U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware

Stay Informed

Required Information


All blogs filed under Military
  • Senator Coons urges acceptance of Sikh Americans in the military

    Senator Coons, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and 13 of their colleagues have written a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging the Department of Defense to revise regulations on appearance that effectively prohibit religiously observant individuals from serving in the U.S. military. While applying to all faiths, the letter specifically references followers of Sikhism, who wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair and beards as a matter of religious obligation. Current military policy requires religiously observant service members to remove their head coverings, cut their hair, or shave their beards while accommodation requests are pending, even if they are capable of meeting safety requirements. 

     “No American who wishes to serve our nation should be barred from doing so because of their faith,” Senator Coons said. “In recent years, the military has taken steps to improve its accommodation of religiously observant individuals, but its restrictions regarding unshorn hair, beards, and turbans continue to prevent many Sikh Americans, in particular, from having the opportunity to serve. The Department of Defense can and should refine its regulations to accommodate religious obligations that do not interfere with the safe performance of duties. Our military has only to gain from the service of these dedicated and principled people of faith.”

    Since the Reagan Administration, service members have been allowed to wear neat and conservative religious apparel as long as it does not interfere with the performance of military duties. In recent years the U.S. Army has granted waivers to three Sikhs to wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair and beards, as required by their faith. However, the most recent revisions would require religiously observant service members to remove their head coverings, cut their hair, or shave their beards while an accommodation request is pending and submit a new accommodation request each time they are assigned to a new base or duty station.

    Full text of the letter is below:

    Dear Secretary Hagel,

    We respectfully request that the Department of Defense refine its January 22, 2014, revisions to Instruction 1300.17 (Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services) so that religiously observant individuals are not presumptively prohibited from serving in our military.

    As you know, 10 USC § 774 was enacted during the Reagan Administration and permits service members to wear neat and conservative religious apparel, such as a yarmulke, as long as it does not interfere with the performance of their military duties.  In recent years, the U.S. Army has granted individualized waivers to three Sikhs to wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair and beards. Each of them successfully completed basic training and complied with safety requirements relating to helmets and protective masks.  Two of these soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star Medal and Army Commendation Medal for their service; another was recently promoted to the rank of Corporal.  In recent years, the U.S. Army has also granted waivers to a Jewish Rabbi and two Muslim doctors to maintain beards.

    Despite their achievements, Section 4(g) of the revised Instruction would require religiously observant service members to remove their head coverings, cut their hair, or shave their beards—in violation of their religious obligations—while an accommodation request is pending, even if they are capable of meeting safety requirements.  Section 4(j) of the revised Instruction would require each of these soldiers to submit to a new accommodation request each time they are assigned to a new base or duty station.  These seem inconsistent with the intent of section 774, which creates the presumptive entitlement to wear religious apparel that is neat and conservative and which does not interfere with military duties.

    We believe that a service member’s religion should not be a barrier to serving in our nation’s armed services.  Accordingly, we hope that Instruction 1300.17 can be further amended so that talented Americans of faith are given a fair opportunity to serve in our nation’s military.

    We appreciate your attention and look forward to working closely with you on this matter. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Department of Defense
  • Senator Coons honors Delaware Air Force Major, WWII veteran with medals for outstanding service

    Senator Coons shakes hands with WWII veteran Francis

    WILMINGTON, Del. – WWII Army Technician Fifth Grade Francis “Franny” Weaver thought he was coming as a spectator to a ceremony hosted by Senator Coons on Thursday honoring his nephew, Air Force Major David Strawbridge.

    But Senator Coons and Maj. Strawbridge had a special surprise in store for the WWII veteran. After presenting Maj. Strawbridge with the Bronze Star – one of the military’s highest honors – for his distinguished service in Afghanistan, Senator Coons surprised Weaver with five long-overdue medals for his service during the Second World War.

    Maj. Strawbridge, who earned the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, came to Senator Coons with the idea to surprise his uncle after first attempting, unsuccessfully, to recover Weaver’s medals from the U.S. Army. Although Weaver’s military records were destroyed in the National Archives fire of 1973, Senator Coons’ staff were able to research enough evidence to issue the medals.

    Senator Coons presented Weaver with the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and Philippine Liberation Medal for his exemplary service as a member of the Army 23rd Infantry Division between 1944 and 1946.

    “One of the things that is the hallmark of the Greatest Generation is their humility,” Chris said. “That they returned home from service to our country around the world and simply got about the business of living.” 

    “One of the most satisfying parts of this job is being able to help America’s veterans receive the honors that they have earned and that they so richly deserve,” he continued.

    Senator Coons first met Maj. Strawbridge during his visit to Kabul, Afghanistan in late January 2013. The two struck up a conversation and have kept in touch ever since.

    “I am deeply grateful for your service to our nation and I appreciate everything that you’ve done for our freedom, for our world, and for the United States in your service in Afghanistan,” Senator Coons told Maj. Strawbridge during the ceremony.

