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The first independent air force — 100 years before the Space Force

John Gurdons F.2b Fighter


A century before President Trump announced the creation of a U.S. Space Force, another new military force was leaving the Earth. The Royal Air Force came into existence 100 years ago, on what might seem an inauspicious date, April Fool's Day, 1918.

On that morning, my grandfather, John Everard Gurdon, flew on the RAF's first ever patrol, hunting Luftwaffe aircraft in the skies over northern France. When he returned to his base at Vert-Galant, his fellow men of the 22 Squadron gathered in front of Gurdon's Bristol F.2b fighter for a memorial photograph. The result (above) is in the Imperial War Museum now, and copies are all over the place.

Gurdon turned out to be good at this work. He went on to become one of the air aces of World War I, shooting down 28 German aircraft and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross. (Fighter flying became a short family tradition, for my father, Philip Gurdon, flew Spitfires in World War II, a fact that used occasionally to make complete strangers go gaga with admiration.)

But back to 1918 and today. The RAF had previously been the Royal Flying Corps, part of the British Army. But as aircraft became more sophisticated, and control of the skies became more and more important over the battlefield, an independent force equal to the army and navy was a logical step. Details of America's Space Force can be debated at another time, but the events of 100 years ago in northern Europe are a persuasive example of how military forces must adjust to new technology to ensure national security.

The proximate occasion of my writing this post today is not, however, Trump's decision to create a Space Force. It is, rather, the fact that John Gurdon's first and most successful book, Over and Above, is back in print 99 years after it was first published in 1919, and is now on sale in the U.S. (Grub Street, 182 pages, $16). It is a lightly fictionalized account of the author's four or five months of fighting. The style is typical of the boys' adventure genre of those days, with lots of boarding school slang and bravado.

But the scenes are also harrowing when you realize they were not really fiction at all. Gurdon's friends were shot down in flames, fell from their aircraft during dog fights, and suffered heavily from post-traumatic stress, as Gurdon did. On one occasion, a bullet shot through his windscreen at face height and smashed his arm; fortunately, he was at that moment leaning down to free a rudder pedal that had jammed. In August 1918, exploding anti-aircraft fire from the ground concussed Gurdon, and it ended his war. He was sent back to England, and he put down his experiences in Over and Above.

I remember vaguely that, as a boy, I heard an account of Gurdon shooting down an observation balloon. The anecdote had not greatly impressed me; a vast dirigible seemed both easy to hit and defenseless when in the machine gun sights of an incoming fighter. But in Over and Above, the drama of that incident, its danger, and its almost mad fighting fury come alive, and I look back now amazed at what men of action will do, and also at my own juvenile insouciance.

So, this is a shameless plug for the book, and to be clear, it won't earn me a penny.


101-Year-Old WWII Vet Commissions Grandson Into Air Force: 'One of the Best Days of My Life'

101 Year Old WWII Vet


Graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy is already an exciting milestone, but for one class of 2019 cadets, the ceremony served as a touching multi-generational event.

Walter Kloc, a 101-year-old WWII Veteran traveled some 1,500 miles from Amherst, New York, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to commission his grandson, Joseph Kloc, as an officer in the Air Force on Wednesday, May 29, according to CNN and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“This is what it’s all about … Walter received a standing ovation, and everyone in the room was gifted with a memory they’ll never forget,” Air Force officials wrote in a Facebook post alongside photos of the grandfather and grandson sharing the special moments.

Joseph shared the pictures in his own Facebook post, writing, “Probably one of the best days of my life.”

Walter was a bombardier and pilot for the Army Air Forces more than 70 years ago, CNN reported. He traveled to Colorado with his son and Joseph’s father, William Kloc, according to NBC affiliate WGRZ. Ahead of the event, Walter’s wife, Virginia, told WGRZ that he was “absolutely thrilled and excited” to be part of the graduation ceremony.

“I’m so excited for him,” William told the station of his son. “He’s fulfilling his dream, and he was so excited that his grandfather … World War II, Air Force, bombardier, pilot, could come and commission him.”

Walter was raised in Michigan and worked for General Motors after the war, WGRZ reported.


Guam EPA: Andersen Air Force Base violates Guam environmental law

Andersen AFB 001


The Guam Environmental Protection Agency issued a violation notice to Andersen Air Force Base Northwest Field Facility after finding non-approved chemicals used for treating water.

According to the notice, Guam EPA charged with the responsibility of implementing the Guam Pesticides Act, found there was a possible misuse of a product to disinfect water for distribution.

On Dec. 28, 2018, a routine sanitary survey inspection was conducted on a water storage tank on Northwest Field and Guam EPA staff discovered a different form of chlorination from what was approved by Guam EPA was installed, the notice stated.

