Military

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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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wounded Warrior Program criticized

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 12:11 PM

We snapped a picture of this business card, because we wanted to show the logo for WWP. But since WWP has been touchy about use of the logo, we figured this might be the better avenue.
  • We snapped a picture of this business card, because we wanted to show the logo for WWP. But since WWP has been touchy about use of the logo, we figured this might be the better avenue.

UPDATE:

We just heard back from Rob Louis, public relations specialist with Wounded Warrior Project headquarters in a statement labeled, "WWP response to false news reports." Note that he doesn't say what exactly was false about those reports.
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is a leader in nonprofit transparency and the public reporting of the organization's independent financial audits. We are an open book. We owe that to those who support us and to those we serve - wounded warriors.

The chair of Wounded Warrior Project's Audit Committee, Richard M. Jones, a prominent tax attorney and certified public accountant, is the Executive Vice President, General Tax Counsel, and Chief Veteran Officer at CBS Corporation. Mr. Jones stands by our financial statements, our reporting methods, our public filings, and our independent audits.

CBS News did not reach out to Mr. Jones prior to airing a story with false information about our finances.

Wounded Warrior Project provides more than 20 needs-specific, free programs and services to more than 83,000 wounded veterans, who we call Alumni, and more than 15,000 family support members. We are constantly expanding our services to better support warriors. We just launched the Warrior Care NetworkT to help provide world-class mental health care for wounded veterans. Warrior Care Network represents a $100 million investment to ensure warriors struggling with the hidden wounds of war get the help they need. We have already committed $110 million to our long-term support initiatives - the Independence Program and Long-Term Support Trust - two programs that directly help the most severely injured veterans.

To be clear, Wounded Warrior Project is trusted by nearly 100,000 veterans, their caregivers, and families, to provide them with critical care programs and services every day. Alumni regularly praise our organization for making a life-altering impact. The demand for our services continues to grow as evidenced by the more than 1,200 new registrations we receive from the wounded each month. And, we are proud to welcome so many of our Alumni as WWP staff. Their belief in - and passion for - who we are, what we do, and why it matters, is evidenced in their very lives.

Many people like to talk about the need to support wounded warriors - Wounded Warrior Project is actually doing it - every day and in record numbers.

As for the Daily Beast, I am not familiar with any new reporting from them. 
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

UPDATE:

Dave Philipps, a former Gazette reporter now working for The New York Times, filed this story on the WWP controversy:

——————-ORIGINAL POST 12;11 P.M. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 27, 2016—————————————————-

A year or more ago, Leslie Coleman, PR specialists with the Wounded Warrior Project in Colorado Springs, called asking for a "get acquainted" meeting. Sure, we said.

Today, we can't reach her. The office phone rings and rings before going to a message saying the number has no voice mail set up. The mobile phone number rings to someone else entirely, so that number apparently has been reassigned. The office is located in a swank building at 1 S. Nevada Ave. and is staffed by 10 to 12 people, according to receptionist.

There's no PR person locally, the receptionist said, and after we asked her three times if she'd attended a WWP party at The Broadmoor, she finally said, "It wasn't a party" but rather "some of it" was a team-building exercise that she said was "a lot of work."

Hmmmm.

CBS News reports that the WWP parent organization raised more than $300 million last year and spent freely on parties and "team building" for staff, which included that Broadmoor resort event.

According to CBS News:
Former employees say spending has skyrocketed since Steven Nardizzi took over as CEO in 2009. Many point to the 2014 annual meeting at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs as typical of his style.

"He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He's come in on a Segway, he's come in on a horse."

About 500 staff members attended the four-day conference in Colorado. The price tag? About $3 million.

"Donors don't want you to have a $2,500 bar tab. Donors don't want you to fly every staff member once a year to some five-star resort and whoop it up and call it team building," said Millette.
The story is accompanied by a photo of The Broadmoor.

Here's the board, according to the WWP local website: Anthony Odierno, Roger Campbell, Richard Jones, Guy McMichael III, Justine Constantine, Robert Nardelli.

