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Owner of Jewelry Store Sentenced for Scamming Navy Sailors and Marines

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A Carlsbad jewelry store owner was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and placed on probation for three years for targeting young sailors and Marines with predatory loans to pay for jewelry.

Ramil “Randy” Abalkhad, 55, who owned the now-shuttered Romano’s Jewelers, will also be required to pay restitution to the victims named in the criminal complaint brought by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Romano’s, which had stores across the state, and its associated lending company, MBNB Financial Inc., will be required to cancel outstanding debts owed by those same victims.

Abalkhad pleaded guilty in April to felony conspiracy to engage in illegal financing and debt collection practices, according to Becerra’s office.

Abalkhad’s wife and co-defendant, 44-year-old Melina Abalkhad, and a third defendant, MBNB employee Ramiro Salinas, both pleaded guilty in April to a conspiracy charge, and both were previously sentenced. Melina Abalkhad will be required to complete a misdemeanor diversion program for her role in operating MBNB Financial.

According to Becerra’s office, Romano’s Jewelers allegedly targeted young sailors and Marines — many of them just out of boot camp — and encouraged them to buy jewelry for themselves and others on credit. But prosecutors say Abalkhad and his associates did not give them required documents when they took out loans, and then used illegal debt collection practices — including debt collectors who falsely posed as attorneys — if the service members fell behind on payments.

“Mr. and Mrs. Abalkhad thought they could get away with targeting our young men and women in uniform,” Becerra said in a statement. “Today’s sentencing should send a clear message to them and others looking to commit predatory crimes against our service members: … We intend to hold unscrupulous merchants and businesses fully accountable for their offenses.”

Becerra said Navy and Marine Corps judge advocates at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Naval Base San Diego provided “critical assistance to our investigative team on this case.”

Abalkhad, who could not be reached by phone and did not immediately respond to voicemail and email messages Thursday, was called a “sophisticated financial criminal” by San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas in early 2017 when he was sentenced to probation on identity theft charges in a previous case.

Prosecutors in that case said Abalkhad and his associates used the personal information of dozens of active-duty Marines in a scheme to charge them for items many of them did not want, sometimes without their knowledge.

This article is written by Alex Riggins from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Pentagon to Bill Saudi Arabia, UAE $331 Million for Fuel and Flight Hours

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The U.S. will seek reimbursement for $331 million from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the refueling and flight hours that the U.S. Air Force has provided during the last three years in the Yemen conflict.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, disclosed the request Thursday following a months-long inquiry into how the Defense Department is accounting for fuel and flight hours spent supporting the Saudi-coalition air strikes in Yemen.

Last week, U.S. Central Command, the overseeing body for Middle East operations, found errors in its auditing, according a report in The Atlantic.

“In November, the Pentagon acknowledged that, in response to your letter, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) reviewed its records and found errors in accounting,'” Reed said in a statement.

But “today, after a careful review, the Pentagon announced it will seek full reimbursement of $331 million from Saudi Arabia and UAE for fuel, refueling services and flight hours,” Reed said. That amounts to $36.8 million for the flight hours, and $294.3 million for fuel, Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told Defense News.

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Last month, the Saudi government said it had “requested cessation of in-flight refueling” from the U.S. for its fighter jets after The Washington Post reported the Trump administration was planning to stop the refueling over growing political concerns.

But even before the announcement to halt refueling was made on Nov. 10, CENTCOM had started working with Air Forces Central Command and U.S. Transportation Command “to reduce its dynamic requirement for tankers” in the Horn of Africa, Army Maj. Josh Jacques, a CENTCOM spokesman, said.

Jacques told Military.com the coalition would lose “roughly one to two tankers” worth of U.S. fuel per day given the freeze.

“This is good news for U.S. taxpayers and underscores the need for strong oversight of the Department of Defense,” Reed said. “The American people should not be forced to bear these costs and I am encouraged DOD is taking steps to get full reimbursement.”

