15 October 2005

Employer of the Day Award

To take my "Unit of the Day Award" one step further, I would like to offer a post that recognizes employers that have gone above and beyond the call of duty, or the law for that matter. AFIS reports:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2005 – Representatives of the nation's top organizations in supporting their Reserve and National Guard employees are here today to meet President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and to receive the 2005 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award.

The award, to be presented here during an Oct. 15 ceremony, publicly recognizes employers for exceptional support above what the law requires.

The Freedom Award is the highest in a series of Defense Department employer awards that include the Patriot Award, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Above and Beyond Award, and the Pro Patria Award.

This year's winners "set a high standard for all America's private and public employers," David Janes, national chairman of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said in announcing them in July.

This year's winners are Alticor Inc. in Ada, Mich.; Citizens Financial Group, Providence, R.I.; Eaton Corp., Cleveland; Enterprise Rent-a-Car, St. Louis; IDA Corp., Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles Police Department; Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections, Baton Rouge; Pioneer Financial Services, Kansas City, Mo.; Ryland Homes, Calabasas, Calif.; Sears, Roebuck and Co., Hoffman Estates, Ill.; South Dakota State University, Brookings; State of Delaware, Dover; Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc., Torrance, Calif.; USAA, San Antonio; and Wachovia Corp., Charlotte, N.C.

The companies were selected based on a variety of factors, from providing pay differentials to extending health care, dental and life insurance coverage during employees' military mobilization. All have signed statements of support for the Guard and Reserve at the five-star level, which designates that they are strong advocates for the reserve components and role models for other companies.

Eaton, Enterprise, IDA, Wachovia, the LAPD and the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections pay their employees' full salary, regardless of their military compensation, plus benefits for the entire length of their mobilization. All other award winners provide pay differentials for their deployed workers.

Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called these pay differentials an important show of support to activated Guard and Reserve members, about one-third of whom take a pay cut when they leave their civilian jobs to go on active duty.

But the employers' support goes beyond pay. At Citizens Financial Group, employees get a week of paid leave to be with their Guard or Reserve family members home on military leave. The benefit includes up to $500 in travel expenses. Department managers at Alticor contact the families of deployed employees at least monthly to check up on them, and the company sends regular care packages to families as well as to their reserve-component employees.

Eaton provides regular support for its workers' families, even helping with needed home repairs, and Enterprise's president actively participates in organizing care packages for deployed employees.

Pioneer Services pays for deployed employees' cell phone charges and Internet access fees for their families, including a video e-mail capability for their home computers. Ryland Homes sends its employees care packages during their deployments, stays in close touch with their families and pays out special deployment bonuses.

Sears extended its military pay differential and benefits to 60 months for employees called to active duty in the Guard and Reserve, and helps their spouses find jobs if they're interested. Toyota launched its Hire a Hero program to promote career opportunities in the company for Guard and Reserve members, as well as servicemembers leaving active duty, and helps fund a wide range of nonprofit groups that support military men and women.

While praising these efforts, ESGR officials are quick to point out that this year's winners are among thousands of employees nationwide who demonstrate their patriotism through exceptional support for their Guard and Reserve employees.

"I am absolutely astounded by how much the American employers have stood solidly behind the American soldier, airman, Marines, sailors and Coast Guard in this global war on terror," Blum said.

"There's been no wavering of their patriotism and support," he said of the employers, who "understand what's at stake" in the war on terror and recognize the contribution their workers are making.

"It is truly quite remarkable, and it makes you feel very, very good," the general said.
I would like to extend a sincere THANK YOU to all of these employers for their dedication to our country and the brave men and women serving on our behalf.

As always, thanks to The Mudville Gazette, My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Stop the ACLU and Airchairinsin for their Open Posts.

For Injured U.S. Troops, 'Financial Friendly Fire'

Since I had to pay for my haircuts while in boot camp, this doesn’t surprise me. It appalls me, but it doesn’t surprise me. The Washington Post reports:
His hand had been blown off in Iraq, his body pierced by shrapnel. He could not walk. Robert Loria was flown home for a long recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he tried to bear up against intense physical pain and reimagine his life's possibilities.