The local receptionist referred us to the PR person for the parent organization, Joanne Fried. We've placed a call to her and if and when we hear back, we'll update.

The Daily Beast reports WWP intimidates other organizations who help soldiers.
Wounded Warrior USA, a small Colorado charity with a $15,000 operating budget, had a Wounded Warrior Project lawyer reach out to them to demand they change the free clip art they were using as a label on coffee packages they were using for fundraising. “They got really nasty with us,” said Wounded Warrior USA founder Dave Bryant.
According to the WWP tax report for the most recent year available, the only Colorado entity receiving money from the parent organization was the Vail Veterans Foundation, which received $100,000.

CEO Steven Nardizzi, the form shows, was paid an obscene $500,000 in salary and benefits, including an $88,000 bonus. He's founder, according to the WWP bio available for him, which also says,
For more than 10 years prior to joining WWP, Steve worked as an attorney representing disabled veterans for several veterans service organizations. He spent nine years with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA), taking on increasingly responsible roles. He eventually became director of EPVA’s benefits service department and subsequently served as associate executive director of member services.
Read the 990 tax form here:
WWP2014.pdf

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Prayer allowed at USAFA games

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2015 at 12:20 PM

The image of Falcon football players kneeling in prayer is apparently here to stay. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The image of Falcon football players kneeling in prayer is apparently here to stay.
The U.S. Air Force Academy has ruled football players' prayers in the end zone at games is allowed under its rule dictating religious practice and observance.

Much to the chagrin of Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who protested what he called the Tebow kneel, named for Tim Tebow, a former Denver Broncos player.

Here's the academy's ruling:
The United States Air Force Academy places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or to observe no religion at all. Recently the United States Air Force Academy received a complaint about its football players kneeling in prayer. An inquiry was initiated, which found the football player's actions to be consistent with Air Force Instruction 1-1 and its guidance on the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The United States Air Force Academy will continue to reaffirm to cadets that all Airmen are free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. The players may confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others.
So that means Falcon football players most likely will kneel in the end zone tomorrow when Air Force plays University of California Berkeley in Fort Worth in the Armed Forces Bowl, starting at noon mountain time on ESPN.

Weinstein called the academy's review of the issue "a pathetic sham and transparent farce of the highest order."

He continues via email:
Let us not forget that it was hardly a respected, deconflicted and disinterested third party entity or outside agency that inquired into MRFF’s charges against the Academy of unlawful, orchestrated, Christian-sectarian team praying by its football players. Indeed, having the Air Force Academy's very own Athletic Dept. essentially “investigate itself” in this sordid unconstitutional matter of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism and supremacy is about as "impartial and effective" as having Pol Pot “investigate" himself for his killing field crimes against humanity or having Bernie Madoff direct the “investigation” of his investment business for allegations of pyramid or Ponzi scheme illegalities.


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Weinstein explains why he defends Muslims

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 4:57 PM

Falcon football players pray before games. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Falcon football players pray before games.
Mikey Weinstein is a very unpopular person, especially among the hard-core fundamentalist Christians who believe in their heart of hearts that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

The Air Force Academy alum who started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about a decade ago takes abuse on a regular basis via email, phone calls, swastikas painted on his house and so on.

For a better understanding of his mission, take a moment to read this piece that appeared on this link with the headline, "This Republican Jew is fighting to defend American Muslims — here’s why."

We recently broke the story about the Air Force Academy football team kneeling in the end zone prior to games, praying even as they wore uniforms emblazoned with "Air Force." See our blog here. 

A spoof created by MRFF to drive home the point of whether it's appropriate to pray in public while representing the armed forces. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • A spoof created by MRFF to drive home the point of whether it's appropriate to pray in public while representing the armed forces.
Here's a message sent to Weinstein recently by former Academy chaplain Melinda Morton:
I think it is helpful to see USAFA end zone praying as yet another "territorial conquest" of the Christian Right. This stands in a long line of conservative Christian usurpation of government space via supposed voluntary demonstrations of Christian piety. See praying "at the flagpole" in public schools, student prayers at graduations, public address prayers prior to high school sporting events. All of these demonstrations have in common the use of students or other non- government, and non-official individuals which engage in supposed voluntary and/or spontaneous religious piety at government sponsored events or in government regulated space. These demonstrations assert the cultural appropriateness of attaching a Christian power discourse to governmental action. They promote, by repetitive association within official government settings, the idea that culturally the United States is a Christian Nation and that the power of the US government ought be (and is) deployed in support of Christian perspectives.

