Military

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The latest on Peterson AFB's Bible dilemma

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 1:59 PM

The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago.
Remember the brouhaha over the open Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base?

Well, here's an update.

After command decided that Major Steve Lewis could rightfully display his Bible for other service members to see in the work place, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA was aimed at records of the investigation conducted into whether the open Bible violated or complied with an Air Force instruction that prohibits proselytizing but allows expressions of faith.

MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein reports today that the Air Force responded to the FOIA by saying no records exist.

Now, this is rather perplexing. While it's possible the request went to the wrong unit, because there's no option in the Air Force's FOIA process to select for the unit in which the Bible episode took place, seems pretty far fetched for the service to fall back on such a weak argument.

In any event, Weinstein is furious.

"There is simply NO excuse for the USAF to say that there are 'no records' or that they have no idea of any other agencies where the records might be," he tells the Indy via email. "We also asked for records on the 'climate survey' done earlier this year where the open Bible was specifically brought up and nothing was done."

The result was the same: The Air Force says there aren't any records of that.

Meantime, MRFF reports that as of late this morning, Maj. Lewis has not restored his Bible to the place at his work station that caused the investigation in the first place, even though, as Weinstein notes, "the Air Force says it is 'well within standards' for the Bible to be there."

We've reached out to the public information officer for Air Force Reserve Command, the unit to which the FOIA was submitted, but haven't heard back. We'll update if and when we hear something.

Weinstein says MRFF is considering a federal lawsuit over the matter.
 
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pentagon IG's Office takes up Bible complaint

Posted By on Sun, Aug 28, 2016 at 3:33 PM

COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
The Department of Defense Inspector General's Office apparently will investigate how Peterson Air Force Base handled a complaint about an open Bible on a major's desk in a common area, which we reported about here and here.

After Col. Damon Feltman ruled it was OK to display the Bible as Major Steve Lewis had done, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a letter to the IG's Office seeking further investigation. Mikey Weinstein alleges it's improper for the commander who allowed the Bible to be placed on the major's desk, Col. Lisa Johnson, be the one to further examine the issue in response to a complaint.

Here's the letter Weinstein wrote to the IG:

DOD_IG_Letter_Aug_2016.pdf
Weinstein says the IG's Office has requested additional materials be supplied by MRFF to aid in the investigation.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Locals smile on military, survey shows

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 12:42 PM

Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station
The results are in and they're not surprising: Colorado Springs loves the military.

That's the upshot of a survey conducted by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments to "gauge community-military partnerships." The survey also aimed to identify areas where things are working well and issues that need improvement.

The military's five bases here — Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Fort Carson, Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station — are said to employ about 60,000 people and bring nearly $6 billion to the local economy.

The survey, taken by 700 people, according to a release from PPACG, is part of the Joint Land Use Study to examine "land-use issues related to military installations in close proximity to counties, cities, and towns."

Unfortunately, the survey closed on June 14 — before we found out that Peterson Air Force Base was contaminating groundwater supplies in the Fountain and Widefield/Security areas that might take a generation of more to clean up. And the pollution, using firefighting foam spewed during practice, has been going on for decades.

We asked PPACG about that and got a message from Rachel Beck, PPACG's policy and communications manager, who said, in part:
The reason no one mentioned the Peterson water issue is that we closed our survey June 14, and media coverage of the water quality issues didn’t happen until July. Neither the JLUS manager nor our air and water quality manager have received the report, but once we do, we will review it to determine if it is relevant to the scope of the Joint Land Use Study. I know you wrote about this issue - do you have a copy you could share?
From the news release about the study:
Several common themes emerged:
• A majority of respondents think the community and military installations are working together well.
• Noise and/or vibration, and use of airspace were the top two issues respondents identified, though 67 percent and 86 percent, respectively, did not find these to be a problem.
• Respondents said development of alternative energy on installations is a positive for the community.
• 69 percent of respondents said that when they moved into their homes, they knew a military installation was a neighbor and there could be land-use impacts.
• Results validated a number of issues JLUS staff had heard about from community groups, individual citizens, and military partners, such as stormwater runoff from new development and noise from various training activities.
• Survey respondents also identified a new issue, keeping the New Santa Fe Trail open where it crosses Air Force Academy property.
As a result of this community input, JLUS staff has formed two additional working groups. Visit the PPACG website [ppacg.org] to review the full survey results.

