working under a Department of Justice contract, reported on a novel system for delivering less-than-lethal doses of fentanyl. They designed and tested guns loaded with small felt pads soaked with a fentanyl-based solution. They also considered developing paintball-type projectiles.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency was worried enough about fentanyl and carfentanil being used by terrorists that it published instructions for taking samples of the substances, including from drinking water, following “homeland security events.”

CHINA

A People’s Liberation Army soldier was photographed in 2011 holding a “narcosis” gun, designed to inject targets with a liquid incapacitating agent, according to Michael Crowley, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Bradford. Two state-backed companies that marketed the guns never specified which chemical agent would be used as ammunition, but Crowley said it “might very well be fentanyl or an analog of fentanyl.” One advertisement for the guns praised their “excellent silence” and “easy schlepping.”

Scientists from a People’s Liberation Army school called the Institute of Chemical Defense also have published research on fentanyls. “These compounds are of great importance to criminalistics and countering terrorism,” they said in a 2011 paper.

RUSSIA

Russian special forces used carfentanil, along with the less potent remifentanil, to subdue Chechen separatists who took more than 800 people hostage in a Moscow theater in 2002, according to a paper by British government scientists who tested clothing and urine samples from three survivors. The tactic worked, but more than 120 hostages died from the effects of the chemicals. Others suffered lasting health effects. The British paper also cited a book written by a Russian general who directed a military chemical institute, which described fentanyls as delivering “a knock-out blow” to subjects within minutes.

ISRAEL

Doctors pulled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal out of respiratory collapse with the opioid antidote naloxone after Mossad agents sprayed a substance believed to be a form of fentanyl in his ear in a botched 1997 assassination attempt. “Israeli officials have indicated that Mossad has used fentanyl in other operations, which they declined to describe, noting that it had a ‘100 percent success rate,”” according to a Jane’s Intelligence Review report from January 1998.

Military might: After ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ reform is still needed

Do ask.

Do tell.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan wants ex-service members to tell about the harm caused by discharges under the now defunct ban against gays in the military.

And the Wisconsin Democrat wants Congress to ask about the harm caused by the ban years after the its repeal.

Pocan and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., want the House Committee on Armed Services to examine the challenges faced by gays and lesbians discharged from the military.

Recently, however, the committee refused to hold a hearing on the bill.

A year ago this summer, the congressmen introduced the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which would help former service members discharged solely due to their sexual orientation correct their military records to reflect their honorable service and to restore benefits they earned.

The bill, according to Pocan’s office, has 113 co-sponsors in the House, including four Republicans. A companion measure in the Senate has 38 co-sponsors.

In a letter this spring to Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who is the chair of the Armed Services Committee, Pocan and Rangel wrote, “Since World War II, more than 100,000 individuals are estimated to have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation. Today, thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans are tarnished with discharge statuses other than honorable. This status affects both their access to benefits they have earned from their service and their opportunities in civilian life, potentially hindering employment opportunities and the right to vote.”

Pocan’s office said even gay service members who received honorable discharges may face discrimination because the “Narrative Reason” for their discharge may refer to “homosexual conduct,” “homosexual act” or “homosexual marriage.”

In the 1992 race for president, Bill Clinton campaigned on a platform that included a vow to lift a ban against gays in the military — a prohibition applied in various ways over the years. But Clinton faced stiff opposition in Congress and eventually offered a compromise — “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The policy allowed for gay people to serve if they didn’t tell, and military leaders were prohibited from asking about sexual orientation.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was not administered as Clinton proposed, and investigations about sexual orientation continued, with service members still losing careers and benefits as had happened for decades before.

The ban was repealed in 2011, allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the Armed Forces.

A year after the repeal, a study from the Palm Center, an independent research institute in San Francisco, found:

• Only two service members, both chaplains, were identified as having left the military as a result of the repeal.

• The Pentagon reported not a single episode of violence associated with the repeal.

• Pentagon data show recruitment and retention remained robust after the repeal.

