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Active-duty military troops mobilized for firefighting, for first time since ‘06

For the first time since 2006, active-duty military personnel are being mobilized to assist with wildland firefighting. The National Interagency Fire Center announced the mobilization today, with roughly 95 large wildfires burning about 1.1 million acres in seven western states including Idaho. Aitor Bidaburu, chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, called the current situation “the most challenging wildfires we’ve experienced in several years.” NMAC requested the Department of Defense to provide 200 active-duty military personnel to join the firefighting ranks; the request was immediately approved, and the soldiers are being mobilized from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

After a four days of training – conducted in part by the BLM’s Vegas Valley Crew, which is comprised entirely of military veterans – the soldiers are scheduled to join the fire lines on Sunday.

NIFC reports that active-duty military personnel have been mobilized to serve as wildland firefighters 35 times since 1987. Currently, states including California, Washington and Oregon have mobilized National Guard troops to help with wildland firefighting. That hasn’t occurred in Idaho, however, where much of the state’s National Guard is currently in California for a major training exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin. More than 2,500 Idaho Army National Guard soldiers are participating in the training exercise from Aug. 7-27.

Local pot shops receiving letters from the U.S. Army

A letter sent by the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board to area marijuana retailers tells them their stores are "off limits" to military personnel without evidence they'll refuse selling pot to men and women in uniform.

The letter, dated Jan. 21, can be seen in its entirety below:

Letter declaring marijuana shops off limits to military personnel

The military routinely identifies areas that are "off-limits" to its personnel. Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the source of the above letter, has a list of off-limits areas on its website. Fairchild Air Force Base does not have a similar list at its Web address.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday the letters were sent to 86 shops across the state. The letter requests that retail stores provide evidence to the board that marijuana will not be sold to members of the military within 30 days in order to lift the ban on service members at their shops.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. There are nine retail stores open in Spokane County under I-502, the law that governs the rollout of the recreational marijuana industry in Washington.


Paddle sports clubs reach out to disabled vets

WATER SPORTS – A program to create an environment of healthy adventure for healing active duty and veteran service members through paddle sports will be introduced in Spokane on Monday, Jan. 28.

The Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club is teaming with Team River Runner, a national non-profit group, to open canoeing and kayaking opportunities for disabled vets, said Celene Olgeirsson, SCKC spokeswoman.

The program starts at 7 p.m. at Mountain Gear Corporate Office, 6021 E. Mansfield Ave., in Spokane Valley.

Info: 509-209-3066

National symbols put on show for veterans at Lake CdA

WILDLIFE WATCHING — The bald eagles didn't disappoint the two boat cruises full of dedicated veterans and active military and their families out on Lake Coeur d'Alene on Saturday.

Continue reading for the story from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Oregon making big-game tags available to military

HUNTING — Giving up the chance to apply for big-game hunting permits is one of the many sacrifices military personnel make for their service.

Oregon is trying to change that.

Oregon soldiers like U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Nash can't plan a trip home to hunt because the randomness of their leave schedules mean they can't apply in advance for most big-game tags, says Mark Freeman, outdoor writer for the Medford Mail Tribune.

But starting this year, they'll have a chance to hit the woods should they find themselves visiting home in the fall, thanks to Nash.

"After a year's prodding from Nash and his father, Enterprise rancher Todd Nash, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has created a new program that allows Oregon service men and women the ability to get controlled deer and elk tags over the counter should they find themselves home during hunting season," Freeman writes.

Call it the Nash Rule, and it's likely the first program of its kind in the nation to grant exceptions for deployed soldiers on leave.

Read on for the rest of Freeman's story.

IRS offers tax tips for military members

There are some tax rules exclusive to the military, and the IRS wants to remind active duty and reserves of them so they can maximize their returns:

Moving expenses: active-duty military can deduct "reasonable, unreimbursed" moving expenses incurred because of a change of station.