About the Joint Land Use Study
The Colorado Springs Regional Joint Land-Use Study will promote long-term land use compatibility between local military installations and surrounding communities through the promotion of comprehensive community planning, particularly in regards to specific issues identified by the installations, local government staff and officials, and the community.

The study includes:

• A detailed land use assessment for areas surrounding the installations affecting El Paso, Pueblo, Teller, and Fremont counties
• An inventory of compatibility challenges within the study area
• An assessment of regional growth trends around the installations
• Specific recommendations to promote compatible land use 

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bible approved for AFB desk

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk.
The investigation of a Bible placed at a work station of Air Force Maj. Steve Lewis at Peterson Air Force Base has concluded that the "good book" can stay just where he had it.

The Bible had been removed during the investigation, started on Aug. 15, and it's not known at this time if it's been returned.

At issue are complaints from service members received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about the location of the Bible, which sits on a desk in an area where many people work in the Reserve National Security Space Institute.

You can read our coverage of the issue here.

Today, we heard from Lt. Col. David Fruck, chief of public affairs for the 310th Space Wing, who wrote in an email:
As pledged, we have reviewed the situation there. We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj Lewis's behavior and the workplace environment at the RNSSI are well within the provisions of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, "Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation" and "Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause."
Fruck, when asked, says he doesn't know if the Bible has been placed at the work station again, but "the review allows him to have a Bible on his desk."

MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein called the investigation "a sham and a travesty," because Col. Lisa Johnson, the commander who approved the Bible's placement in the first place, apparently was the one in charge of the investigation. That hasn't been confirmed by the Air Force, however.
 
"This is a quintessential example of a disgusting conflict of interest," Weinstein says. He adds he plans to demand the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office conduct a separate investigation. "We can't find a single instance where the Air Force enforces Air Force Instruction 1-1."


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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bible removed from desk at Peterson AFB

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 10:14 AM

This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation.
In the latest issue of the Independent, we report that a controversy over religion in the military has surfaced at Peterson Air Force Base where a major has displayed an open Bible at his work station. His desk is located in an an open office environment where four desks are located and where dozens of members congregate during unit training assemblies.

We received a statement from Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that ran too long to include in our print newspaper, so we're sharing it here.

Col. Damon Feltman has authorized an investigation of the issue.

Weinstein's comment:
The 310th “Space" Wing is NOT called the 310th “Space For My Personal Proselytizing Christian Bible Shrine” Wing for a damn good reason. Major Steve Lewis has created an around-the-clock Christian Bible Shrine on his official USAF workstation desk that has been in prominent static display for YEARS. The pages in his open bible on his USAF desk never change, ever. Thus, it is obviously there as a religious display to promote to others his Christian faith. This sectarian display is a disastrous travesty which completely serves all too well as an absolute textbook violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 as well as the No Establishment Clause and No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution. MRFF is very pleased that, pursuant to MRFF’s specific demand, this bible has expeditiously been removed from Major Lewis’ desk pending the the ongoing Commander Directed Investigation which MRFF also demanded. In my nearly 12 minute call with the 310th Wing Commander, Colonel Feltman, yesterday, he promised me that he would be open and fair in all of his dealings on this matter with MRFF and its 33 clients at Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB. We will hold him to his word. So far, MRFF has been impressed with his honesty and responsiveness.
If you want to read his letter to Col. Feltman, here ya go:
MRFFLetter.pdf
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Monday, August 1, 2016

Peace group plans atomic bomb protest

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 11:36 AM

CLYDE ROBINSON
  • Clyde Robinson
A group of local residents will mark the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 71 years ago with demonstration outside Peterson Air Force Base from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. on Friday.

Citizens for Peace in Space is sponsoring the commemoration of the victims of the bombings, which claimed an estimated 129,000 people.

The group is calling for the removal of 49 hydrogen bombs that are on 24/7 alert in Colorado. The Minuteman III ICBMs are part of thousands of nuclear bombs in the United States arsenal, the group says, noting each bomb is up to 20 times as powerful as those dropped on Japan to end World War II.


