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

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.
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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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Former Fountain resident testifies on PFASs in D.C.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 5:43 PM

Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett. - COURTESY OF MARK FAVORS
  • Courtesy of Mark Favors
  • Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett.
An Army veteran who grew up near Peterson Air Force Base was among those in attendance at a House subcommittee hearing March 6 on Capitol Hill. The subject: PFASs, a toxic group of chemicals found in household products and military firefighting foam, and their effects on health and the environment.

Lawmakers questioned representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense while holding up the stories of those — including former Fountain resident Mark Favors — who have been personally affected by the military's decades-long use of the chemicals. PFASs, which researchers have linked to low birth weights, liver and kidney cancer, and thyroid problems, leached into the drinking water supply in areas surrounding hundreds of military installations around the world.
"Mark Favors is a U.S. Army veteran who had 16 family members, 16 family members, diagnosed with cancer, all of whom lived next to the Peterson Air Force Base in Fountain, Colorado," Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, said in his opening remarks. "Several of those family members are also veterans."
The Department of Defense has taken some actions to address PFASs, including implementing a new type of firefighting foam that it says is safer for public health and the environment. And on Feb. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its long-awaited PFAS action plan, announcing it would start the process for setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act for two chemicals in the PFAS group, PFOA and PFOS.
But for many lawmakers and advocates, the steps outlined in the plan weren't enough to address the problem, and to hold the Department of Defense accountable for contamination of communities. (Read more on the plan here.)

And Congress is bringing on the pressure.

The same day as the subcommittee hearing, a group of senators signed a letter demanding copies of communications between the EPA, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, and Department of Health and Human Services regarding the PFAS Action Plan and groundwater cleanup guidelines.

And Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) were among a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce a bill on March 1 that would require the EPA to designate PFASs as hazardous substances, making polluters responsible for funding cleanup. (An identical bill was introduced in the House in January.)

At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, began her question for Dave Ross, the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Water, by saying she had been born on an Air Force base where high concentrations of PFAS chemicals had been detected. She asked Ross whether he, like embattled former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, would call PFAS contamination a "national emergency."

"We do believe it is a major national issue for EPA and our federal partners to address," Ross said, citing the agency's successful effort to get manufacturers to voluntarily pull products containing PFOA and PFOS off the market.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, told the story of a woman who grew up in Warminster, Pennsylvania near the Naval Air Warfare Center.

"[Hope] Grosse was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 25 years old," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Ms. Grosse's father died of cancer at 52 years of age, and her sister suffered from ovarian cysts, lupus, fibromyalgia and abdominal aneurysms. She worries that she has unwittingly exposed her own children to [PFAS] chemicals as well... Mr. Ross, do you believe that the EPA should further regulate these chemicals?"

"Yes, and that’s what we’ve stated in our action plan," Ross replied. "We have a robust plan to regulate these chemicals across a wide variety of our programs."

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, asked whether the Department of Defense knew how many active service members, veterans and their families had had been exposed to the chemicals.

"Our health affairs staff is going to be conducting a health study and creating an inventory of those service members that have been exposed through drinking water or occupational exposure and work in coordination with the Veterans Administration to share that information," replied Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment.

The hearing was held the same day that Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released an updated map with information on 106 military sites where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with PFASs. (The Department of the Defense has said that there are 401 sites in the U.S. alone with known or suspected contamination.)

The group also released a report with several recommendations for Congress and President Donald Trump's administration.

While the problem of PFAS contamination has persisted for decades without major enforcement actions by the federal government, Congress's renewed interest could move the needle on the issue, says Melanie Benesh, Environmental Working Group's legislative attorney.
"I think Congress will continue to push the [EPA] and do everything that they’re doing now —introducing bills, holding oversight hearings — and I think the states have an important role to play," Benesh says. "State policy tends to move federal policy and tends to move marketplace actions... And then there’s a whole grassroots network of people who have been affected by these chemicals, particularly veterans and military families, and those voices really matter."