Of course, in the case of the USAFA football players, conservative Christians have moved on from using unofficial actors and instead have embraced the use of official government actors (cadet football players). In this way the former locker room banner assertion that "We are team Jesus..." is now paraded onto the field, performed before the pluralistic crowd and displayed on television.


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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

USAFA's 'Tebow' prayer stirs controversy

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 10:42 AM

This photo was taken at last year's Navy game and carried this cutline when released by the Pentagon: "U.S. Air Force Academy football players say a prayer prior to the start of the Air Force vs. Navy football game at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 4, 2014. Air Force won the game 30-21." - DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
  • Defense Department
  • This photo was taken at last year's Navy game and carried this cutline when released by the Pentagon: "U.S. Air Force Academy football players say a prayer prior to the start of the Air Force vs. Navy football game at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 4, 2014. Air Force won the game 30-21."

It's been more than a decade since Mikey Weinstein began calling out the Air Force Academy's apparent endorsement of Christianity, but still the military college doesn't seem to get it.

In one of the most public expressions of the academy's commitment to one and only one faith, the Falcon football team has taken to doing a "Tebow" kneel in the end zone before the kickoff. Tim Tebow formerly played with the Denver Broncos and always saw fit to kneel and pray so the world could witness his piety. He soon was cut from the Denver team because, well, he just wasn't very good.

Seems the Falcons, though, adopted this outward symbol of the academy's preferred religion and have been doing the Tebow kneel for several years, most recently last weekend during the New Mexico game, witnessed by Weinstein, who says 57 of the 60-member team did so. The Falcons lost the game.

Weinstein is understandably astonished this has been allowed to continue, especially considering the players are considered on duty for the military while in their football uniforms, and all home games are required formations for cadets. So we have the military representing to the world that Christianity is the nation's religion.

Here's what one retired Air Force general and academy grad had to say about the Tebow bow in an email to Weinstein:
As with most issues of civil liberty there is wide latitude for opinion ...

At question here is where to draw the line - is one player pointing upwards after scoring permissible? Tim Tebow performing much more symbolic gesture on the sideline? Two players kneeling together? 3? 4? The full team?

In my view it seems best to start from what is clearly should not be condoned and work down from there until the line between personal liberty and political correctness gets murky.

Not permissible is for a government organization to compel members to perform any religious activity - period - during the conduct of official business. The AFA team is conducting official business during football games and practice on and off the field.

If the coaching staff says there is no coercion to join prayer circles, I'd argue that if most players or even just key individuals call for a religious prayer, those choosing not to participate are by definition "not on the team." They are trained to be good teammates - that's a grading/loyalty criteria - so they will naturally feel compelled to join.

This leads to the second reason to discontinue the practice - it's not permissible for a coaching staff to allow sub-groups that can alienate some team members based on religious differences. Football coaches need to ban activity that might break down the cohesion of their team.

The third and last problem in my view is that public sporting events aren't confined to stadiums or the boundaries of the U.S. They are available globally. If our Islamic Extremist propaganda experts use a little imagination the images of cadets praying together on the football field can be equated to servicemen and women conducting a crusade on Middle Eastern battlefields. This plays easily into the hands of those trying to portray Muslims as victims of the West, and who make a case to justify defensive jihad.

Bottom line: Academy leaders and coaches should ensure religious observances in groups are kept off the field and out of the locker room.