Combat pay: Monthly pay for enlisted persons and warrant officers is untaxed if they served in a combat zone that month.

Travel to reserve duty: Members of the Reserves can deduct unreimbursed travel expenses for traveling more than 100 miles from home to perform reserve duties.

For a full list of military tax tips, visit http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=210896,00.html

Bald eagles taking their time getting to Lake CdA for annual gathering

WILDLIFE WATCHING – The annual gathering of bald eagles that feast on spawning kokanee at Lake Coeur d’Alene is getting off to a slow start.

The eagle count at Wolf Lodge Bay is down by 70 percent from last year at this time, said Carrie Hugo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist.

Hugo made the first weekly survey of the season on Tuesday and counted only 12 bald eagles compared with 42 counted on the same day last year.

“It could be the storm we just had,” she said. “We’ll be out on the lake Saturday for the special eagle boat cruise for veterans, so we’ll see if the changing weather makes a difference.”

She also points out that 2010 was a record year for the migration: 254 eagles were counted in the bay during the BLM survey on Dec. 21.

The eagles traditionally start gathering in mid November, peaking in numbers during December before the birds start moving on as the fish spawning ends in January.

Lake CdA eagle cruise for veterans, military and families

WILDLIFE WATCHING  – Veterans and active military are being honored with a special eagle-watching cruise set for Nov. 26 on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The free two-hour partyboat cruise to view the annual congregation of bald eagles is organized by the U.S  Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Fish and Game.

Participants are invited along with their immediate families must make reservations by calling (208) 769-5043. Seating is limited to 160.

Migrating eagles visit the Coeur d’Alene area in winter to take advantage of the kokanee spawning in Wolf Lodge Bay. 

The eagles already are starting to show up and numbers will build to a peak in December before the birds start moving on the spawning ends in January.

Last winter, a record 254 eagles were counted in the bay by BLM biologists on Dec. 21.

Greg Mortenson on the military

I just finished interviewing Greg Mortenson, the co-author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools." I have tremendous admiration for him and his work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and I have written an extensive story for Saturday's paper.

But I didn't have enough space to include all of the topics we discussed, including this fascinating one: His changing perception of America's military.

 Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

"In 'Three Cups of Tea,' I was fairly critical of the military. I said they were all laptop warriors. … But my opinion of the military has really changed. The military really gets it. …

"Because many of our troops have been on the ground three or four times, of all of our government entities, the military understands and has an awareness of respecting the elders and building relationships and listening to the people. There has been a huge learning curve."

In fact, the military sought him out as an adviser on how to effectively build relationships with the Afghan people. 

He'll be speaking at Gonzaga University on Monday at 7 p.m. Tickets available through TicketsWest.

AM: BNSF Honors Military Families

Robert Zeug, who is in the Air Force, prepares to ride the dome car with his daughter Megan, 10, on BNSF’s Holiday Express, a special train on which they offered a free ride Thursday from Spokane train depot. This is the third annual version of the holiday train, on which military families are invited for an excursion on classic rail cars assembled for the event. Mike Prager story here. (SR photo: Jesse Tinsley)

Judge Rules ‘Don’t Ask/Tell’ Illegal

A federal judge in Riverside on Thursday declared the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay service members unconstitutional, saying the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates the First Amendment and due process rights of lesbians and gay men. U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips said the policy did not preserve military readiness, contrary to what Justice Department attorneys and many supporters have argued, saying evidence shows that the policy in fact had a “direct and deleterious effect” on the armed services. Phillips said she would issue an injunction barring the government from enforcing the policy/Los Angeles Times. More here. (AP file photo)

Question: Is it time for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to go?

The history of military discrimination…

Good morning, Netizens…

Cartoonist David Horsey hit the nail on the head in today’s cartoon. In the 1940’s the minds of America refused to admit that persons of color could fly planes. Once the Tuskegee Airmen took to the air, no one could deny them their rightful place in history. You can read their entire history at http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/ but one has only to ask where are the members of Congress who once said black pilots could never fly?