Peterson Air Force Base replaced the old firefighting foam in all of its emergency response vehicles in 2016, a spokesperson said. The new, supposedly safer formula is only used in emergencies, and not during training.

Water districts surrounding the base have changed water sources or filtration systems since evidence of contamination began to emerge in 2015.

But the spread of PFASs in drinking water left lasting effects that should have been addressed by the state, Favors argues.

"Despite having a budget surplus in 2018 of over $1.1 billion, the state of Colorado still has not
conducted a formal investigation on the scope of the PFAS contamination, conducted PFAS
blood level tests of our affected children, nor passed legally enforceable MCLs of PFAS in
drinking water," Favors, now a New York resident, wrote in his testimony to Congress.

Favors goes on to list the 10 blood relatives and in-laws he has lost to cancer, all of whom lived for years near Peterson Air Force Base.
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Fort Carson's privately managed housing isn't safe, residents say

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations. - COURTESY OF FORT CARSON
  • Courtesy of Fort Carson
  • Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations.

As horrors apparently common to privately managed military housing — such as mold, rodents and lead paint — move into the national spotlight, dozens of soldiers and their families who live on Fort Carson seized the opportunity to speak up.

At a town hall Feb. 21, where Garrison Commander Col. Brian Wortinger invited those who live on post to share their concerns, soldiers and their spouses expressed frustration with poor conditions and a maintenance team that took hours, days or weeks to respond to potential safety hazards.

"The biggest problem that my family faces in our house is mice. Mice everywhere. Mice all the time," one woman said, adding that she found evidence of the critters in her son's crib and baby food.

"What are you guys going to do to actually rid our homes of these pests? Because they’re disgusting and a huge safety hazard for our families," she finished to applause.

Fort Carson held the town hall the week after Army Secretary Mark Esper announced that he was "deeply troubled" by reports of "deficient conditions in some of our family housing" and had ordered the Department of the Army Inspector General to look into the problems.

That announcement came the same day witnesses at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing horrified lawmakers with stories of mold, pests, lead paint and resulting health problems. Their stories aren't unique: Survey results released Feb. 13 by the Military Family Advisory Network showed that out of nearly 17,000 respondents, more than half reported a "negative" or "very negative" experience living on military installations.

"Military families are living in dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black
mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of
vermin, insects, and other animals (e.g., bats, skunks, and squirrels) in their homes," the report said. "Families report illnesses with life-long implications caused by poor housing conditions."

The problems are widespread: Survey participants lived in 46 states, in housing managed by 35 different companies. But about half of respondents lived in housing managed by two companies: Lincoln Military Housing and Balfour Beatty Communities, the latter of which counts Fort Carson among the 55 military installations it serves.

At the town hall, representatives of Balfour Beatty were apologetic but offered little variation in their responses to resident complaints, mostly repeating that issues with maintenance and safety shouldn't have occurred, and that the company was changing its procedures to prevent them from recurring. They asked those who raised concerns to speak with them personally after the town hall, and had maintenance teams on hand to address major safety issues that night.

"I agree, sir," said Christy McGrath, Balfour Beatty's community manager, after one man told her it had taken far too long for someone to repair his heater after it stopped working at 3 a.m. one winter night. He wrapped his young children in blankets while waiting for maintenance, which didn't arrive until around noon the next day.

Winter heating outages are classified as "emergencies," McGrath said, and should be addressed within the hour.

"We are putting things in place and bringing in additional resources to make sure that we meet your customer service need in the time frames that we have pushed," she said. "We’re here tonight to hear from you, hear where our blind spots are."

The company plans to hire a residential satisfaction specialist, said Project Director Steve McIntire, and will begin issuing email surveys and following up on work orders to get residents' feedback on services.

The town hall was also streamed on Facebook Live, where it drew hundreds of angry comments.

Col. Wortinger said this meeting would be the first of several addressing immediate problems, and that the garrison would hold them regularly afterwards. Assessment teams will visit neighborhoods in March, he said, to check on potential hazards like asbestos and peeling paint.