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Monday, July 11, 2016

Soldiers will do battle — in Rio Olympic Games

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 2:37 PM

Carson soldiers will compete in the 2016 summer games. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Carson soldiers will compete in the 2016 summer games.
For all those who thought soldiers did nothing but protect our country 24/7, here's news about Fort Carson's contribution of athletes to the U.S. Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro next month.

According to a news release, the Mountain Post will introduce 15 Army "soldier athletes" at a media availability on Tuesday at 10 a.m. They'll compete in seven sports.

From the release: 
Fifteen Soldiers will represent in seven sports as athletes and coaches at the Olympic Games. Col. J.J. Love, U.S. Army Installation Management Command deputy G9 and chief of staff, will open the press conference. Media will have the opportunity to conduct one-on-one interviews with Soldier-Olympians. The remainder of the day will be demonstrations in the sports the Soldier-Olympians will be representing at the Games.

The Soldier-Olympians are:
Athletes:
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson – Shooting
Staff Sgt. Michael Lukow - Para Archery
Staff Sgt. John Nunn - Track and Field
Sgt. Hillary Bor – Track and Field
Sgt. Elizabeth Marks - Para Swimming
Sgt. Nathan Schrimsher - Modern Pentathlon
Sgt. Caylor Williams – Wrestling (alternate)
Sgt. Whitney Conder – Wrestling (alternate)
Spc. Paul Chelimo – Track and Field
Spc. Shadrack Kipchirchir - Track and Field
Spc. Leonard Korir - Track and Field
Spc. Ildar Hafizov – Wrestling (alternate)
Coaches:
Capt. Andrew Locke - Rugby 7's
Sgt. 1st Class Joe Guzman - BoxingStaff Sgt. Dennis Bowsher - Modern Pentathlon
So now you can watch for these competitors when viewing the televised games, and cheer your soldiers on.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Hornet buzzes into Peterson museum

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 3:46 PM

For those with a fascination with flying, good news came to our in-box today in the form of a news release about the latest addition to the Peterson Air and Space Museum at Peterson Air Force Base.

A Hornet aircraft has been donated, and a dedication ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

From the release:
The donated CF-188, also known as the Hornet, was part of the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1984 until it was decommissioned in 2007.

The aircraft, given to the U.S. Air Force Heritage Program by the Canadian government, is on loan to the Peterson museum. The donation highlights the joint mission and partnership between the U.S. and Canadian governments.

"We're very excited to receive the Hornet as part of the Peterson Air and Space Museum collection," said Gail Whalen, Peterson Air and Space Museum director. "It will help us share the joint U.S. and Canadian heritage and traditions that keep alive the stories of our military service men and women for all generations."

The Peterson museum contains 17 aircraft and 6 missiles, which tell the North American air defense story since the Cold War.

The aircraft was transferred from Bagotville, Quebec, to Colorado Springs in March, and its paint scheme commemorates Canada's and the United States' partnership within the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a binational military command formally established in 1958 by Canada and the United States to monitor and defend North American airspace.

The Hornet is used in Canada for air defense, air superiority, tactical support, training, aerobatic demonstration, and aerospace testing and evaluation, and is committed to protecting North America in support of NORAD missions.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Army submits new HAMET proposal

Posted By on Mon, May 16, 2016 at 4:10 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
The Army has submitted a new proposal for use of Bureau of Land Management land southwest of Colorado Springs for landings and takeoffs in High Altitude Mountain Environment Training. Here's a little background.

"We've recently received an updated plan of development from Ft. Carson and are currently reviewing it," the BLM's spokesman Kyle Sullivan tells us. "We are still working out a few details on the POD [plan of development] with Fort Carson. I anticipate it will be posted on our website for public review in the next month or so.

"The new POD incorporates input provided by the public thus far in the process," he adds. "Once the POD is posted online, there will be another 30-day comment period. After that period, the BLM will begin developing alternatives and will seek additional public input once a draft environmental assessment is completed (before beginning final analysis). I'm not exactly sure about the timeline. Our staff is engaged in several other landscape level planning efforts and we are developing a schedule to facilitate completion of this work."