• Survey data revealed that service-wide, troops reported the same level of morale and readiness after the repeal as they did before.

• Data also showed trust among troops improved following the repeal.

The transgender front

Still, nearly five years later, the struggle for full equality in the military continues with the campaign to remove barriers to transgender people serving openly.

Last summer, this effort was boosted by a vote of the American Medical Association, which adopted a resolution finding “there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals” from U.S. military service and urged that transgender service members be provided with necessary medical care “according to the same medical standards that apply to non-transgender personnel.”

The AMA also said the anti-transgender policy is out of date.

Four U.S. Surgeons General — Drs. Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Regina Benjamin and Kenneth Moritsugu — reached the same conclusion.

This spring, a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon and first reported on by The New York Times found that repealing the ban on transgender service would not negatively impact the Armed Forces and would lead to no more than 129 of the military’s million-plus troops seeking transition-related care each year.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said the Rand report confirmed his institute’s research on the issue. “Inclusive policy will not compromise readiness, will not be costly and will not be difficult to formulate or implement,” he said.

There have been hints the Defense Department, which created a working group to examine the issue, could announce its plan for allowing open transgender service this spring.

Congress likely would play a role in any reforms, and the House Committee on Armed Services would get an early review.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state is the ranking Democratic member on that committee. He’s a supporter of lifting the ban on transgender service, as well as an advocate of equal and fair treatment of gay service members and those discharged because of their orientation.

Mystery lingers in Vietnam War murder of Wisconsin soldier

It wasn’t the enemy that killed Lt. Ronald Kielpikowski of Green Bay in Vietnam on Feb. 28, 1969.

It was a fellow G.I., and it was no accident.

That’s about as much as Debbie Piontek knows, and 46 years later, it weighs heavily on her.

Piontek, now 59, was only 12 when news came to report on her brother’s death in Vietnam. Whether her parents or siblings knew Ronnie had been murdered, she can’t say, but she didn’t learn about it until much later.

“I remember the news crew outside the church and the 21-gun salute at Fort Howard Cemetery,” she said.

About five or six years ago, while surfing the Internet, the town of Eaton resident searched her brother’s name and came upon a site that identified his death as a homicide. It was the first she had heard of it.

The Press Gazette reports it sent her on a quest to find out as much as she could, but she got no help from her family. Her parents were gone by then. Her older siblings?

“Well, when I told them what I found out, they just said it’s not going to change anything,” Piontek said.

She quickly found the U.S. military bureaucracy was a labyrinth she couldn’t travel alone. Computer searches were giving her mixed messages, with some sites, such as the National Archives, identifying her brother’s death as being accidental, others saying it was homicide and at least one, the Military Honor Wall at togetherweserved.com, proclaiming it was an accidental homicide.

At her husband’s suggestion, she enlisted an aid of then-Sen. Herb Kohl’s office. Information began pouring in.

Conflicting versions

Piontek managed to get a copy of the original Western Union telegram, stating “First Lieutenant Ronald L. Kielpikowski died as a result of wound received while in base camp when shot by another individual.”

Another document, called a disposition form, called Ronnie’s death “the result of a non-hostile action” and went on to repeat the information stated in the telegram. It also indicated there was “possible misconduct” involved.

She received another document, not identified by a header but appearing to be some kind of printout, written entirely in capital letters. It refers to a “gunshot wound to the abdomen” and says “AT BASE CAMP STANDING IN CHOW LINE WHEN ANOTHER INDIV CAME UP TO KIELPIKOWSKI AND SHOT HIM WITH AN M-16.” It goes on to explain that Kielpikowski was admitted to the 71st Evacuation Hospital, where he later died, but most of the rest of the document is a jumble of abbreviations and computer code.

The most useful document she received was one identified as “statement of medical examination and duty status.” It came out of the 71st Evacuation Hospital, where it says Kielpikowski died while in surgery for a gunshot wound to the chest — not abdomen, as the previous document stated.