Weinstein also received other commentary. Here's what an active duty Air Force general officer said:
Regardless of the constitutional “legalities” of essentially the entire USAFA football team praying so visibly en masse in public before the game, the optics of that striking visual “message”is just completely unacceptable for the rest of the nation and the world to see. The reasons are made clear below but the very real fear of our Islamic fundamentalist enemies capitalizing on the whole AF football team praying, in order to reinforce their jihadist narrative, is the most consideration important from my view.... The optics are not just bad but potentially deadly.
A senior Air Force officer had this to say to Weinstein:
 I'm a fervent fan of all AFA sports and, in the last 15 years at least, I've only seen this sort of thing occur with our football team. Other teams have huddles, and I'm not certain some of those huddles don't include prayers, but there's no obvious and outward sign to the ticketed or viewing public that it's a meeting centered on ONE religious viewpoint. It's obviously a christian prayer at the football games because ALL of the participants (and it seems like it's all of the team except for the obviously heathen kickers, punter, and long-snappers) are doing a full-fledged "Tebow" in the end-zone, simultaneously. That's NOT a coincidence and their intent is quite clear.
Lastly, this reportedly came to Weinstein from a football player:
I am a member of and play on the Air Force Falcons football team. We have a bad problem going on here now. And I have asked the MRFF to please help me and others on the team in a certain matter regarding public religious practices.

Please keep my name out of all of this because of what they could do to me for going to you.

The problem is specifically the kneeling down in public prayer by most of the members of our football team. Certainly the majority. This has been done prior to our games on the playing field right in front of everyone in attendance in the stadiums. And I and others ask for the MRFF to help us get it to stop.

The coaches and others are not officially or directly making us do it together. But some clearly favor it. That is for certain. It is certain cadets on the team who are viewed as leaders (and even some who are not but still have team influence) who are leading the public praying. If you don’t go along with it you are not going to be viewed as a good follower or teammate. I am not alone. There are enough of us who feel pressured to conform and this is wrong. I have not seen any of our opponents do what our so many players on the AFA team have been doing. I mean virtually the whole team kneeling down and praying on the field in front of the crowds. This is wrong for several reasons which I shouldn’t have to go into because it’s obvious.

Weinstein shared all of the above with the academy on Tuesday and requested that the practice of openly praying together be halted immediately, ahead of the Falcon game on Saturday in San Diego for the Mountain West Conference title.

And what did the academy say in response?

An email sent to Weinstein sent at 7:41 p.m. on Tuesday from Brian Hill, vice director of athletics:
Thank you for your 2 emails sent 1 Dec at 1608 and 1609 MST Mr. Weinstein.

I would like to refer you to the USAFA Inspector General, Col David Kuenzli at 719-333-3490. If you or any of your contacts choose to file a complaint or grievance it will be processed in accordance with Air Force standards, instructions and law.

Have a great evening.

GO FALCONS!
Weinstein points to a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said:
While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it.
Such as barring outward displays of a certain religious faith while in uniform and representing the U.S. government's lethal arm, the military.

There's also this court ruling that came in response to the question of whether a government school's allowing student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Weinstein's comment on the whole ordeal:
No one is a bigger fan of Air Force Academy football than I am. In fact, most of MRFF’s 143 USAFA cadets, faculty members and staff who have asked for MRFF’s help in this current unconstitutional outrage are huge fans of the team. This number includes Air Force football players who are currently ON that team as well as 11 other active duty and veteran USAF members who are not stationed at the Academy. However, ALL of MRFF’s 154 clients realize that it is far more important to be fervent “fans" of the United States Constitution. The Academy’s unfettered endorsement of mass pre-game, football team prayers, on the field of play, both at Falcon Stadium and in the football stadiums of its opponents, is clearly violative of Air Force regulations (specifically, AF Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12) and the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well as the No Religious Test mandate of Clause 3, Article VI of the Constitution. These cadet-led, cadet-initiated public prayer demonstrations run directly counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s specific prohibition of such activities as held in its seminal 2000 ruling of "Santa Fe Independant School District vs. Doe, 530 U.S. 290”. Additionally, as the football players and most Academy Air Force personnel are also active duty military members, as buttressed by the fact that all football games are absolutely mandatory military formations for both the football players and the Cadet Wing and many other Academy staff, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling significantly limiting the First Amendment rights of military members in the landmark 1974 case of “Parker vs. Levy, 417 U.S. 733” also fully applies here.