Meantime, Carson requested and was granted permission to use BLM territory temporarily. See the request here.
The BLM received an urgent request from Fort Carson military base for U.S. Army personnel to conduct limited, short-term High Altitude Mountain Environment Training on public lands in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Based on a specific set of guidelines, the BLM has determined that this training qualifies as casual use and does not require a permit. The Army will be using five landing zones on public lands in Fremont County from about Oct. 14 to Dec. 20, 2015. The landing zones were selected in remote locations to minimize impacts to neighboring landowners or resources.  

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Friday, April 22, 2016

UPDATE: Academy "partners" with religion, drawing criticism

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 12:26 PM

Note the academy band offered the concert "in partnership" with New Life Church.
  • Note the academy band offered the concert "in partnership" with New Life Church.
UPDATE:
Here's the Air Force Academy's response to questions about selection of New Life Church for an academy band concert:

The United States Air Force Academy Band performed its Spring Concert on Thursday, April 21, 7pm, at New Life Church. The show was open and free to the entire regional community and those visiting the area.
It's important to note that the Academy Band maintains a rigorous performance schedule in support of Cadet and Air Force troop morale, recruiting and community outreach, and it makes every effort to provide free public concerts as part of their community relations mission. The focus of venue selection is finding the ideal location for the community. Oftentimes a larger venue best supports the needs of that area; however, the band utilizes a variety of venues across Colorado Springs and the nation to provide the public with innovative musical programs.
Department of Defense and Air Force regulations allow concerts to be performed in churches as long as the concert is not part of a service and benefits the community at large; the primary regulation is DoD 5410.18. The band's methodical planning efforts to meet the demands of its rigorous schedule, under the aforementioned regulations, ensure it is never associated with a worship service, that each concert is free and open to the public and of general interest to the community, and that there is no fundraising of any kind associated with the performance.
The USAFA Band presents an average of 500 performances a year; in the last 15-16 months 14 community concerts have been held in church venues: 3.2% of its total performances.
"Since Jan. 1, 2015, that 3.2% of performances were held at: Trinity High School (Catholic) Dickinson, N.D.; St. Paul Lutheran Church, Missoula, Montana; Zion Lutheran Church, Montrose, Colo.; Chamber Recital Series, St. James Presbyterian Church, Littleton, Colo; St Michaels (Catholic) High School, Santa Fe, N.M.; New Life Church, Colo Spgs; Grace & St Stephen's Episcopal Church, Colo Spgs; Littleton United Methodist Church, Littleton, Colo; Strickland Chapel, Nazarene Bible College, Colo Spgs; Grace Lutheran Church, Osage City, Kan.; Benet Hill Monastery, Colo Spgs; United Methodist Church, Brookings, S.D.; Pauline Chapel, Colo Spgs; and First Presbyterian Church, Great Falls, Montana.
We appreciate the continued support of our community and are proud to continue the strong relationship with our neighbors.

Also, our source for this is DODI 5410.18, 4.2.3.5.1, states, "Church as a site for a public concert, speech, or display, when the activity is not part of a religious service."  

The U.S. Air Force Academy Band played some crowd favorites at New Life Church last night, such as Gershwin's "Strike up the Band," and the age-old hymn, "Amazing Grace."

But the band also apparently crossed the line, because it violated its policy by associating with a religious entity, and Mikey Weinstein calls that an "unconstitutional disgrace."

Weinstein, who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, heard about the event from numerous "clients" of MRFF who work or are schooled at the academy.

Here's commentary from one of them:
I've long suspected that there exists a de facto partnership between USAFA and one or more of the large evangelical mega-churches in Colorado Springs, evidenced by the buses and carpools available to take cadets to attend services there as well as outside church involvement in Monday night on-campus religious study programs, etc. No church is more linked to USAFA and Cadet Wing, though, than the New Life Church, clearly visible to the east from many a USAFA dorm room window and the Falcon Stadium Press Box VIP Suites. I was surprised, though, to hear that the Academy and NLC held a joint event—a concert by the USAFA Band—within the 2000+ seat "sanctuary" of the New Life Church's main location last night. The program from the event itself states that the concert was "Presented In Partnership with New Life Church."
... It's particularly troubling because of NLC's history of intolerance against those that don't share their views on LGB rights. An organization that has actively moved against one of its most heroic members stating she was no longer welcome because of her sexuality, seems an unlikely partner for a government organization that by law and public statement prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.That the Academy has had a troubled history in this area is clear to everyone. That they could be so sloppy as to include the NLC emblem on their newspaper ads for the concert is surprising. That they would use the word "partnership" on the program itself is worrying to say the least.
Here's the policy regarding what the band can and can't do:
The United States Air Force Academy Band may perform for public and civic events if the event is of general interest or benefit to a local, state or national community. However, the band may not participate in events that are commercially sponsored; are designed to increase business traffic or raise charitable donations; or are associated with a religious or ideological movement, such as a Christmas parade...."
Weinstein says he'll be filing a Freedom of Information request to try to find out "how all of the particulars of this unconstitutional disgrace came about."