In the 1980’s the big controversy of the time was whether women could serve in the military. Today we have women deployed around the world, including some high-ranking officers in the Pentagon. Women, however, still cannot serve in submarines, the logic being includes the fact that doses of radiation from nuclear submarine reactors can result in infertility, since women do not continually produce eggs as men do with sperm. Also, the finite amount of space available on submarines limits the ability to offer separate berths and lavatories for females. Of course, all one has to do to further exploit this is ask what about male infertility on nuclear submarines?

However, in my opinion, no military policy is so flawed as Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654 the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell policy about gays and lesbians in the military.

In a time of war, this is just more of the same narrow-minded arrogant and discriminatory mindset that has sought, throughout history, to set policies based upon discrimination, rather than fact.


Note to media critics: check your facts

About once a week, some reader is kind enough to forward something from the Internet that shows what an absolutely abysmal job the news media is doing on some topic or another.

Sometimes the complaint involves not telling them that Barack Obama was really born in Africa, or is a closet Muslim, or perhaps from another planet. I can live with that, because a). I’m pretty sure he wasn’t born in Africa but couldn’t prove otherwise to their satisfaction if my life depended on it; b). I take all people at their word on their religion, but wouldn’t care if he was a Muslim; and c). I’m from another planet too, and we aliens stick together.

Other times it involves stories of the military and military heroism, which the e-mail’s anonymous author insists the NEWS MEDIA WILL NEVER TELL YOU.

As someone who covers the military for a paper, and sometimes writes about local veterans who’ve done remarkable things (they’re leery about calling themselves heroes, so I generally don’t) it is mildly annoying to suggest any newspaper would pass up a good story of heroism. They’re much better to write than, say, a story about zoning policy or sewer rates.

The real reason we usually haven’t told the story in the forwarded e-mail is …

A Charity-a-Day: Military

Continuing with our Charity-a-Day thing… here is a wonderful list of organizations that aid or assist Military Personnel, their families, and Veterans. So as not to make a huge post, I created a pdf document for you all to look at.

Military Support Organizations

What are some of your favorite ways to “Support the Troops”? Do you have anyone in your family currently serving in the military?

Have a relative who fought in World War I? Here’s how to find out more…

Washington’s Secretary of State’s office has been pretty innovative in bring yellowed-paper archives out of their boxes in cool storage and into the digital age. The state’s Digital Archives has scanned in — and hand-indexed — years of territorial newspapers, old marriage and other personal records, and photographs, among many other things.

A new feature: a searchable online database to find records of World War I veterans. The paperworks lists training, battles, wounds, birthplaces, and race (Welcome to 1919: “Race: White or colored”, with that capitalization.)

The information cards don’t provide many details, but they give a glimpse into a life. Here, for example, is the March 12, 1920 record for a Pfc. Alexander D. Munro, a Spokane man who was born in British Columbia and enlisted at age 32 for a tour that saw him overseas in the final months of the war. He served in the “QMC,” which I’m guessing was the Quartermaster’s Corps — the Army’s supply arm — and was overseas from July 1918 to April 1919.

Here’s the link to search for someone by name. (Scroll down to bottom of the page and you’ll see where to type in the info.)

Hard Times Boost Military Ranks

Item: Economic rush breeds recruiting rush for military/Rick Thomas, CDA Press

More Info: The Marines are looking for lots of good men, and the job market is making it easier for them to be selective. The same is true for the Army. Both branches of the U.S. military are asking their recruiters for more volunteers, and they are finding all they need and more. “For the quarter January through March, our goal was 22,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Mason II, station commander for the Army’s recruiting station in Hayden. “We have already put in 17.” A shortage of jobs has helped bring in more candidates in their 20s, Mason said.

Question: Why did you join the military? Was it a good experience?