Thursday, February 09, 2012

Multinational Operation Targets Transnational Organized Crime

From a U.S. Southern Command News Release

MIAMI  – The United States is joining with European and Western Hemisphere partners in a multinational effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.

Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command, today announced its participation in Operation Martillo. Martillo is the Spanish word for “hammer.”

The U.S. contribution to the multinational detection, monitoring and interdiction operation includes Navy and Coast Guard vessels and aircraft from federal law enforcement agencies, working with military and law enforcement units from various nations to deny transnational criminal organizations the ability to move narcotics, precursor chemicals for explosives, bulk cash and weapons along Central American shipping routes.

Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, Southcom commander, highlighted the extent of illicit trafficking in the region and its harmful impact on people’s lives within the widely used transit zone.

"More than 80 percent of the cocaine destined for U.S. markets is transported via sea lanes, primarily using littoral routes through Central America," he said. "Working with our partner nations, we intend to disrupt their operations by limiting their ability to use Central America as a transit zone.

"Illicit trafficking jeopardizes the safety and well-being of citizens of every country and has a negative influence on regional and national security," Fraser added.

Operation Martillo is a critical component of the U.S. government's coordinated interagency regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America regional security initiative.

In 2011, international and cooperative interagency efforts coordinated through Joint Interagency Task Force South resulted in the disruption of 119 metric tons of cocaine, with a wholesale value of $2.35 billion, before it could reach destinations in the United States. The task force's efforts also enabled the interdiction of $21 million in bulk cash destined for traffickers in Central and South America and $16 million worth of black market goods.

DOD Supports Parades When All Combat Troops Return

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Pentagon officials say they’re all for a “New York-style tickertape parade” honoring combat troops who served in Iraq, but bowing to the military leadership’s wishes, agree that the best time to do so is after all combat troops have returned home from Afghanistan as well.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Douglas B. Wilson told Lynn Neary of NPR’s “Talk of the Town” program the Defense Department fully supports homecoming celebrations for Iraq War veterans.

St. Louis hosted a parade last month that drew an estimated 20,000 participants and 100,000 spectators. Some 15 more cities are considering similar parades.

“The event in St. Louis was terrific, and it was something that we applaud and we know that there will be more of,” Wilson said.

Wilson said there’s always been interest in a national-level celebration to honor troops returned from Iraq. “The question was not whether to have a parade, but when to do so,” he said.

Based on input from the military, Wilson said, the sentiment is that now is too soon, particularly because many Iraq War veterans now are deployed to Afghanistan. The consensus, he said, was that “that kind of event should wait and that it would be more appropriately held when combat troops were coming home.”

Meanwhile, plans are under way for an official White House dinner President Barack Obama will host later this month for Iraq veterans and their guests. The event, to be on the scale of an official state dinner honoring visiting heads of state, will express “the spirit, the dignity, the respect and the gratitude” of the president and American people, Wilson said.

Invitees will be of “all ranks, from all services and from all states and territories,” Wilson said, chosen by a selection committee of senior enlisted representatives from all five services and the National Guard and reserves.

They strove, he said, to ensure the participants will be “representative of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought on the battlefield in Iraq.”

As more regional-level parades and celebrations take place around the country, Wilson said, returning combat veterans deserve all the support they receive. That, he added, includes not just homecoming commemorations, but also support as veterans readjust to their communities and seek jobs.

“The question is when, where and how we can honor those who served in Iraq and are serving in Afghanistan,” Wilson said. “And the answer to when is always, and where is everywhere, and how is all kinds of different ways.”

Compact Eases School Transitions for Military Children

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – Another state has joined an interstate agreement to ease school transitions for children from military families, bringing the overall tally of member states to 40, a Defense Department official announced yesterday.

With the addition of Pennsylvania, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children now encompasses nearly 90 percent of school-age military children scattered across the nation, said Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy.

“The Department of Defense has always valued education for our children,” Gordon said in an interview at the Pentagon. “This partnership between the DOD and states is absolutely instrumental to the success of our kids and their education.”