Wortinger said that at the request of senior leadership, he would be "personally tracking" health- and safety-related work orders, and asked residents to reach out to him if their issues weren't being solved by Balfour Beatty.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Space Force: A good thing or a farce?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 20, 2019 at 11:50 AM

Don't expect a large influx of money to pour into Peterson Air Force Base after President Trump signed an executive order on Feb. 19 creating the Space Force under the auspices of the Air Force.

While Peterson Air Force Base hosts Air Force Space Command, an expert in space and military issues says the most obvious impact of the order will be adding a four-star general to oversee the Space Force and, possibly, the creation of new uniforms and insignia.

"I just don’t know how this helps," former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe tells the Independent by phone. "The only thing I’ve been able to land on is it’s a terrific solution, but what is it we’re trying to fix? I don't know what this is going to accomplish."

But others disagree, saying the Space Force might spawn more research and development spending. As reported by Bloomberg Business Week, a Department of Defense report to Congress last  year outlined plans to build a force to defend U.S. interests in space by creating aggressive offensive capabilities. These systems would "degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy, and manipulate adversary capabilities,” according to the report.

From Bloomberg's report:
A Space Force could mean bigger research and development budgets. Some in Congress have called for weapons that could destroy ballistic missiles from space. On a more workaday level, the Space Force would likely take over the job, now performed elsewhere in the Air Force, of tracking the world’s active satellites to make sure they don’t collide with one another or with space debris and to notify owners to reposition their satellites if there’s a possibility of impact.
O'Keefe, who headed NASA from 2001 to 2004 and previous served as Secretary of the Navy, is skeptical a Space Force is necessary.
Sean O'Keefe, former Navy Secretary and head of NASA, is skeptical of whether creating a Space Force will have much effect on national defense. - COURTESY SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy Syracuse University
  • Sean O'Keefe, former Navy Secretary and head of NASA, is skeptical of whether creating a Space Force will have much effect on national defense.
"This directive or organizational construct, I don’t know if it helps or hurts or does much of anything other than creating another four-star or another debate in the Pentagon that likes to debate belt buckle sizes," he says. "This has created an interesting organizational realignment at the Pentagon that will consume all the air in the room where they debate where the deck chairs go."

O'Keefe, who now serves as a professor at Syracuse University, said placing the Space Force within the Air Force is better than creating an entirely separate branch of the military. The latter move would have required standing up the bureaucracy, including a Space Force secretary, that accompanies any military branch. "In the end, the question I find interesting is that any time you create those types of structures, they become organisms that will work very hard to protect their own portfolio and strengthen their capacity of having some kind of influence," he says. "I don’t know if that particularly helps in this case."

Of more interest, O'Keefe says, is the Pentagon's intent, also announced Feb. 19, to create U.S. Space Command as a combatant command, like Pacific Command, European Command or Central Command.

"That does speak to operational focus and attention," he says. "That’s something that does put the operational commanders in a position where they will have the capacity to reach into the full array of Department of Defense assets for the deployment of capabilities, whether Army, Navy or Space Force of the Air Force.

Created in 1985 but de-emphasized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which gave birth to U.S. Northern Command (based at Peterson AFB), U.S. Space Command essentially merged with U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska.

No announcement has been made where U.S. Space Command would be based.

But as for the Space Force, O'Keefe says it's the nation's shot across the bow, so to speak, to countries who have flexed their muscle, such as North Korea and China. But the rising threat of those who would wreak havoc in space isn't necessarily addressed simply by naming a a new division of an existing military branch, he says.

But it does send a signal to adversaries, James Carafano, a military and national security expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, says in an essay. "It's time for America to think big again," he writes.

From Carafano's August 2018 commentary:
No one doubts that Americans civilians as well as military personnel are heavily dependent on what we have in space. Assets "up there" do everything from make the internet work to detect the flight path of ballistic missiles. Our space-based assets inform our weather forecasts and help guide us to our destinations with GPS.