The last thing on his mind, he said, was whether the Army had correctly adjusted his pay rate -- downgrading it because he was out of the war zone -- or whether his combat gear had been accounted for properly: his Kevlar helmet, his suspenders, his rucksack.

But nine months after Loria was wounded, the Army garnished his wages and then, as he prepared to leave the service, hit him with a $6,200 debt. That was just before last Christmas, and several lawmakers scrambled to help. This spring, a collection agency started calling. He owed another $646 for military housing.

"I was shocked," recalled Loria, now 28 and medically retired from the Army. "After everything that went on, they still had the nerve to ask me for money."

Although Loria's problems may be striking on their own, the Army has recently identified 331 other soldiers who have been hit with military debt after being wounded at war. The new analysis comes as the United States has more wounded troops than at any time since the Vietnam War, with thousands suffering serious injury in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"This is a financial friendly fire," charged Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has been looking into the issue. "It's awful." Davis called the failure systemic and said military "pay problems have been an embarrassment all the way through" the war.

Army officials said they are in the process of forgiving debts for 99 of the 331 wounded soldiers, all now out of the military. The other cases have not been resolved, said G. Eric Reid, director of the U.S. Army Finance Command. Complex laws and regulations govern the cancellation of debts once soldiers leave the service, he said.

Part of the problem is that the government's computerized pay system is designed to "maximize debt collection" and has operated without a way to keep bills from going to the wounded, Reid said. In the past seven months, a database of injured troops has been created to help prevent that. Now, he said, the goal is to make "a conscious decision . . . on the validity of that debt" in every case.

Early this year, the Army reported that, in looking at a two-month period, it had identified 129 wounded soldiers -- still active in the military -- who had debts. Those were resolved. But the Army cannot pinpoint the full number of wounded active-duty troops with debts.

The House Government Reform Committee has for several years been looking at pay problems among service members. Last spring, the committee asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate debt among the war's wounded and whether troops were being reported to collection and credit agencies. The findings are due early next year.

Although efforts are being made to correct such problems, Rep. Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.) said that for some troops, "we've so mismanaged their pay that . . . we've sent debt notices while they're still in combat, in harm's way." Hounding wounded troops is unfathomable, he said. "For even a single soldier, this is unacceptable," he said.

At the root of the problem is an outdated Defense Department computer system, which does not automatically link pay and personnel records. This creates numerous pay errors -- and overpayments become debts, said Gregory D. Kutz, the GAO's managing director for forensic audits and special investigations. "They've been trying to modernize it since the mid-1990s," he said. "They have been unsuccessful."

No one can say how many troops have pay problems across the military, Kutz said, but the GAO has found that, in certain Army National Guard and Reserve units, more than 90 percent of soldiers have had at least one overpayment or underpayment during deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Steps have since been taken to improve the system, but the problem will not be eliminated, Kutz said, until the larger computer system is reengineered.

Typically, troops get a boost in pay while in combat. When they come home, the system can take extra weeks to catch up with the change, and some people are overpaid. For wounded troops -- still adjusting to their injuries and changed futures -- a debt notice can be another bitter discovery.

"It was like I was being abandoned. I was no good to the military anymore," recalled Loria, who served more than five years. "They figured the pay glitch was my fault and I was going to pay for it."

Loria was a combat engineer in Iraq in February 2004 when he rushed out with other soldiers to rescue a comrade wounded by a roadside bomb near Baqubah. After helping load the soldier onto his Humvee, Loria started to drive away. A second bomb exploded.

"My whole body hurt," he said, "and I felt like I was on fire." He noticed that his hand and lower arm seemed to be hanging off to the side.

A week later, Loria awoke in a hospital bed at Walter Reed, his wife watching over him. He had to learn to walk again, and, worse, he had to accept that "I was never going to do something that required two hands." Still, he said, he tried to remember that others died in Iraq and that "so many people in Walter Reed were 10 times worse off than myself."