Meantime, he adds via email, MRFF demands the Pentagon Inspector General's Office investigate the matter. More from Weinstein:
The United States Air Force Academy yet once AGAIN blatantly violates not only the United States Constitution’s No Establishment Clause and various DoD Joint Ethics Regulations regarding the provision of endorsements and selective benefits but, this time, it’s very own internal regulations. How you may ask; by incestuously ‘partnering’ with the infamously and notoriously homophobic, evangelical New Life Church in an Air Force Academy band concert reminiscent of a Las Vegas Strip production. 

He likened the academy to a "burned-out, drug addict zombie, saying the school "just canNOT get enough of that fundamentalist Christian narco-putrescence."

We've asked for a comment from the academy and will update when we hear back.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How much does the AFA spend on spin? We don't know.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 11:09 AM

Air Force Academy slogan over the terrazzo. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Air Force Academy slogan over the terrazzo.
As the Independent went to press this week with a story about the Air Force Academy's hiring of a crisis communications expert, we heard from the academy about how many public affairs personnel work there. We raised the question in light of our story in Wednesday's edition about Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson hiring a consultant to promote the academy's image.

The consultant is Larry Holdren, owner of Holdren Strategic Communications LLC. Another firm with which Holdren was affiliated, Pure Brand Communications, conducted some kind of audit of the academy's communications department in 2014. We asked for that audit, but haven't received it yet.

We also asked how many people work in the academy's Public Affairs office, which which the academy replied in an email with this:
The United States Air Force Academy has 10 Public Affairs specialists currently assigned (active duty officers, active duty enlisted, and DOD civilians). The Public Affairs operating budget is approximately $30 thousand annually. 
We asked the academy to clarify the dollar figure, because "$30 thousand" is only $30,000, and we seriously doubt you could hire 10 people with that measly amount.

Upon questioning, the academy responded with this: "Of course, that doesn't include salaries, which are paid out of other funds."

So we're left not knowing how much the academy actually pays for its public affairs staff, nor what Larry Holdren is being paid for filling in the gaps or whatever it is he does.

Like nailing Jello to the wall, eh?


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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

AFA chief hires PR helper

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 4:44 PM

Johnson: Getting help with the academy's image.
  • Johnson: Getting help with the academy's image.
Running a prominent university can be a pretty tough job. Just ask Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, where sexual assault reports, for example, were way up last year over the previous year, according to a recent Defense Department analysis.

Add to that the desire to put a shine on the service academy, and the job is so daunting that Johnson has enlisted a crisis communications expert to help her.

Larry Holdren, owner of Holdren Strategic Communications LLC of Highlands Ranch, has been working for an undisclosed amount to help her under a "Gratuitous Service Agreement" that began in January 2015. That's one year after Holdren started his company.

The agreement, says AFA spokesman Meade Warthen via email, was approved by the Air Force General Counsel and says Holdren is "to volunteer his services to the Air Force Academy with no expectation of compensation by the Air Force."

What a business model!

But Holdren isn't going away empty-handed. According to Warthen, "He is compensated by the U.S. Air Force Academy Endowment, which is a private organization, not a governmental one." That means the Academy Endowment doesn't have to disclose how much Holdren is being paid.

The endowment is very well endowed, having raised $100 million, much of which supports the academy with construction projects including the Center for Character and Leadership Development building.

The rationale for Holdren's hiring is to put a good face on the academy for recruitment purposes, Warthen says. "As a leading public university," he writes, "it is critical that we work to enhance our reputation nationally in order to continue to attract and retain the most talented prospective cadets, faculty and staff, and Mr. Holdren is providing a critical role in helping us do that."