The news of the reimbursement comes as the Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led military campaign. The vote also included a measure condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Trump administration has faced continued pushback for its continued support of Saudi Arabia in arms sales and intelligence in light of Khashoggi’s death. The journalist is believed to have been killed by Saudi operatives at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.

Lawmakers for the last three years have tried a variety of ways to oppose the war — what many officials around the world have declared a humanitarian crisis.

“While the accounting error is being corrected, the larger issue remains that the Trump Administration and international community must capitalize on the progress that has been made during the Yemen peace talks in Sweden,” Reed said.

“The conflict in Yemen has negatively impacted the strategic security interests of the Saudis, Emiratis, and the United States. It has emboldened Iran and relieved pressure on al Qaeda and ISIS,” he added. “Most importantly, the conflict has resulted in the largest humanitarian disaster facing the world in recent memory. It is time for this war to stop.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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How a Former General Motors Exec and His Marine Son Became Salsa Kings

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Only five people know the top-secret recipe to Michigan-made Jar Head Salsa.

“It’s kept in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and guarded by a Marine,” said Tom Smith, 67, the COO of Jar Head.

The Marine is David Smith, 48. He’s Tom Smith’s, son, business partner and creator of the salsa recipe. He came up with it about 20 years ago when he was cooking for some 3,000 U.S. Marines a day at Camp Pendleton in Southern California.

“We went to visit him and he told us to try the salsa he created. It was wonderful,” said Tom Smith. “We started bringing back coolers of his salsa.”

Those coolers turned into a company in 2009. Today, Jar Head Salsa, made in Davison, Michigan, is sold at 10 local farmers markets, three stores and Detroit’s Eastern Market. It’s on track to do $400,000 in sales this year, but the Smiths aren’t in it only for the money. They give 10 percent of the net revenues to charities that support veterans.

For Tom Smith, who retired from quality control at General Motors in 2008, this is his shot at a dream.

“I had this entrepreneurial desire that was pent up all those years at GM,” said Smith. “This doctor, who kept ordering the salsa and giving it to his friends, said we should go into business. That’s all I needed to hear.”

BEAT THE JAPANESE

Tom Smith joined Buick in 1969 at age 18. He attended GM’s Kettering University, studying industrial administration. But, he had two passions: marketing … and girls.

“One day a beautiful girl came by our fraternity house with her friends and it was love at first sight,” Smith said about his wife, Sandy.

The two married in 1972 and raised three sons over their now 47-year marriage.

Meanwhile, Smith earned an MBA from Michigan State University and in 1982 he moved into a new engineering job at Buick City Assembly in Flint. GM built the front-wheel drive LaSabre sedan there. He started studying statistical process control.

“At that time, the American auto industry was way behind Japanese vehicles in quality,” Smith said. “I was gung ho! It was competition against the Japanese.”

Smith applied statistical process control to improving the electrical system quality while the car was in the assembly process. It resulted in GM winning its first J.D. Power Initial Quality Award, he said. His success landed him in corporate quality in the late 1980s where he traveled to GM plants across North America, he said.

But he still he had a bug to do marketing and, “I had a desire to be an entrepreneur all my life,” said Smith. At the time, he could not afford the risk of an entrepreneurial venture because, “I had these three boys I was raising.”

Then one of those boys started cooking up some salsa.

5 MILLION MEALS

Smith’s son David graduated from U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in 1998 and quickly worked his way up to gunnery sergeant running the food service for some 3,000 marines stationed at Camp Pendleton.

“There was a lot of Mexican food down that way,” Tom Smith said. “The Marine Corps food services has a taco bar … it’s like a buffet.”

But David Smith thought the government-issued salsa tasted bad. He thought the nation’s elite warriors deserved better.

“When he was in Iraq, he had to go out in the field to deliver food to the guys. It was dangerous as hell,” Smith said. “His buddies said, ‘Hey, Gunny, I’m going with you.’ They’d put themselves in harm’s way out of camaraderie and love. So he wanted to give them the best he could.”