You know, the Air Force Academy has strict prohibitions against “PDA” or "public displays of affection" by its cadets, faculty and staff. You’re not even allowed to be caught holding hands in public with one’s girlfriend or boyfriend, significant other or spouse. Given its horrific record of unconstitutional, abhorrent church-state violations scandalously spanning multiple decades now, it’s quite obvious that USAFA has NO such prohibitions on “PDR” or “public displays of religiosity”.

Indeed, apparently the only allowed, or maybe I should say “encouraged” PDA is holding hands in public with Jesus."


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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

These schools are the best bet for vets

Posted By on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 12:44 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock

My husband's grandfather fought in World War II, where he helped free a concentration camp.

It was a defining moment for him, but painful enough that he didn't talk much about it until recently. Now, in his 90s, he's reconnected with some of his war buddies, written down memories from the war, and collected pictures from that time period to share with his family. It's amazing to listen to him talk about the war, and to learn how that experience shaped him into the person he became.

But David's life wasn't just that war. He was lucky enough to come home from those battles, to father four children with his wonderful wife, and to have a career as a school principal. On Veterans Day, we often think only of soldiers at war. But like David, most of them come home with their entire lives ahead of them.

So, what happens then? Well, certainly many vets want to further their education so they can enter a career of their choice, but vets have special needs and challenges. That's why the Military Times releases an annual list of the Top 175 colleges for veterans. This year's list doesn't put any Colorado school in the highest rank, but many of our state's colleges were good enough to make the list. 

In a Top 125 list of 4-year colleges (in which the University of Nebraska at Omaha took the No. 1 spot), Colorado State University (in Fort Collins) took No. 13, University of Colorado at Denver / Anschutz Medical Campus took No. 27, Metropolitan State University of Denver took No. 49, and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs took No. 90. In a Top 25 of Online and Nontraditional Schools, Colorado Technical University took No. 17. And, in a Top 25 of 2-year Schools, Pikes Peak Community College took No. 17. 

The Military Times says it uses a complex formula to rank the schools:

As always, we used a rigorous, more-than-120-question survey to evaluate schools. In addition, newly released public data allowed us to consider more information, from more sources, than ever before as part of the process.

We pulled data from the Veterans Affairs Department, Defense Department and three Education Department databases for information on everything from veteran-related policies to average salaries after graduation.
(To learn more about what makes a school succeed with veterans, read the entire Military Times article here.)

While it may not have been at the very top of the pack, UCCS was excited to place in the contest for the second year in a row. A press release noted, "UCCS has an estimated 2,000 students who are veterans, active duty or have ties to the military. The university is in the process of expanding office space dedicated to assisting veterans and has implemented numerous programs and training to help faculty assist veterans with their transition into the classroom."

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

MRFF sues the Air Force over records

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 3:59 PM

Enough is enough, says the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Today, the nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force and the Air Force Academy over failure to disclosure documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mikey Weinstein: Wants USAFA to cough up the records. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mikey Weinstein: Wants USAFA to cough up the records.
Specifically, in 2011 MRFF sought records of MRFF's founder, Mikey Weinstein, and his family members, including two sons who graduated from the academy as did their father, and his wife, as well as David Mullin, a longtime MRFF client and former professor of economics at the academy.

The records request came after sources told Weinstein the former dean of faculty, Brig. Gen. Dana Born, had ordered a COIN against MRFF and Weinstein, meaning counter insurgency. (Born is no longer at the academy.)

It's the latest volley in a long-standing acrimonious relationship between the academy and MRFF, which was founded because of the favoritism being shown fundamentalist Christian beliefs by faculty, staff and cadets. That favoritism is well documented in periodic "climate surveys" conducted by the academy. Former Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa acknowledged the problem and tried to tackle it before retiring in 2005. MRFF has seen some success since then, but continues to represent hundreds of "clients" at the academy and other bases in the area, not to mention thousands across the globe.

