Military

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Firefighters have "unacceptably" high levels of PFAS in blood, new report says

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 1:26 PM

A state law banning PFAS-based foam doesn't apply to the military. - U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • A state law banning PFAS-based foam doesn't apply to the military.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of toxic chemicals found in firefighting foam, have polluted water supplies near 206 military installations where the foam was used, according to a map created by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and researchers at Northeastern University.

Last year, a study showed that people who lived near one such site, Peterson Air Force Base, had abnormally high levels of PFAS — often called "forever chemicals" — in their blood years after water districts changed sources or filtration methods to make their water safe to drink.

Recent research now suggests PFAS also present a danger to firefighters.

According to a new scientific review by IPEN, a global nonprofit network of public interest groups, firefighters who've used PFAS-based foam have "unacceptably elevated blood levels" of two PFAS chemicals, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)  and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Frighteningly, it's not just veteran firefighters who have elevated blood levels of PFOS and PFHxS.

"Elevated blood levels are found not just in longserving personnel who may have been exposed to legacy PFOS-containing [aqueous film forming foams, or AFFFs], but also in much younger firefighters and recruits who have never used or been trained with these foams," the report says. That could be equipment and training areas contaminated long ago by the "forever chemicals."

Most research showing PFAS has contributed to negative health effects in humans has focused on perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA (linked to cancer) and PFOS (linked to thyroid hormone effects).

Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a lifetime health advisory, or LHA, for PFOA and PFOS only, and has taken preliminary steps toward setting a legally enforceable maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for these two chemicals.

But the PFAS group contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. For many of these chemicals, little research has been done into the health effects they pose and their environmental pervasiveness.

IPEN's review goes so far as to say that PFHxS, a newer chemical found in PFAS-based firefighting foam, "is more bio-accumulative and hazardous in humans than PFOS.”

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines found last year that El Paso County residents who lived near Peterson Air Force Base for at least three years before 2015 (and were therefore exposed to contamination from firefighting foam discharges) had blood levels of PFHxS 10 times higher than the general U.S. population. They showed levels of PFOS that were twice as high as normal.

IPEN's report explains that when manufacturing company 3M phased out use of PFOS-based products, including firefighting foam and ScotchGard fabric and leather treatments, the PFAS chemicals perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) and PFHxS replaced legacy PFOS in products such as stain repellents, surfactants and firefighting foams.

The “Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018,” signed into law last year by President Donald Trump, "establishes and maintains a voluntary registry of firefighters to collect data on cancer incidence," the report notes. This registry could potentially aid research into the health effects of long-term PFAS exposure.

“Our firefighters and first responders are already asked to put themselves in harm’s way virtually every day,” Environmental Working Group Senior Scientist David Andrews said in response to the IPEN review. “Forcing them to use firefighting foams containing dangerous chemicals when there are alternatives that work puts their long-term health at unacceptable risk.”

Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act — a bill to fund the military through 2020 — end the use of PFAS-based foams by 2023, an EWG statement notes. Manufacturers have developed some types of foams that don't contain PFAS that would presumably replace these foams.

But the military has so far resisted to switching to such "non-fluorinated" foam formulas. While the Department of Defense has completely phased out its original foam formula and replaced it with a new, supposedly safer formula using different PFAS. The Air Force's website explains that, so far, no non-fluorinated foam formula meets "performance criteria necessary to safeguard our Airmen from real time fire emergency responses."

PFAS-containing foams "are the most effective foams currently available to fight flammable liquid fires in military, industrial, aviation and municipal arenas," it continues. Chemical manufacturers also argue that the newer versions shouldn't be banned outright.

While Colorado lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year banning all PFAS-based foams (as have lawmakers in a few other states), the state bans don't apply to the U.S. military or the Federal Aviation Administration, which requires the foam's use at airports.
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Pentagon Inspector General: AFA cadets weren't ousted for reporting sexual assault

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 1:20 PM

COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
Air Force Academy officials didn't retaliate against cadets who were victims of sexual assault by dis-enrolling them from the academy for reporting them, according to the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office (DODIG).

The DODIG released a report of its investigation on Oct. 2, disputing what several cadets and former cadets told the Independent in mid-2017. That is, the cadets said when they reported they'd been sexually assaulted, Academy officials labeled them with a mental disorder and hastened to shove them out the door, and even make them pay for their Academy education.

While the DODIG dismissed that allegation as untrue, it found the Academy failed to report many sexual assaults to Congress through channels as required, which in effect vindicates former sexual assault response coordinator Teresa Beasley who, along with several others, were ousted in 2017 and blamed for upheaval in the Academy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office.

The DODIG's finding:
Furthermore, we determined that 11 cadet-victim reports of sexual assaults that were made to the USAFA Family Advocacy Program (FAP) were not reported to Congress as required by Public Law 109-364. In addition, we identified 24 reports of sexual assaults from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2017, that were not reported to Congress, although we could not determine, because of insufficient documentation by the Air Force Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database Program Administrator, whether they were required to be reported.
Beasley told the Indy in 2017 that in the summer of 2015 she discovered dozens of sexual assault reports had been removed from the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database (DSAID) for the 2014-15 school year by officials at the Air Force. DSAID is the basis for reports sent to Congress annually about assaults at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and USAFA.

Beasley now says the DODIG report proves she was right.

"Basically it confirms that 35 sexual assault reports were removed from the data base; that I did do my job taking care of victims, that I retired/was not fired, and much more," she says in an email.

