Group files complaint over Wright-Patt reserve chaplain

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 5:00 AM

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has filed a complaint over remarks an Air Force Reserve chaplain assigned to Wright-Patterson wrote in a blog post.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said it has filed a complaint about a Wright-Patterson Christian chaplain who in a blog post wrote military service members are “grossly in error, and deceived” if they support service members of some different faiths for practicing their religion under the Constitution.

Capt. Sonny Hernandez, an Air Force Reserve chaplain with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson, wrote in part on a Sept. 12 BarbWire.com blog post: “Counterfeit Christians in the Armed forces will appeal to the Constitution, and not Christ, and they have no local church home — which means they have no accountability for their souls (Heb. 13:17). This is what so many professing Christian service members will say: We ‘support everyone’s right’ to practice their faith regardless if they worship a god different from ours because the Constitution protects this right.”

He added in the post: “Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other non-Christian worldviews to practice their religions — because the language in the Constitution permits — are grossly in error and deceived.”

RELATED: Group wants Wright-Patt to investigate email it describes as faith-based 

An attorney representing the New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint with the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office on Sept. 15, over the chaplain’s written remarks.

“You take an oath when you’re commissioned to support and defend the Constitution, period, with no reservations,” said Donald G. Rehkopf, a Rochester, N.Y., attorney representing MRFF and a former Air Force lawyer. “A lot of people are exposed to his thoughts and beliefs professionally and religiously, and for younger enlisted troops to be hearing stuff like that he’s in essence telling them to avoid their … duties to comply with the law.”

This newspaper sent messages to Hernandez seeking comment.

“He’s been trying to establish a religious faith and he’s creating a religious test,” said MRFF President and Founder Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, also a former Air Force lawyer who has demanded an investigation and punishment for the remarks. “This is absolutely a cancer to the very essence of what it takes to put a military together. It destroys good order, morale, discipline, unit cohesion, the health and safety of the troops, mission readiness and military accomplishment. It’s completely antithetical to that.”

The MRFF has had a doubling in complaints about issues related to religion in the military since President Donald Trump was elected to the White House, Weinstein said.

The latest complaint was one of multiple filed by the MRFF over Hernandez since April, Weinstein said.

RELATED: Bible removed from POW display at Wright-Patt Medical Center

The blog post has an addendum that Hernandez “wrote this article as a civilian on his own time on an issue of public interest.” The reservist is also listed as director of Reforming America Ministries.

Hernandez is a former Air Force Life Cycle Management Center individualized mobilization accession company grade officer of the year. In an Air Force article in April 2015 about the award, it noted while at the Air Force Academy, Hernandez was cited for “on-call chaplain support to the active-duty Rabbi chaplain, allowing the cadets Jewish religious rites.”

The 445th Airlift Wing selected the chaplain as the company grade officer of the first quarter of 2016, according to the wing’s website. He joined the wing in November 2014 and has served in the military since 1997, according to published sources.

A wing spokeswoman Monday referred questions about the MRFF complaint to the DoD IG’s office, which had not responded by deadline.

Puerto Rican group leading ‘Convoy of Hope’ for relief aid to U.S. territory

Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 @ 7:08 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 @ 8:28 PM

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees collected hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico. CONTRIBUTED
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees collected hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico. CONTRIBUTED

Members of PACO, who are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees, and several businesses have gathered 120 pallets of hurricane relief aid items to ship to Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, an organizer says.

“The Dayton community came through big time,” said Tony Ortiz, an organizer for the Puerto Rican, American Caribbean Organization (PACO) who coordinated with area businesses and base employees to roll out a “Convoy of Hope” -- semitrailers filled with aid.

“This is a great feeling,” said Ortiz, who also is an employee with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

RELATED: Ohio National Guard deploys more troops to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico

The Convoy of Hope is hoping to meet with trucks in Cleveland, Youngstown and Moraine, he said. People in those cities are continuing to work with the convoy project, but their participation has not yet been confirmed.

The need remains great: Less than 20 percent of island residents have had their power restored since the storm and the death toll has climbed to nearly 50.

RELATED: Wright Patt hurricane relief flights expected to fly for weeks

As many as one million Puerto Ricans do not have clean water to drink and many hospitals continue to operate om generator power as the tropical heat soars.

-- WHIO-TV’s Kate Bartley contributed to this report.

Middletown soldier killed in Fort Jackson military accident to be laid to rest

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2017 @ 7:26 PM

Private Timothy Ashcraft was a 2017 graduate of Amelia High School in Clermont County.

UPDATE @ 11 a.m. (Oct. 16):

A Middletown U.S. Army soldier killed in a military accident early this month at Fort Jackson in South Carolina will be laid to rest Monday.

Funeral services for Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft will be held at 2 p.m. in Middletown at Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding Funeral Home, 3805 Roosevelt Blvd.

