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Exchanges Resist Plan To Merge With Faltering Commissaries

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Defense Department officials want Congress to include in its fiscal 2019 defense policy bill new authorities to execute its plan to merge the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) with the three military exchange services under a single system of on-base stores to be called the Defense Resale Enterprise.

Resisting that effort out of public view are executives of the exchange services who fear their own success in running base department stores, gas stations and convenience outlets, which generate profits to support on-base morale, and recreational activities, could be put at risk by some of the policy executives they blame for deepening the decline in sales across the commissary system.

Congress two years ago gave the department authority and new tools to “transform” base grocery stores, which for generations relied on taxpayer dollars to offer a wide array of brand products to military families and retirees at cost.

In addition, shoppers pay a five percent surcharge to fund the modernizing or replacement of aging commissaries.

The goal of recent reforms is to turn commissaries into profit-generating stores, similar to exchanges, thus lowering the $1.3 billion annual subsidy so that money can be diverted to more critical needs for sustaining a ready fighting force.

Congress insisted, however, that overall savings to patrons not drop, even as DeCA phases in more business-like practices. Two big ones are variable pricing of goods to replace the tradition of selling at cost, and adoption of commissary-label goods to compete for patron dollars with a narrowed selection of national brands.

Manufacturers over the past year have competed through pricing for commissary shelf space. Surviving brands, in turn, often have cut coupon offerings and other promotions to make up for lower pricing, say industry sources.

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After Joining US on Syria Strikes, France, UK Push for Allied Strategy

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France and Britain have called on the U.S. to join with them in pivoting off the missile strikes in Syria to form a long-term strategy aimed at a cease fire and a political settlement to the seven-year-old civil war.

In line with their push for a diplomatic solution, the two NATO allies have also urged the U.S. not to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to rein in Iran’s nuclear programs.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the JCPOA when it comes up for renewal next month, despite the potential for blowback from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias in Syria.

In their remarks since the stand-off weapons strike against Syria last Friday, both French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May have echoed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in stating the need for a new allied strategy.

The strikes were aimed solely at the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and underlined that now was “the time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations-backed Geneva peace process,” Mattis said shortly after Trump announced the attacks.

At the Pentagon press briefing with Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford noted the presence of the French and British military attaches in Washington, Brig. Gen. Jean-Pierre Montague and Attached Air Vice Marshal Gavin Parker.

At the same time in London, May said “I also want to be clear that this military action to deter the use of chemical weapons does not stand alone. We must remain committed to resolving the conflict at large. The best hope for the Syrian people remains a political solution.”

In Paris, Macron and his Defense and Foreign Ministers made similar statements, and Macron asserted that he had changed Trump’s mind about withdrawing from Syria in several of their phone conversations leading up to the attacks.

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Fort Bliss Band Included Arabic Music in Overseas Repertoire

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FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — Music can build bridges and touch the heart.

The El Paso Times reports Fort Bliss’ 1st Armored Division Band used that as its theme during its recent deployment to the Middle East, along with the division headquarters.

Thirty-four soldiers from the band deployed to Iraq and Kuwait in three rotations from June 2017 to January of this year.

Prior to the deployment, members of the band learned some Arabic music as part of an outreach effort and sign of respect, said Capt. Joel DuBois, commander of the 1st Armored Division Band.

“This was a dedicated effort to connect with Iraqi citizens and military leaders by performing music in their language that they would identify and recognize,” said DuBois, from Phoenix.

Band members learned about a half-dozen Arabic songs.

Prior to the deployment, band members worked with Andrea Shaheen Espinosa, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at El Paso. Shaheen Espinosa also is director of UTEP’s Arabic music ensemble, Layali Al-Sham.

Now that the band is back, an ensemble of about eight Army musicians will appear as special guests during Layali Al-Sham’s spring concert. The concert is free and will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 28 at the university’s Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall.

During the deployment, the band did about 120 performances for a combination of U.S. and coalition military and civilian audiences. They played several times for senior Iraqi military officials in Baghdad.

By learning some Arabic music, the idea was to foster goodwill and demonstrate cultural respect for the host nation, DuBois said.

“This music is something that takes a lifetime to learn,” DuBois said. “It was a real eye-opener. There is a whole other world of music, which we barely scratched the surface of.”

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Army Announces Spring and Summer Deployments to Europe, Middle East

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The U.S. Army today announced a set of upcoming deployments that will send aviation, cavalry and support units to Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan in the spring and summer months of this year.

The deployments involve soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Campbell, Kentucky and are part of regularly-scheduled deployment cycles.

The 3rd Cavalry Regiment stationed at Fort Hood will deploy to Iraq this spring as to replace 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division in support Operation Inherent Resolve, according to an Army press release.

The last time the 3rd Cavalry deployed to Iraq was in support of Operation New Dawn in 2011.

“The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen is a trained and ready force, just as it has been for the last 171 years, and we stand ready to answer the nation’s call to fight and win anywhere in the world,” Col. Jonathan Byrom, 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander, said in the release. “After spending the last several months conducting an intense training cycle, culminating with a National Training Center rotation, the troopers are well prepared for our mission.

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