Using Military Service In Child Custody Battles

December 30, 2008

I’ve written about this subject before, but once again it’s in the headlines and it makes me sick. It pisses me off. Once again, an ex-spouse of a Soldier is using her military service and deployments that are a required part of their service to our country, as an argument as to why she should lose custody of her child. Her ex-husband even went so far as to claim that she’s unstable because of her military required trainings and deployments.

In early 2007, Army Sgt. Stephanie Greer was serving in Ramadi as part of a vehicle maintenance unit that was deployed as a part of the surge. While in Ramadi, she learned that her ex-husband was going to fight for custody of their daughter, whom he was caring for while Sgt Greer was deployed. Because of that, during her 15 month deployment, she was fighting two battles. One in Iraq and one over a distance of about 4,000 miles, in an attempt to keep custody of her daughter.

“If I had not deployed, I know I never would have faced this situation,” said Greer, 39. “I don’t think it should be held against you, and I don’t think my time away, or me deploying, affects my ability to be a mother or provide for my kids.”1

When she contacted her chain of command about the issue and asked for advice, she was a bit surprised at the callous answer she was given. ‘Deal with it.’ I’m sure that Sgt. Greer isn’t the only person who’s heard the same thing in similar situations. In the midst of war, while the Soldier can request emergency leave, it’s left to the discretion of the unit commander, to determine if they’re going to approve that emergency leave request. Often they won’t consider a custody battle an emergency situation.

“More and more, a service member is deployed and the service member’s spouse is seeking to use that to their advantage,” said Greg Rinckey, a former Army judge advocate.

“We are seeing a substantial increase in cases . . . challenging the custody of military parents and the return of custody when they come back from mobilization or deployment, compared to virtually none 10 years ago,” said Mark E. Sullivan, a retired Army Reserve judge advocate who practices family law in North Carolina. The increase has been greatest in states with large military populations, such as Virginia and Texas, he added.2

Female Troops are more likely to experience these problems, as for the most part, when a couple divorces, the children remain with the mother. Unfortunately, the military often loses in these situations as well, as many who might have made the military their career, will opt to give up their careers in the military to keep custody of their children. It can really tear at the service member, when they have to make the choice between their career and service to our country and giving up that career to maintain custody of their children.

The Pentagon supports provisions safeguarding the rights of deployed parents in the event of custody disputes. Recognizing that this has become a problem, President Bush signed a measure into law last January. According to Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Wright, emergency leave most generally is used when there is a death in the family. He did relate however, that there are provisions in the regulation that allow emergency leave in events of marital problems as well. According to Wright, they have the power to request a delay of at least 90 days in the event of a custody proceedings. More than 20 states have passed legislation over the past two years to limit the impact of deployments on custody decisions.

“More states are recognizing the need for statutes which protect the rights of service members and their children,” said Sullivan, who helped write North Carolina’s statute.3

While the laws in each of the states may vary, several have clear provisions preventing deployment from being used as a factor in determining custody issues. Virginia has went even farther by barring any change in custody whatsoever, while a parent is deployed.

Hopefully more states will adopt legislation that strictly prohibits a parent from using the deployment of the other parent, as a means for gaining custody of their children. Sgt. Greer isn’t the only one fighting such a battle. Spc. Jonathan Moldano is currently fighting a battle of his own, to regain custody of his children. When he deployed, he gave guardianship of his children to his mother and also a military power of attorney. Officials in New York didn’t recognize the military power of attorney and placed his son and daughter in foster care. He is currently deployed and attempting to fight to regain custody of his children from Mosul.

“I can’t contact my kids, I can’t speak with them, and it’s hard ’cause they’re with a foster mother, when they could have been with my family,” Maldonado wrote in an e-mail from Mosul, where he is with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

“No one ever wants to help me out in this situation, no one wants to tell me anything, I’m left in the dark pretty much,” he wrote. He plans to return stateside in January and says he will file again for custody.4

For Sgt. Greer, her ordeal has finally come to an end. She returned from her deployment in the spring and the custody hearing was in June. After the hearing, the Judge took 7 days to make his decision. For Greer, those 7 days must have seemed like a lifetime. Finally she received a phone call from her attorney letting her know that she would retain custody of her daughter and her ex-husband would be allowed regular visitation.