David Smith took to experimenting with creating his own salsa. It took a few tries, but he found the perfect recipe and his Marines loved it. When his parents started sharing it with colleagues and friends, they knew it was a hit.

“My wife took it to work where a doctor loved it so much, he bought $3,000 worth of it,” Tom Smith said.

David Smith saved that money. When he retired in 2008 from the Marines, he’d made more than 5 million meals. He used the money to fund Jar Head Salsa with his business partners _ his mom and dad.

SPECIAL SOMETHING

The moniker Jarhead, as applied to Marines, originated in World War I.

“The Marines were the first service to get their hair cut universally short. It was short on the sides with a little on top,” said Smith. “The other services said their heads looked like jars.”

The nickname could be seen as derogatory if used by civilians, but most Marines embrace it with each other. It was the right name for this salsa. The next challenge was finding orange bell peppers each week.

“My son wouldn’t let it be made without orange peppers because we want you to see the green bell peppers, the jalapenos, the orange peppers so that people see it’s not just pureed tomatoes,” said Smith. “It’s something special.”

Their produce supplier managed to secure the fresh peppers each week, Smith said. They started by making 40 pints of salsa. Tom Smith and his wife can it by hand to ensure freshness.

They launched the company in May 2009, first selling it at the Grand Blanc Farmers Market.

“We started right away to get customers who would come back once a week,” said Tom Smith, who went on to joke, “We have a phenomenon called Jar Head Salsa withdrawal. It’s a very serious condition and we have the cure.”

The Smiths have expanded Jar Head Salsa to farmers markets in Clarkston, Frankenmuth, Mount Pleasant, Midland, Beaumont Hospital’s farmers market and some special events such as gun shows. Tom Smith takes pride in handing out sample trays of salsa and Jar Head-branded chips, which are made in Detroit’s Mexicantown.

The salsa costs $7 for a pint, the chips are $5 a bag and any leftover salsa is used to make a Bloody Mary mix that sells for $7.

The samples are essential to sales, he said, which is why he hasn’t tried to sell it in grocery stores. “We give out generous samples. We can’t do that easily at a store, so it sits on the shelf and gets old,” said Smith.

In 2013, Jar Head Salsa went into Eastern Market. It’s now sold by independent distributors at farmers markets in Grosse Pointe Farms, Brighton, Holt, Davison, Bath, and Bay City. It is also sold in J. Deans Sausage & Jerky Co. in Commerce Township, Oliver T’s Market and Colony Quality Meats both in Grand Blanc.

CAN’T TOUCH IT

The Smiths’ produce supplier and his crew make the salsa to order each week in a kitchen at the Davison Odd Fellows.

“When all the markets are running in summer, it’s about a thousand pints of salsa, 600 pints of queso dip and 800 bags of chips” each week, said Smith.

The company does not have any employees nor own any facilities, a lesson he learned from his days with GM.

“I didn’t want to have any fixed costs,” Smith said. “I saw GM struggle with fixed costs.”

It took awhile for Jar Head Salsa to be profitable, and it only recently paid off its debt, said Tom Smith. “But nobody’s in it for the money,” said Smith. “It’s something I love doing. I love writing the checks to the veterans’ causes and I love the reaction of our customers.”

The company has donated $46,800 since 2009 to charities. Smith wants more distributors to sell the salsa in southeast Michigan and Toledo. Jar Head Salsa ships salsa to most of the 50 states, Smith said.

“We’d like to clone what we’re doing in other states, then it’s something big,” said Smith. “But we don’t want to lose what we have going: We’re distributing fresh salsa. Nothing can touch our fresh salsa.”

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This article is written by By Jamie L. Lareau from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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UPS and the Marines Join Forces in North Dakota to Battle Childhood Illiteracy

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“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” — Jim Rohn

In an effort to help deliver the gift of reading to the less fortunate children in the country, UPS store locations throughout North Dakota will be, once again, joining forces with the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Literacy Program.

