AA new general takes command of the endless war in Afghanistanre

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IIts a vastly different situation than the one predicted several years ago by top Pentagon and White House officials, who vowed that the military mission would end in 2017.

"I think that Gen.Nicholson has certainly inherited a mission that has sadly gone wildly off course,” said Michael Kugelman, an Afghanistan and South Asia expert with the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington.

Nicholson's first major challenge will be reviewing the current drawdown plan that calls for cutting the number of U.S. troops in theater to about 5,500 by the end of this year — and before Obama leaves office in January 2017. It's a controversial issue, one that's affected not only by the current security environment in Afghanistan but by political sentiment in the U.S., where lawmakers remain skeptical of the protracted mission that continues five years after a special operations team hunted down and killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

The troop-level question has become a hot potato in Washington," Kugelman said. "There clearly is a lot of public opposition in the U.S. to a continued and extended troop presence. But at the same time, there is a realization that to achieve a modicum of stability in Afghanistan, you need to maintain troops.”

Nicholson is also likely to consider changes that would make the air campaign more aggressive.

“We have not effectively used our air power against the Taliban,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department official and Afghanistan expert with the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The new general’s arrival creates an opportunity for adjusting troop levels and the rules of engagement regarding airstrikes, Weinbaum said.

“It’s a good time for it to change. A new guy comes in and he’s in a position to say 'I’ve reviewed this and here is my recommendation.'”

Yet any change is likely to be incremental, even after a new commander-in-chief takes over in January. “I don’t think there is a lot of latitude for a great deal of change in policy.  Some adjustment here, some there, but it is not a campaign issue,” Weinbaum said.
As a colonel, Nicholson led Task Force Spartan, his

As a colonel, Nicholson led Task Force Spartan, his first big assignment in Afghanistan. (Photo: DoD)

“And we’ve got our hands full in Syria and Iraq and that has got to be a factor,” Weinbaum said.

Kugelman said the Obama administration is likely to postpone the drawdown, let troop levels remain steady into 2017 and allow the next president make that decision. "I do think there is an expectation that these questions of troop levels will have to wait until we have someone else occupying the White House.”

Nicholson, unlike many of his peers who spent years in Iraq, has focused more on Afghanistan during his career. He has spent more than three years total deployed to Afghanistan, including stints as a brigade commander, as the head of Regional Command-South and as director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell.
His critics — namely a group of Marines whom Nicholson had ejected from the war zone after a deadly battle near the Pakistan border nine years ago — have questioned the general's selection and overall track record in Afghanistan.
Nicholson grew up in a military family with strong political connections. His father, John “Jack” Nicholson, was an Army one-star general and Vietnam veteran who later served as undersecretary of Veterans Affairs during President George W. Bush's administration.

Nicholson’s uncle, Jim Nicholson, was also a Vietnam veteran who retired as an Army colonel and later served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time Bush was elected. Jim Nicholson later served as secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Other observers say that Nicholson's background is precisely what's needed at such a tenuous moment in the war.

"There is nobody around at this point who has more experience," Weinbaum said. "He doesn’t have to learn on the job in any way. I just expect he is going to focus on air power and continue to focus on how we best use the special forces that we have available to us."

In his remarks at Wednesday's change-of-command ceremony, Nicholson acknowledged the "tough path" ahead." Then, speaking briefly in Pashto, he said "let us go forward with courage."
Army Gen. John Nicholson, the new head of Operation Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, salutes Wednesday upon assuming command in Kabul.(Photo: Staff Sgt. Tony Coronado/Air Force)

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PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS 5-February-2016 Members of the Henderson County Honor Guard and employees at Camping World raise one of the area's largest American flag at Camping World's location off of North Rugby Road Friday. The flag, measuring 40 feet by 80 feet, was raised on a pole 130 feet tall. The flag weighs about 80 pounds. Officials at Camping World said they took on the project at their stores across the country to honor veterans.
Comments... This article in http://www.blueridgenow.com/ contains some great pictures. Special Thanks to Camping World for their tribute to Veterans. Pat Sullivan deserves credit for these great pictures. Follow this link to Blue Ridge Now.
Another Great Tribute Flag is at Forest Lawn Memorial Park on Tracy Grove Road.