According to the lawsuit:
MRFF did not receive any response to the Request from USAFA within twenty (20) days
of its Request, as mandated by FOIA. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)(i).

MRFF did not receive any notice from USAFA of unusual circumstances requiring an
extension of the statutory deadline within twenty (20) days of its Request, as mandated by FOIA. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(b)(ii).

USAFA did not respond to MRFF’s August Request until March 2, 2012, approximately
seven months after the statutory deadline to respond.

On March 2, 2012, USAFA notified MRFF that it was working on the Request and would
produce responsive documents at the earliest possible date (“Notification”). The Notification is attached as Ex. 2 and is incorporated herein.

MRFF received a “first interim response” (“First Response”) from USAFA on May 17,
2012, which included 1,000 pages of documents responsive to only two of the eight categories included in MRFF’s Request.
Even the documents that were produced were "improperly redacted," the lawsuit alleges.

In February of this year, MRFF received another interim response, saying an additional 7,216 documents had been collected as possibly responsive, only 3,173 of which had been reviewed for release. But the documents were withheld, the academy said, because they contained "“personal information in other files that, if disclosed would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

That response went on to say the balance of the documents would be produced no later than June 30 and noted the MRFF request had been withdrawn.

Not true, the lawsuit states.

The academy later said it would produce more documents by Sept. 15, which it did not, the lawsuit says.

All that is a violation of FOIA and demonstrates "a pattern, practice, and/or policy to refuse to abide by the terms of FOIA and such a pattern, practice, and/or policy will cause continued injury to MRFF in connection with future FOIA requests," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks the following relief:

1. An order directing USAFA to release all records requested in MRFF’s FOIA Request;
2. An injunction against USAFA from relying on Exemption 6, as well as any other
FOIA exemption not previously relied upon in its withholding of documents;
3. An order stating that USAFA’s actions violate the terms of FOIA;
4. A finding that USAFA’s actions are arbitrary and capricious; and
5. An order directing USAFA to pay all costs and attorney fees associated with the filing
of this litigation.
The case was filed in federal court in Albuquerque where MRFF is based.

Here's the lawsuit:  MRFF.FOIALawsuit.pdf
Weinstein provided this statement:
My alma mater promotes and prides itself on instilling only the highest degree of honor, character, truth and integrity into the 4,000 cadets being educated at taxpayer expense to become officers in the United States Air Force. When the senior Air Force leaders at the Academy, starting with the Superintendent, Lt. General Michelle Johnson, who are charged with conducting that costly education, egregiously violate the basic rubrics of the very Federal law which exists to promote and provide open transparency into the sacred trust of their daily fiduciary dealings on behalf of the American people, it is a terribly tragic day indeed. When that violation of Federal law continues over many years, it becomes both scandalous and outrageous. What kind of hideous example is Lt. General Johnson and her staff providing to the Cadet Wing with such clearly illegal actions thwarting the intent and letter of the clear Federal law here?

Due to USAFA’s deliberate malfeasance transpiring over many years now, MRFF has been left with no other alternative but to force and compel USAFA to follow the law of the land in Federal Court.

And what has USAFA done here? The Academy is unlawfully refusing to release critical records on MRFF’s many clients, supporters and allies existing within its walls as well as any records on me and my own children who are recent graduates, as well as my wife. In this regard, let us not forget that the most recent prior Dean of the Faculty, Brigadier General Dana Born, made the waging of a counter-insurgency against MRFF a top written priority to one of her most senior Academy faculty subordinates. Further, one of MRFF’s most visible clients at USAFA, a former member of that same faculty, had his innocent service dog almost poisoned to death on the Academy’s premises. The Federal law requires the Academy to timely release all responsive documents on these and other germane matters to MRFF or, alternatively, to explain on the record the legal justification for not doing so. None of these legal requirements have been remotely satisfied.