A visitation will be held prior to the funeral from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

According to his obituary, Ashcraft attended Mayfield Elementary and Middletown Middle School in Middletown. He then went to West Clermont school district to finish his education. Timothy also attended Live Oaks, where he was studying to be a welder. 

Interment will be held at Woodside Cemetery.

INITIAL REPORT:

A U.S. Army soldier from Southwest Ohio was killed Friday after he was struck by a military vehicle while in formation.

Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft, was one of two soldiers who died in the incident that injured six others at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, according to the military. The other killed was identified as Pvt. Ethan Shrader of Prospect, Tenn.

Ashcraft was a 2017 graduate of Amelia High School in Clermont County, our news partner WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reported.

“We are thankful for his dedication and service to our country,” according to a statement released by the West Clermont Local School District. “His impact ... will not soon be forgotten.”

U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson said the Army will thoroughly investigate what caused the military vehicle to crash into the pedestrians.

“We are continuing to support everyone affected by this tragic event,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the Army will thoroughly investigate the cause of the fatal crash.

The six injured were privates Emmett Foreman of Daleville, Alabama; Hanna new of Cartersville, Georgia; Benjamin Key of Cookville, Tenn.; Alan Kryszak of Clarksville, Tenn.; Cardre Jackson Jr. of Laurel, Maryland; and James Foster of Macon, Ga.

DoD: Springboro soldier killed in Niger in attack by Islamic extremists

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2017 @ 1:35 AM
Updated: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 5:39 PM

More details revealed about Niger attack where local solider was killed

UPDATE @ 5:45 p.m. (Oct. 11): Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of Springboro and the other U.S. soldiers killed in Niger were victims of an attack by Islamic extremists, the Department of Defense tells the Associated Press.

EARLIER REPORT (Oct. 7)

Family and friends of 39-year-old Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson remember the Springboro soldier after he was killed in a terrorist ambush in Niger. 

Staff Sgt. Johnson was killed during a joint operation between U.S. and Nigerian forces near the border of Mali. The Associated Press reported that he and three others were killed by enemy fire after an ambush. Around 40 and 50 extremists ambushed in vehicles and motorcycles, attacking the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. 

RELATED: Remembering 43 area servicemen who died on active duty since 2002

Jeff and Teena Baldridge are neighbors of where Staff Sgt. Johnson’s family used to live, and saw soldiers outside, looking for Johnson’s mother. 

"We knew when they said that -- we knew who it was and we knew where he was," Teena Baldridge said. 

"Jeremiah was doing what he really wanted to do, he really wanted to be an NCO (non-commissioned officer) in the United States Army," Jeff Baldridge said. Baldridge is also a retired Air Force veteran. 

CRIME: Clark County animal shelter burglarized, supplies stolen

Political leaders also shared their condolences, including U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Gov. John Kasich tweeted “My heart goes out to Jeremiah’s family. Rest in peace, Staff Sergeant.”

Staff Sgt. Johnson is survived by  a wife and two children. His funeral service will be held sometime within the next week at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

Group spent $1.5M on drone plan

Published: Thursday, February 06, 2014 @ 9:48 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 06, 2014 @ 9:48 PM

Our reporters have provided the most comprehensive coverage of Unmanned Aerial Systems research and its importance to the region’s economic development. The newspaper closely followed the area’s proposal for an FAA test site and continues to gather records that shed light on how well public money is being spent to develop the technology.

The Dayton Development Coalition spent more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money for the failed effort to win federal designation as an Unmanned Aerial Systems testing site, according to Rob Nichols, spokesman for Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Jeff Hoagland, coalition chief executive and president, confirmed the coalition used $1.5 million in state funds to pay a Virginia consultant to write the joint Ohio/Indiana proposal submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. Indiana, which did not have as central a role in the planned test site as Ohio, reimbursed the state for $250,000 of the cost of the joint proposal, Nichols said.

Hoagland, in an email response to questions, said the consultant worked with coalition staff and that the coalition was paid an additional amount beyond the $1.5 million for its staff time in 2013. He wouldn’t specify the amount, but Nichols said he did not believe it was significant.

The Dayton Daily News for weeks has sought information on the contents of the 6,000-page application to the FAA and how much it cost taxpayers to prepare. The $1.5-million figure is the first time the cost of the failed effort has been disclosed.

Hoagland said the consultant was Arlington, Va.-based Strategic Growth Partners LLC, which lists aerospace, aviation and Unmanned Aerial Systems among its areas of expertise. Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The FAA in January announced the six sites nationwide that had been picked as official testing sites for unmanned aircraft, known as drones. Ohio, which paired with Indiana to submit one proposal, was not picked.

Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, New York and Virginia each landed one of the coveted test sites, which are expected to attract both aerospace industry investment dollars and new jobs to those regions.

The FAA has a target date of 2015 to integrate unmanned drones into civilian airspace. The agency did not release data on how many pages the competing sites submitted; nor did it have information on what the other teams spent.