A review by Guam EPA's Pesticides Enforcement Program found the product is a pesticide and is used only for swimming pools, per the product labeling. Guam EPA imposed a $750 administrative penalty.

Andersen responds

Andersen in a release said it used Pool Time chlorination tabs to sanitize a half-million-gallon drinking water tank that serviced the facilities on Northwest Field; however, Guam EPA classifies the tablets as a pesticide and when this became known, the use of the tablets was immediately ceased.

The Northwest Field water tank provides water to Northwest Field only. It doesn't provide water to any other part of Andersen Air Force Base, the release stated.

Although Andersen received the notices of violation for the Northwest Field water tank, at no time was the water deemed unsafe to drink. Both Guam EPA and Andersen concluded that the use of the Pool Time chlorination tabs wouldn't result in any adverse health effects, the release stated.

A public notice explaining what had happened was sent to people who may have been exposed to the drinking water, the release stated

Andersen conducts routine analysis of its water supply and at no point was it deemed unsafe, the release stated, and the base fully cooperated with Guam EPA. Military representatives met with Guam EPA on Feb. 7 to discuss the actions required by the notice of violation and committed to paying the appropriate fines, the release stated.

The $750 fine is in the final process of being paid and the $1,700 fine is still being discussed with Guam EPA as there is no record/proof of exactly when the tabs were used, the release stated.

Personnel involved in operating and maintaining the water systems have been disciplined/counseled and additional training accomplished, the release stated, and new standard operating procedures have been put in place, requiring regular internal inspections of all systems with environmental permits and notifications to environmental experts when primary methods of chlorination are inoperable.


Exclusive: Air Force to push Congress for military housing tenant bill of rights

AF Push Congress


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Aiming to grant military families far greater say to challenge hazardous housing, the U.S. Air Force told Reuters Monday it will push Congress to enact a tenant bill of rights allowing families the power to withhold rent or break leases to escape unsafe conditions.

The proposed measure, outlined in an interview at the Pentagon by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David L. Goldfein, follows complaints from military families who say they are often powerless to challenge private industry landlords when they encounter dangerous mold, lead paint and vermin infestations.

“Clearly there are areas where we have issues,” Goldfein said.

Added Secretary Wilson: “That could put a little more leverage into the hands of the renters.”

The Air Force push adds to a drumbeat of reforms to emerge in recent weeks following a Reuters series, Ambushed at Home, that documented shoddy housing conditions at bases nationwide and described how military families are often empowered with fewer rights than civilian tenants.

Read the series Ambushed at Home at

Wilson said the Air Force is actively working with the Army and Navy to push a tenant bill of rights that would give military families a stronger hand in housing disputes. She wants to strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a law that includes active duty housing protections. As one example, Wilson proposed expanding the act to allow base families to end their lease or withhold rent if their landlords fail to correct health and safety problems.

Beyond that effort, she said wing commanders of each U.S. Air Force base have been directed to inspect all 50,000 privatized family housing units in the force’s portfolio by March 1. She cited housing breakdowns at Air Force bases including Tinker in Oklahoma, Maxwell in Alabama, MacDill in Florida and Keesler in Mississippi.

In addition, she said, the inspector general’s office will launch a review of how Air Force bases respond to housing health and safety complaints.

Last week, the U.S. Army vowed to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting residents. And on Friday, the Army issued a letter directing senior commanders to conduct inspections of all housing within the next 30 days.

The military action plans follow a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this month in which members of Congress sharply questioned private industry landlords and Defense Department leaders over conditions at U.S. bases.

Wilson said the Air Force is also considering working with Congress to renegotiate its contracts with housing companies to allow the service to withhold all incentive fees from low-performing landlords.


Army Veteran to become first living recipient of Medal of Honor for war in Iraq

David Bellavia 001


The White House announced on Monday that former Army Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia will become the first living Medal of Honor recipient for the war in Iraq for his heroism during the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004. The five previous Medals of Honor in the Iraq War were handed out posthumously and Bellavia's award is an upgrade from the Silver Star he had previously received .

President Trump will present the award to Bellavia at a White House ceremony on June 25.

A few years ago, the Pentagon began a blanket review of all valor awards to see if they should be upgraded.

Bellavia is being honored for his heroism on Nov. 10, 2004 when he was a squad leader in Operation Phantom Fury, an American offensive on the western Iraqi city of Fallujah an Iraqi insurgent stronghold.

The Army Veteran is credited with saving his entire squad that day after being pinned down by enemy fire coming from a block of houses.

"He quickly exchanged an M16 rifle for an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, entered the house where his squad was trapped, and engaged insurgents, providing cover fire so that he and his fellow soldiers could exit safely," said a White House statement announcing his award.

When an armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle could not fire directly into the house, Bellavia re-entered the house armed only with an M16, and attacked insurgents who had been firing rocket-propelled grenades.