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the UPS store Toys for Tots Literacy Program, launched in 2008 with the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation. Together, UPS and the UPS store network helped raise more than $4 million and distributed more than 39 million books to the most economically disadvantaged children across the country.

“The community’s participation in the Toys for Tots Literacy Program is a key component to the success of this promotion,” Lynn Schulz, manager of the Dickinson UPS store, said. “This program provides us the unique opportunity to work with a nationally recognized organization yet make an impact in our local community, which is only possible because of the thoughtful contributions from the people in this community.”

Locations throughout the United States raise funds year-round to benefit the Toys for Tots Literacy Program, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to support local children and literacy programs. Every dollar received helps place a book in the hands of a child in need, and thanks to the generosity of the southwest North Dakota area, the UPS store location in Dickinson raised over $1,000 last year.

“We had the pleasure of donating boxes full of books to our Dickinson Head Start program,” Schulz said. “I just want everyone to realize that every dollar that they donate stays here in the community and that every dollar is much needed and appreciated.”

Dickinson’s Early Childhood Center and Head Start program were pleased to receive the donations and have already put the books to good use.

“Toys for Tots’ mission is ‘to deliver hope,’ and to bring the joy of reading to children,” a spokesperson for Head Start said. “Our local UPS Store dropped off boxes of books for Head Start and Early Head Start. The books will go toward our schools, which include Berg Elementary, Heart River Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Prairie Rose Elementary, and the Roosevelt Elementary school. We’re grateful.”

According to research on the subject, children who grow up in homes where books are plentiful go further in school than those who don’t have such access. Children from traditionally low-educated families can do as well as children from high-education families if they have access to books in the home, a 2017 study published in the Economic Journal cited.

The Toys for Tots Literacy Program continues to not only deliver the gift of reading, but also the promise of a bright future.

“People can donate cash or new books at participating UPS store locations, ours included,” Schulz said. “It’s a big deal because 1 in 4 children in America grows up without learning how to read, and students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school than those who do.”

This article is written by James Miller from The Dickinson Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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Langley Secretary Pleads Guilty to Stealing $1.46 Million from Air Force

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A former employee at Langley Air Force Base admitted Wednesday that she bilked the federal government out of $1.46 million — mainly by faking the amount of overtime she worked over 17 years.

Michelle M. Holt, 52, was a civilian secretary at the base, where she worked in the communications support squadron of Air Combat Command.

She pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newport News to felony charges that she undertook a long-running effort to boost her own pay.

Between December 2001 and July 2018, Holt falsely claimed 42,847 overtime hours that she didn’t work, according to a statement of facts that Holt, her lawyer and prosecutors signed off on Wednesday as part of the plea deal.

The ruse began slowly at first.

In late 2001, Holt used a co-worker’s log-in information — without that co-worker’s knowledge — to get into a Defense Department computerized pay database. She retroactively added 15 hours of overtime to her paycheck.

As time went on, Holt’s retroactive additions to her overtime “became a regular occurrence,” the statement said. She began to get bolder, particularly after 2008 — when her overtime pay began to double her regular salary.

In 2017, for example, Holt’s salary was $51,324. But she took home $119,585 in overtime pay.

In one two-week period, the statement said, she billed the Air Force for 137 overtime hours that she didn’t work. Though overtime was by far the bulk of the scheme, she also falsified holiday and sick pay.

But things began to unravel in June, when the DoD’s Inspector General’s Office found discrepancies between Holt’s pay and attendance records.

She appeared to get wind that an investigation was afoot. Holt wrote to a co-worker on June 18: “Please keep this between us, have you all had (the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations) come over here about anything?”

She first told investigators she took extra overtime for only a few months. But an investigator then showed Holt a spreadsheet of her overtime going back 10 years. “I’m in trouble,” she said, according to the statement of facts. “It was wrong.”