The Defense Department, in collaboration with the Council of State Governments’ National Center for Interstate Compacts, developed the interstate compact in 2007 to ease military families’ challenges as they transition between school systems, whether it’s DOD schools, public schools on a military installation, or public schools in communities. By joining the compact, states agree to follow common guidelines in handling issues such as class placement, records transfer, immunization requirements, course placement, graduation requirements, exit testing and extracurricular opportunities.

Students often arrive at a new school and “find themselves being challenged and potentially put behind by … varying requirements,” Gordon said. “What we want to do with this compact is to minimize disruption.”

This effort is particularly important, Gordon noted, since the majority of military children aren’t in the DOD school system. Of the 1.2 million school-age military children, 1.1 million attend public schools, he said.

Additionally, the average military student faces transition challenges twice during high school, and most military children will attend up to nine different school systems during a parent’s military career, DOD officials said.

Frequent moves and deployment-related transitions are stressful events, Gordon acknowledged, as children face the challenge of making new friends and adjusting to new bases, cities and schools, while also, in some cases, enduring deployment-related anxiety. He can relate to this personally, he said, noting that as a military teen, he attended three different high schools and that his brother attended four.

Gordon said he’d like to see all 50 states join the compact. Their support is a vital component of military family support, particularly when it comes to their children’s educational success, he said.

“The Department of Defense has been committed to children’s education for a long time,” he said. “It’s extra special when we as partners with states are looking after the assurance of a quality education for military children.”

For more information on the compact and their state’s provisions, parents should contact their children’s school or military school liaison. States that are newer to the compact may not have all of the arrangements in place, so parents should check back periodically, Gordon suggested. To locate a school liaison, visit

Parents also can find information online at Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission at

DOD to Improve Nutrition Standards Across the Armed Services for the First Time in 20 Years

Part of military’s new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and TRICARE® Management Activity director Dr. Jonathan Woodson announced today the Military Health System’s (MHS) new obesity and nutrition awareness campaign.  It will feature cooperative efforts with each of the armed services, as well as our partners in Military Community and Family Policy, to encourage service members, our retired beneficiaries and dependents make better nutritional choices and take a more active role in their personal health. This campaign will include improving nutrition standards across the services for the first time in 20 years.  New changes will bring more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and entrĂ©e choices that are lower in fat to the 1,100 service member dining facilities in the coming months.

 “Our primary focus is on the health and well-being of service members, their families, and our retirees,” Woodson said. “Obesity is a preventable problem which, if combatted, can help prevent disease and ease the burden on our overall Military Health System.”

 “The Department of Defense is making a groundbreaking commitment to the health of our troops and their families.  And in doing so, they’re not just sending a powerful message throughout the military community, they’re sending a message to our entire country,” First Lady Michelle Obama said.   “Whenever our men and women in uniform step forward, Americans take notice.  When our service members make healthy eating a priority in their lives, the rest of us are more likely to make it a priority in our lives.  Simply put, this is America’s entire military once again stepping forward to lead by example.”

The MHS obesity and nutrition awareness campaign will feature cooperative efforts with each of the armed services to achieve the following:

Update menu standards at military dining facilities for the first time in 20 years;

Assess the nutritional environment of military facilities;

Ensure healthier foods are available in dining facilities; Department of Defense schools, and other places where service members and their families purchase food on base, including vending machines and snack bars.

 “We are intent on focusing on preventable illnesses to help our people stay out of our clinics and hospitals by improving their physical condition,” Woodson said.  “We have the legal and moral responsibility to do our part to maintain the health and well-being of everyone in our military community.  And, we are committed to a strategy that changes the direction of healthcare to health in the military community, and, in many ways, for all Americans.”

Motor Vehicle Safety is a Top Priority for NAVSAFECEN

By April Phillips, Naval Safety Center Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Naval Safety Center (NAVSAFECEN) offers resources to help manage driving risks.

Fiscal year 2011 was the safest on record in terms of four-wheel motor vehicle fatalities. Car and truck operators did a great job of managing the risks of driving. However, mid-way through the second quarter of FY 2012, fatalities are in danger of creeping back up.

As of Feb. 1, 2012, four Sailors have lost their lives in four-wheel personal motor vehicle (PMV4) fatalities compared to one at the same time in 2011. Motorcycle fatality rates are static, with three so far this fiscal year - the same as last year at this time.