Just as there is no doubt about our reliance on the things we've put in space, so there is no doubt that these valuable assets are vulnerable to everything from cyber attacks to satellites being shot down by hostile powers. And no serious analyst questions the growing capability of Russia and China to wage war in space.

For Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee's Readiness Subcommittee, a new Space Force sends a message that Trump takes national security seriously.

"President Trump's recognition that space is a war-fighting domain sends a clear message to our adversaries," Lamborn said in a statement. "The Pikes Peak region is already the epicenter of space defense and is prepared to support the president's efforts."

But the idea of taking the military fight into orbit troubles some citizens, among them Bill Sulzman, a peace activist in Colorado Springs.

"The Air Force and the Colorado Air Force complex will be pleased by this development," Sulzman tells the Indy via email. "They did not want a totally separate free standing Space Force. Local Air Force bases will continue to grow robustly. Cha ching! The next big battle will be to see if Cyber War gets a separate branch or if the Air Force gets to keep cyber under their wings going forward. Big money there, too."

Trump's move to create a Space Force must be approved by Congress.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Chick-fil-A executive's planned speech at AFA draws criticism

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 10:20 AM

The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
UPDATE: Two organizations, the National Organization for Women and the California Council of Churches, are urging Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria to "disinvite" Rodney Bullard from the Academy's Character and Leadership Symposium.

The letters:
We've asked the Academy for a comment and will update if and when we hear back.

—————-ORIGINAL POST 10:20 A.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13, 2019————————-

A speaker at the Air Force Academy's Character and Leadership Development Symposium on Feb. 21-22 has drawn the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Rodney Bullard, vice president of Chick-fil-A's vice president of corporate social responsibility, is an Academy grad, but the MRFF says Chick-fil-A has a record of funding anti-LGBT groups.

Chick-fil-A has been working on changing its image, as we report in the Feb. 13 issue.

In a letter to Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, MRFF demands the school withdraw its invitation to Bullard and calls the decision to invite Bullard "another wretched example, in a long line of such despicable instances, of fundamentalist Christian-based homophobic oppression by USAFA."

Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA.
The MRFF likened the invitation to asking "Harvey Weinstein to speak at a USAFA forum on women’s civil rights." Weinstein is a Hollywood producer facing charges of sexual assault.

MRFF also notes the Academy has invited other speakers in the past which MRFF deemed inappropriate, thus leading MRFF to accuse the school of "pushing a sectarian, fundamentalist Christian, religious extremist agenda."

MRFF represents 12 LGBT clients among the Academy's cadet wing, staff and faculty, the letter says.

We asked the Academy to respond to MRFF's protest of Bullard's appearance but didn't hear back before the Independent's press time. But we did hear after that, so are posting the response from an Academy spokesperson in full:
We selected speakers whose stories will highlight this year's theme of
Leadership, Teamwork, and Organizational Management. Each speaker will focus on the value, successes, and challenges at the personal,
interpersonal, team, and/or organizational levels. Their wide-ranging
backgrounds, diversity of thought, and comprehensive leadership experiences will enable their listeners to appreciate the many opportunities life offers in fashioning pathways to success. That each speaker has an individual viewpoint on different aspects of our culture enhances the NCLS mission to present a rich variety of outlooks and perspectives to our audiences, which we feel is in keeping with the tenets of a liberal education.

NCLS participants are free to choose which presentations they attend, and we're confident that each speaker's presentation will prove invaluable to our cadets to aid in their character development and in honing their leadership skills in their pursuit as Air Force officers. 
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Thursday, January 31, 2019

UPDATE: Air Force Academy sees drop in sexual assault reports

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2019 at 5:04 PM

  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
Just in from Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria:
We are fully engaged in the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault at the Academy. Harm to any one of us is unacceptable, and we will not rest until every cadet at the Academy is in an environment where they can focus solely on their professional and personal development as exceptional leaders of character in the U.S. Air Force.