David Mullin, former Academy economics professor who's conducted in-depth research of sexual assaults at the Academy, says via email that problems with USAFA's failure to report all sexual assaults through proper channels has made its sexual assault data "unreliable and very significantly understated."

"There were several lapses in the internal control of sexual assault reports at USAFA. Some original reporting forms have allegedly been destroyed without proper authorization," he writes. "Contrary to Department of Defense regulations, modifications to the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database have allegedly underreported sexual assaults at USAFA. Consequently the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies for Academic Program Year 2017-2018 retroactively lowered sexual assault reports for several prior years."
Adam DeRito in 2017 when he stopped at the Academy's overlook point. - CRAIG LEMLEY
  • Craig Lemley
  • Adam DeRito in 2017 when he stopped at the Academy's overlook point.
Former cadet Adam DeRito, who was ousted from the academy on the eve of his graduation after reporting he was sexually assaulted, later discovered his Academy medical records contained multiple mental disorders listed by a doctor he'd never seen, at a base he'd never been to, leading his attorney to accuse the Academy of "aggressive falsification of medical records." DeRito has since filed a lawsuit.

Asked about the DODIG's report, DeRito sent us this statement:
The most recent report issued by the Department of Defense Inspector General is a slap in the face to all victims of sexual assault at the United States Air Force Academy, especially to myself, in the current on-going Federal lawsuit of DeRito vs. USAFA. The report is disingenuous in its scope, and conveniently leaves out the facts of actual retaliation. In recent communication with the Air Force Records Review Panel, even they made a recommendation that my medical records from the Air Force Academy need to be changed. This proves that retaliation occurred. The evidence shows that Capt. Kristen Henley Price [who inserted mental diagnoses in his files] falsified my medical records as a Cadet, and as a victim of sexual assault, during my tenure as a Cadet and undercover informant for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. In the eyes of the American judicial system, this is a felony. Likewise, this report needs to be rescinded, corrected, and the entirety of the facts must be reported. Likewise, Capt Kristen Henley Price, Lt Gen Michael Gould [former Academy superintendent], and all officers involved with these previous cases, as well as my own case, must be held accountable. This report does not provide justice to the victims of sexual assault and retaliation from the USAF Academy, and the Department of Defense Inspector General must take these cases seriously to improve the readiness, effectiveness, and integrity of our leadership within the U.S. military.
We've asked the Academy for a comment and will update if we hear something.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

BLM seeks public comment on helicopter training over federal lands

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 12:06 PM

Fort Carson nears the end of the permitting process to use federal lands for helicopter training. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Fort Carson nears the end of the permitting process to use federal lands for helicopter training.
A proposal to fly helicopters for Army training over wildlands managed by the federal  government, landing periodically, has been deemed to have "no significant impact" on 43 sites in Teller, Fremont and Park counties, the Bureau of Land Management has determined.

The Environmental Assessment (EA) is available for public comment here.

Fort Carson plans to conduct High Altitude Mountain Environment Training (HAMET) on the property under a plan of development (POD). "The use of public land in Fremont, Park, and Teller Counties is considered necessary by Fort Carson to ensure the HAMET program exposes pilots to a wide variety of situations and challenges," the assessment states.

The Mountain Post proposes using landing zones that vary in elevation from 6,288 to 10,646 feet for 6,200 landings a year both night and day, seven days a week for 10 years.

Says military watchdog Bill Sulzman of Colorado Springs via email, "They keep pushing the envelope. By calling it temporary they disguise the precedent of establishing expanded boundaries for Fort Carson operations. They will come back to this over and over again. This is not a one off."

Carson has promised not to disturb wildlife, apparently. The EA states, "Since there is mitigation in all of the alternatives that states helicopters will not land if humans, wildlife, or livestock are
present on the landing zone, no issues have arisen in regards to environmental justice populations."

Send comments via the BLM's ePlanning site here, or mail to HAMET Public Comment, 3028 E. Main St., Cañon City, CO 81212, by Sept. 11.

HAMET has proven controversial in the past. The Independent has written about here, and here also. A public meeting about HAMET conducted in 2014 drew a crowed.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

NORAD: Melting Arctic increases enemy threat potential

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 1:00 AM

NORAD's base at Cheyenne Mountain. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • NORAD's base at Cheyenne Mountain.

America and Canada may be threatened by cruise missile attacks due to the Russian Navy deploying warships on Arctic sea lanes, NORAD and Northern Command commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said, according to the The Maritime Executive.

O’Shaughnessy’s remarks came in a July 23 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He commands the bi-national North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and NorthCom, based at Peterson Air Force Base.

As Arctic ice recedes, maritime actors will find new avenues of approach to North America, he said.

Navigating the Arctic requires specialized training and equipment, and Russia is designing difficult-to-defeat hypersonic cruise missiles for its fleets, The Executive reported. “When I look at the cruise missile threat,” O’Shaughnessy said, “I see that as one of the biggest threats we face.”