After he left the hospital, his financial trouble started. First, his wages were garnished. "I was missing car payments and phone bill payments and everything else," he said. Then, when he was leaving the military, shortly before Christmas, his debts were laid out: $2,200 in travel related to follow-up hospital treatment, $2,400 for combat-related pay he should not have collected and several hundred dollars more for military gear that went missing after his injury.

The full force of his debt hit as he was trying to get to his family in New York for the holidays. "I had a quarter-tank of gas, three cats in my vehicle and no money whatsoever," he said.

His outraged wife, Christine Loria, called the local newspaper in Middletown, N.Y., which published an article, and New York lawmakers became involved: Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D). Within a matter of days, the debts were cleared, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner donated $25,000 to Loria.

Months later, home with his wife and stepson, Loria was stunned to receive a call from a collection agency. He owed $646 for housing: nine days of rent, damaged window blinds, a broken refrigerator tray.

"They call and they call and they call," he said. "They're nasty to me." Sometimes, he said, he feels outraged. "I don't know how much you want from me. I already gave you one arm and a part of a leg."

As Loria battled with bill collectors, Ryan Kelly, 25, took his problems to the GAO. He did this at the suggestion of a friend and fellow volunteer at the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit program in Roanoke for injured troops.

Kelly had been wounded in Iraq in July 2003, when his Humvee was blasted by a roadside bomb. "It blew my leg pretty much clean off," he said.

Like Loria, Kelly spent months at Walter Reed, recovering and learning to walk again without his lower leg and foot. The Army staff sergeant struggled with questions about his future. Because he had been injured as a reservist, he was told, there was no guarantee he could deploy to Iraq again. "I didn't want to stay in the Army if I was just going to be a warm body, filling a slot," he said.

When Kelly left the military last year, he recalled, "it was an intense, emotional time." He thought little of the final two checks totaling $2,700 because he was owed vacation and travel pay, he said. Later, he was bewildered as pay stubs continued to come in the mail, each blank except for a notation of a $2,230 debt.

Frustrated, Kelly called the Disabled Soldier Support System, a unit where a counselor told him the Army had mistakenly paid him for an extra 22 days. But Kelly said he was told it would all work out well because the military owed him for his leave and travel. A few weeks later, he said, "I got a check, and I thought, 'Oh, that's nice.' "

But after he and his wife moved to Arizona, he received a bill for $2,230 -- with the threat of a referral to a collection agency. "I was pretty speechless," he said.

When Kelly called the GAO, he learned that the debt was already listed on his credit history.

"What benefit is the Army getting, aggressively going after disabled service members for $500 or $1,000 or whatever? Why not give injured service members a little leeway?"

That sentiment is common.

Tyson Johnson, 24, of Prichard, Ala., was stunned after being struck by a mortar round in Iraq to find a bill waiting for him when he came home from the hospital. It was for $2,700, the bonus he had been given when he enlisted.

"I definitely felt betrayed, because I went over there and almost lost my life," said Johnson, a corporal when he was injured. His debt was resolved after his story made news. "I really didn't need more stress."

Sgt. Gary Dowd, 28, was caught in an ambush 30 miles north of Tikrit, Iraq, in 2003 and suffered multiple injuries, losing his left hand and forearm.

After 13 months of treatment, he retired from the Army early this year. Shortly afterward, he received a letter at his home in Tampa asking him to repay $600 for a survivor-benefit insurance plan he had opted out of when he signed his deployment papers.

There was no number on the bill to call -- no way to protest. "I was pretty irked that they thought I owed them something," he said. "I feel like I've given them enough."

Although Dowd feels there is no ill intent, he said, "I do wish that once they realized they had an injured service member, they would flag them and say: 'This guy has been in the hospital. He's going through enough already.' "
Thanks to The Mudville Gazette, The Florida Masochist, Stop the ACLU, Little Green Footballs The California Conservative, and Armchairinsin for their Open Posts.