NAVSAFECEN's Command Master Chief Dominick Torchia recently released a "Safety Broadcast," a one-page fact sheet outlining timely information about various trending topics. His most recent covers PMV statistics, risk factors, and resources for improvement.

"While we made big strides in reducing the number of four-wheel motor vehicle fatalities last year, this is no time to declare victory," Torchia said. "Be aware of the biggest risk factors - speed, alcohol, fatigue, ejection and distractions - and do everything you can to manage those risks."

Those risk factors - speed, alcohol, fatigue and ejections (lack of seat belts) and distractions (SAFE-D) - account for the vast majority of motor vehicle mishaps in the Navy and nationwide. Motorcycle fatalities are also a continuing concern, with their own set of risk factors. However, the biggest risk factor Sailors face is completely within their control - training.

"The biggest challenge we face is closing the last tactical mile with regard to advanced motorcycle training," Torchia said. "Every sportbike rider is required to take the Military Sportbike Rider Course (MSRC), but right now there are about 2,000 sportbike riders who have not completed it. This training has proven value. Nine out of 12 sportbike riders who died in FY11 had not attended the course."

Torchia said the MSRC is provided at no cost to Sailors and is designed to be completed during the workday. No leave is required to attend the course. It covers both the different physical handling characteristics and the required mental attitudes for safe operation of these high-performance machines.

The MSRC was created after a spike in motorcycle fatalities in 2008, when 33 Sailors lost their lives while riding. After an initial training push, the number fell to 13 in FY2010, but crept up slightly to 16 in FY11. Eliminating all preventable PMV fatalities remains a top priority for NAVSAFECEN.

Blue Ridge Departs Tomakomai

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Fidel C. Hart, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs

TOMAKOMAI, Japan (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines from 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), embarked 7th Fleet staff and Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC) completed a port visit to Tomakomai, Japan, Feb. 8.

The crew experienced the culture and sights of the city, and participated in tours and community service events (COMSERVs) in Tomakomai and the surrounding area.

"This was a tremendous port visit for the crew of USS Blue Ridge, with opportunities to see the Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival and participating in the Tomakomai Ice Skate Festival," said Blue Ridge Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Ralston. "It is great to see our Sailors and Marines out in town strengthening bonds during community service projects, building friendships on liberty and sharing the differences and similarities in our intertwined cultures."

The ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee provided a variety of tours to the nearby city of Sapporo, which was holding the 63rd Annual Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival.

Several Sailors participated in COMSERV projects at the Tomakomai Ice Skate Festival, assisting local children onto a snow slide and pushing a giant sled. Lt. Donald Baker, Blue Ridge chaplain, said that it was a unique way for the Sailors and the citizens of Tomakomai to interact.

"I've done more than 100 COMSERV projects and this is the most fun I have had on one," said Baker. "There is great energy and excitement from both the Sailors and the citizens. The energy is contagious and has rubbed off on every one involved. This is exactly what you want a community service event to be."

Many Sailors experienced Tomakomai for the first time.

"I am enjoying myself and have never seen anything like this [Sapporo's snow and ice sculptures] before," said Yeoman 3rd Class Brittnea Noe. Noe, on her first port visit with Blue Ridge, said the sea mammals snow sculpture depicting detailed carvings of a blue whale, walrus, dolphins and sea lions, was her favorite. "I would love to return and visit because I know the snow sculptures change every year and they are amazing."

Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Daniel Grieco and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operations detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Department of Justice Reaches Agreement to Compensate Servicemembers for Wrongful Foreclosures

Agreement Reached as Part of the $25 Billion Federal-State Mortgage Servicing Agreement

The settlement agreement with the nation’s five largest servicers announced today by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice’s federal and state partners includes substantial financial compensation to homeowners who are servicemembers and establishes significant new protections for servicemembers in the future.  The financial compensation to servicemembers is in addition to the $25 billion settlement.

 JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. (formerly GMAC) have agreed to conduct a full review, overseen by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, to determine whether any servicemembers were foreclosed on in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) since Jan.1, 2006.   Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally will be required to provide any servicemember who was a victim of a wrongful foreclosure a minimum payment of $116,785 plus the servicemember’s lost equity and interest for violating the SCRA.   The servicemember’s payment could be higher as a result of the review conducted by the banking regulators.   To ensure consistency with an earlier private settlement, JP Morgan Chase will provide any servicemember who was a victim of a wrongful foreclosure either his or her home free and clear of any debt or the cash equivalent of the full value of the home at the time of sale.   In addition, servicemebers will receive compensation for any additional harm suffered.   All compensation for servicemembers wrongfully foreclosed on is in addition to the $25 billion settlement amount.

 In addition, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally have also agreed to conduct a thorough review, overseen by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, to determine whether any servicemember, from January 1, 2008 to the present, was charged interest in excess of 6% on his or her mortgage, after a valid request to lower the interest rate, in violation of the SCRA.   Servicers will be required to provide any servicemember who was wrongfully charged interest in excess of 6% with a payment equal to a refund, with interest, of any amount charged in excess of 6% plus triple the amount refunded or $500, whichever is larger.   This compensation for servicemembers is in addition to the $25 billion settlement amount.   JP Morgan Chase had already compensated servicemembers charged interest in excess of 6% on their mortgage through the earlier private settlement.

 “The men and women who serve our nation in the armed forces deserve, at the very least, to know that we will protect their rights while they are serving our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We appreciate that Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally agreed, through this settlement, to compensate servicemembers whose rights were violated.”

 All four servicers agreed to numerous other measures, including SCRA training for employees and agents and developing SCRA policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the SCRA. The servicers will also repair any negative credit report entries related to the allegedly wrongful foreclosures and will not pursue any remaining amounts owed under the mortgages.

 The joint federal-state agreement also includes expanded protections for servicemembers.    The SCRA prohibits foreclosures on servicemembers without court orders on mortgages that were originated before military service began. The settlement extends this protection to all servicemembers, regardless of when their mortgage was secured, if they were receiving Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and were stationed away from their home within nine months of the foreclosure.   The agreement requires all five servicers to provide certain servicemembers who are forced to move because of Permanent Change in Station (PCS) orders  access loan modifications without going into default or, in the event that they must sell their home at a loss, but are ineligible for funding from the Department of Defense’s Homeowners’ Assistance Program (HAP), with short sale agreements and mandatory deficiency waivers.   On the servicemember relief, the Department worked closely with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, who led the servicemember negotiations on behalf of the state attorneys general

In May 2011, the Department of Justice reached a more than $20 million settlement with Bank of America for wrongfully foreclosing on servicemembers without court orders.    That settlement only resolved allegations related to non-judicial foreclosures.    The Department did not release as part of today’s announced settlement any potential claims related to judicial foreclosures or possible 6% violations by Bank of America.

The JP Morgan Chase investigation was handled jointly by the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.

President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.    The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources.    The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.    For more information on the task force, visit .

Servicemembers and their dependents who believe that their SCRA rights have been violated should contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance office.    Please consult the military legal assistance office locator at and click on the Legal Services Locator.    Additional information about the Justice Department’s enforcement of the SCRA and the other laws protecting servicemembers is available at .

Weapons Silencers for Civilians

I get lots of requests to review websites and am often surprised by the information I find.  I looked through the Silencerco pistol silencers and was surprised at the wealth of information on not just the company, but the product and the laws concerning firearms silencers.  First, let me say that the website is well designed and easy to navigate.  Moreover, the website is visually interesting.  You should visit the media center and experience the videos, available wall paper and excellent high-quality photographs of their product.

My first question was – Are silencers legal?  I didn’t know.  But Silencerco provides a well-developed education center which includes state-by-state information on ownership as well as the purchasing process.  This section also provides forms and potential work-arounds if you have difficultly with local authorities. 

I next spent some time browsing the FAQs.  One of the questions was – How do silencers work?  They give a pretty straightforward answer: “Entire books have been written on this topic. A summarized explanation is that they slow and cool the expanding gases that propel bullets. This hot, high velocity, expanding gas is what causes the “boom” of a gunshot. Slowing and cooling this gas before it exits the muzzle greatly reduces the muzzle report of a gunshot.”

Another interesting question asked is - Does a modern suppressor (or silencer) decrease the effectiveness or range of the host firearm or cartridge?  You are going to have to go to their website to find out – the answer might surprise you. 

This is a paid review.