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Blue Ridge Now
 Commander Edmisten of Post 77 Hendersonville NC stands with the National Commander of the American Legion during March of 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Twelve Marines declared dead after helicopter crash off Hawaii

(Reuters) - Twelve U.S. Marines missing after two military helicopters collided last week off Hawaii's Oahu island have been listed as deceased, the military said on Thursday.
The Coast Guard called off the search for the missing Marines on Tuesday after five days of search and rescue efforts across some 40,000 square nautical miles of ocean, along with shorelines.
The Marines were officially classified as deceased on Wednesday and Marine Corps officers personally notified each family, a statement from the Marines said.
The victims ranged in age from 21 to 41, the statement said.
The two CH-53E helicopters belonging to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing from the Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay were on a routine training mission when they were reported to have collided just before midnight on Jan. 14, according to the Coast Guard.
The search was hampered by storms.
A Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted debris in the water off the town of Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu but no passengers were found. The debris field spanned more than 7 miles (11 km) off the coast, the Coast Guard said.
No distress call was issued by either aircraft.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait)
Missing US Marine names
Marine Corps Base Hawaii Public Affairs Office named the missing marines as:
Maj Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas
Capt Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Capt Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis, Missouri
Capt Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama
Sgt Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minnesota
Sgt Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania
Sgt Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina
Sgt William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama
Cpl Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas
Cpl Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida
Cpl Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts
Lance Cpl Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon

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92-Year-Old World War II Navajo Code Talker Dies in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Jan 15, 2016, 3:22 PM ET
A Navajo man who helped stump the Japanese during World War II using a code based on his native language has died in Utah.
Ernest Yazhe, 92, died of renal failure in suburban Salt Lake City on Tuesday, his daughter Melissa Yazhe told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1ZnZWWK).
Born in Naschitti, New Mexico, Yazhe joined the U.S. Marines when he was 19 years old. He became one of the hundreds of Code Talkers who played a vital combat role by transmitting battlefield messages in an unbreakable Navajo-based radio code.
Navajo Nation authorities said Friday that all flags there would be to be flown at half-staff from Jan. 19 to Jan. 22 to honor Yazhe's memory. "The Navajo language was the secret weapon that brought victory to the Allied Forces and ended the war in the Pacific," said Vice President Jonathan Nez in a statement.
The group began with 29 recruits in the spring of 1942. Yazhe joined in September of that year, after he graduated from the Albuquerque Indian School. There were at least 440 Code Talkers. Fewer than 20 are still alive.
His older brother Harrison Yazhe, who died in 2004, also became a Code Talker. Both brothers' names appeared in the Congressional record on the list of Code Talkers confirmed by the Marines.
A third brother, U.S. Army Pfc. Silas Yazzie, died in combat in Italy in 1944. The brothers had slightly different last names because officials with schools or the military recorded them with different phonetic spellings over the years, his family said.
Ernest Yazhe served in Guam and Okinawa campaigns, and once heard Japanese soldiers utter the words "Code Talkers" as they discussed the transmissions.
The Japanese were "sorry that they couldn't understand it," he said in a 2013 video produced by the Utah National Guard.
After Japan surrendered, he helped repatriate Japanese prisoners of war in China. Discharged as a corporal in 1946, Yazhe came to Utah for work at a school in Brigham City where he met his wife Katie Trujillo. They raised seven children together as he worked for Kennecott Utah Copper for 38 years.
Ernest Yazhe didn't talk much about his combat experiences after the war, though he did say he served on the front lines and took enemy fire, said his son-in-law Joel Frank. He may have stayed quiet in part because the program remained classified until 1968.
"He just kind of put it in the back of his mind and he never talked about it," Frank said.
Ernest Yazhe didn't often attend Code Talker reunions, but he did go to Window Rock, Arizona, for a 2001 ceremony presenting Code Talkers with the Congressional Silver Medal, said Melissa Yazzie.
His survivors include six siblings and six children as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