National Geographic reported in May, “[T]he Arctic is now warming faster than any place on earth, and its protective barrier of sea ice — which once kept commercial and military ambition in check — is melting away.”
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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Public comment period opens for U.S. Space Command alternatives

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 at 12:41 PM

Airmen from the 131st Logistics Readiness Squadron, a Missouri Air National Guard unit from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, watch a C-17 Globemaster III from Travis AFB, California, be loaded with cargo June 6, 2019 on Peterson AFB, Colorado. The C-17 came to pick up hydraulic repair kits from Rocky Mountain Hydraulics, a U.S. Navy vessel repair contractor. - U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY AIRMAN 1ST CLASS ANDREW J. BERTAIN
  • U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew J. Bertain
  • Airmen from the 131st Logistics Readiness Squadron, a Missouri Air National Guard unit from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, watch a C-17 Globemaster III from Travis AFB, California, be loaded with cargo June 6, 2019 on Peterson AFB, Colorado. The C-17 came to pick up hydraulic repair kits from Rocky Mountain Hydraulics, a U.S. Navy vessel repair contractor.

Three Colorado bases competing for U.S. Space Command have space for new facilities, according to an environmental assessment offered for comment on July 24.

Peterson Air Force Base and Schriever Air Force Base, both in El Paso County, and Buckley Air Force Base in the Denver area, are among those under consideration for command.

The other bases contending for the command include Vandenberg Air Force Base in California or Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

Here are findings from the assessment:

Peterson AFB:
For interim quarters, the EA says Peterson offers undeveloped land in the base's command complex for modular buildings, along with leased off-base office space. Parking space would be made available on adjacent vacant land leased from Colorado Springs Airport.

The permanent alternative cites existing facilities with parking provided in two garages that would be built on existing paved parking lots.

Schriever AFB:
For interim quarters, the EA notes undeveloped prairies that could be the site for modular buildings, coupled with off-base leased space.

Permanent facilities could be construction on the base or near it.

Buckley AFB:
Interim facilities would consist of modular buildings, while permanent quarters could be built on vacant land on the base's northeast side or vacant structures associated with a former skeet range, an on-base thrift store or other available space.

The Defense Department is searching for space for 1,870 personnel "in a typical headquarters setting" of 498,000 square feet of office/administrative space, and 502,000 square feet for vehicle parking, totaling 1 million square feet, or approximately 23 acres.

The EA concluded that "no significant impact" would result at any of the candidate installations or site alternatives in the areas of transportation; hazardous materials and waste; air quality; biological resources; cultural resources; geology and paleontological resources, and water resources.

A 30-day public comment period opened July 24. Click on the link above to view the EA. Printed copies are available at Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave., and Sand Creek Branch Library, 1821 S. Academy Blvd.

Email comments, which must be contained in the body of the email and not in attachments, can be sent to russell.perry.1@us.af.mil.

Or mail comments to Russell Perry, HQ AFSPC/A4C, 150 Vanderberg St. Suite 1105, Peterson AFB, Colorado, 80914-4230.

Deadline is Aug. 23.
  
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Polis and local officials: Build more roads for military bases

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 4:41 PM

Fort Carson's access via public roads is a priority for state and local officials, as are other roads serving military installations. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Fort Carson's access via public roads is a priority for state and local officials, as are other roads serving military installations.
Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a new transportation plan on July 17 that would pump $128 million dollars into highways and bridges in the Colorado Springs area to support military installations.

At a meeting at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, Polis said the state has applied for a $25 million BUILD grant (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) to help fund four projects identified in El Paso County. The state and "local partners"  have committed to fund the balance, the Colorado Department of Transportation said in a release.

The four projects:

• State Highway 94: Safety improvements on Highway 94 east of the city and construction of a westbound passing lane about a mile long starting five miles east of the U.S. 24 junction. ($7.5 million) Schriever Air Force Base is reached via Highway 94.

• South Academy Boulevard:
Widening approximately 1 mile of South Academy between Interstate 25 and Bradley Road from two to three lanes to ease congestion. ($23 million)

• I-25: Safety and infrastructure improvements between the South Academy and Santa Fe Avenue (U.S. 85 — Fountain) interchanges, about 7.5 miles, including median barriers, inside and outside shoulders widened to 12 feet, replacement of two bridges crossing South Academy, rehabilitation of six additional bridges and installation of "intelligent transportation system components." ($84.2 million)

• Charter Oak Ranch Road: Improvements to the Santa Fe Avenue intersection and reconstruction of Charter Oak Ranch Road between Santa Fe Avenue and Fort Carson’s Gate 19. ($12.6 million).

“The vitality of the Pikes Peak Region is key to the state’s continued success,” Polis said in a news release. “With military personnel we host and support, along with 100,000 veterans living in El Paso County, it’s imperative that we hear their perspective and, more importantly, that we take real steps, such as applying for the BUILD Grant, to help ensure that our military installations can be safely and predictably accessed, even with the challenges of our growing population.”

CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in the release: “Our national highway system, since its inception, was envisioned as a network intended to support national defense, and in that spirit, it is especially important that we continue to prioritize access to Colorado's military installations."

It wasn't outlined where the rest of the money will come from beyond the BUILD grant, if the state lands it.
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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fort Carson to Muslim soldier: Seek the report through the Freedom of Information Act

Posted By on Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 3:54 PM

Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint that led to a report, but she must seek it through the Freedom of Information Act, the Army says. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint that led to a report, but she must seek it through the Freedom of Information Act, the Army says.
A Fort Carson soldier who filed a discrimination complaint about being ordered to remove her hijab in public must file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the report from an investigation about the incident.

The post issued the report, which found no wrongdoing on the part of the Army, to the Gazette recently in response to the newspaper's FOIA request, but didn't give a copy to the soldier who was the subject of the investigation, Cesilia Valdovinos. Read about the controversy here.