I implore our readers to get involved and contact the politicians in their states. Let them know how you feel about this and encourage them to make sure that there are protections for our military parents. Protections that allow them to retain custody of their children. This is not a battle that our Troops should have to be worrying about while they’re deployed in combat zones. Not only do they cause distractions for the Soldier but these types of issues can put the Soldier and their fellow Soldiers at risk, because of those distractions. Something definitely needs to be done to keep these situations from happening. Something needs to be done to protect the rights of our military members and ultimately the rights of their children.

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For Your Today, They Gave Their Tomorrow

December 28, 2008

Just a reminder of what our Troops have given, so that we can continue to live the way that we wish here in the United States.

Please never forget the priceless gift our Troops have given us. Keep them in your hearts and prayers and always remember those who have given their all.

Merry Christmas From A Soldier’s Mind

December 25, 2008

I’d like to take this time to wish all of our readers, near and far, a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for all of your support over the past year. We hope that you’ll continue to find what we have to say here at A Soldier’s Mind, both interesting and relevant, in regards to our Troops and the issues that confront our Troops.

As you spend time with your friends and loved ones this Christmas, please don’t forget the thousands of your fellow Americans who are serving in harm’s way, defending our country. Remember that while you’re home celebrating the season with your loved ones, they’re thousands of miles away from home, unable to spend time with their family and friends this year. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Problems At Fort Lee WTU? You Decide

December 24, 2008

Following the scandal at Walter Reed over treatment of Wounded Warriors and the conditions that many of them were living in, the Army created Warrior Transition Units at 35 bases across the Army. The idea of the WTUs was to provide stability, care managers to monitor appointments and progress, a physician assigned to just the WTU and resources for the families of the Wounded Warriors. Initially, Soldiers with any type of injury, be it from combat or not, could be assigned to a WTU. Recently however, the Army has realized that it doesn’t have an adequate number of staff to man the WTUs and the rules have changed in regards to what Soldiers can be admitted to the units. Now, only those who are injured in combat are allowed into the units. Those who are injured while preparing to deploy, or because of other conditions are now staying with their home units.

At Fort Lee, a meeting was recently held. A meeting that all Soldiers in the WTU were told that they must attend, unless they had a note from their doctor stating otherwise. The Soldiers who are currently members of the WTU, walked away, some angry, and most disagreeing with what officials and leaders had to say at the meeting. Reporters were present at the meeting. Soldiers reported that if they were seen speaking with a reporter after the meeting, or passing a note to a reporter, they were called in by their chain of command and questioned about what they’d said to the reporter.1

While at the meeting, leaders told the audience that the WTU at Fort Lee was ranked in the top 5 of the 35 WTUs across the Army. They were also told that their barracks were ranked as the best in the Army. According to the company commander Capt. David Payne, three members of the cadre are former Wounded Warriors, themselves.

“Your mission is to heal,” said Col. Donna Diamond, head of Fort Lee’s Kenner Army Medical Clinic. “We’re here to make sure your needs are addressed.”2

Soldiers in the audience disagreed. Many were seen shaking their heads and comments about a ‘dog and pony show’ were overheard. While officers from the cadre were saying they were fully staffed with well-trained Soldiers and civilian staff, who truly cared about the Soldiers, who think about the cadre as their friends, the Soldiers in the WTU said something completely different. Many stated that they have difficulty getting appointments, that they’re forced to perform 24-hour duty while on sleeping medications, that they’re treated poorly by the cadre, as if they’re whiners only trying to ‘pull one over on the system’. Two of the Soldiers stated that the stress of being in the WTU was so severe, that they sought off-post counseling in help them deal with it. One who suffers from severe PTSD said that a cadre member yelled at him because he was playing with his unit patch and ended up being hospitalized. Another was facing an Article 15, because he overslept … even though he was undergoing a sleep study, one that eventually diagnosed him with narcolepsy. Others complain that when they’ve asked for help through the Ombudsman (put in place for that purpose) or the Inspector General office, they are admonished for violating the chain of command.3

Soldiers in the WTU have also complained that if their injury is not combat related, that they’ve been treated as a waste of resources, instead of a Soldier who’s injuries need to be rehabilitated. According to Captain Payne, that is not true. That all Soldiers, regardless of how their injuries occurred, are treated the same.

