Storming the Hill 2016

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  • 2016 Col. Arthur T. Marix Awards

    Storming Marix Awardees

    MOAA Leadership and 2016 award recipients: (L to R) Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA President; Robert Simmons, Staff Director, House Armed Services Committee; Chief Terrence Cunningham, IACP; Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) Chair, House Armed Services Committee; Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), Chair, House Military Personnel Subcommittee; Dr. Steven Scott, James A. Haley Veterans Hospital; Gen. Tony Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret), Chair, MOAA Board of Directors (Photo by Steve Barrett)

    Watch a video of the event

    MOAA recognized five supporters of the military community with the association’s highest awards on Capitol Hill Tuesday evening. MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), and Chair of MOAA’s Board of Directors Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret), presented the awards at a ceremony that also signaled the start of the association’s annual “Storming the Hill” advocacy event.

    Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who chairs the House Armed Service Committee, and Joe Heck (R-Nev.), a member of the committee who chairs its Military Personnel Subcommittee, received the Colonel Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award — named for the retired Marine Corps officer who was MOAA’s founder and first president — for their strong leadership advocacy to sustain fair compensation and benefits for the uniformed services community.

    “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the most important component of this country’s national security is our people, and we can never take that for granted,” Thornberry cautioned. “One of the reasons I am so grateful to MOAA … is that I know the nation’s national security overall is your top priority.”

    Heck expressed gratitude for both the leadership and staff of the House Armed Services Committee and concluded by noting how important it is “we don’t balance the budget on the backs of our men and women in uniform or their families or survivors.”

    Chief Terrence M. Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), accepted the MOAA Distinguished Service Award recognizing the IACP for outstanding efforts to reintegrate returning veterans into civilian law-enforcement positions.

    “The only regret that I have in my life is that I didn’t serve,” Cunningham said, adding that one of his proudest days was seeing law-enforcement and military personnel assembled together on Boston Common in response to the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

    Dr. Steven Scott, chief of Rehabilitation Medicine and director, Polytrauma Center, James A Haley Veterans Hospital, Tampa, Fla., also received the Distinguished Service Award, in recognition of his leadership role in improving the lives of America’s ill, injured, and disabled veterans and their families.

    Scott acknowledged his parents, who were in attendance. His father served in the South Pacific during World War II, while his mother’s brother flew 31 missions as part of a B-17 crew. Scott shared three insights he realized during the course of his career serving veterans with war-related injuries: 1) listen to veterans; 2) be flexible and innovative; and 3) make connections. Scott cited the Tampa (Fla.) Chapter’s Operation Helping Hand as an example of the benefits of the latter.

    MOAA's Distinguished Service Award has been presented since 1997 to organizations or individuals not in Congress who have greatly aided people who served in the U.S. armed forces.

    Bob Simmons, majority staff director for the House Armed Services Committee, was recognized with MOAA’s Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award for his initiative and strong advocacy to sustain fair compensation and benefits for the uniformed services community. This is Simmons’ second time receiving the Arcari award.

    “We don’t normally give oak leaf clusters,” Robertson said, “but when we do, you know that person has done something truly extraordinary.”

    “This business of serving our men and women in uniform is a team sport,” Simmons said, expressing his gratitude for the leadership and his colleagues with the Armed Services Committee.

    Simmons also acknowledged the expertise of MOAA’s government relations staff: “Your internal analytic capability is of great benefit to us.”

    The award, which honors congressional staff members who have made significant contributions to the uniformed services community, is named for Arcari, a retired Air Force officer who led MOAA’s Government Relations Department from 1990 until 2001.


    Storming the Hill

    More than 160 MOAA members — including council and chapter leaders from almost every state and members of the association’s board of directors, staff, Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee, and Currently Serving and Currently Serving Spouse advisory councils — “stormed” Capitol Hill Wednesday during the association’s annual “Storming the Hill” advocacy event.


    Participants specifically focused on two key issues during their meetings with elected officials:


    protecting Survivor Benefit Plan-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (SBP-DIC) benefits for military widows and widowers from the military “widows tax,” and

    rejecting disproportional TRICARE fee hikes and plan changes.


    Additionally, Hill-stormers provided their legislators detailed informational packets, which contained key takeaways, FAQs, fact sheets, and full-color pamphlets that break down each issue with comprehensive statistics for disproportional TRICARE fee hikes and personal stories of families affected by the SBP-DIC offset.


    Prior to meeting with congressional leaders, Hill-stormers gathered in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday to learn more about the key issues and meet with their storming teams.


    Chair of MOAA’s Board of Directors Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret), opened the briefing by saying how important Storming the Hill is to the association. “In my humble opinion, [it is] the most important day of the year for what we do,” he said. “It gives us our chance to walk over to Capitol Hill, look our legislators in the eye, [and] ask them for their support on some issues that are critical.”