Asked about that, a Carson spokesperson says via email, "After the investigation is completed the Soldier would need to request a copy through the FOIA process."

This runs contrary to what Valdovinos says she was told by the post's officials. Via email, Valdovinos tells the Independent that when she "repeatedly" requested a copy, Army officials told her it had been "misplaced" and "that it was getting sent to different sections and people in the brigade who 'may' have a copy but no one ever had one."

"No one EVER informed me about having to first file a request through FOIA," she writes. "None of this requirement about having to file a FOIA was ever brought to my attention at ANY time.”

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who has intervened in the Valdovinos case, issued this statement:
Fort Carson’s deliberate failure to enable our MRFF client, Spc. Valdovinos, to receive a copy of the EEO investigation SHE initiated is not merely mild misfeasance and happenstance. It is malignant malfeasance and it is blatantly illegal. It is another undeniable example of the anti-Muslim bias, bullying, harassment, oppression, bigotry and prejudice she has been forced to endure at the hands of her Army leadership at Fort Carson. MRFF looks forward to aiding Spc. Valdovinos in her federal civil rights litigation to bring her, and all others similarly situated, justice for this illicit, targeted, retaliatory punishment.

Fort Carson has previously asserted that Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation, which Valdovinos had done in mid-2018, doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn.

Col. David Zinn, who then served at Carson, also issued a statement saying, "I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”

Valdovinos vows she'll file a federal lawsuit alleging violation of her constitutional rights.
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Monday, June 17, 2019

Air Force diverted $66 million from other projects for PFAS cleanup

Posted By on Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 6:06 PM

Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield. - U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • U.S. Air Force/Eddie Green
  • Military firefighting foam once used at Peterson Air Force Base contaminated the drinking water in Fountain and Security-Widefield.
In March, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked the Department of Defense for details about funding diverted from other projects to pay for cleanup and testing for PFAS, a toxic group of man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam.

On June 5, the DoD responded to Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware by acknowledging that the Air Force had diverted $66.6 million from other projects to pay for PFAS-related efforts. The Army and Navy did not have to divert any funding, according to the DoD's letter.

Many of the projects put on hold involved cleaning up other pollution at former Air Force sites.

They included a $37 million landfill cap repair and soil remediation project at Galena Air Force Station in Alaska, a $8.6 million radiological cleanup at McClellan Air Force Base in California, and $4.5 million groundwater bioremediation and landfill cap repair at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan.

The funding diverted from those and other projects paid for PFAS testing at 16 former Air Force installations, along with groundwater and drinking water treatment for communities around Wurtsmith, Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire and March Air Reserve Base in California.

“Congress needs to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources needed to fully address its millions of dollars—perhaps billions of dollars—in liabilities related to the DOD-related PFAS contamination in our communities," Sen. Carper said in a statement following the announcement. "Otherwise, the DOD will just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul by putting important projects on standby and stretching budgets to clean up PFAS contamination."
Lawmakers are looking to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which funds the Department of Defense, to procure more funding for PFAS testing and cleanup.

The bill already requires the DoD to phase out all firefighting foam that contains PFAS by 2023. While military installations including Peterson Air Force Base have switched to a version thought to be safer, and have stopped using the foam for training purposes, the military continues to use foam with "short-chain" PFAS chemicals, thought to be safer for public health and the environment.

On June 13, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would reimburse water districts (including those in Security-Widefield and Fountain) for treating and mitigating PFAS in drinking water.

“In the wake of contamination, local water districts around Peterson Air Force Base took the initiative and covered the cleanup costs to ensure the safety of drinking water for residents,” Bennet said in a statement. “This amendment will ensure these districts receive the full reimbursement they deserve.”

A separate amendment filed by a bipartisan group of senators would expand monitoring and testing of PFAS, and set a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a drinking water standard for PFOA and PFAS, two types of PFAS chemicals once found in firefighting foam.
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Weinstein: Army gave hijab report to news, not to alleged victim

Posted By on Mon, Jun 17, 2019 at 6:03 PM

Cesilia Valdovinos: The Army says she wasn't discriminated against. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Cesilia Valdovinos: The Army says she wasn't discriminated against.

Fort Carson's investigation of a religious discrimination complaint regarding a Muslim soldier who was ordered to remove her hijab in public has cleared Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya, the Gazette reported.

But an organization representing the soldier, Cesilia Valdovinos, says not only is the investigation's conclusion wrong, but the Army provided a copy of the full report to the Gazette  and not to Valdovinos.

According to the Gazette, the report said anti-Muslim feelings linger in the ranks nearly two decades after the United States invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by Islamic radicals.

Then commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Col. David Zinn ordered Capt. Jeremey Kinder to investigate. He delivered a 67-page report, which was given to the Gazette.  Mikey Weinstein says the report wasn't given to Valdovinos.

Weinstein runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has stepped in to help Valdovinos file a lawsuit in federal court alleging religious discrimination and civil rights violations.

The March 6 incident at issue took place at Fort Carson during a class on suicide prevention. Montoya demanded that Valdovinos remove her hijab so she could inspect whether her hair, which should be worn in a bun beneath the scarf, met regulations. Montoya determined that it did not, and ordered her to comply.

Valdovinos told the Independent at that time she felt defiled, because her religion allows only her husband to see her hair, and the incident occurred without privacy. (She had obtained a religious accommodation letter from Zinn in June 2018.) Moreover, Valdovinos says Montoya grabbed her by the arm. Carson officials disputed that, but an eyewitness told the Indy that Valdovinos, indeed, was grabbed.