Retired Lt. Col. Mike Parker, who has worked as an advocate for Wounded Warriors, agrees with the complaints of the Soldiers. His job has been to help the Wounded Warriors, as they wade through the medical process. He said that he’s seen the same recurring problems in the Army’s WTUs but that the WTU at Fort Lee is one of the worse of them all. He did note however, that such problems are occurring at all the WTUs.4

This is just a small portion of the complaints that were raised about the WTU at Fort Lee, in the article I read. My feelings are very clear on the matter. If these problems do in fact exist, then the Army needs to FIX THEM as soon as possible. The men and women assigned to the WTUs received their injuries serving our country and DO NOT deserve to be treated as second class citizens, just because they have an injury. The WTU Cadre is supposed to be there, to assist these men and women as they navigate the system and recover from their injuries, not do their best to make things worse for them. We owe these men and women our gratitude and they should be treated as a very important part of the Army, regardless of their injury or how they obtained their injury. Please let us know what you think about this issue.

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USO Artists Continue To “Rock The Troops”

December 23, 2008

They’re used to playing in front of huge crowds in sold-out arenas around the world. They’re used to their every whim being catered to, at those performances. They’re used to hearing just about anything at one of their shows, except for this warning….

“In case of a rocket attack, let’s do what we always do – hit the ground and count to 100,” Army Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, deputy commanding general for stability at Regional Command South, told the audience here. “If it continues, the performers will leave, and you will leave to take shelter. But when the all-clear sounds, they will come back and you will come back, and they’ll pick up where they left off.”1

Grammy award-winning musician Kid Rock, American Idol contestant and country musician Kellie Pickler, and musician Zack Brown entertain troops stationed at Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, during the 2008 USO Holiday Tour. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

Grammy award-winning musician Kid Rock, American Idol contestant and country musician Kellie Pickler, and musician Zack Brown entertain troops stationed at Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, during the 2008 USO Holiday Tour. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

That warning was given prior to the latest Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Holiday Tour show in Kandahar, Afghanistan, prior to performances by Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Lewis Black, Tichina Arnold, Zac Brown, Kathleen Madigan and John Bowman. They didn’t join the USO Tour for fortune or fame, but instead to show their appreciation for our Troops and the job they’re doing. Some of the artists, such as Kid Rock, have participated in USO tours in the past. Kid Rock made it a point to let the Troops know that as long as they’re out there on the front lines, they can count on him to come back and entertain them.2

I’m always impressed when performers such as Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, Toby Keith and others, make it a point to take part in the USO Tours and entertain our Troops, when they could just as easily and a lot more comfortably, tour back home, where they’d be a lot more comfortable, a lot safer and make a hell of a lot more money. But they don’t do it for any of that. Instead, they join these tours to entertain our deployed Troops, out of a sense of responsibility to these brave men and women, as they’re way of saying “Thanks for all you do for our Country.” It’s a shame that more performers don’t make it a point to give back just a little bit to our Troops, by touring with the USO shows. Hats off to Kid Rock,
Kellie Pickler, Lewis Black, Tichina Arnold, Zac Brown, Kathleen Madigan and John Bowman, for taking time away from their families, and away from the comforts of home, to entertain our Troops.

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Once Again, NORAD Tracks Santa

December 21, 2008

Christmas is quickly approaching and the staff at NORAD are preparing to once again monitor the progress of Santa Claus and report his location to millions of excited boys and girls. I can remember as a child, turning on our television and watching as Santa Claus was tracked on Christmas Eve. That information came to us, courtesy of NORAD. This year marks the 50th year that NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) has tracked Santa Claus, as he’s made his way around the world on Christmas Eve, delivering Christmas joy to millions of girls and boys. Millions of boys and girls will log online or check in on their televisions to see the progress that Santa Claus is making. Millions of boys and girls will call the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline on Christmas Eve as well as check his progress on the official NORAD Tracks Santa website. The story behind how the annual Santa Tracking came to be is interesting and something that our readers should be interested in.

NORAD Tracks Santa

On Dec. 24, 1955, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. However, this call was not from the president or a general. It was from a girl in Colorado Springs who was following the directions in an advertisement printed in the local paper – she wanted to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.