Holdren accompanied Lt. Gen. Johnson on three trips in 2015 as part of her "ongoing national outreach activities." These included stops at the National Press Club, Fox News, FoxNews.com, Huffington Post and New York Times, among others. Johnson spent $3,159 on these trips — to New York (twice) and Washington, D.C.

The trips were funded by discretionary gift funds in support of the superintendent's outreach efforts, Warthen says.

As for the question, "Why Holdren?", we can't answer that. But Holdren's website has this description of what he does:
Simply, if you need help solving a complex communications challenge, we're your firm. If you find yourself stuck and need experienced strategic thinkers to help you get unstuck, we're your firm. If you're in an industry that faces opposition, we're your firm.
According to his bio included on his website, Holdren says he played "senior roles" several places, including Centura Health. So we checked on that one and were told that he worked at Centura from July 17, 1997, to Feb. 12, 1999, as a "public relations specialist." We'll leave it to the reader to decide if PR specialist is considered a senior role.

We asked him a few questions via email, BTW, but haven't heard back. We'll update if and when we hear something.

Regardless, Holdren made a big score for Johnson last spring by persuading CNN reporter Richard Quest to come to the academy during graduation week, when he took a ride with the Thunderbirds. Quest was in the news himself in 2008 for a rather unsavory incident.

We asked last year why the superintendent chose to give Quest such insider access, considering the 2008 arrest, and Warthen replied in an email then, saying:
Mr. Richard Quest is a distinguished journalist with CNN, who is internationally renowned for his coverage of people and places throughout the world. We feel that Mr. Quest's stellar professional credentials and ringing endorsement by CNN made him the right person to draw positive national attention to the U.S. Air Force Academy during graduation week with an interview with Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, our Superintendent. Furthermore, his videotaped Thunderbird orientation ride helped publicize the fact that America's Air Force, and the air power it epitomizes, is second to none in the world. With 35 million viewers worldwide tuning in, Mr. Quest and his CNN team provided a rare look at some of our fine Airmen, their capabilities, and America's newest crop of leaders, the commissioned officers of the Class of 2015.
Anyhow, Johnson's normal three-year stint at the academy is nearing an end, unless President Obama decides to leave her there for a fourth year as was done with her predecessor, former superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould.

Otherwise, she'll be moving on or retiring, which has been the tradition for academy superintendents. It's usually their last hurrah before exiting the military. But word has it Johnson, still in her mid-50s, is seeking another assignment before retirement.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

AFA logjam finally breaks

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 10:56 AM

Weinstein: Finally received a FOIA response. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Weinstein: Finally received a FOIA response.
Word comes from Vincent Ward, attorney for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that the Air Force Academy has finally started releasing documents pursuant to a years-old request.

Here's some background on this issue.

Ward writes this to MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein:
Mikey,

Pursuant to an agreement reached with the Air Force Academy’s (AFA) lawyers after MRFF filed its lawsuit, last week the AFA finally produced nearly 3,000 documents that are the subject of the lawsuit. The AFA intends to produce more documents in the near future.

MRFF’s attorneys, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg of Freedman, Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, PA, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are currently reviewing the documents to ensure the AFA has fully complied with all FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requirements.

This is a significant victory for open government and the mission of MRFF.
The request was submitted in 2011 and a lawsuit was filed recently to try to jar loose the documents. While we can't say if there are any gems in those documents worth reporting, the academy seems to have taken the lawsuit seriously.

"After many years of fighting the Air Force Academy to get them to do the right thing, when faced with dealing with a lawsuit in fed court, the academy finally became responsive," Weinstein says. "They don't get a gold star for this."

He adds that his organization will sift through the documents for clues about how the academy dealt on the down-low with Weinstein, MRFF, his family and others regarding religious freedom issues, not to mention former Dean of Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born's order to a subordinate to initiate a counter insurgency against MRFF, Weinstein and its supporters.

Weinstein also says if it's found that the documents are redacted without reasonable legal basis, "We'll go back to court."