As leaders, we remain committed to tackling this issue head-on. We've already taken numerous steps in the past year including changes to our alcohol policy, implementation of a 'Safe to Report' policy encouraging cadets to come forward without fear of punishment for minor misconduct, and progress on implementation of an anonymous reporting option to eliminate perceived reporting barriers. We have worked diligently to create new programs and adjust existing ones in order to better serve our cadets.

With support of the Secretary of the Air Force, we will aggressively work to further the national dialogue on sexual assault and harassment prevention. In April she, other service secretaries, civilian college and university leaders, DoD and academy leadership, subject matter experts and members of Congress will hold a summit to discuss the scourge of sexual harassment and assault facing colleges and universities. We are excited to attend this summit as we focus on best practices and continue to work toward a culture that will not tolerate harm to one another, where survivors are empowered to come forward, and where anyone violating our values is held accountable.

————————ORIGINAL POST 5:04 P.M. THURSDAY, JAN. 31——————————-

The Air Force Academy's number of sexual assault reports received in academic year 2017-18 declined, while reports at the other two service academies climbed.

That's one finding of the Department of Defense's Annual Report on Sexual Violence and Harassment at the Military Service Academies, released on Jan. 31.

According to the report:
• The Military Academy saw an increase in reports of sexual assault, receiving 56 reports, up from 50 reports last year.
• The Naval Academy received 32 reports, up from 29 the previous year.
• The Air Force Academy received 29 reports, a decline from 33 last year.

But the estimated rate of sexual harassment at the Air Force Academy remained statistically unchanged at 46 percent for female cadets (47 percent in 2016), and 13 percent of male cadets (11 percent in 2016), DoD reported.

However, the Defense Department report says fewer cadets and midshipmen made harassment complaints this year than last year. In total, only seven informal complaints and no formal complaints were made at all three academies, down from 16 informal complaints the prior year. The Air Force Academy received one.

Those aren't numbers the military should boast about, says Protect Our Defenders, a human rights organization focused on ending sexual assault in the military. In a news release, the organization said:
The Pentagon report shows a continued failure to address the crisis of sexual assault and harassment. Sexual assault reports skyrocketed 47% since the last report was last released in 2017. During the 2015-2016 academic year, 12.2% of women, or 507 victims, reported sexual assault, and from 2017-2018, that number rose to 15.8%, or 747 victims. The rate of sexual assault has doubled since over the last four years. This year’s report also shows that over 50% of the women attending the academies were sexual harassed in the academic year.
Excessive drinking has long been associated with sexual assault, so the survey delved into that topic and found:

• Military Academy: 17 percent of female cadets and 35 percent of male cadets reported alcohol use consistent with heavy drinking (5 or more drinks). Also, 31 percent of men and 25 percent of women acknowledged at least one occasion in the past year of being unable to remember what happened the night before due to drinking.

• Naval Academy: 18 percent of women and 38 percent of men indicated use consistent with heavy drinking, and 28 percent women and 30 percent men acknowledged at least one occasion in the past year of being unable to remember what happened the night before due to drinking.

• Air Force Academy: About 10 percent of female cadets and 22 percent of male cadets reported use consistent with heavy drinking, while 21 percent of female cadets and 23 percent male cadets acknowledged at least one occasion in the past year of being unable to remember the prior night’s events due to drinking.

We've asked for a comment from the Air Force Academy, which has had its share of sexual assault problems, and will update when we hear back.

Read the entire report at the link provided above at the start of this blog.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Colorado Springs businesses supporting unpaid federal workers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2019 at 1:34 PM

Poor Richard's Restaurant is offering free meals to federal employees and their families. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Poor Richard's Restaurant is offering free meals to federal employees and their families.

As of Jan. 23, the longest-ever federal government shutdown was in its 33rd day — and though Senate Republicans and Democrats scheduled votes for Jan. 24 on two competing bills to refund the government, there was no clear resolution in sight for hundreds of thousands of federal employees who've been furloughed or are working without pay.