In a previous statement about the incident, the Mountain Post said Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn. Fort Carson officials say that Valdovinos was clearly out of compliance on the day in question; that she wasn’t grabbed, but simply taken aside; and that she was in the presence of two female superiors when she removed the head covering.

A few weeks after Valdovinos filed her complaint, she was demoted for alleged inappropriate contact with a soldier while in Afghanistan in 2018, which Fort Carson officials say is unrelated to her recent hijab controversy. Valdovinos, formerly a sergeant, suffered a reduction in rank and a pay cut. She alleged the action stemmed from the hijab incident and not the overseas encounter, about which she maintained her innocence.

The investigation of the hijab issue led Kinder to conclude, according to the Gazette, "I find that better communication with all parties involved would have de-escalated the situation and recommend that future inspections of a personal nature be conducted in complete privacy.”
Weinstein tells the Indy via email that MRFF is "quite literally outraged" to learn the Army gave a report to the daily newspaper while not providing one to Valdovinos herself.

"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is hard at work preparing to assist our client to aggressively sue the United States Army in Federal District Court for the blatant violations of her civil rights by Fort Carson leadership," Weinstein says.

He says Carson's failure to provide the complainant who triggered the investigation with a copy of the report "only further buttresses our position that the Fort Carson leadership has engaged in a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of particularly hideous anti-Muslim bigotry, prejudice, harassment and bullying."

The Indy asked Fort Carson for the report but hasn't heard back. We also asked why Valdovinos allegedly didn't get a copy of the report. We'll circle back when and if we hear anything.
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Monday, May 6, 2019

President Trump to attend Air Force Academy graduation: tickets available

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2019 at 4:46 PM

Presdent Donald Trump and wife, Melania, walk along the West Wing Collande on May 2. - OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY TIA DUFOUR
  • Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour
  • Presdent Donald Trump and wife, Melania, walk along the West Wing Collande on May 2.


Eager to see President Trump's address to the Air Force Academy's 2019 graduating class on May 30?

Approximately 600 free tickets for the event are available starting May 9 at:

• The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC office,102 S. Tejon St., # 430, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.
• The Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce, EDC and Visitor Center, 166 Second St., Monument, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

A maximum of four tickets will be available available to each person on a first-come, first-served basis, the Academy announced on May 6. Tickets cannot be mailed and there is no will-call at the stadium. Lost tickets cannot be replaced.

Falcon Stadium gates will open at 7:30 a.m. Due to increased security, early arrival is highly suggested for graduation ceremony attendees, the Academy said. The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. 
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Thursday, April 25, 2019

President Trump to speak at AFA graduation

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 10:44 AM

President Trump will make his first graduation speech at the Air Force Academy in May. - COURTESY WHITE HOUSE
  • Courtesy White House
  • President Trump will make his first graduation speech at the Air Force Academy in May.
President Donald Trump will speak during the 2019 graduation at the Air Force Academy on May 30, KOAA News is reporting.

It will be Trump's first appearance at the Academy's graduation,  which normally rotates speakers among the president, vice president, Air Force secretary and Defense Department secretary.

The last time a president spoke was in 2016 when President Barack Obama was the speaker.

Trump's visit could be seen as a friendly place for the president, who's pushed for a Space Force, which Colorado Springs hopes to land the headquarters for. El Paso County also is known for its Republican dominance in politics.

The Academy confirmed in a news release that Trump will give the graduation address.
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Friday, April 19, 2019

Airman at local Air Force Base is accused of ties to white nationalist groups

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 12:22 PM

[image-2]
Schriever Air Force Base is investigating allegations that a master sergeant serving there is part of a white supremacist group, as first reported by The Denver Post.

Master Sgt. Cory Reeves is accused of being affiliated with Identity Evropa, which has rebranded as the American Identity Movement. The former pasted its symbols around Colorado Springs and on the Independent's newspaper boxes in January.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Identity Evropa as a hate group and outlines the rebranding to the new name here.

The Indy unsuccessfully tried to reach Reeves for comment, both through Schriever and by knocking on the door of a home listed under his name by the El Paso County Assessor's Office. The Post was able to reach Reeves and he declined to comment. He then hung up when asked if he was a member of Identity Evropa.
Unicorn Riot notes on DiscordLeaks that it does not endorse any material in the chats and that its publication "is part of an effort to document violent far-right political movements." The material and photos were compiled by "A team of anonymous developers ...  with help from Unicorn Riot collective members." "Discord" and the "Discord app" are trademarks of Discord, Inc. - FROM THE DISCORDLEAKS WEBSITE
  • From the DiscordLeaks website
  • Unicorn Riot notes on DiscordLeaks that it does not endorse any material in the chats and that its publication "is part of an effort to document violent far-right political movements." The material and photos were compiled by "A team of anonymous developers ... with help from Unicorn Riot collective members." "Discord" and the "Discord app" are trademarks of Discord, Inc.
Evidence of Reeves' involvement is found on a website created by the Colorado Springs Anti-fascists group.