Verterans' News

American Legion Sponsors Food Drive

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Published: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at 4:30 a.m.
Times News Hendersonvile, NC
American Legion Post 77 in Hendersonville has a tradition of sponsoring a food drive at Christmas and distributing the boxes of food to veterans and others who need assistance during this time of the year. 102 families receive two boxes of food delivered to their home by members of the American Legion.
The food is purchased through American Legion organizations and donations from members. Cases of canned food, eggs, meat, fruits, potatoes and other special treats were placed in boxes on Dec. 19 for delivery on Dec. 20. This tradition represents one of the many ways the American Legion serves the community and veterans.
Each person helping prepare the gift boxes, providing funds to purchase the food and delivering them to people in our community reflected on how this represents a part of Christmas they find most rewarding.

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American Legion questions White House gun restriction

American Legion questions White House gun restrictions
By Patricia Kime, Staff writer 4:52 p.m. EST January 6, 2016
The nation’s largest veterans organization expressed concern to President Obama that his executive actions on gun control may keep former troops from seeking mental health treatment.
The American Legion issued a statement Wednesday urging Obama to protect the right to gun ownership for “law-abiding veterans,” and said the organization fears an "over-fix" that would bar any veteran from owning a weapon.
“The American Legion strongly believes that treatment for PTSD or depression by itself, which a number of wartime veterans experience, should not be the sole factor in denying a veteran the right to purchase a firearm,” said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett.
DoD has key role in Obama's new gun control plans
Among the gun control measures announced by the White House on Monday by executive order are efforts to increase access to mental health treatment and improve the background check system for gun purchases.
Specific mental health care initiatives include:
Investing $500 million to improve access to mental health care nationwide.
Allowing the Social Security Administration to start notifying the background check system about beneficiaries who are barred by law from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
Removing barriers that prevent states from “reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.”
Current law bars individuals from buying or possessing a gun if their mental health condition presents a danger to themselves or others or if they are unable to manage their own affairs.
Under the new orders, the Social Security Administration will report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, the names of 75,000 people with documented mental health conditions who are unable to manage their benefits themselves or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent.
The Health and Human Services Department also lifted restrictions that prohibited health providers from reporting information to NICS, allowing them to provide demographic and “other necessary information” to the system about individuals who are prohibited by law from possessing a gun.
Barnett said the Legion is apprehensive about some of these new requirements.
“Barring some additional circumstances that would indicate that a veteran represents a dangerous threat, veterans should not have to forfeit their Second Amendment rights,” Barnett said. "Veterans have  fought to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. The American Legion believes that the rights of these heroes deserve protection.”
More than 2.7 million service members are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A 2008 Rand Corp. report estimated that roughly 20 percent of these combat veterans have, or have had, PTSD or combat-related depression.
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Homeless man receives apartment.
Army veteran Tony Jones has been homeless for nearly a decade, living in a tent in a small patch of wilderness in Southeast Washington, DC.
“If it wasn’t for basic training, I wouldn’t even be able to do this stuff here, because that’s how I learned how to do the trenching around the tent,” Jones told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl.
Unfortunately, Jones’s situation is not unique. Veteran homelessness is a problem the President and First Lady hoped to end in 2015.
“The good news is we’ve helped get thousands of homeless veterans off the streets,” President Obama said to an audience of military veterans in August 2014. “We should have zero tolerance for that.”
How This DC Kitchen Is Transforming LivesFormer Homeless NYPD Cop Gives Gifts to Children Living in Shelter
He was echoing comments made by First Lady Michelle Obama just two months earlier.
“They aren’t just going to address veteran’s homelessness in their cities and states,” the First Lady said, in announcing that 77 cities had signed on to her Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. “They’re going to end it, and they’re going to do it by the end of 2015. That is an audacious goal.”
Although the number of homeless veterans has dropped dramatically since its high of more than 74,000 in 2010, figures released in November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that there are still nearly 48,000 U.S. veterans living on the streets.
But in cities that have taken the president’s challenge seriously, major strides have been made. Washington, DC is one such city. In August 2013 Miriam’s Kitchen, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness, counted 1,489 homeless veterans in the nation’s capital. As 2015 comes to a close, there are only about 200 homeless veterans remaining in the city.
Local organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen have helped veterans apply for and receive the benefits to which they are entitled – including access to a Veteran’s Administration program that provides vouchers to pay for their rent.
Emily Buzzell, a caseworker at Miriam’s Kitchen, helped Jones navigate the process of receiving a Veterans Administration voucher which will pay his rent, allowing him to finally move off the streets.
Just before Christmas, Jones’s apartment was ready, and ABC News visited him on the very day he moved from a tent in the woods into an apartment.
“I can’t even express in words how I feel right now. I just know I feel, I feel great,” Jones said. “I feel good. I feel like James Brown, I feel good! AOWWW!”