    He thanked the Board of Directors’ Government Relations Committee; Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret), MOAA’s director of Government Relations; and his team for all of their hard work in preparing for the event. Strobridge then took the stage and began briefing the audience on the SBP-DIC offset and TRICARE fee hikes.


    This year, MOAA used social media and a Thunderclap campaign to inspire those who could not be present at the Capitol to contact their elected officials. Thunderclap uses social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to mass-share a message in order to raise additional awareness about a cause. Members “storming” from home were asked to contact their elected officials and ask them to oppose disproportional TRICARE fee hikes, cosponsor H.R. 1594 or S. 979 in order to repeal the SBP-DIC offset, or cosponsor H.R. 4519 that would extend the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance.


    Council Presidents’ Dinner


    Storming Council Dinner

    Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is welcomed by MOAA Chairman, Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret). (Photo by Steve Barrett)

    Watch a video of the event

    Keynote speaker Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, recounted the scope of recent advocacy efforts led by MOAA council and chapter leaders during a speech at the Council President’s Dinner Wednesday, April 13.


    “What a difference [MOAA] makes,” he reflected. “You … made the difference in regard to my service as chairman … on very important issues related to military health care. [People] came before our committee and [testified] that the military health care costs were eating the budget alive. MOAA … brought it to my attention that [on the contrary,] military health care costs were flat.”


    Wilson went on to praise MOAA’s Storming the Hill activities in Washington earlier that day, noting particularly “the information you provided — the inserts that you gave us with graphs and charts.” He added, “This is a Congress that needed to see things in print.”


    He then highlighted MOAA’s efforts to preserve TRICARE benefits: “On the TRICARE issues, you gave us information that we’ll be able to work with, and we’ll be able to fight. … You came at the right time; you give us the right information. … It really [gives] us an ability to promote military families, which is what we want to do.”


    Wilson also expressed appreciation for MOAA’s other legislative initiatives, such as repealing the Survivor Benefit Plan/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation “widows tax,” a massive financial penalty that burdens military survivors. “I’ve been working on this issue since I was elected 15 years ago, and I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels — until today. The information you gave me was the clearest [I’ve ever received on the matter].”


    On the subject of keeping commissaries open for military members and their families around the globe, Wilson said, “It’s important to have a worldwide system. It’s not just the ability to buy an American product at a remote location … It’s also an [employment] opportunity for spouses and children. Please keep fighting on that.”


    Wilson concluded that it often “may take years for what you do to be appreciated … [but] I am confident [because] MOAA is making a difference supporting our military families.”


    After the rousing speech, Chair of MOAA’s Board of Directors Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., USAF (Ret), presented Wilson with a MOAA Scholarship Fund senior grant in his name. The $6,000 scholarship will be awarded to a deserving student entering his or her senior year of college.


    Discussion of New Initiatives

    On April 14, key members of MOAA’s national staff briefed council and chapter leaders from across the country on program updates at the 2016 Council Presidents’ Seminar at the Crowne Plaza Old Town in Alexandria, Va.


    During the morning session, Lt. Col. Ed Marvin, USAF (Ret), introduced Gen. Charles “Tony” Robertson, USAF (Ret), chair of MOAA’s board of directors. “We truly believe that you’re the most effective way to mobilize the force,” Robertson told the gathered representatives.


    Kathy Partain, MOAA’s director of Membership and Marketing, detailed the association’s strides in reaching a younger generation of officers. “We have moved away from the one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. She reported the number of active duty members already has started to increase since the new membership model was introduced in 2013. She also revealed MOAA will soon begin to modify its e-newsletter delivery to ensure an efficient, customized experience for individuals based on their unique traits.


    Gail Joyce, who chairs the Surviving Spouse Advisory Committee, educated chapter representatives about the history and goals of the six-person group. She identified one of its goals as increasing awareness of the value surviving spouses bring to local chapters as members. “We bring new blood, fresh ideas, energy, creativity, a can-do attitude, great organizational skills, and a whole lot of experience,” she said of her cohorts. She urged widows and widowers to join the Facebook group “Surviving Spouses of MOAA.”


    Following a short break, MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), thanked attendees for participating in the previous day’s Storming event. He went on to discuss MOAA’s plans to ensure financial success, such as continuing to invest in marketing efforts, which contribute significantly to effective storming.


    The morning session concluded with Council and Chapter Affairs Director Col. Barry Wright, USA (Ret), distributing the 2015 Col. Marvin J. Harris Communications Awards. Winners received tokens from Atkins.

    The group reconvened after lunch, at which point Wright provided a “snapshot” of 2015 chapter achievements. As further evidence of how MOAA has embraced online initiatives, last week the board of directors approved the first-ever web-based chapter, which will be for the Army Nurse Corps. Wright also summarized available chapter recruiting tools, including online training webinars and videos, and outlined a goal of “achieving chapter influence in every congressional district.” The seminar concluded with council and chapter leaders participating in an open discussion session, during which they asked questions and exchanged ideas and best practices.