“Officer was shot by another EM with M-16, 1130 hrs 28 Feb 69, at LZ Mary Lou, RVN,” the detail portion of the form states. “SP4 Leon Carter and 1LT Kielpikowski had ridden the convoy from Camp Enari to LZ Mary Lou. Upon dismounting the two individuals had faced each other, then 1LT Kielpikowski had begun to walk away when he was shot and killed by SP4 Carter. A CID investigation and a 15-6 investigation are in progress.”

That’s the last official word Piontek was able to get. No explanation of how he suffered a chest wound while walking away, no reference to what might have been said between the two men, no word on the outcome of the two investigations, and no word on what if anything happened to Carter. It also doesn’t explain how the two could have just dismounted from a convoy, as one report says, and yet been in the chow line, as another of the reports says.

One big break in her investigation, albeit with a different account of the incident, came when she got a phone call out of the blue from a man named David Binder of Prineville, Ore.

Eyewitness

Binder was a lieutenant in the same battalion, but a different company, and he claimed to have been a witness to Kielpikowski’s shooting.

Piontek can’t remember quite how she got connected up with Binder, but he sent her a letter spelling out what he saw. Their battalion, having been in fierce fighting for several weeks set up camp near the city of Kontum, to protect it and rest up. The shooting was a day or two after their arrival in Kontum.

Kielpikowski was responsible for doling out pay. He told a soldier (later to be identified as Carter) to report for pay, and “without provocation, the man lowered his M-16 and sprayed Ron and his 2 guards,” Binder wrote.

Binder, who didn’t know Kielpikowski or Carter, had just woken up and left his tent when the gunfire started. He said he saw Kielpikowski and two other men fall.

“I saw the shooter going berserk yelling and running up the road toward the gate,” he wrote.

Binder retrieved his rifle, chased Carter, and they exchanged gunfire. At one point, Binder managed to shoot him, hitting him in the right shoulder. By then, MPs had arrived and pinned Carter to the ground. Binder returned to camp, then sat with the injured Kielkipowski in the infirmary until medics came to take him away in a helicopter. He recalled that Kielpikowski had three bullet wounds in his torso.

“I heard later he died en route,” Binder wrote. “I never heard what happened to the shooter, he probably survived and got a life sentence or death.”

Binder’s account says nothing about a chow line, as referenced in one military document, nor about the two men having just disembarked from one of the trucks in a convoy, as referenced in one of the other military documents. His account also doesn’t match the one listed in the medical report indicating the two men had been facing each other and Kielpikowski was walking away when Carter opened fire.

“I could only tell you this story from my own perspective,” Binder said in his letter to Piontek.

More recently, Piontek got another break in the case. This time it came in the form of a contact from an old family friend. Gary Tremble grew up in the same eastside Green Bay neighborhood as the Kielpikowskis. In fact, Ron used to babysit the Tremble kids, Gary recalled.

Gary Tremble never was in Vietnam and had no first-hand knowledge of Kielpikowski’s death. He remembered when it happened and assumed it was a battle-related incident. But about a year ago, Tremble happened upon one of the same websites Piontek had visited and learned Kielpikowski’s death had been because of homicide.

He contacted Piontek, who remembered him from their childhood, and he agreed to help her continue her investigation.

Tremble made contact with Kirk Ramsey, a Vietnam veteran who is the battalion’s webmaster. Ramsey had no knowledge of Kielpikowski or his death, but at Tremble’s request, he asked around.

Ramsey tracked down someone claiming to be an eyewitness, someone Ramsey wouldn’t identify other than to say he was on the same convoy as Kielpikowski and Carter.

Conflicting eyewitness

According to the man’s account, he didn’t seem to know either of the men, but the story among the troops was that Carter had been in the 71st hospital’s psychiatric unit previously, and that Kielpikowski apparently believed Carter was faking mental problems to shirk his duties. Kielpikowski went there and forced Carter’s release and return to the unit.

