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Veterans Benefits Information

Sorting Castoffs and Finding Renewal

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After a rough decade and trouble finding work, a Marine Corps veteran and machinist, Steve Bavier, landed a job with a junk removal company that hires mostly vets.

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'This is what The American Legion is about'

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Homeless for years, U.S. Navy veteran Joseph Robertson now is living at the Detroit Veterans Center, a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans run by the Michigan Veterans Foundation (MVF).

He and 34 of the facility’s residents recently were shown they are not forgotten. The group was among the guests at American Legion Post 200’s 48th Annual Veterans Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 19 at the post’s home in Taylor, Mich.

Being invited to the post made a powerful impact on Robertson. “It means a lot for a veteran that was homeless for five years on the street,” he said. “To come here to The American Legion and have a home-cooked meal – especially when you don’t have too much family – it’s really special.”

The residents at the Detroit Veterans Center joined 45 residents from the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit at the dinner. Legion family members, state Legion leadership and National Commander Denise Rohan also were in attendance, bringing the total to well over 200 guests.

Rohan, who has made “Family First” her motto, praised Post 200’s Legion family for providing the meal for what has been decades – and picking the kickoff of National Family Week as the day of the dinner.

“Here we are in the middle of National Family Week,” Rohan said. “What better way (to celebrate it) than to open the Legion home up to the community and invite veterans in and see what we do inside our post walls? And to give the opportunity to people to have a nice hot meal – and not only that, but have the time to talk to each other – what a great opportunity for veterans and their families to come together.

“The fact they’ve been doing this for this long says amazing things about their volunteers. It says a lot. And the fact the community is here and invited … it just shows that (the post is) part of this community.”

Post 200’s first veterans dinner started by hosting what Auxiliary Unit 200 Treasurer Diana Gardner thinks was around six veterans. It’s grown substantially, requiring both many hours and volunteers from the post’s family.

Gardner said the post had been working on the event daily for two weeks. She spent the Thursday and Friday before the meal cooking 20 20-pounds or larger turkeys and then arrived at the post at 6:30 a.m. on the day of the dinner to join others in finishing up prep work.

By the time the meal was ready, it consisted of 60 pounds of sweet potatoes, 60 pounds each of corn and green beans, 442 rolls, 37 pies, four 30-slice cakes and “mashed potatoes, I couldn’t tell you the exact pounds, but trays upon trays,” Gardner said. But every second of work is worth the effort.

“For us, it’s the greatest honor we could have for these veterans to come in and visit with us,” Gardner said. “It’s our privilege to be able to do this for them. It’s unbelievable how many people we get to volunteer for this event.”

Money for the dinner is raised at the post through donations. Putting on this year’s dinner cost approximately $3,000, Post 200 Commander John Martin said.

“We think at least once a year somebody needs to do something for (those veterans),” said Martin, who has been involved with the dinner for 40 years. “It’s just been a passionate thing. (And) without the volunteers we could never do it. We have volunteer cooks, everything.”

Post 200 First Vice Commander Chuck Teschke has volunteered at the dinner since he joined the post 13 years ago. Tears welled up in his eyes when he talked about why the post continues to host the dinner.

“These (veterans) don’t get out,” Teschke said. “That’s our driving force: helping these guys out. Giving them a day off.”

Derrick McQueen, who served in the Navy from 1977-1981 and now lives at the Detroit Veterans Center, said being invited to Post 200 “means a whole lot. I’m very grateful that they invited us to come here to have fellowship with veterans and to have a good celebration for Thanksgiving.”

Being guests at Post 200 means more than just a meal, MVF Executive Director Tyrone Chatman said. “It has a great deal of therapeutic value for those veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, combat-related stress, homelessness and unemployment,” he said. “Having (The American Legion) show us our service has not been forgotten, it means a lot."

During the dinner, Junior ROTC cadets from John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman high schools in Taylor provided a color guard and also helped both greet and serve the veterans attending the dinner. And residents of the Detroit Veterans Center who attended the dinner also were given gift bags that included $25 gift cards and homemade blankets from Post 200’s Legion family, as well as stockings containing hats, gloves and other items from American Legion Post 217 in Wyandotte, Mich.