In Wednesday’s plea agreement, Holt admitted to both charges she faced — computer fraud and theft of government property. When she is sentenced March 13 by U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson, she faces up to 15 years in prison, plus fines and forfeitures.

In the plea agreement, prosecutors promised to ask Jackson to give Holt credit for cooperating with them. “The defendant has assisted the government in the investigation … by timely notifying authorities of (her) intention to enter a plea of guilty, thereby permitting the government to avoid preparing for trial,” the plea agreement said.

Holt declined to speak with the Daily Press after the hearing.

“She was a long-term employee at Langley, and she took her job very seriously,” said her lawyer, William Johnson. “She loved what she did … and she’s very emotional about it.”

“New employees would come to her” for advice on getting acclimated to the Air Force and how things worked at the base, said Holt’s other attorney, Amy Van Fossen.

Holt spent the money on “life and paying daily bills” rather than on spending on luxury items, Johnson said. “There were no exorbitant expenses,” he said.

The statement of facts put it another way: “The defendant stated that she used the money she received from the fraudulently obtained overtime and leave payments to buy items for herself and her family.”

Johnson said Holt “gave a full accounting to investigators for how it happened.”

After Wednesday’s hearing, Holt tearfully hugged her attorneys and then took the unusual step of walking over to the prosecution table and hugging Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian J. Samuels. She said something to the prosecutor that was inaudible from about 20 feet away.

Samuels declined to comment after the hearing.

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Marine Corps Identifies 5 Marines Lost in Midair Crash

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The Marine Corps has identified five Marines killed in a collision last week between an F/A-18 Hornet and a KC-130 Hercules off the coast of Japan during refueling operations.

They include: Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, of New Bern, North Carolina; Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, of Staatsburg, New York; Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores, 27, of Surprise, Arizona; Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, of Tremont, Illinois; and Cpl. William C. Ross, 21, of Hendersonville, Tennessee.

The service members were assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 (VMGR-152), officials said in a release Wednesday.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the names of our fallen Marines,” Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, commanding officer of VMGR-152, said in the announcement. “They were exceptional aviators, Marines, and friends who will be eternally missed. Our thoughts and prayers remain with their families and loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”

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The Marines’ collective service time spanned more than 40 years, officials said. Herrmann, a 16-year veteran of the Corps, was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, the release stated.

Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, 28, one of the F/A-18 pilots, was pronounced dead Friday after he was found during search-and-rescue operations off Kochi on Dec. 6. Resilard served as an F/A-18 pilot with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA(AW)-242), stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, officials said.

The second, unidentified Marine piloting the Hornet was released from the hospital this week, Stars and Stripes reported.

A massive, six-day search-and-rescue operations concluded Dec. 11.

“Every possible effort was made to recover our crew, and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by U.S., Japanese and Australian forces during the search,” said Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, on the day operations ceased.  

“The KC-130J flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been located at this time, making it premature to speculate about wreckage recovery,” he said of the decision.

U.S. 7th Fleet supported the operations with a Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft flying out of Kadena Air Base, Japan.

In addition to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japanese Coast Guard, they were aided by Air Force pararescue and special tactics airmen with the 353rd Special Operations Group and 320th Special Tactics Squadron, and MC-130 Combat Talons and CV-22 Ospreys out of Kadena, according to Military Times.

The aircraft launched from MCAS Iwakuni early last Thursday morning. The crash occurred about 200 miles off the coast of Japan, officials said.

The accident is under investigation.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Air Force Admits Nearly 2,000 Airmen Under Medical Waiver Policy

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The U.S. Air Force has admitted nearly 2,000 recruits on medical waivers for eczema, asthma, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities since a new medical policy went into effect nearly two years ago, according to recent statistics from the Air Force Surgeon General’s office.