“Carter allegedly told the doctor that he was not ready to return to his unit, and if forced to do so, somebody was going to get hurt or killed,” the man wrote to Ramsey. “Again, allegedly, Kielpikowski talked the doctor into releasing Carter and put him on the transport that day with his M-16.”

The man said Carter’s M-16 was supposed to be unloaded, but Carter easily could have picked up a half-spent magazine from the truck floor.

The man claimed he heard shots just as he was getting off one of the trucks.

“The shots started immediately after I hopped off the truck I was on,” he told Ramsey. People ran for cover and he saw “a man to my left get hit.” That, presumably, was Kielpikowski. The witness also claimed he saw someone named Sgt. Barker get hit in the leg. No one else got hit, although “a spray of bullets came between us and the tent a few feet from us,” the man told Ramsey.

The man said another soldier told him he saw the shooter run off, but surrender when confronted by an officer. That soldier said the shooter’s “eyes were open real wide and he looked deranged.” That soldier said nothing about the shooter having been wounded in the shoulder or of a second sergeant having been injured.

Press-Gazette Media contacted Ramsey, who said, “The eyewitness I found doesn’t want the publicity.” Ramsey acknowledged that the majority of the man’s story was nothing more than hearsay, but the eyewitness portion seems to match at least one of the official versions and contradicts Binder’s account.

“Both had gotten off a truck when the shooting started,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey told Tremble he “would hesitate to put much credibility in the ‘Pay Day’ story and the officer shooting Carter.”

During the Vietnam War, when people were still being drafted into military service, friction often was heated between soldiers and officers and it wasn’t unheard of for that friction to escalate to the point of murder, Ramsey said.

Speaking to Press-Gazette Media by phone, Binder stood by his account. He denied the men had just disembarked from convoy trucks and said that convoy had been days earlier.

“I know for a fact there were no trucks around close by the area,” he said.

Binder recalled a chow line nearby, but neither Kielpikowski nor Carter were in it. Binder said he had no first-hand knowledge that Kielpikowski was the payroll officer that day — that’s what he had been told — but it fit with what he saw:  Kielpikowski was standing with two sergeants. It was standard procedure for the payroll officer to be accompanied by two sergeants serving as armed guards for the cash payouts being made, Binder said.

Both sergeants were injured, Binder said. When told no one could confirm a second sergeant was injured, Binder said he definitely saw both sergeants appear to be shot in the legs, but one might have been hit superficially.

Binder had no knowledge of Carter having previously been in the psychiatric unit or of Kielpikowski trying to get him out.

“There is information in there (official documents) about Leon Carter being unstable, so I do know that he was classified as unstable, but why he had a gun, I have no idea.”

He found it doubtful that Kielpikowski would have ordered Carter to carry an unloaded weapon in a battle zone, as Ramsey’s witness claimed.

In any case, “it was a horrible tragedy,” Binder said. Kielpikowski “didn’t deserve to die, and it was because of some goofball that the Army should have flagged . I felt horrible about it. I didn’t know Ron, but I felt just terrible about it.”

Despite his involvement in the incident, investigators never questioned him, nor was he ever required to fill out a report on it.

“I’m surprised they didn’t ask me,” he said. “I thought about that later. Why in the hell didn’t they ask me? Because everybody saw me chasing him.”

Piontek and Tremble say they don’t know which versions to believe. But the real question, they both say, is what happened to Carter.

Piontek’s efforts in the search ended when Sen. Herb Kohl retired in 2013. She hadn’t decided whether to contact Sen. Tammy Baldwin or Rep. Reid Ribble and has so far been content to let Tremble carry on.

Tremble said he kept digging but has hit an impasse: The problem is, nonfamily members can’t typically dig into a soldier’s official military record, especially without crucial information such as a Social Security number. Tracking Leon Carter through unofficial sources has mostly been impossible because the name is too common. Tremble has no idea where this particular Leon Carter is from. He says he found records of three different Leon Carters just in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.

“I’ll keep looking, and when I find out, I’ll tell you,” he said.

“I would just like to see what happened to that man,” Piontek said. “He should be punished.”