Thus, MRFF is now at war with the Air Force Academy in Federal Court to force it to stop its scurrilous illegal actions and to follow the law.
We've asked the academy to comment on the lawsuit and will update if and when we hear back.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What's wrong with this picture?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2015 at 1:32 PM

This t-shirt was being sold at the BX at Fort Carson until yesterday. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • This t-shirt was being sold at the BX at Fort Carson until yesterday.

Is this sentiment Islamophobic enough for you?

Believe it or not, this t-shirt was available in the PX on Fort Carson until late yesterday or early today.

Only after Mikey Weinstein with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation got involved was it removed from a store. The photo was taken on Monday. Maybe this t-shirt was made by the same folks who champion Ben Carson for president. (Carson has taken heat for saying a muslim shouldn't be allowed to serve as president of the United States.) Carson and his supporters apparently think there should be a religious litmus test for those who hold public office, a direct contradiction of the U.S. Constitution.

In any event, MRFF, with more than 200 clients at Fort Carson, jumped on the issue and had to go up the chain of command to some human resources department before the PX would require it's removal, Weinstein says.

Weinstein, who's asking the Army Inspector General to investigate, issued this statement:
On behalf of its almost 43,000 armed forces active duty and veteran clients, which includes approximately 13.5% of all Muslim-Americans serving in the United States military, and its 224 clients stationed at Fort Carson, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) expresses unmitigated outrage that the Army leadership at Fort Carson permitted the selling of that virulently Islamophobic and disgusting T-Shirt at its official Post Exchange store. The juxtaposition of that shocking image and text message on that T-Shirt epitomizes the wretched plight of prejudice and bigotry which innocent Muslim-Americans all too often suffer whileso honorably serving in today’s service branches.

MRFF has provided substantial testimony to the United States Congress specifically on this sad matter on more than one occasion.
The fact that this matter happened at Fort Carson, a major military installation which has had so many of its soldiers killed and grievously wounded in the War on Terror, only miserably magnifies the malfeasance of permitting that “Shirt of Shame” to be sold at its Post Exchange.

MRFF demands that the Army Inspector General’s Office in Washington D.C. initiate an immediate and aggressive investigation of this sordid event and that all Fort Carson personnel who either directly or indirectly allowed this travesty to happen be appropriately and visibly punished.



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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

VA cemetery meeting is tonight

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 1:42 PM

VA has announced another step in the process of bringing a VA cemetery to southern Colorado, like the cemetery pictured here in Denver. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • VA has announced another step in the process of bringing a VA cemetery to southern Colorado, like the cemetery pictured here in Denver.
This is a last-minute notice, but be advised that the Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) about the planned VA cemetery in El Paso County.

(We just got notification of the meeting in today's regular mail.)

The meeting will be held at the Retired Enlisted Association, 834 Emory Circle.

The VA seeks input from the public for the draft Site-Specific Environmental Assessment for the cemetery "to evaluate the potential environmental consequences of construction and operation of the proposed new VA national cemetery in the Southern Colorado area."

We previously wrote about plans for the cemetery here and here.
 
After the environmental assessment is completed, it will be available for a 30-day public comment period, the VA says.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fort Carson update on chopper, PCMS

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2015 at 2:59 PM

The Army has been using the Pinon Canon Maneuver Site quite a bit this summer, and now will hold a prescribed burn there, Fort Carson announced today.
Fort Carson is staying busy cleaning up after a helicopter crash, training at the PCMS and conducting prescribed burns. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Fort Carson is staying busy cleaning up after a helicopter crash, training at the PCMS and conducting prescribed burns.
Before we get to that, here's an update on the Sept. 2 crash of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in Douglas County on U.S. Forest Service land. The crash injured four soldiers with the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, post officials say.

Their names haven't been released. Two soldiers were treated and released from a hospital on the same day as the crash. A third was released on Sept. 4, and a third remained hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries as of last week, the post reports.

Carson removed the aircraft on Sept. 15, as Forest Service officials observed to assure recovery efforts followed federal standards. "The aircraft was moved to Butts Army Airfield on Fort Carson where the Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama, continues the investigation into the cause of the Sept. 2 accident," the post tells us.