.Between Jan. 1, 2017, and September 2018, the service issued 1,908 waivers for the previously disqualifying medical conditions to airmen and officer candidates across the active-duty Air Force, Guard and Reserve, statistics show.

The service implemented its expanded medical policy via the Air Force Memorandum for Appearance and Accession Standards Review last January in an effort to give prospective airmen another chance to enlist or commission on a case-by-case basis.

The breakdown of new recruits spans four authorities: Air Education and Training Command, home of  Basic Military Training; the U.S. Air Force Academy; the Air National Guard; and Air Force Reserve Command, according to the collected data provided through the surgeon general.

Approvals and Denials

More than 880 applicants received waivers for ADHD or a learning disability, the most given out for any condition.

“Overall, more individuals with ADHD and eczema are entering the U.S. Air Force due to the new policy changes,” said Air Force Surgeon General spokeswoman Angelica Lopez. The rate of accessions with asthma remains steady, she told Military.com.

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During the same time frame, however, there continued to be more denials than waivers granted. The service issued 2,555 denials to enlisted and officer candidates across the Air Force who applied with the same medical conditions, statistics show.

AETC had both the most approved waivers — 1,282 — as well as the most denied applications, 2,411. Since the start of the waiver policy, there have been 1,543 requests for ADHD waivers, 1,299 requests for asthma waivers and 851 requests for eczema waivers at AETC.

Of those, 1,065 enlisted and 217 officer members were approved; 1,874 enlisted and 537 officers were denied, the data showed.

Air Force waiver graphic. (Military.com)
(Military.com)

The 800 waivers for those with a prior diagnosis of ADHD were approved for service members heading into AETC. Of that 800, 741 were enlisted members.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs saw the most waivers granted, 222, as well as the most denied, 100, for those diagnosed or misdiagnosed with asthma.

The service changed how it viewed asthma last year because many children have received treatment for wheezing, but were misdiagnosed or grew out of the condition, according to Lt. Gen. Mark Ediger, former Air Force surgeon general.

Ediger told Military.com during last year’s policy rollout that an infection or an unusual exposure manifesting with similar symptoms can be misdiagnosed as asthma.

The surgeon general’s office said waiver denials may reflect denial for another concurrent medical condition since “many applicants have more than one disqualifying issue.”

There were 459 approvals at the Air Force Academy and 144 denials overall.

The academy also expanded its ADHD category to include other learning disorders, such as dyslexia.

“The USAFA command surgeon has not denied a dyslexia case,” Lopez said. “If they’re a legitimate candidate for USAFA from an academics perspective, their dyslexia can’t be severe enough to keep them from being a viable officer candidate.”

In the Air National Guard and Reserve, which collectively had fewer than 200 approvals total, the highest number granted were for asthma in the Guard, 109.

Guard and Reserve data for denials for each condition were not provided.

Learning Disabilities

Recent studies suggest there has been a spike in school-age children or young adults needing medication for ADHD. That spike has led the service to plan for more ADHD cases, officials said.

The Air Force’s expanded policy states that an applicant with a history of ADHD must demonstrate at least 15 months of performance stability off medication — either academically or on-the-job — immediately preceding enlistment or enrollment to be accepted.

Previously, if an individual was treated for ADHD as a child or adolescent, they were disqualified from military service under Defense Department policy. The DoD relaxed some rules in 2010 and further amended how it grants waivers in 2015.

While a medical diagnosis of substance-related disorders or addiction remains medically disqualifying in the Air Force, being on medications such as Adderall or Ritalin isn’t a matter of prior dosage, but rather time, the surgeon general’s office said.  

“There is no dosage ‘cut off,’ ” Lopez said, meaning the Air Force won’t scrutinize prior prescription dosages. “Bottom line, if an applicant meets the criteria and has been performing well [academically or vocationally] medication-free for 15 months prior to application for military service, they should be given waiver consideration.”