An AP member exchange story. 


Falwell calls for an armed Christian campus

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. urged students, staff and faculty at his Christian school to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon on campus to counter any copycat attack like the deadly rampage in California.

“Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell told an estimated 10,000 of the campus community at convocation on Dec. 4 in Lynchburg. While Falwell’s call to arms was applauded, his remarks also seemed to target Muslims.

“I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” the right-wing Falwell said. The final words of his statement could not be clearly heard on a videotape of the remarks.

However, Falwell told The Associated Press he was specifically referring to Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino last week.

Falwell’s remarks generated a sharp rebuke from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who called the comments “reckless.”

“My administration is committed to making Virginia an open and welcoming Commonwealth, while also ensuring the safety of all of our citizens,” McAuliffe said in a statement over the weekend. “Mr. Falwell’s rash and repugnant comments detract from both of those crucial goals.”

Falwell also said he believed the campus needed to be prepared in the face of the increasing frequency of mass killings. He cited, for example, the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, and less than 100 miles southwest of Liberty.

“What if just one of those students or one of those faculty members had a concealed permit and was carrying a weapon when the shooter walked into Virginia Tech? Countless lives could have been saved,” he said.

Falwell’s message is apparently being heeded. He said more than 100 people had asked Liberty police about a free class to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Liberty was founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., architect of the contemporary Christian right and founder of the Moral Majority. His barbed commentary and campaign against LGBT people and their rights made him a reviled figure to some and a pioneering conservative crusader to others.

Following the San Bernardino shootings, which left 14 dead, Falwell said he began carrying a .25-caliber handgun in his back pocket. He said he’s had a permit for more than year.

During his address, Falwell mentioned the weapon and reached around seemingly to fetch it.

“Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, laughing.

Asked if he was concerned by the prospect of thousands of armed young people on campus, Falwell said Virginia has a minimum age of 21 for a carry-conceal permit. He said that meant only older students would be armed.

More than 14,000 students are enrolled at Liberty.

Falwell said he had also reached out to a first responder in San Bernardino to see if the school could offer scholarship assistance to his children. 

Falwell’s remarks were first reported by the News & Advance.

Obama nominates out gay man to serve as Army secretary

President Barack Obama will nominate longtime Pentagon official Eric Fanning to become the next Army secretary, The Washington Post reported today.

If Fanning, 47,  is confirmed, he would be the nation’s first openly gay leader of a military service.

“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in a written statement. “I am grateful for his commitment to our men and women in uniform, and I am confident he will help lead America’s soldiers with distinction. I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”

Matt Thorn, interim executive director of OutServe-SLDN, an advocacy group for LGBT service members, said he was thrilled by Fanning’s nomination.

“Having an openly gay individual in high level positions within the Department of Defense helps to set the tone at the top and provides an opportunity to bring better understanding about both the shared and the unique needs of LGBT individuals in the military and their families,” Thorn said in a statement. “I encourage the Senate Armed Services Committee, its chairman Senator John McCain and ranking member Senator Jack Reed to move proactively and swiftly in Eric’s confirmation hearing.”

Fanning has acted as undersecretary of the Army since June. His background includes serving as special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and holding senior positions in the Air Force, including serving as that service’s undersecretary from 2013 to 2015.

The Army secretary is a civilian position, but the Senate must still confirm Fanning’s nomination. Republicans, many of whom would face a costly challenge from their party’s right if they approved a gay military nominee, control the U.S. Senate.

As Army secretary, Fanning would work with Gen. Mark Milley, who became the Army’s top general in August. Together the two men would be responsible for the Pentagon’s largest and most troubled service, according the The Washington Post.

Fanning would replace John McHugh, who has said he plans to step down no later than Nov. 1.

In 2013, The Washington Blade reported that Fanning supported allowing out transgender people to serve in the military. In July 2015, the Pentagon announced that it will allow transgender members of the military to serve openly starting next year.