The ad said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” However, the number was printed incorrectly in the advertisement and rang into the CONAD operations center.

On duty that night was Col. Harry Shoup, who has come to be known as the “Santa Colonel.” Col. Shoup received numerous calls that night and rather than hanging up, he had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in that night.

Thus began a tradition carried on by the North American Aerospace Defense Command when it was formed in 1958. Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.

Every Christmas Eve, several hundred volunteers staff telephone hotlines and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children (and adults) from around the world. Live updates are provided on the NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site (in six languages), over telephone lines and by e-mail to keep curious children and their families informed about where Santa really is and if it’s time to get to bed.

In November and December 2006, the NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site received nearly a billion hits from 210 countries and territories around the world. More than half a million people called the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline, and volunteers received nearly 12,500 e-mails from children around the globe.

NORAD Tracks Santa has become a magical and global phenomenon, delighting generations of families everywhere.1

If you’re interested in finding out where Santa is at on Christmas Eve, or have questions for the volunteers who assist NORAD in tracking Santa Claus, please visit the NORAD Tracks Santa website. On the website you’ll find lots of helpful information for you or your children, as you anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus.

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Army Now Allows Full Honors at Arlington For Troops Killed In Action

December 18, 2008

In the past, when a Soldier was killed in action and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, unless they were a Medal of Honor recipient or an officer, they were afforded only standard honors, which includes a firing party, a bugler and a chaplain. Beginning early 2009, any Soldier killed in action will be afforded full military honors, which also include a horse-drawn caisson, an escort platoon, a colors team and a band.

“Arlington National Cemetery is an expression of our nation’s reverence for those who served her in uniform, many making the ultimate sacrifice,” said Secretary of the Army Pete Geren. “Arlington and those honored there are part of our national heritage. This new policy provides a common standard for honoring all Soldiers killed in action.”1

The Army has outlined their eligibility criteria for any Soldier killed as a result of the following:

* Any action against an enemy of the United States;

* Any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged;

* Serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party;

* An act of any such enemy of opposing armed forces;

* An act of any hostile foreign force;

* An international terrorist attack against the United States or a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary of the Army;

* An act of any hostile foreign force during military operations while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force; or

* Action by friendly fire (i.e., by weapon fire while directly engaged in armed conflict, other than as the result of an act of an enemy of the United States, unless the Soldier’s death was the result of the Soldier’s willful misconduct).2

If a Soldier who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery is killed under circumstance that are not specified in the above criteria, they are still authorized to receive the military funeral honors they are entitled to at Arlington. According to officials, the new policy only applies to Arlington National Cemetery, as the are the only National Cemetery that has a caisson. The policy change includes interments, inurnments and memorializations. Families will be offered the full honors, which generally takes more time to arrange. Full honors will also be arranged for members of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, if requested, as well.3

I think that this change is policy has been a long time coming and is a positive step towards recognizing the sacrifice and service of our country’s best and brightest. I’m very pleased to hear that our country is offering this to the families of our fallen heroes.

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Christmas Tree Farm Shows It’s Appreciation For The Troops

December 16, 2008

Ever since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, one Christmas tree farm in Whitehouse, Ohio has showed their appreciation in a very special way. This year, they’ve given away 100 trees to military families, as their way of letting them know that they appreciate the sacrifices that they’ve made for our country.

“We’ve been giving trees to military since the war started,” Duke Wheeler, owner of Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm said. “We feel it’s important to let these families know that we appreciate their sacrifices … We’re grateful for all that they do.”1

The business will be giving seven foot Christmas trees to military families who have family member currently deployed or one who just returned from deployment, until December 20th. The family member may cut down their own tree, or employees of the tree farm will do it for them, while they wait. Mr. Wheeler also participated in the “Trees for Troops” weekend. This is an annual event, where for each Christmas tree that is purchased at Christmas tree farms that participate in the program, one is donated to a military family. This year’s “Trees for Troops” event took place from December 5th through December 7th.

