Though I was off for two weeks, I was never too far away from the news thanks to the wonders of social media.
Much has transpired since my last column, but perhaps nothing has raised the ire of the armed services community that makes up a large chunk of my social media network like the budget deal provision reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees.
The goal of the cut is to save about $600 million a year over the next decade at a time when troop levels, training and purchasing are all being reduced to decrease spending.
The COLA cuts, according to the House Budget Committee, would be “inflation minus 1 percentage point starting with the adjustment in December 2015 — until the retiree reaches age 62. At age 62, the retired pay would be calculated as if each prior year’s COLA had been the full CPI (consumer price index). And after age 62, the COLA itself would be the full (consumer price index).”
The rationale is that the “modest reduction to retired pay for younger retirees will reduce the deficit by approximately $6 billion over the next 10 years while still fully protecting retirees from inflation over the long-term.”
To those who served, any cuts to compensation they were promised is a slap in the face.
“It is about commitment,” says Scott Neil, a retired Special Forces master sergeant and development director for the Green Beret Foundation, via email. “When I joined in 1986, I was asked and held to my commitment to the U.S., the citizens and my fellow soldiers. In exchange, I was told the same committed to me: a standard of living, commanders that were held to the highest standards and to have my family taken care of if anything should happen.
“So I did all above and now there are wolves at the castle gate. They are probing for weakness. Unless the veteran’s community unites, they will make simple gains in the overall plan.”
The backlash was immediate and fierce. So much so that the Senate Armed Services Committee is going to revisit the issue when it reconvenes this month, according to Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted for the COLA cut provision when he supported the budget deal worked out by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray.
“The Armed Services Committee that I’m on is going to take a look at (that) when we get back,” Nelson said in an email to me last week.
When I asked what might transpire, his spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, said “Sen. Nelson, a senior member of the panel, is optimistic it can be fixed before it takes effect in 2015.”
As a voracious reader of biographies, I was hoping that I would one day read a book written by Jim “Chaos” Mattis, the Marine general who ran U.S. Central Command from 2010 until last year, when he turned the reigns over to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III.
As blunt as he is brilliant, with the keen perspective of a warrior-statesman in one of the most contentious swaths of the globe, Mattis would undoubtedly write a tome that would be a rather engaging read to say the least.
Looks like I am going to get my wish.
After reading a Marine Corps Times story late last week that Mattis is indeed writing a book, with noted military author (and fellow Marine vet and former assistant secretary of defense) Bing West, I called Mattis to find out what he was planning.
Mattis told me it was too early to talk specifics, something he had to work out with the folks at Random House.
“I was very fortunate to have teachers and coaches and young troops who mentored me along over the years,” said Mattis. “I am pleased to do this to see if I can contribute something worthwhile.”
Knowing a little about Mattis, I know this much.
He speaks with honest humility, not false modesty.
And whatever he comes up with will be worthwhile.
Back in May, Gary Sinise came to town with his Lt. Dan Band to kick off a nationwide series of concerts aimed at raising money to build “smart” homes for severely wounded veterans. It was a joint effort by the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The Tampa stop was to raise money to build a home for Mike Nicholson, 23, a medically retired Marine sergeant who lost both legs and part of his left arm in an improvised explosive device attack on July 6, 2011.
Thursday, after a ceremony in his honor, Nicholson will move into the home, according to Chris Kuban, spokesman for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The home will feature cabinets and cook tops that will lower and raise at the touch of an iPad or Android device, James Ramos, the man designing the 3,500-square-foot building, told me back in May.
The lot was purchased in November for $153,000 by The Tower to Tunnel Foundation, which was created after 9/11 to honor Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life when the towers came down.
Instead of a “man cave,” Nicholson opted for an outdoor kitchen and pool, said Ramos, president of Ramos Design Build.
The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. at 6321 Interbay Ave. It is open to the public, and those interested in attending are asked to park at Skyview Park, 6203 Martindale Ave. There will be a shuttle bus starting at 8:45 a.m. to take people from the park to Nicholson’s new home.
Since my last column, 10 troops died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sgt. Jacob M. Hess, 22, of Spokane, Wash., died Jan. 1 while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Hess was assigned to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26, Marine Aircraft Group 26, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. The incident is currently under investigation.
Capt. David I. Lyon, 28, of Sandpoint, Idaho, died Dec. 27 from wounds suffered when his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo
Sgt. Daniel M. Vasselian, 27, of Abington, Mass., died Dec. 23, while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy L. Billings, 34, of Heavener, Okla.; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua B. Silverman, 35, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Sgt. Peter C. Bohler, 29, of Willow Spring, N.C. of the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.; Sgt. 1st Class Omar W. Forde, 28, of Marietta, Ga., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.; Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Williams, 30, of Elkhart, Ind., assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany; Spc. Terry K. D. Gordon, 22, of Shubuta, Miss., assigned to 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. died Dec. 17, in Now Bahar, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered as a result of a helicopter crash.
The incident is pending investigation.
Petty Officer 1st Class James L. Smith, 38, of Huffman, Texas, died Dec. 11, in Landstuhl, Germany, from a non-combat related incident. Smith was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 28, Shreveport, La.
There have now been 2,290 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation’s longest war.