Asked about the accusations, Cheri Dragos-Pritchard, chief of Media Operations and Community Engagement for the 50th Space Wing Public Affairs Office at Schriever, issued this statement:
The Air Force is aware of this allegation and Air Force officials are looking into this information at this time. No further information or details of this allegation can be released until the facts involving this allegation are fully reviewed. Racism, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination have no place in the Air Force. We are committed to maintaining a culture where all Airmen feel welcome and can thrive.
Dragos-Pritchard referred the media to the Pentagon for more information. The Indy was unable to reach anyone to address the Reeves case.

The goal of the Antifa group is to identify white supremacists and extremists and expose them, a process called "doxxing," one member of the group tells the Independent. Exposing extremists, the member says, can destroy careers and ruin friendships and family relationships, which is the point.

"If you let Identity Evropa control the narrative," the source says, "they're going to organize, recruit and hold big rallies. They're going to eventually gain office and use their power in office to target minorities, the LGBT community, the Jewish community."

The Antifa member isn't being identified due to that person's fear that their family members could be physically harmed. (See our anonymity policy below.)
From the Antifa website:
As a Master Sergeant, Cory Reeves is a bit far into his military career. As a senior non-commissioned officer, he should know better than to organize with these extremist groups. He bet his retirement, his GI Bill benefits, his security clearance (and with it, post-military employment) on the hope that he would never be identified. He was incredibly careful, but in the end he was caught. Antifascists will continue to disrupt racist and fascist organizing.
The military bars its members from extremist activities. Specifically, an Air Force instruction states, "Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that advocate or espouse supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes, including those that advance, encourage, or advocate illegal causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, or ethnic group; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in the effort to deprive individuals of their civil rights."

Violation of that instruction could lead to disciplinary action or charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Reeves, the website says, allegedly used the username “Argument of Perigee” — a term used to describe the angle within a satellite's orbit plane — on the Identity Evropa Discord server, recently leaked by a nonprofit called Unicorn Riot.

The use of the name can be found here.

The website says Reeves used his real name in a podcast with Patrick Casey, the Evropa leader who later rebranded the group as American Identity Movement. Reeves, the website claims, appeared in Evropa activities in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Florida, New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Groups that seek to preserve "white rights" have gained traction in recent years and grabbed headlines, such as the August 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists held a rally and clashed with counter-protesters, triggering violence that left one dead and 30 injured. Identity Evropa participated in that rally.

One expert, Carter Smith, told the Post the military can be a place of recruitment for white supremacists and far-right nationalist groups, due to training in communications and firearms and the fact that many soldiers and airmen are young and still forming opinions and beliefs. Smith is a former Army criminal investigator who's a professor at Middle Tennessee State University who studies gangs and criminal activity in the military.

Earlier this year, a Coast Guard lieutenant who's a self-described white nationalist was arrested  in connection with a plot to kill journalists and Democratic politicians. He's pleaded not guilty, according to news reports.

Former Gazette reporter Dave Philipps, who now works for The New York Times, wrote about extremists in the military in February. The story notes that the Pentagon's "posture has generally been that the number of troops involved in extremist activity is tiny, that there are strict regulations against discrimination and extremist activity, and that military commanders are empowered to discipline and discharge troops who break them."

The Indy's policy on granting anonymity is as follows:

The Independent may choose to grant anonymity:
• to protect sources or their families' safety, freedom, livelihood or major assets (such as a lease);
• to protect the privacy of victims of certain crimes (such as sexual assault);
• the guard the privacy of vulnerable individuals such as children;
• because vital information provided by an anonymous source cannot be obtained any other way.
In rare cases, editorial leadership may grant anonymity under other circumstances, however, the story will always explain why a source was not named.
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Air Force Academy hosts talk of Shroud of Turin's alleged authenticity

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 3:52 PM

A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
  • A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
UPDATE:
We received this statement from the Air Force Academy via email:
As an institution of higher learning, the United States Air Force Academy engages with a diverse set of topics and viewpoints. This talk was advertised and held under the same conditions as all other talks — without any endorsement or requirement of attendance. We are always vigilant of religious respect and freedom, and will continue to review our processes to ensure that all talks and events comply with these tenets.

————-ORIGINAL POST 3:52 P.M. THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019————————-

The Air Force Academy allowed former physics professor Rolf Enger to present a talk espousing the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the discredited "burial cloth" of Jesus Christ. The lecture happened this week, during the school day, in an academic classroom during a "special Easter presentation."

Some say the talk, which took place four days before Easter, violated the military's prohibition against favoring one religion over another. That's especially bothersome, they say, given the history of allegations that the Academy promotes fundamental Christianity as a ticket to promotions and favored treatment.

Barry Fagin, a computer science professor nearing his 25th year at the Academy, argues the school's seeming endorsement of the talk, sponsored by the Christian Faculty Fellowship, is embarrassing in light of scientific evidence that the shroud is merely a 14th century forgery that's been proven time and again through carbon dating not to date to the crucifixion.

Academy officials did not immediately respond to our request for comment. But, in the past, the Academy has denied that it favors one religion over another, but rather has asserted it must, in accord with Air Force Instruction 1-1, balance free exercise of religion with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. That instruction also states that military leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."

Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein says that 23 people — cadets, faculty and staff — complained to him about the lecture. A vocal critic of what he views as the Academy's religious bias, Weinstein, a 1977 Academy grad, started his foundation in 2004.

Mikey Weinstein - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Mikey Weinstein
Weinstein says he was told by the complainants that they were disappointed, and that many noted that this incident came on the heels of "that Chick-fil-A fiasco." (The Academy hosted an executive from the fast-food company, which supports anti-LGBTQ efforts, to speak at the Character and Leadership Development Symposium earlier this term.)