Stay tuned.
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Monday, February 8, 2016

Springs VA clinic gets bad review

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Findings issued on Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs showed 288 veterans encountered waits longer than 30 days at the Colorado Springs VA Clinic. Even worse, VA staff tried to make their record-keeping "appear the appointment wait time was less than 30 days," the IG reported.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Here's the report's summary from the IG's website:
In January 2015, the Office of Inspector General received an allegation that the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Outpatient Clinic, a Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Colorado Springs, CO, did not provide veterans’ access to the Veterans Choice Program when the CBOC did not provide veterans timely VA care. One affected veteran sent the complaint, along with examples of issues affecting clinic services provided in audiology, mental health, neurology, optometry, orthopedic, and primary care. We substantiated the allegation that the veteran, as well as other eligible Colorado Springs veterans, did not receive timely care in the six reviewed services. We reviewed 150 referrals for specialty care consults and 300 primary care appointments. Of the 450 consults and appointments, 288 veterans encountered wait times in excess of 30 days. For all 288 veterans, VA staff either did not add them to the Veterans Choice List (VCL) or did not add them to the VCL in a timely manner. For 59 of the 288 veterans, scheduling staff used incorrect dates that made it appear the appointment wait time was less than 30 days. For 229 of the 288 veterans with appointments over 30 days, NVCC staff did not add 173 veterans at the CBOCs in the Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) to the VCL in a timely manner and they did not add 56 veterans to the list at all. In addition, scheduling staff did not take timely action on 94 consults and primary care appointment requests. As a result, VA staff did not fully use Veterans Choice Program funds to afford CBOC Colorado Springs veterans the opportunity to receive timely care. We recommended that the ECHCS Director take actions to ensure appointments are scheduled using clinically indicated or preferred appointment dates, all veterans eligible for the Veterans Choice Program are added to the VCL in a timely manner, and scheduling staff timely act on consults and appointment requests. The acting director of the ECHCS concurred in principle with our recommendations. ECHCS executed a number of corrective actions to become compliant with current VHA scheduling guidance. Based on actions already implemented, we consider Recommendation 1 closed. We will follow up on the implementation of the remaining recommendations until all proposed actions are completed.
Colorado's congressional delegation immediately reacted with harsh criticism.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., issued a statement saying:
It is intolerable that investigations continue to uncover these unacceptable practices at the VA. Our veterans deserve better.

Veterans waiting too long must have the option to access care through the Choice program and scheduling processes must be followed correctly. We’ll review the report’s findings and recommendations, ensure that the appropriate corrective steps are taken, and determine if any additional policy changes are needed. It’s clear from this report that we must continue to demand accountability at the VA and that strong oversight is still essential.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

WWP strikes up the band? Or not?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 11:53 AM

SCREENSHOT FROM THE AMERICAN PATRIOTS JAZZ ORCHESTRA WEBSITE
  • Screenshot from the American Patriots Jazz Orchestra website

As a follow-up to our story in this week's issue
about the Wounded Warrior Project, we've encountered conflicting stories involving WWP's efforts at bringing in money.

On one hand, Doyle Combs, owner of Heartsong Studios and leader of the American Patriots Jazz Orchestra, says his group has an "arrangement with WWP to help raise money." The band's website says it was "created to support the Wounded Warrior Project of America."

But WWP spokesman Rob Louis disagrees, saying via email, "They are not affiliated with Wounded Warrior Project, and do not fundraise for us."

Combs gives a different story.

"The arrangement I have with them is, I can operate independent Wounded Warriors benefit shows and they will approve each show," Combs says, "and when they approve it as a benefit, I’m able to take our expenses out and then write them a check. That’s legal. Once they approve that particular show, they will send Wounded Warrior materials and we pass those out at the door, and I recognize wounded warriors from the area wherever I am."

To book a show, one must fill out a "performance request" that names Wounded Warrior Project as the cause and dictates size of the venue and ticket prices.

The orchestra is comprised of active duty and retired musicians from the armed services. "Most are former Falconnaires," Combs says, referring to the Air Force Academy Band.

So far, the band hasn't booked any gigs, but is working with an agent, Combs reports. "All I have to do is get approval through the national [WWP] office in Jacksonville, Florida, then the events office in Jacksonville, Florida, will let this office know that we’re going to be doing it."

He continues,"They send out emails of our presentation to all their alumni, people who give to the warriors every month."

Combs hopes the band can arrange for a concert in Colorado Springs, but he's also looking to book a tour in Texas on behalf of WWP.

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