If an applicant was denied a waiver under the new policy but can prove they have been off medication for the 15-month window, they are now eligible for waiver consideration, according to the surgeon general’s office said.

“The length of time an applicant must wait before reapplying will depend on when the applicant applied during the 15-month medication-free period that was established by policy,” Lopez said.

Every request is considered on a case-by-case basis, she added.

“There is no standard answer for all situations,” Lopez said. “Every applicant with mental health condition(s) is evaluated … and individually assessed.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Tyndall Pauses Humanitarian Assistance Program for Airmen, Families

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Airmen and families assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, who applied for a special assistance program may not get an answer for a while as officials grapple with which airmen and missions will return to the base.

Tyndall officials have temporarily paused Humanitarian Reassignment and Deferment Program applications, according to Air Combat Command spokeswoman Leah Garton. The program is used to reassign or defer an airman as a one-time action to resolve a critical problem with a family member who is dependent on the airman, according to the service.

“Currently, no additional humanitarian requests are being accepted [or] processed for Tyndall personnel without the 325th Fighter Wing commander approval,” Garton said. “The reason for the temporary pause is to give the commander the time to deliberately consider the personnel requirements for missions that have moved from Tyndall to other bases as a result of the hurricane and ensure there are enough personnel to carry out those missions at those new locations.”

Last month, Air Combat Command said that roughly 3,500 airmen had returned to Tyndall, while 575 are currently assigned on temporary duty there.

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The Air Force said in November that it is working to have roughly 1,500 airmen back at the base before the new year. According to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, most operations and all but 500 or so personnel will return in coming months.

Garton said that hundreds of humanitarian assistance program cases remain open for those still making final arrangements.

“There are 858 Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) and humanitarian assignment cases opened. Of that, 437 cases reflect [permanent change of station] orders completed or issued, leaving 421 cases pending,” she said.

“No additional cases will be opened until the personnel requirements for Tyndall and the missions moving from Tyndall to other bases have been identified,” Garton said. “We expect this will only be a temporary pause, and we are working tirelessly to get airmen and their families answers as soon as possible.”

The process will also identify those who will be scheduled to relocate, ACC said.

That includes those slated to PCS to one of the four locations where Tyndall’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter fleet will be relocated: Langley Air Force Base, Virginia; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Officials said the current relocation process will remain in effect until the base’s personnel requirements have been identified. Once complete, the standard service humanitarian assignment process will be re-implemented, Garton said.

ACC explained that humanitarian permanent change of station is usually associated with special circumstances that are eased by a member’s PCS to a location of their choice. For example, an airman might PCS to be near a close family member who is gravely ill.

“In the case of Hurricane Michael, those affected by the storm were granted special consideration for humanitarian PCS,” Garton said.

The storm walloped Florida in October, rendering more than 95 percent of the base’s buildings non-operational.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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5 Marines Declared Dead After Service Calls Off Search for KC-130J Crew

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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The Marine Corps has ended an extensive search for five Marines missing after their KC-130J Hercules collided midair with an F/A-18 Hornet last week off Japan’s southern coast.

“After an update from the Joint Personnel Recovery Center, and a review of all available information, I have made the determination to end the search and rescue operations for the crew of our [Hercules] … and to declare that these Marine warriors are deceased,” III Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said in a statement posted Tuesday afternoon local time to the organization’s official Facebook page.

“Every possible effort was made to recover our crew, and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by U.S., Japanese, and Australian forces during the search,” he added.

Seven Marines were involved in the training accident, which occurred just before 2 a.m. Thursday local time about 200 miles south of Muroto Cape on Shikoku Island, U.S. and Japanese officials said.

Although the crews were conducting regularly scheduled training, Marine investigators have not confirmed that aerial refueling was underway during the incident, the statement said.

The Hercules’ flight data and cockpit voice recorders have not been found, making it “premature to speculate about wreckage recovery,” the statement added.