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Neighbors Raised Money to Help Homeless WWII Veteran

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The Christmas season is indeed in the air although for some, every day is Christmas, period.
Johnnie Hodges, no longer homeless, will after all be spending Christmas at home after an unexpected happy turn of events.
Hodges is a WWII  war veteran who cared for his wife, Fiora. She had Alzheimer's and passed away two years ago. Due to this, he fell on his mortgage payment for his home of 60 years. The sad fact is that Hodges is just one of the many homeless veterans in the country, many of them in New York.
On the upside, People reports that unknown to Hodges, his good-hearted neighbor has set up a GoFundMe page for the veteran when he read about the impending eviction in the newspaper. His name is Greg Elwood and he has raised $110,000.
Elwood told ABC News, "Our original goal was $50,000, that was the amount that Robin needed to purchase the home back. It's just a wonderful feeling to know that he'll be back in that home to be able to celebrate the holidays with the family. He has a lot of memories in that home. It's very clear he was close with his late wife Flora, and I just feel good knowing that he's at peace." 
Hodges has to be forced out of his home in a stretcher for refusing to leave his home for 6 decades way back in July. Because of this, he could not contain his happiness upon his return.
"I'm very happy to be back...and spend Christmas with my family in my home," Hodges opened up to the same news outlet. "There's nothing like being with your family. This is a beautiful home I have and it really is a pleasure to be here." 
He could not thank more than 2,000 strangers who had helped him get his home back. His daughter, Robin, says Greg has a heart of gold and could not say enough about him.
That's a happy ending indeed and what a better way to celebrate the holidays than helping someone take his home back...especially for someone who has been of service to the country.