“Trees for Troops,” a Christmas Spirit Foundation and FedEx Corp. program, has delivered more than 34,000 real Christmas trees to military families since it began in 2005. The program has grown from about 400 Christmas tree farms and retailers participating to more than 850. Nearly 17,000 families at more than 40 military bases received a Christmas tree in 2007 through this program.2

These two events are just a couple of things that Mr. Wheeler participates in. He’s also a member of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association. His Christmas Tree farm also participates in “Operation Evergreen.” Operation Evergreen is a program that has been in existence for 12 years, that allows servicemembers to celebrate their Christmas with a live Christmas tree from Ohio. Each year around Veteran’s Day, trees are cut and collected from several Christmas tree farms in Ohio and then transported to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which inspects the trees and then packs them into boxes which will be shipped overseas by FedEx.

“This year alone, with 20 growers, we had 30 high school and middle school students come and help us pack 325 trees,” Amy Galehouse, Operation Evergreen coordinator for OCTA, said.3

Mr. Wheeler is pretty modest about his willingness to participate in the three programs that benefit our military at Christmas. He feels honored to be able to participate in the programs and be able to share a small token of his thanks with the Troops and their families. When I run across stories like this, I’m always impressed by the willingness of some Americans, to go that extra mile in showing their appreciation for our Troops. People like Mr. Wheeler, are one of the reasons, why the men and women of our country’s Armed Forces, continue to do the job they do, despite the hardships it often brings to them and their families. From a proud American, who is part of a retired military family, I wish to say “Thank YOU!” to Mr. Wheeler for your support of our Troops.

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New Meaning To The Term “Army Strong”

December 15, 2008

When most of us think about the Army’s Army Strong campaign, we think often think of mental and physical toughness. We picture in our minds what is portrayed in the Army commercials we see on television, seeing trainees being put through the paces of Army training. One recent graduate at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s AIT, gives a whole new meaning to the term.

PFC Siobhan Healy is a 39 year old German native who graduated at the top of her AIT class on Friday December 5th. That accomplishment definitely makes her Army Strong, but there’s even more reasons that she redefines that term. PFC Healy just completed the 63B Wheeled Vehicle Mechanics Course and also scored 350 points on her physical fitness test. She’s also the mother of 13 children.

PFC Siobahn Healy with her husband Christopher Healy and 12 of her 13 children pose for a family picture after her graduation from Advanced Individual Training, Edgewood, Maryland. Photo by SPC Loni Kingston

PFC Siobahn Healy with her husband Christopher Healy and 12 of her 13 children pose for a family picture after her graduation from Advanced Individual Training, Edgewood, Maryland. Photo by SPC Loni Kingston

“I started working out about six months before I went to basic training,” she said. “I was afraid that the younger people would outrun me.”1

Healy is a native of Germany and has always had the desire to join the military, according to her husband, Christopher Healy. She was not allowed to serve in the German military, partly due to the fact that she’s a woman, but also because of her height. She’s 6′1″ tall. Healy had almost given up on her dream to serve in the military, as she figured that at 39, the opportunity to serve had already passed her by. She found out after talking with a Maryland National Guard recruiter that she was still able to enlist. While she was extremely excited about the prospect of being able to serve in the military, as a mother she was a bit apprehensive because she knew that doing so, could mean that she’d have to be away from her children on a deployment.

Healy is proud of her adopted country and because of her appreciation and desire to give back, she put her apprehension aside and decided to join the National Guard. Because she didn’t sign up for any monetary gain, but instead a desire to serve her country, she declined the sign on bonuses that she was eligible for.

“It was the right thing to do for me,” she said.2

PFC Healy is now a proud member of the 200th Military Police Company, a Maryland National Guard unit that is located in Cantonsville, Maryland. Beyond her new military career, Healy has other goals that she wishes to achieve in her adopted country. She also has the desire to become a police officer. Currently she is attending college, majoring in Criminal Justice and she eventually wishes to work as a police officer for Baltimore City Police Department.3

I was quite impressed when I read about PFC Healy. She is a great role model for our children, as they make their way through school and decide what they want to do with their lives. I find it very inspirational that she has the desire to give back to the United States, her adopted country and is doing so in the National Guard and eventually by working in Law Enforcement. PFC Healy most definitely embodies what it means to be “Army Strong.”

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Dear Santa……. (Tissue Alert)

December 14, 2008

With Christmas fast approaching, please keep the men and women serving in our country’s Armed Forces in your thoughts and prayers. I thought I’d share this video with everyone, as I know that there are many boys and girls who will be asking for this very thing for Christmas this year from Santa.

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