An estimated 15,500 closeted transgender people currently serve in the military, according to the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Wisconsin vets urge Ron Johnson to return campaign check

Wisconsin veterans are calling on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to return a $5,400 campaign donation from a California corporate executive said to have manipulated national and international law to charge U.S. servicemembers exorbitant rates for phone calls to family.

Gregorio Galicot, president of BBG Communications Inc., racked up profits by “fleecing” U.S. troops and charging up to $400 to make a phone call to loved ones from overseas, according to the veterans in a letter to the senator.

His practices drew national headlines in 2012 and were widely condemned while a class action lawsuit was brought.

“It is an unacceptable and outrageous decision for you to accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an individual whose wealth is built in part by fleecing American service members attempting to call their loved ones. It’s utterly disrespectful to those who serve our country,” the veterans wrote to Johnson, who is a Republican.

The letter is signed by retired U.S. Army Spc. Randy Bryce of Caledonia, retired U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Balistriere of Wauwatosa, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Marriah Gatling of Milwaukee and retired U.S. Navy E-5 Tracy Sperko of Milwaukee.

The letter follows …

To: Senator Ron Johnson 
CC: Betsey Ankey, Campaign Manager, Ron Johnson for Senate 
Ron Johnson for Senate, Inc. 
2810 Crossroads Drive #3900 
Madison, Wisconsin 53718 
8/18/2015 

Senator Ron Johnson, 

On behalf of Wisconsin veterans, active military members, reservists, and National Guard members, we write to demand you return $5,400 in campaign contributions from Gregorio Galicot, President of BBG Communications Inc, who has manipulated national and international law to defraud American service members by charging exorbitant rates for phone calls to family members from overseas. 

It is an unacceptable and outrageous decision for you to accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from an individual whose wealth is built in part by fleecing American service members attempting to call their loved ones. It’s utterly disrespectful to those who serve our country: 

Two Companies Accused Of Fleecing U.S. Troops [Daily Beast, 3/6/12] 
Gregorio Galicot’s Company, BBG, Was Subject Of A Class Action Suit Alleging That It Charged Returning Soldiers More Than $40 For Calls Lasting Seconds [Daily Beast, 3/6/12] 
Army Staff Sgt. Eric Lamotte Was Charged $265 To Leave A Voicemail And $400 To Make A Call [San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/6/12] 
Specialist Reynald Matias Was Charged $51 For A Two-Minute Call [New York Times, 3/2/12] 
Sgt. Kyle Herman Was Charged $83.92 For Four Minutes [New York Times, 3/2/12] 

Furthering our concern, other members of the U.S. Senate condemned this company and its actions as early as 2012, leading us to believe you should be aware of this issue and have chosen to accept this money anyway. 

The right thing to do and the proper way to show respect for the American men and women who serve is to return this campaign contribution. 

Sincerely, 

Randy Bryce, U.S. Army, Spc4 (Ret.), Caledonia 
Mike Balistriere, U.S. Marine Corps, Lance Corporal (Ret.), Wauwatosa 
Marriah Gatling, U.S. Army, E-5 Sergeant (Ret.), Milwaukee 
Tracy Sperko, U.S. Navy, E-5 (Ret.), Milwaukee

Walker issues order to arm National Guard

Republican Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order on July 21 authorizing Wisconsin National Guard personnel to carry firearms while on duty in the wake of an attack on a pair of military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The governor’s order directed Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, who oversees the Wisconsin National Guard, to arm guard personnel “as reasonably necessary.” Walker also said in a news release that he ordered Dunbar to review the long-term security plans for all of the guard’s facilities.

“Safety must be our top priority, especially in light of the horrific attack in Chattanooga,” Walker said in the release.

Dunbar immediately ordered the posting of armed guardsmen at the guard’s four storefront recruiting stations in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee, said Maj. Paul Rickert, the guard’s spokesman. Visitors to those locations should be prepared to have their bags searched, Rickert said. The guard began a security review Monday evening after learning the order was about to come down, he added.