Several local businesses have stepped up to offer deals and giveaways for those affected by the shutdown. Here's a list (and if there's a business you don't see here, feel free to email with additional suggestions):

• Poor Richard's Restaurant, located at 324.5 N. Tejon St., has been offering free meals to ID-holding federal employees and their families since Jan. 3 — and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Pizza Baked Spaghetti. - COURTESY OF FAZOLI'S
  • Courtesy of Fazoli's
  • Pizza Baked Spaghetti.

• Fazoli's is offering free meals of Pizza Baked Spaghetti with regular drink purchase throughout the shutdown. Limit one meal per ID-holding guest per day. Colorado Springs locations:

Cheyenne Mountain
1790 E. Cheyenne Mt. Blvd
Colorado Springs, CO 80906

Austin Bluffs
3607 Austin Bluffs Pkwy
Colorado Springs, CO 80918

• McDivitt Law Firm is giving away $40 King Soopers gift cards through 5 p.m. Jan. 23. Present a valid federal ID card at one of the following locations:

Downtown Colorado Springs
19 E. Cimarron Street
Colorado Springs, 80903

14261 E. 4th Avenue, Suite 300
Aurora, 80011

409 North Grand Avenue, Suite D
Pueblo, 81003

• YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region is suspending monthly dues for member families and offering free day passes to nonmember families affected by the shutdown. Just present a federal ID at one of the YMCA's 18 local facilities.

• PB&T Bank is offering $3,000 unsecured loans at 6 percent APR with approved credit for families affected by the shutdown. Customers don't have to have a PB&T bank account, and there are no extra fees. Contact Mary Mangino at 719-585-2302 or to apply.

• Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center is offering free tickets to the short film, How Did Those Red Rocks Get There, to federal employees and their immediate family members through February. The show runs every 20 minutes at the center's Geo-Trekker theater, located at 1805 N. 30th St.

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Fountain, Security, Widefield residents have higher-than-normal blood levels of toxic PFASs, study finds

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 10:03 PM

Residents south of Colorado Springs whose drinking water supply was contaminated with toxic PFASs have high levels of the chemicals in their blood, according to initial results from a study from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines.

Researchers collected 220 blood samples from people who lived in the Fountain, Security and Widefield communities for at least three years before August 2015. While drinking water in those water systems is now being treated for PFASs, used in Air Force firefighting chemicals, some residents were exposed to the toxic compounds for years before government agencies recognized their potential dangers.

(Wondering why we are now referring to the chemicals as PFASs, though we referred to them as PFCs in other stories? Read this from the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Little is known about the health effects of PFASs in humans. However, studies on laboratory animals have shown that high concentrations of certain chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, immunological effects and tumors, according to the EPA. The most consistent finding among human studies is increased cholesterol, with more limited findings related to cancer, thyroid hormone effects, infant birth weights and adverse effects on the immune system.

The initial results of the study revealed that study participants had blood levels of one toxic compound, PFHxS, that were about 10 times as high as U.S. population reference levels. Levels of this chemical were higher than those for residents in other communities that were highly exposed to PFASs.

Study participants had about twice as much PFOS, another chemical in the PFASs group, as the general population. Previous studies have linked this chemical to thyroid hormone effects in humans.

For study participants, levels of the chemical PFOA — which human studies have linked to cancer — were 40 to 70 percent higher than U.S. levels.

To understand what residents may have been exposed to before water suppliers changed sources or added treatment systems in 2015, researchers also measured PFASs in the untreated wells that communities used prior to that. Total PFASs in the untreated wells ranged from 18 to 2300 ppt.

The Environmental Protection Agency's current acceptable standard for drinking water is 70 ppt, though a June study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicated safe levels could be as low as 12 ppt.

Researchers plan to present more results in the first half of 2019, and will begin recruiting more participants for blood sampling in April.

The full presentation from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines is available on the study website and embedded below.

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