"The command climate is so toxic there, they have to come to us," Weinstein says. "It’s the utter hypocrisy from a school that prides itself on honor code, character and leadership, honesty, integrity — all of these great things, but viciously violating the Constitution, its case law and directions and instructions."

Retired Brig Gen. Marty France, a former permanent professor and department head of the astronautics department who now serves on MRFF's advisory board, wrote to Vice Superintendent Houston Cantwell and Superintendent Jay Silveria expressing concern over the lecture.

"My colleagues were shocked that this sort of briefing, not even hiding its relationship to a specific religious belief (but proclaiming it) would be held during the duty day," France wrote in the letter, obtained by the Indy.

"Sure, it's voluntary, but when many of the attendees are in uniform, wearing rank, and in supervisory roles, we know that judgments are made," the letter said. "Moreover, just posting these flyers requires DF [dean of faculty] approval, so it's fair to assume that this is the endorsed position of the Dean... Dr Enger is free to present his 'research' based on some legend that the Academy has endorsed since the Frank J Seiler Research Lab misused taxpayer money back in the 70s and 80s in an attempt to prove the authenticity of this found piece of cloth (spoiler alert—it didn't really come from the presumed era or region of Jesus). I'm old enough to have been subjected to some of these briefings as a cadet and junior officer. It was wrong for the government to do it then, and it's wrong to provide a platform during the duty day to present it now."

France suggested such presentations should be held in the Cadet Chapel or Community Center Chapel, not in an academic building during the academic day.

As Weinstein tells the Indy, "It would be one thing to do it from a religious perspective, but it’s an embarrassing lack of science at a technically science school."

Which is the beef coming from Fagin, who attended the talk and observed 40 to 50 people there.
The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago.
"I found this to be very embarrassing," Fagin tells the Indy by phone. "The best evidence we have, the overwhelming evidence is that the shroud was a 14th century forgery."

Fagin clicked through that evidence, which includes three independent carbon dating tests, all of which concluded it dates to the 14th century.

Believers, he says, argue that a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was kept skewed the carbon dating results. "The amount of carbon needed to throw it off would be more than the entire weight of the shroud itself," Fagin says, adding that the substance of the talk comprised "recycled arguments that have been refuted a long, long time ago."

Fagin cited numerous studies of the fabric's weave, stains that believers purport to be blood  and other features of the shroud that have found it to be a hoax.
"These claims are no better than UFOs or Big Foot or astrology," he says. "The science has shown that all those things are not true. The same process that tells us all those things aren’t real tells us the Shroud of Turin is a painting."

He adds, "My views are my own and do not reflect those of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense. I only wish they did."

The The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was housed at the Academy, due to efforts promoted by a former Academy physics professor, John Jackson.
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Friday, March 22, 2019

Muslim soldier at Fort Carson overruled on complaint regarding hijab

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 1:27 PM

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was overruled in her allegation of discrimination regarding an order to remove her hijab. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was overruled in her allegation of discrimination regarding an order to remove her hijab.
An investigation about allegations a command sergeant major ordered a Muslim soldier to remove her hijab has concluded with a finding of "unsubstantiated" regarding discrimination, Fort Carson announced March 22.

The finding, released by Col. Dave Zinn, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, found that Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya "acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army Regulations."

Zinn said in a statement:
Our leaders are committed to supporting Soldiers' freedom of religious expression. I have, and will continue to, take all reports of Soldiers disrespecting religious beliefs, observances, or traditions very seriously. I will ensure our unit continues to place a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.

We value diversity within our ranks and will continue to embrace our differences, which make us a stronger more well-rounded team of cohesive, highly-trained Soldiers prepared to answer our Nation's call anytime, anywhere.
Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos said in a statement that Zinn told her on March 21 that Montoya was within regulations and that she felt the back of the chapel, where she ordered Valdovinos to remove the hijab, was a private setting. Zinn also told her he would take future matters seriously and has ordered a chaplain conduct training with the command teams on various religions. He also told her, she says, that the dining staff had tried to accommodate her desire not to come into contact with pork as prescribed by her religion, but that she wouldn't cooperate.

"I explained to him I was never given that option," she says, adding Zinn said he would look into that issue.

Valdovinos also relayed to Zinn that Montoya had again asked her whether her hair beneath the hijab was within regulations, her statement says. Valdovinos has asked Zinn for an inter-post transfer, "because I feel I am being targeted." No word yet on that request.

Zinn's finding set off Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who issued this statement:
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has found that the Army’s conduct in this EO investigation along with the conduct of its senior leaders constitute only the worst type of a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of anti-Muslim bigotry prejudice and harassment. As our client has now exhausted her administrate remedies, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is hard at work determining whether or not we can file a federal lawsuit in either Denver or Washington against the Army based upon this shameful scandalous outrage of anti-Muslim hostility.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Order to remove hijab at Fort Carson spurs controversy, but versions of story differ

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 12:14 PM

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos believes that she was discriminated against when a superior officer at Fort Carson ordered her to remove her hijab. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos believes that she was discriminated against when a superior officer at Fort Carson ordered her to remove her hijab.
It was about 3 p.m. on March 6, and Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos’ unit was receiving training in suicide prevention at the chapel on Fort Carson.

Without warning, Valdovinos tells the Independent, Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya grabbed her arm and said, “You come with me.”