“I’m extremely proud of Post 200,” said Department of Michigan Commander Brett Holt, who attended this year’s dinner. “This is what The American Legion is about. This is what we should all be doing at all of our posts: opening our post home up, working together as a family to serve our community and to serve the veterans in our communities.

“Veterans in the hospital sometimes don’t have family or friends in the area. This is an opportunity to bring them in, give them a Thanksgiving meal, and let them know they’re thought of and cared for by The American Legion.”


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New Emblem Sales catalog features special centennial section

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A new 154-page Emblem Sales catalog features more than 40 new items and a special American Legion centennial section.

New centennial items include dress shirts, hoodies, flags, decals and accessories. Other new items for members of the entire American Legion Family include polos, ball caps, do-rags and hoodies.

To search the catalog by page, visit this link.

The catalog has been mailed to Emblem Sales customers who have made a purchase in the last three years, as well as to every commander and adjutant at every level.

If you haven’t received a catalog, you can request a free one by filling out a brief form at this link, or by calling (888) 453-4466.


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DMV Veteran Service Branch Plates

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The branch specific plates are the newest offering in the Military and Veteran series of license plates.
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DMV Veteran Service Branch Plates
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Monday, November 20, 2017
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Angry birds

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“We have dramatically accelerated this campaign,” explains Brett McGurk, State Department envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition. In January and February of this year, “ISIS was planning major attacks in Raqqa. They were planning major attacks against the United States, against our partners, and they were doing it in Raqqa, using infrastructure of a major city. Today ... they are fighting for their own survival. It is a fundamentally transformed situation.”

The reason ISIS is fighting for its survival, according to McGurk, can be traced to President Trump’s decision to delegate “tactical authority from the White House, from Washington, down through the chain of command to our commanders on the ground.” This has made “a tremendous difference ... in our ability to actually seize opportunities from ISIS.”

From Iraq and Syria to Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, unfettered U.S. airpower is key to this “transformed situation.”

Stats

Consider the numbers.

In airstrikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria (Operation Inherent Resolve), as of Oct. 1, 2017, the total number of weapons released for the year was 36,351– some 5,600 more than for all of 2016. At 5,075, the August 2017 weapons-release total in Iraq/Syria was almost five times the number of weapons releases a year earlier. And the number of sorties with at least one weapons release this year (9,088 as of Oct. 1) is on track to eclipse the 2016 total (11,825).

Already this year, coalition air forces have set new records five times for weapons releases in a month for Operation Inherent Resolve: 3,600 weapons releases in January topped the previous high of 3,242 in November 2015. The January record was broken in March (3,878 weapons releases). The March record was topped in May (4,374 weapons releases). The May mark was topped in June (4,848 weapons releases). And the June record was broken in August (5,075 weapons releases). At the current pace, the number of weapons releases targeting ISIS will exceed 48,400 by the end of this year, which would translate into a 57-percent increase over the previous high.

The payoff: The Islamic State no longer is a state, and it is rapidly running out of soldiers.

At the height of its power in early 2015, ISIS held 35,000 square miles of territory – an area about the size of Hungary. As of late October 2017, ISIS had lost more than 90 percent of the territory it had seized in Iraq and Syria.

“They declared an army, they put it on the battlefield, and we went to war with it,” Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of Special Operations Command, observes. “We have killed in conservative estimates 60,000 to 70,000” ISIS soldiers.

No one in the West likes body counts, but in the grim calculus of what Defense Secretary James Mattis describes as an “annihilation” campaign, the number of enemy KIAs matters.

Moreover, it pays to recall that from mid-2014 through the end of 2015, the number of foreigner fighters flowing into Iraq and Syria to fight under the ISIS banner more than doubled. Today, foreign fighters “can’t get in,” according to McGurk, and those that are there “will die in Iraq and Syria.”

Mattis bluntly and calmly adds that the objective is to make sure “foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa. We’re not going to allow them to do so.”