"He proceeded to kill one insurgent and wound another, who then ran to another part of the house," said a White House statement announcing his award. "Then-Staff Sergeant Bellavia was soon engaged by another insurgent rushing down the stairs when the previously wounded insurgent reemerged to engage him as well." Bellavia was able to return fire and killed both attackers.

"He then took enemy fire from an insurgent who had appeared from a closet across the room. He pursued him up the stairs and killed him," said the statement.

Bellavia then to the roof "where he engaged and wounded a fifth insurgent, who fell from the roof of the building."

For his heroism, Bellavia was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor; the Distinguished Service Cross is the nation's second highest. His award is being upgraded to the Medal of Honor as part of the Pentagon's three-year review of valor awards for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that was prompted by concerns that acts of heroism were not being appropriately honored.

David Bellavia enlisted in the United States Army in 1999 and after serving in Kosovo, he deployed to Iraq in 2004 with Company A, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division.

Since leaving the Army in August 2005 Bellavia has been active in Veterans advocacy groups and philanthropic organizations.

Bellavia is also the host of a radio talk show for WBEN in Buffalo, New York.

On Monday morning, Bellavia told his listeners the news of his award was "not really registering."

"I'm going to see guys I haven't seen in 15 years. I'm going to think about them. I'm going to just think about the guys we lost the most," said Bellavia. "It just brings you right back.

"One guy gets attention, but none of that's possible without the work of, you know, 25 guys that nobody talks about," he said. "And in this fight, in this circumstance, it was just a group of guys that were out-gunned, and we -- we fought our way through it together."

"This award is our award, and they're, we all consider it something that we did together," he added.


Soldiers: Disgraceful housing conditions at Texas Army post

Fort Hood Housing


FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) - Soldiers and their spouses have told Army leaders at Fort Hood of disgraceful housing at the Central Texas post that includes mold and lead paint along with other problems.

Families living at the post detailed their frustrations with housing during a meeting Thursday that the Austin American-Statesman reports came about a week after a congressional hearing that exposed longstanding problems at privatized housing complexes.

Thousands of homes at Fort Hood are owned by the Australian firm Lend Lease, and the U.S. government oversees 141 barracks that house 18,000 soldiers.

Lawmakers have set aside nearly $300 million to renovate 24 barracks but U.S. Rep. Roger Williams and others have expressed concern that the money could be siphoned away as part of President Donald Trump's emergency declaration to fund a border wall.


GI Bill Housing Allowances May Change Soon

Housing Allowances Change Soon


Department of Veterans Affairs employees testified to Congress on Tuesday that the more than yearlong delay in implementing changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) may soon be over.

Previously, if you went to a school with multiple campuses, your MHA was based on the ZIP code of the main campus. However, a provision of the Forever GI Bill changed that, effective Aug. 1, 2018. For any classes taken after that date, your housing allowance was supposed to be calculated based on the ZIP code of the campus where you attend the majority of your classes.

The MHA is based on the amount of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) the military pays a married E-5 for the relevant ZIP code.

However, the VA ran into several computer-related issues in implementing this portion of the law.

Based on their congressional testimony, VA officials say they have fixed the computer processing issues and will begin paying the MHA on Dec. 1, 2019, based on the campus where you attend the majority of your classes.

Officials said that about 21,000 students will see their monthly housing payments go down, while 59,000 will see them increase. There are currently more than 700,000 people drawing Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

While the 21,000 who are negatively affected by this change will see their MHA decrease immediately in the payment they receive in early January for their December attendance, the VA has promised that Veterans and dependents won't be on the hook for the retroactive pay decrease. It says that those who were overpaid through no fault of their own will be able to have the debt waived.

The VA added that it will also offer financial and other assistance to those who were adversely affected by the law change.

Those due an increase in their MHA will see their January payment go up, but any retroactive payment going back 16 months probably won't come for at least another six months.

Keep Up With Your Education Benefits

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Vet Benefits Vary Widely from State to State, CNAS Study Says

Vet Benefits Vary


There is a stark gap in the type and level of benefits the states offer to Veterans, according to a report the Center for a New American Security released Monday, along with a searchable database of benefit opportunities.

Illinois ranks at the top of the report as having the most benefits for Veterans.

All states can improve how they advertise the benefits and the application process, the study says.

Kayla Williams, director of the CNAS military, Veterans and society program – also an Iraq war Veteran and past director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans – said the study’s results were “eye-opening” and highlight one of the issues Veterans and their families consider when deciding where to live.

“Weighing this, knowing this is something to consider if we want to move, is the biggest lesson that I’ve taken away – that it can be so significant,” reported.