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VA Plans to Propose Expanded Disability Benefits Eligibility for Veterans Exposed to Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune -
WASHINGTON –(ENEWSPF)—December 17, 2015. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it plans to propose expanded disability compensation eligibility for Veterans exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
From 1953 to 1987, water sources at the base were contaminated with industrial solvents that are correlated with certain health conditions.  Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald decided to propose presumptions of service connection for certain conditions associated with these chemical solvents following discussions between environmental health experts at the Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
“The water at Camp Lejeune was a hidden hazard, and it is only years later that we know how dangerous it was,” said Secretary McDonald.  “We thank ATSDR for the thorough review that provided much of the evidence we needed to fully compensate Veterans who develop one of the conditions known to be related to exposure to the compounds in the drinking water.”
ATSDR determined that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated with perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, benzene and other petroleum contaminants from leaking storage tanks from 1953 to 1987.  ATSDR also determined that prolonged exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of certain health conditions.
Based upon VA’s review of current medical science and ATSDR’s findings, Secretary McDonald intends to propose creation of a  presumption of service connection for the following conditions:
Kidney Cancer
Liver Cancer
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Multiple Myeloma
Parkinson’s Disease
Aplastic Anemia / Myelodysplastic Syndromes
The Secretary’s proposal would also expand benefits eligibility to Reserve and National Guard personnel who served at Camp Lejeune for any length of time from August 1, 1953, through December 31, 1987.   These personnel would be presumed to have been exposed to the contaminated water during their Reserve or National Guard service and, in appropriate circumstances, to have been disabled by such exposure during service, thus allowing them to qualify for VA benefits under the statutory definition of “Veteran.”
This would make them eligible for VA disability compensation and medical care for any of the presumptive conditions, and their surviving dependents would be eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation and burial benefits.
VA is working on regulations that would establish these presumptions, making it easier for affected Veterans to receive VA disability compensation for these conditions.  While VA cannot grant any benefit claims based on the proposed presumption of service connection for these conditions until it issues its final regulations, it encourages Veterans who have a record of service at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and develop a condition that they believe is related to exposure to the drinking water at the base, to file a disability compensation claim with VA.
VA will continue to grant claims for disabilities claimed to be associated with exposure to the contaminants that can be granted under current regulations and review of the evidence in each case. If a claim for service connection for one of the proposed presumptive conditions would be denied under current regulations, the denial will be stayed until VA issues its final regulations. VA will announce when the regulations are final and presumptive benefits can begin to be awarded. For more information on applying for these benefits, visit: http://benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-postservice-exposures-camp_lejeune_water.asp.
Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, are already eligible to receive VA healthcare for up to 15 health conditions.  More information, including a full list of covered conditions, can be found online at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp.
Veterans can establish eligibility for healthcare benefits by submitting VA Form 10-10EZ online at www.1010ez.med.va.gov/, downloading it at www.va.gov/vaforms/medical/pdf/1010EZ-fillable.pdf and returning it to any VA Medical Center or Clinic, or by calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387), Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8:00 AM and 8:00 PM (Eastern Time).
VA is reimbursing certain veterans’ family members for eligible out-of-pocket medical expenses related to the 15 covered conditions.

Charles George VA Medical Center - Asheville, NC

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Asheville- The Asheville VA canteen received the top honor out of 172 Canteen stores in the Nation based on factors such as customer service, employee productivity, financial profitability, and unannounced visits by VCS Central Office staff.
VCS Regional Manager Ty Wallace commended the staff for adhering to a high standard of customer service while performing their duties.
“The (Canteen) staff provides services that touch a lot of people in difficult circumstances,” Wallace said. “The Asheville Canteen passed surprise visits from VCS staff, kept the Canteen financially viable, and most importantly, they did it while treating others the way they want to be treated.”
Erik Sandborg, Chief of the Asheville VCS, said, “I am so proud of my staff for the tremendous job that they have done serving Veterans. I appreciate their hard work and diligence in making our Canteen so successful.”
Medical Center Director Cynthia Breyfogle applauded Asheville’s VCS staff for their commitment to providing a memorable experience to the more than 38,500 Veterans who receive care at the medical center.
“I want to thank every member of our Canteen Service staff for his or her contributions in helping us provide the excellent customer service that our Veterans have earned and deserve. It’s truly amazing all the things the small staff of 20 are able to accomplish on a day-to-day basis.”
- See more at: http://www.asheville.va.gov/ASHEVILLE/features/Canteen_Award.asp#sthash.yS7DsNrP.dpufdd Your Sub-Title Here

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Inspirational Tattoo on The Medal of Honor Winner

Marine William "Kyle" Carpenter received the Medal of Honor today from President Barack Obama, an award reserved for those who show the utmost bravery in combat.
Carpenter received the medal for his decision to jump on a grenade and save his friend while in combat in Afghanistan three years ago.
He was gravely injured, losing one eye and suffering a broken jaw and broken arm.
The tattoo he was sporting on his side when he went into battle, however, was unchanged:
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