Use of PCMS:
In late May, about 3,000 soldiers and 1,100 Army vehicles with the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team started conducting drills at the 235,000-acre short grass prairie that comprises Pinon Canon Maneuver Site. The drills lasted several weeks.

That training and others from Aug. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30 of this year occupied the PCMS for 269 days, or 63 percent of the time. The training involved the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations forces.

The PCMS hosted multiple units from Sept. 8 to 30, and the Army recently announced that more units will train on the southeast Colorado acreage from Oct. 18 to 31.

From a news release:
Increased dust and noise levels from the training can be expected during this time period, due to live fire training and heavy vehicle traffic throughout the training area. Field training includes day and night live-fire exercises incorporating small arms weapons.

The purpose of the training is to prepare Soldiers and other military members for any possible mission should the unit be called to support any contingency around the globe. During the exercise, crews will engage simulated targets using different scenarios to build team cohesion and ensure they are proficient in their skills.

Fort Carson is committed to balancing our training mission with protecting and preserving PCMS' natural environment and historical properties. Environmental personnel are involved in all levels of planning for military training, construction and other activities that could affect the PCMS environment.
Prescribed burns:

Fort Carson announced today it will conduct prescribed burns in the installation training areas and at PCMS from Oct. 10 through December. More from a release:
The installation prescribed burn program is critical in reducing potential for wildland fires and will only be conducted depending on weather conditions. The prescribed burns will cover approximately 7,000 acres on Fort Carson and 11,000 acres at PCMS. The burns are conducted to facilitate military training with 21 areas which are carefully planned and executed to reduce heavy vegetation in training areas that could provide potential fuel to a wildland fire.

The prescribed burns are conducted in accordance with permits issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in coordination with El Paso and Las Animas counties. The installation also works with state and local air quality authorities on smoke management. Each burn is conducted with a focus on safety and the potential impact for off-site effects of smoke on public health and visibility. By combining favorable weather conditions with a variety of fire management techniques, Fort Carson officials work to keep smoke impact to a minimum.

Fort Carson continues to be supportive and understanding to the concerns of the surrounding community regarding air quality and the threat of wildland fires. The prescribed burn program continues the installation’s dedication to the preservation of the environment and wildland fire risk management in Colorado.

Concerned community members are encouraged to direct complaints to Fort Carson at (719) 526-9849. We take every complaint very seriously and strive to address concerns in a timely and thoughtful manner.



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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Living with the military

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 5:31 PM

A planning process for growth near three area military bases will look at development impacts on everything from water supply to wildfire risk to "electromagnetic spectrum." The cost? Nearly $1 million, with most of that money coming from the Pentagon, according to a regional planning agency news release.

Fort Carson is among three installations included in a study of how the city and county can develop without disrupting the military — and vice versa. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Fort Carson is among three installations included in a study of how the city and county can develop without disrupting the military — and vice versa.
The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments said today it's landed an $800,000 grant from the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment to manage a two-year land-use study involving local and state governments, as well as the three military installations. Another $100,000 will come from the council's 16 member governments.

The bases included in the study, which will be completed by three planners hired for the project, are the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base, the release states.

The goal is to produce a strategic plan "to preserve military readiness and defense capabilities while supporting community economic development and jointly beneficial adjacent land uses."

In other words, the plan will guide development so that it is "compatible" with military training, testing, and operational missions, while finding ways to reduce the military's impact on adjacent land.

“Our community has a history of working cooperatively with our military neighbors,” Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, who serves as the PPACG board chair, says in the release. “This study will enhance existing relationships and identify additional ways to improve our region’s economy and natural environment through military operations.”

According to the release, the study will cover:
Regional water supply
Regional stormwater management
Compatible alternative-energy development
Wildfire risk
Development near airfield operations
Regional airspace use
Competition for electromagnetic spectrum
GIS data
Formal policies and procedures for military participation and cross-jurisdictional coordination      in community development review and planning processes
An implementation strategy with specific actions and monitoring responsibilities identified by        year

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