Walker’s order comes after a gunman killed four U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor at two Chattanooga military facilities on Thursday. Authorities say the shooter was 24-year-old Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kuwait. Police killed him.

Abdulazeez’s motives remain unclear, although authorities are treating it as a domestic terrorism investigation.

Walker’s order would not affect non-Wisconsin National Guard military offices in the state, which are federally run.

Walker, who is seeking the 2016 presidential nomination, on Friday called for an end on a ban on service members carrying guns in federally operated military recruiting offices. Jeb Bush and Donald Trump, two other Republicans seeking the presidential nomination, called for an end to the ban on the same day as Walker.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, yet another GOP presidential hopeful, issued an executive order on Friday authorizing his state’s National Guard leader to arm personnel. A number of other governors have issued similar orders as well.

Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais said he has drafted legislation that would repeal bans on military personnel carrying firearms at military recruitment facilities and bases. Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans to introduce a similar bill.

Meanwhile, a group of veterans has taken to gathering in front of a joint Marine-Navy recruiting station in Madison to protest the weapons ban, saying it leaves recruiters vulnerable to attack.

David Walters, 30, and Chip Beduhn, 44, both of Baraboo, leaned against their motorcycles outside the station on Tuesday while an American flag the recruiters brought out to them flapped in the breeze. For them, it was more about showing support for the military than the weapons ban.

“If it could happen in Chattanooga, it could happen here,” said Beduhn, who works as a security guard. “If I can do anything to prevent it, I would.” Walters said he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and was packing.

Walters, an Army veteran with thickly muscled forearms, a beard and sunglasses, said he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and he wanted to show people that the country cares about the military.

“People in general as a nation still need to see we’re capable of good things, of coming together,” Walters said. “It’s about showing support as a veteran to guys who are still serving. They’re always going to be your brothers and sisters.”

Capt. Jim Stenger, a spokesman for the Marines’ 9th District, said the corps appreciates the support but doesn’t want citizens standing guard at offices.

“Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work,” he said in an emailed statement.

Pentagon announces plan to lift ban against transgender servicemembers

The Pentagon’s current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on July 13, ordering a six-month study aimed at lifting the ban.

Carter said he is creating a working group that will review the policies and determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military’s ability to be ready for battle. But he said the group will begin with the presumption that transgender people should be able to serve openly “without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”

The plan, which was first reported by The Associated Press, gives the services time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.

“The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter said in a statement released on July 13. “At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they’re able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite.”

Carter asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to lead the working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue, including the costs, and determine whether it would create any insurmountable problems that could derail the plan. The group would also develop uniform guidelines.

Some of the key issues involved in the repeal of the ban include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs of surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition.

Officials said the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together. The military has dealt with many similar questions as it integrated the ranks by race, gender and sexual orientation.

“Obviously this isn’t finished, but Secretary Carter’s clear statement of intent means that transgender service members should and will be treated with the same dignity as other service members,” said Allyson Robinson, Army veteran and policy director for an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military personnel called Service Members, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

Several Congress members, including Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed support for Carter’s decision.

The move follows several weeks of high-level meetings in the Pentagon among military chiefs, secretaries and Defense Department leaders, including one Monday involving Carter and the chiefs of the various services.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, said, “Trans people are willing and able to serve their country, and should be able to do so while remaining true to who they are. The Pentagon announcement confirms what we have known for a long time: outdated military regulations, which automatically label trans service members as medically unfit for duty, have no basis in reality. Over the past year, service branches have allowed some individuals to serve openly without risking immediate separation, but the regulations on the books keep those service members and their commanders in a constant state of administrative limbo. Everyone has been waiting for senior officials to provide clear leadership on this issue.  It sounds like that leadership is coming – and not a moment too soon.”

“We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “The time for ending the military’s ban on transgender service is long overdue, and we are confident that the Pentagon’s review of this discriminatory policy will find what many have come to know is true: Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member’s. Our military and our country will be stronger when this archaic policy is finally discarded and we look forward to that day.”

There are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense, the largest employer of transgender people in America.