Two Marines aboard the Hornet were recovered the day of the accident. The first has been released from a hospital, while the second — Capt. Jahmar Resilard, 28 — was pronounced dead after being found by a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ship.

The statement did not identify the five Marines, but it did say their next-of-kin had been notified.

“All of us in the Sumo family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the conclusion of search-and-rescue operations,” Lt. Col. Mitchell Maury, commander of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, said in the statement. “We know this difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted in the vigorous search for our Marines. Our thoughts are heavy, and our prayers are with all family and friends of all five aircrew.”

Smith also expressed his condolences to the lost Marines’ families.

“Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment,” he said in the statement. “We remain, Semper Fidelis.”

Both the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Japan Coast Guard announced Tuesday that they’d halted their search efforts at 6 a.m.

While the coast guard has stopped searching specifically for the crew members, it will keep an eye out during regular patrols of the area, a spokesman for 5th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday via telephone.

The coast guard sent six of its patrol boats on Thursday and continued to send vessels until Monday, although its search team had shrunk during that time, the spokesman said.

A multinational effort to find survivors was launched that included U.S., Japanese and Australian aircraft and U.S. and Japanese ships.

III MEF has declared the incident a “Class A” mishap, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Monday. Those involve total property damage of “$2 million or more and/or aircraft destroyed” and “fatality or permanent disability.”

Marine officials said Tuesday they are still investigating the incident.

MCAS Iwakuni is home to Marine Aircraft Group 12 and the Navy‘s Carrier Air Wing 5. It is one of the Pacific’s largest air stations.

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Navy Plans to Deactivate F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base

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The U.S. Navy is set to deactivate its F-35 Lightning II squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and plans to move operations to Naval Air Station Lemoore, centralizing its Joint Strike Fighter operations out west.

Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101), known as the Grim Reapers, will move to the California naval base because it is “the center of the universe for the F-35C,” as current and future operational squadrons are set to be based out of Lemoore, said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, spokesman for Naval Air Forces.

“The Navy is moving forward with the deactivation of VFA-101 at Eglin Air Force Base next year, and the re-alignment of F-35C assets into strike fighter squadrons to support VX-9 Detachment Edwards Air Force Base, Naval Aviation Warfare Development Center (NAWDC) at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, and maintain Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) production at VFA-125, while transitioning Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet squadrons to the F-35C Lightning II,” Flanders said in a statement Tuesday. Defense News first reported the move on Dec. 7.

NAS Lemoore is home to Strike Fighter Squadron 125, a replacement squadron, as well as Strike Fighter Squadron 147 (VFA-147). VFA-147 is slated to become the Navy‘s first operational F-35C squadron. The service hopes to declare the F-35C initial operating capability ready in February, with VFA-147’s first deployment scheduled aboard the USS Carl Vinson in 2021.

Flanders said the Grim Reapers “will not be disestablished,” the squadron will just be placed in a reserve capacity until the transition is complete.

For some time, Eglin Air Force Base had been expecting that the Navy — like the Marine Corps — would leave the base, officials previously told Military.com.

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The Air Force originally envisioned the base with five planned squadrons, including three Air Force, one Marine Corps and one Navy squadron. The Marine Corps officially activated its F-35B at Eglin in 2012, but later moved its pilot training course to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, in 2015.

The Air Force has been weighing the addition of another F-35 stealth fighter squadron at Eglin, possibly as soon as 2020.

The plus-up of the fifth-gen fighters would give additional resources to the busiest Air Force F-35 training wing, providing pilots enhanced equipment currently lacking in the pipeline, according to Col. Paul Moga, commander of the fighter wing.

Last week, officials announced plans to refurbish Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in hopes of stationing three squadron of F-35s at the base. If Congress approves the decision and supplemental funding is allocated, the F-35 could be based at Tyndall beginning in 2023.

Whether the decision to move more F-35s to Tyndall would end up shifting the Eglin boost is too soon to tell, an Air Force official told Military.com on Dec. 7.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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