New video series teaches Veterans how to file disability claims online

VA News Release 002


Step-by-step instruction offers latest digital transformation

VA is transforming the way Veterans learn about and apply for compensation benefits through a new video tutorial highlighting the digital Disability Compensation Benefits Claims tool, released earlier this year.

Built with Veterans, for Veterans, the Disability Compensation Benefits Claims tool is a development process that incorporates user testing and human-centered design principles. The tool gives Veterans more control over claims submission and represents an innovative leap forward in VA services.

“The Disability Compensation Benefits Claim tool lessens the administrative and paperwork burden for Veterans, and shortens the processing timeline for benefits claims,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This innovative tool, along with the companion tutorial video series, represents VA’s commitment to providing Veterans quality service through digital transformation.”

The accompanying five-part video tutorial series is accessible on VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) YouTube page. The tutorials describe steps Veterans can follow to complete disability compensation claims applications online using the new digital tool. The videos feature:

  • An overview of the online tool’s user-friendly platform, and its efficient functionality that streamlines the claims submission process.
  • Log-in instructions for starting the process of filing a disability benefits claim, and how Veterans can track existing disability compensation claims.
  • Instructions on how the tool automatically checks the Veteran’s record to find out if there is an active intent to file date already pending.

Visit the full tutorial series for instructions.

Click here for more information about disability compensation.


A Brief Overview of New VA Appeals System

New VA Appeals


The Trail We Blaze

Beginning February 19th, 2019, all new Veteran claims filed will follow the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 or AMA for short which is the new VA appeals system. Older claims will stay in the “Legacy” system unless the Veteran specifically changes appeals paths into the newer system. This Blog will attempt to illustrate the three new paths for the claims to take once the initial rating decision is given. The three paths are the Higher Level Review, the Supplemental Lane, and the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board. For ease of understanding, there may be times where comparing AMA and Legacy systems will be necessary. Just as a reminder, AMA is the new system and Legacy is the older system. An important thing to remember is, just like the Legacy system, once the initial rating decision is given you will have one year to appeal the decision so take a moment and weight the best option for your claim.

Higher-Level Review in the New Va Appeals System

The first path you may want to consider is the Higher Level Review. This is similar to the old legacy path of wanting the regional office to look at your claim again with the same evidence. One of the more noticeable changes with the new VA appeals system is the change of forms. Before, the Veteran had to declare a NOD by sending a letter, stating your disagreement on a VA4138 or by calling the VA and telling them over the phone. Now, the VA requires a new VA Form the VA Form 20-0996 Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review to be filed for the claim to be placed into this path. The primary reason you would choose this path is if you feel like there is enough evidence already submitted and the initial decision was a mistake that a highly trained person should be able to see. If this path is chosen and the desired decision is not reached, the options are to try one of the other two paths.

Supplemental Lane

The second path you may want to consider is the Supplemental Lane. This path is similar to the Legacy DRO path, in that you may submit new and relevant evidence. This includes medical records, buddy statements and other relevant evidence you, or your representative, can gather to strengthen your case. As with the Higher Level Review path, this path has a new VA Form as well, it is VA Form 20-0995 Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim.

Notice of Disagreement in the New VA Appeals System

The third path to be considered is the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board. This is the path directly to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) in the new VA appeals system, unlike the Legacy system that required the Regional Office (RO) to have several decisions before looking at the claim; the AMA system gives the Veteran the option to seek a decision from the BVA after the first decision. This path itself has three branches (dockets) to choose from the Direct path, the Evidence path, and the Hearing path. The Direct path is for a case that you feel a mistake was made and the BVA would notice the mistake without any new evidence, similar to the High-Level Review path but at the Board level instead of the RO level. The Evidence path is designed for compiling new evidence within 90 days of filing for this path. The third BVA path is the Hearing path and it is designed for Veterans to state their case before a judge via video-conference or physically in Washington D.C. and then be able to submit new evidence up to 90 days after their hearing. Remember with the Hearing path you can compile evidence before the hearing date, you just have to keep in mind that it must all be submitted within the 90-day window after the hearing. As with the other two paths this path has its own VA form, VA Form 10182, Decision Review Request: Board Appeal (Notice of Disagreement).

What if I Need Help?

To bring this overview together, the new VA appeals system, Modernization Act, has changed the way new Veteran benefits claims will be handled. After your initial decision, you will have several paths to decide from rather than just a general Notice of Disagreement. The three major paths are the Higher Level Review, the Supplemental Lane, and the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board with the Board path being broken down into three different paths; Direct, Evidence, and Hearing. These new pathways may look intimidating but as this is an uncharted path Veteran groups such as the American Legion and Veteran law firms like Hill & Ponton will assist Veterans in discovering how the new paths will be handled. Remember there are many resources for Veterans to use in assisting with filing and pursuing a claim.


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