Flooding Link to Logging in Doubt

I can’t believe I am about to say this, but I agree with the U.N. For years, anti-growth / anti-everything groups have blamed the logging industry for all the woes of the world – particularly devastating mudslides associated with flood events. It appears an organization within the U.N. reports the contrary. The Guardian reports:
Massive flooding is not usually caused by extensive deforestation, contrary to popular belief, a UN report published yesterday claims. A ban on logging and other government responses to widespread flooding are misplaced and potentially harmful, it says.

Forests play a role in preventing localised flooding but have little impact in larger-scale disasters, concludes the report by the UN's food and agriculture organisation (FAO) and the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor). "The frequency of major flooding events has remained the same over the last 120 years going back to the days when lush forests were abundant," the director-general of Cifor, David Kaimowitz, said. "The reason that people do believe what they believe is because at a very small scale there is a very significant link between deforestation and flooding. But at the larger scale you cannot extrapolate."

Patrick Durst of the FAO said that governments were at risk of making knee-jerk reactions. "Politicians want to be seen to be doing something but it can cost many people their livelihoods," he said.

China's logging ban and the forcible relocation of more than a million people following flooding along the Yangtze and Yellow rivers in 1998 is the most dramatic example, says the report. "The majority of these relocations were unnecessary and indeed harmful," Mr Kaimowitz said.

Two other examples are the flooding in Bangladesh and the recent hurricane in Central America where officials blamed deforestation in upland areas, according to Mr Durst. "Nepal could be 100% forested and you'd still have the floods in [Bangladesh]," he said.

The report, Forests and Floods: Drowning in Fiction or Thriving on Facts?, is based on studies since the end of the 19th century. It says that governments should identify high-risk areas and install early warning systems. Wetlands and natural water catchment areas should also be left undeveloped, which has not happened in areas like the Mississippi delta.

Sam Lawson, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: "Despite good intentions, I worry that these agencies have provided a tool which will be misused by politicians and logging companies, which have a lot to gain from a reversal of policies to protect hill forests."
Thanks to The Mudville Gazette for their Open Post

09 October 2005

Unit of the Day Award

Once again, the MSM missed a great opportunity to inform the public of the great work that continues in theaters abroad. Members of the Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa joined the Mouloud community in Djibouti, Africa, and area officials to celebrate the dedication of the Mouloud Primary School Sept. 26. The school renovation project was funded and coordinated by CJTF-HOA. CENTCOM reports:

MOILED, Djibouti - Members of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa joined the Mouloud community in Djibouti, Africa, and area officials to celebrate the dedication of the Mouloud Primary School Sept. 26.

The ceremony featured several dances and presentations by students from the school, which was renovated by local contractors from Feb. 24 through April 28.

The project, which was coordinated and funded by CJTF-HOA, included the renovation of three classrooms, the cafeteria and the kitchen, and the replacement of the school's roof.

"The windows and walls were broken, pipes weren't working and the electricity wasn't working," said Hawa Pileh, whose six children have all attended Mouloud Primary School. "The children couldn't be inside the classrooms in the summer because of the heat. Now they have fans, electricity, and the damage that was fixed guards them from injuries."

The school, which consists of more than 250 students, was built in 1988 and this is the first renovation project it has received. The total cost of the project was about $50,500.

"I can't express to you enough what these changes mean to us," said Muhammad Sougeh, the Mouloud Primary School director. "We are very happy. These people will never forget what (CJTF-HOA) has given us."

"We do this for one reason - schools represent the future of a nation and the wish of every parent that their children will have a better life than they did," said Col Dwight Trafton, Chief of Staff, CJTF-HOA.

Since the students are all from the Mouloud community, there is a strong sense of pride when the parents and other community members see the changes being made, Mrs. Pileh said..

"This will help us provide for the future of this community. A community without education is like living in a house without lights," she said. "I hope my children will be able to use their education to help their community and their country."
My hat goes off to the men and women of CJTF-HOA for their hard work in the community.

As usual, thanks to Greyhawk for his Open Post.