Nichols said the consultant wrote the drone proposal, and also handled front-end preparations for the FAA’s proposal request process and did planning for the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex in Springfield — an essential piece of the state’s plan, according to Nichols.

Even though Ohio’s proposal was rejected, Nichols said the money was well-spent, in part because the UAS Center was launched and continues to operate.

“To understand the industry and how it’s going to grow we would have to have the information anyway,” Nichols said about the research gathered for the proposal.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she was disappointed the region wasn’t chosen for a drone site but “we needed to be as aggressive as possible” in the attempt to land one of the test locations.

“I think it’s still an important opportunity for the region that we have the opportunity to grow this technology to create jobs,” she said.

Tom Franzen, Springfield assistant city manager and economic development director, said his city will continue to focus on the potential of the UAS industry. The FAA selection process was helpful to gather data on the region’s strengths in academia, industry and government, he said.

“It’s been extremely helpful in fostering those relations and giving us a better understanding of each other’s strengths and capabilities,” he said.

‘Not a lot of money’

Loren Thompson, a noted aviation and defense analyst with the non-profit Lexington Institute in Virginia, said in an email: “$1.5 million is not a lot of money to spend on attracting a federal facility that could have created hundreds of local jobs and generated sizable other economic benefits. Whether it was a wise investment comes down to the odds of winning. If Ohio and Indiana had won, we would be praising the work of the development coalition.”

Although some have questioned why anyone would submit a several-thousand-page application, Thompson said it was necessary to comply with hundreds of regulations on federal contract awards, much of it “boilerplate” paperwork.

“This is the nightmare that federal contracting has become,” he said in an email.

The FAA barred teams from partnering with federal agencies, such as the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is a national leader in UAS technology.

Daniel Stohr, an Aerospace Industries Association spokesman, said other states not chosen, including aerospace powerhouses California and Florida, have opted to move ahead on their own.

“The thing to remember is this is a major growth opportunity for the aerospace community,” he said. The FAA’s snub of the Ohio and Indiana proposal was “not the end of the world for a place like Dayton. There’s going to be a great deal of (UAS) research done in Dayton.”

Shifting money from job training

Money for the proposal came from a $10 million allocation the Ohio Legislature transferred out of an Ohio Board of Regents workforce job training fund and placed in the current biennial budget. The state awarded the $10 million to the Dayton Development Coalition’s public-contracting affiliate, Development Partners Inc. It was earmarked for the drone proposal, other UAS and defense-related economic development efforts and to prepare for any future federal base realignment and closure (BRAC) plans.

According to the state’s contract with DPI, $2.6 million of the money will be spent on BRAC-related efforts and nearly $3.7 million will pay for UAS projects — including the drone proposal. The contract requires that DPI give $3 million to Wright State University with a goal of building “a nationally recognized research center” focused on human performance technology for the Air Force, the region and the state.

Ohio officials have not released the proposal it made to the FAA and Nichols said it will take an undetermined amount of time for the two states to redact portions that contain proprietary information or are forbidden by law from being released.

In his email response, Hoagland said the “FAA draft submission was prepared by coalition staff, consultants, and about 80 partners in Ohio and Indiana.” State of Ohio officials also reviewed the application before it was submitted to the FAA.

“Different partners reviewed different sections based on their technical expertise and knowledge of the subject,” Hoagland wrote.

Those partners included the University of Dayton Research Institute, Wright State University, Ohio State University, the staff at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and others. JobsOhio and UDRI were among those who reviewed the economic development part of the proposal, according to Hoagland.

‘Never the cornerstone’

Coalition leaders and state and local officials have downplayed the state’s failure to win the FAA testing site designation, saying research and development efforts in the UAS arena will continue without the FAA designation.

In a statement released last month after the FAA decision, Hoagland said: “An FAA test site — though much desired — was never the cornerstone of the regional UAS strategy.” He said Ohio is a strong aerospace center and innovator in the aerospace industry and those strengths offer more opportunities for job creation than the federal test site designation.

But it was clear before the FAA decision was made that officials had high hopes that winning the testing designation would bring new jobs.

In 2012 the coalition prepared the Dayton Region Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a document that is necessary to obtain some types of federal funding. It includes a discussion of the effort to win the UAS test site designation and says officials are “in negotiation with a number of large UAS manufacturers who desire to locate in the Dayton Region if access to national airspace for UAS testing and evaluation is secured.”

In his email response this week, Hoagland said, “We are disappointed we did not get designated as one of the six test sites, but the true failure would have been not to apply and simply accept status quo for the region.”

Maurice McDonald, the coalition’s executive vice president for aerospace and defense, used a sports metaphor to make the point.

“Asking whether the money was well-spent is like asking a runner if it was worth the fee to enter a race he didn’t win,” he wrote. “We had a strong chance of winning and competing was worth the effort.”