Valdovinos followed her to the back of the chapel, where she says Montoya told her to remove “that.” The object at issue was Valdovinos’ hijab, a head scarf worn by Muslim women, for which she had obtained an accommodation letter last year.

Valdovinos did as she was told, but later contacted a member of the Pentagon’s chaplaincy, a colonel who’s Muslim. He told her she shouldn’t have obliged by removing the hijab, and referred her to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

With MRFF involved, run by the high-profile and vociferous Mikey Weinstein, the issue might not die soon, despite Fort Carson officials disputing Valdovinos’ account of what happened that day.

In a statement, the Mountain Post said Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn. Fort Carson officials say that Valdovinos was clearly out of compliance on the day in question; that she wasn’t grabbed, but simply taken aside; and that she was in the presence of two female superiors when she removed the head covering.

Valdovinos denies she violated any regulation.

It wasn’t the first time Valdovinos felt uncomfortable in the Army due to her religion. After being raised in the Catholic Church, and four years after joining the Army out of high school, she converted to Islam.

In August 2017, she was promoted to sergeant and has served two tours in Afghanistan, returning most recently in fall 2018.

In April 2018, she applied for a religious accommodation, which required her to be interviewed extensively by two different chaplains, she says. On June 24, 2018, Col. David Zinn issued a letter that stated, “I approve the wear of a hijab in observance of her faith in the Muslim tradition ... a copy of this approved religious accommodation will be filed in the Army Military Human Resource Record system (AMHRR) and will remain in effect throughout SGT Valdovinos’ career.”

While in Afghanistan, however, a fellow soldier called her “a terrorist.”

“We were supposed to be a team, and it was hostile,” she says. “I was angry, but the girls around me [in my unit] helped me calm down.” Though she says she reported it, nothing came of her report and she felt it was ignored.

About a month ago, Valdovinos says, she objected to handling pork at her job in the dining facility, due to her religious requirements. Initially, her supervisor suggested she wear gloves to handle pork, but later transferred Valdovinos to a supply unit. Valdovinos didn’t file a complaint. Nor did she formally protest after she says others on post referred to her as “the girl with the hood.”

But she did file a complaint with the post’s equal opportunity office on March 7 following the hijab incident, she says. The incident startled Valdovinos. She says when she asked Montoya if she had authority to impose such an order, Montoya said, “I can,” and told her she wanted it removed so she could “see my hair.”

Valdovinos, who stands 4 feet, 11 inches, says she removed the garment partway, but Montoya told her to remove it completely, and she complied. Montoya then told her to “get out of here,” she says.

“I felt naked without it,” she tells the Indy. “It’s like asking you to take off your blouse. It felt like I was getting raped, in a sense.”

Fort Carson officials, however, tell a different version of the story via email. They say soldiers with special accommodations still must meet standards of appearance. The hijab must be worn close to the hair and jaw lines, not covering any part of the face, and the hair cannot be worn down.

“According to sources who were present,” Carson said, “Sgt. Valdovinos’ hair was visibly out of regulation. Her senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) [Montoya] and a battalion staff officer, both female, stepped outside with Sgt. Valdovinos so they could speak to her privately. At no time did the senior non-commissioned officer touch Sgt. Valdovinos.”

Another soldier who witnessed Valdovinos being summoned by Montoya tells the Indy that Valdovinos was grabbed by the upper arm. The soldier spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from superiors.

Asked about that, Carson provided a written statement from Cpt. Brooke Smith, who observed the entire incident. She said Montoya tapped Valdovinos on the shoulder, but didn’t grab her.
Smith’s story correlates with Carson officials’ written statement, which states that Montoya asked Valdovinos to remove the hijab “in order to verify whether or not her hair was within regulation” and “discovered that Sgt. Valdovinos’ hair was completely down, which is not allowed while in uniform.”

Montoya then told her to “put her hair back in regulation and to not let it happen again,” Carson’s statement said.

Carson also offered a statement by Zinn, who said, in part, “I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”

He also noted there is an inquiry into Valdovinos’ claim.

Valdovinos says that she is upset because for Muslim women, removing the hijab in public isn’t allowed — the Quran dictates that certain parts of a woman’s body, including her hair, are to be seen by her husband only.

MRFF founder Weinstein argues that since Valdovinos had secured a letter of accommodation from her commander, demanding she remove the hijab is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army regulations. (Carson didn’t respond to this allegation when asked by the Indy.)

“This woman has been spiritually raped,” he says. “This rips asunder good order, morale, discipline and unit cohesion.” It also serves up a “public relations bonanza for our Islamic extremist enemies” who wish to paint the war on terror as a war on Islam or a clash of world religions, he claims.

Weinstein commended Valdovinos for coming forward, noting she’s a woman of color — her father is Mexican and her mother, Navajo — and is Muslim. “It took a tremendous amount of courage for her to stand up for herself,” Weinstein says.

Valdovinos says she’s willing to take a lie-detector test in regards to the incident. And she claims that her hair was not out of compliance. “Of course when she made me take off my hijab my hair fell out of the bun it was in,” she says.

She also notes that her accommodation letter doesn’t contain specifications on how her hair is to be pinned.

Weinstein vows to file a complaint with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, as well as seek “just punishment of the Army perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, Valdovinos says she hopes those at her post will come to accept her more fully. “I just want them to understand, just because I’m Muslim, I’m not different. I’m still myself, and I’m still going to fulfill my duty.”
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