SGT. SHAFT: Vietnam vet says he was not able to visit memorial because of security

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have read and heard a lot of media coverage of President Obama’s speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day, however, I wanted the public to know how much his appearance ruined the day for thousands of Vietnam veterans in Washington to honor their fallen comrades, but were denied the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

For those who don’t know what happened that Monday, the area around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was declared off limits to all but a select few who had been given a pass to enter the area. I do not know how early the area was closed to the public, but I know from my personal experience that as early as 9 a.m., after driving more than an hour into Washington and walking several blocks to the National Mall, I was not allowed to cross Constitution Avenue to meet with my fellow Marine Corps Vietnam veterans as I have for many years, even though the president was not scheduled to speak until several hours later that afternoon.

Based on my experiences over many years, I fully appreciate the need to maintain a high level of security for public events at which the president is scheduled to appear. The decision to close access to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial so many hours before the president’s appearance, in my opinion, shows a callous disregard for the thousands of Vietnam veterans and their loved ones who travel often great distances to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Memorial Day, and that was unwarranted.

David H.
A proud Marine veteran of the Vietnam War

Dear David:

It’s shame that you and other Vietnam veterans were unable to honor our fallen buddies at the wall. It seems like deja vu as those in the administration and others responsible for the event once again turned their backs to those who served honorably in Vietnam.

Shaft notes

• The major provision of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act is now being implemented by the departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs. Designed to aid veterans, ages 35-60, who have found themselves in the prime of their lives, unemployed, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) will provide these veterans with up to one year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits to retrain for jobs in high-demand fields. Although I have been encouraged by the efforts of the Department of Labor and VA to date, more needs to be done in light of May’s dismal jobs report. Please help spread the word about VRAP to unemployed veterans you know in your communities. It is only through outreach at the local level that we can ensure this opportunity is taken advantage of to help our veterans find long-term careers.

The House of Representatives reaffirmed its commitment to America’s service members and veterans by passing H.R. 3670 and H.R. 4201. H.R. 3670 will require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), a law designed to help deployed National Guard and Reserve members return to their civilian jobs after a separation from military service. The Servicemember Family Protection Act (H.R. 4201) was also passed with overwhelming House support.

• We recently observed the 68th anniversary of D-Day. In honor of the men who fought on the shores of Normandy, a 12-foot tall bronze statue was unveiled in the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The statue is a tribute to all U.S. junior military officers of the Second World War. It is fitting that the statue is of Major Dick Winters, perhaps the most revered junior military officer of World War II. Major Winters, a hero to many, became a figure of great prominence after his leadership was chronicled in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

• The U.S. Naval Academy has a never-ending list of esteemed graduates, men and women alike, who have done extraordinary things in service to our nation. One name that certainly appears on that list is that of Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Brown, the first black man to graduate from the academy. Sadly, he passed away last week. Lt. Cmdr. Brown, the former college track teammate of President Jimmy Carter, was 89. Rest in peace, Lt. Cmdr. Brown, and thank you for your service.

• The sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ “We Can’t Wait” initiative, an extremely positive step that will help thousands of service members who have manufacturing and other high-demand skills receive civilian credentials and licenses.

The announcement tasks the Defense Department’s new Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force to focus on industries and career fields that have an identified need for more skilled workers, such as in manufacturing, emergency response, health care, information technology, transportation and logistics.

Within a year, the task force will identify military specialties that can readily transfer to these high-demand jobs; work with civilian credentialing and licensing associations to address gaps between military training programs and civilian credentialing and licensing requirements; and provide service members with greater access to necessary certification and licensing exams.

“This will be extremely beneficial for transitioning service members and hopefully their spouses, too,” said Richard L. DeNoyer, a retired Marine and Vietnam combat veteran, who leads the 2 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.

All military lawyers, doctors and chaplains must first be civilian-licensed or certified. Mr. DeNoyer said it just makes sense that specialized military training should also meet private-sector standards, such as in the career fields of machinists, welders, plumbers, engineers and logistics specialists, as well as commercial vehicle drivers, paramedics, and airframe and power plant technicians. With industry now involved in military training standards, the VFW hopes all the states will soon ease their restrictions regarding the portability of licensing and certifications and academic credit.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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