Caveats

Four important caveats are in order.

First, U.S. operations are not limited to airstrikes, of course. Upwards of 7,000 U.S. ground troops are operating in Iraq and Syria, some 3,600 in Jordan. Many of these troops are engaged in combat. U.S. units in Jordan have fired rocket-artillery into Syria, and they recently redeployed to southern Syria. U.S. units in Syria are enabling indigenous fighters, engaging ISIS at close range, fighting near Raqqa, firing artillery and calling in airstrikes. U.S. forces in Iraq have fought in Mosul, conducted artillery strikes, and provided tactical, battlefield-level intelligence. As many as 11,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan; some are dying in the fight against jihadists. And Special Operations units are operating in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Africa and beyond.

Second, the United States is not alone. Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan and The Netherlands have, at one point or another, conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria; Belgium has conducted airstrikes in Iraq; and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE have hit targets in Syria. Britain accounts for 29.5 percent of non-U.S. airstrikes, France 27 percent, Australia 13.2 percent, The Netherlands 10.9 percent, Belgium 8.2 percent, Denmark 5.7 percent. Still, it is very much a U.S.-led effort. U.S. assets account for nearly 80 percent of all airstrikes.

Third, older – and sometimes much-maligned – airframes are carrying the heaviest load in the war on ISIS. The F-15E and A-10 represent 42 percent of U.S. weapons releases targeting ISIS. The B-1B and F-16 account for 25 percent; the F/A-18 13 percent; the ageless B-52 7.5 percent.

Fourth, the increased tempo and increased effectiveness of U.S. airpower has not been limited to Iraq and Syria.

As of October 1, 2017, the total number of weapons released in Afghanistan for the year was 3,238 – 1,901 more than for the whole of 2016. At 751, the September 2017 weapons-release total in Afghanistan was almost five times more than that of September 2016.

U.S. manned and unmanned assets have already conducted more than 100 airstrikes against al Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) this year – up from 38 for all of 2016 – hitting “infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment,” according to CENTCOM. In June, a U.S. airstrike killed AQAP’s senior emir and two other AQAP leaders.

AFRICOM confirmed in late September that U.S. warplanes conducted “six precision airstrikes” against ISIS in Libya on a single day – the first U.S. strikes in Libya since January. Between August and December 2016, U.S. warplanes carried out 495 airstrikes supporting Libyan government forces in their successful campaign to dislodge ISIS from the coastal city Sirte.

Also in September, AFRICOM reported that U.S. airstrikes had targeted al-Qaida’s franchise in East Africa (al Shabaab) in five separate “precision strikes” in southern Somalia. Since June, the United States has carried out 13 airstrikes against al Shabaab command centers, massed personnel and senior leadership. Plus, November marked the first time U.S. airstrikes targeted ISIS fighters in Somalia.

“Al-Qaida is not in a good space right now,” Thomas concludes. “But this is not the time to let the pedal up on them there ... It's worth reminding everybody that ISIS in 2011 was AQI (al-Qaida in Iraq) ... we can't take our eye off them.”

Storms

The frustrating news amidst all of this progress in the war against ISIS and al-Qaida is that this is long overdue. This is the kind of air war, enabled by swarms of Special Operations forces on the ground, the United States could have and should have been waging from the beginning. As Gen. David Deptula, who led the initial air campaign in Afghanistan, argued in mid-2015, “Airpower needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, and so far we’ve only witnessed a drizzle.”

Indeed, 10 months into the anti-ISIS air campaign, 75 percent of warplanes were still returning to base without releasing their weapons. From August 2014 through the end of 2016, the average number of sorties per day with a weapons release was 27. This year, that number has jumped to 34 – a 25.9-percent spike.

An unfettered air campaign, Deptula explained, would “terminate” the spread of ISIS, “paralyze and isolate its command-and-control capability ... undermine its ability to control the territory it occupies…and eliminate its ability to export terror.”

In other words, it looks like Washington is finally taking his advice -- and ISIS is finally on the path to defeat.


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