- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

The 2005 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provided many significant improvements for active duty, reserve and retired members of the military and their families.

In the coming year, those serving on active duty will see increases in their basic pay and several allowances. Our reserve forces can expect enhanced access to the military’s Tricare health care program. Severely disabled retirees soon will be eligible to receive both their military retired pay and their Veterans Affairs disability compensation, without enduring a lengthy phase-in process. The NDAA also contains language that will gradually eliminate the reduction in benefits that is currently endured by survivors of military retirees when they reach age 62.

Along with other members of the Military Coalition, the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) worked closely with Congress to secure these enhancements. Significant grass-roots lobbying also contributed to the successful inclusion of these provisions in the defense bill, and all can rightfully claim victory on these fronts.

Several other noteworthy provisions may have gone unnoticed, but are equally significant for active duty and reserve personnel:

PCS reform: The House had sought to delay implementation of the Families First program, an initiative to enhance the way service members’ household goods are transported. FRA opposed the delay and sought prompt implementation of the program, which will provide full replacement value coverage for property lost or damaged during permanent change of station (PCS) moves. Through the efforts of FRA and other organizations, the program will not be delayed.

Re-enlistment bonuses: House lawmakers sought to give reservists the authority to accept re-enlistment bonuses through their 17th year. (Existing policy ended re-enlistment bonuses for active duty and reserve personnel at their 14th year of service.) In letters to key conferees, FRA supported the expanded bonus window, but noted that the provision failed to support equity between the active and reserve components. As a result of this initiative, the NDAA includes language that allows both active duty and reserve personnel to accept bonuses through their 16th year.

Military firefighters: FRA also recognizes the dangerous work associated with firefighting and played a key role in obtaining hazardous duty incentive pay for enlisted military firefighters.

With best wishes, I remain in loyalty, protection and service,

Joseph L. Barnes

national executive secretary,

Fleet Reserve Association

Dear Joe:

Our active duty military, reserve and retired members and their families deserve nothing less.

Shaft notes

George Skypeck has generously donated hundreds of his “Assured Victory” prints to the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF). A copy can be obtained for a $100 tax-deductible contribution to BAVF. These donations will go to helping the wounded and their families at Bethesda Naval and Walter Reed Army medical centers. Contact me for additional information.

The original painting of “Assured Victory” is on public display loan to Arlington National Cemetery’s Visitors Center. It depicts the September 11 terrorist attacks and the heroic sacrifice of the brave police, firefighters and Pentagon employees, as well as showing the resolve of America’s military forces to bring the war on terrorism to the terrorists no matter their haven, location or support base worldwide.

To that end, the painting depicts the first units to respond: the Air Force’s B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers and AC-130 gunships; the Army’s Special Forces and Rangers; a Marine Expeditionary Unit; F-18 attack aircraft from Navy aircraft carriers; the U.S. Coast Guard and seaport and inland waterway security; the Army and Air National Guard forces, the FBI and CIA; the Department of Homeland Security; and the many unseen faces of America’s reserve forces and agencies. Terrorists are shown.

The main centerpieces are the Statue of Liberty and the sword-wielding Statue of Freedom that rests atop the U.S. Capitol dome. To me, both symbols define the American sense of spirit, duty and compassion; they also represent the “twin sisters of victory.”

Below them is a purple-and-black mourning ribbon blending into the purple-and-white ribbon of the Purple Heart medal. Also represented are the new government civilian Defense of Freedom Medal, the new Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

The entire background of the painting is the American flag, which still flies at ground zero in New York and at the Pentagon. A special thanks to the Pitney Bowes Corp. for agreeing to mail the prints to the donors.

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

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