    World War II
  • Senator Coons lends helping hand at 31st Annual Turkey Drive

    Senator Coons lends a hand at the 31st Annural Norman Oliver Thanksgiving Turkey Drive in Wilmington on November 26, 2013.

    Senator Coons today joined an army of volunteers led by Norman Oliver, president of NOR Enterprises Inc., for Oliver's 31st Annual Thanksgiving Turkey Drive in downtown Wilmington. Chris joined Senator Tom Carper, Congressman John Carney, and over a hundred student volunteers to distribute turkeys to families in need as part of the annual Wilmington Thanksgiving tradition.

    The event kicked off at Herlihy Apartments, where Oliver thanked the scores of volunteers as well as key sponsor the Kenny Family Foundation, which owns and operates ShopRites of Delaware. The drive continued to Compton Apartments and concluded at Windsor Apartments.

    “Thanksgiving is a time to show our gratitude for the many blessings in our lives," Chris said. "Reaching out to help those in need in our community is one of the best ways we can give back. Today's turkey drive will make the holiday brighter for so many Wilmingtonians, and I am grateful to everyone who came out today to participate.” 

    Chris also paused to recognize those serving our country who will not get to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families this year. “We are so thankful for the men and women in uniform stationed around the world who will spend the holiday at military posts far from home. They are protecting us, and they will stay in our thoughts and prayers.”

  • Senator Coons, business leaders join efforts to boost hiring of veterans

    Senator Coons was joined by Maureen Casey and U.S. Army First Lieutenant Anthony K. Odierno, both of JPMorgan Chase's Military & Veterans Affairs Department at a Senate roundtable on boosting the hiring of veterans held in the Capitol on November 20, 2013.

    Senator Coons was joined by JPMorgan Chase’s Director for Military and Veterans Affairs, Maureen Casey, at a roundtable discussion in the Capitol on Wednesday focused on initiatives to expand career opportunities for veterans. The meeting featured leaders from businesses and organizations that have demonstrated a strong commitment to employing veterans and providing them with the resources and support necessary for success.

    Casey, who is based in Delaware, briefed senators on the company’s successful practice of hiring veterans as part of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition of companies committed to providing job opportunities for veterans. Other participants shared their perspectives on how private organizations can work with the Senate to strengthen programs that help veterans successfully transition to civilian employment. 

    “America’s highly trained veterans bring valuable skills and experience to the civilian workforce,” Chris said. “Yet too many veterans come home to find their opportunities limited rather than enhanced by their time spent serving our nation. No veteran should return from defending our country abroad only to face unemployment or underemployment at home.”

    At 10 percent, the national unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is significantly higher than the overall national rate of 7.3 percent. In October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 750,000 veterans were without jobs of approximately 11 million of working age.

    Casey stressed the importance of continued partnership between the public and private sectors to position veterans for success in their post-military careers. “Veterans have the knowledge, skills and experience employers need, so hiring them isn’t just the right thing to do for veterans, it’s also the right thing to do for our business,” Casey said.

    JPMorgan Chase has hired more than 6,000 veterans since 2011 as part of The 100,000 Jobs Mission. The mission, initially a coalition of 11 companies committed to hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020, and has since grown to 126 members and doubled its goal to hiring 200,000 veterans.

    “Today’s discussion highlighted successful programs that have helped businesses, like JPMorgan Chase in Delaware, recruit more of our nation’s talented veterans,” Senator Coons said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to build and expand upon these important efforts so we can get more of our veterans back to work.”

    Veterans Affairs
  • Senator Coons celebrates dedication of Air Mobility Command Museum’s C-5A Galaxy

    The C-5A Galaxy is dedicated to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base on November 9, 2013.

    Standing in the shadows of a two-ton aircraft, Senator Coons celebrated the Air Mobility Command Museum’s newest installment, the C-5A Galaxy, with remarks at the plane’s dedication ceremony Saturday morning. The famous military plane, nicknamed “Zero–One–Four” after its recognizeable tail number, is the first and only C-5A to be on display at any museum in the country and is especially historic because it is the only aircraft to have ever launched a Minuteman missile in flight, taking place in 1974 off the California coast.

    The brief dedication ceremony symbolically transferred the aircraft from the 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard to the AMC Museum.

    “This C-5 was part of the fleet that supported missions all over the world,” Chris said. “It flew missions during wartime and missions of humanitarian relief, missions on nearly every continent, and in every possible flying condition.”

    C-5s have been assigned to Dover AFB for over 42 years and the museum’s new C-5 was originally assigned at Dover Air Force Base from 1973-1977. The aircraft made its final flight from Tennessee in August and has spent the last few months being prepared for its addition to the museum’s collection.

    Chris closed his remarks recognizing the impact of the 167 volunteers who keep the museum operational. “To the men and women who make the AMC Museum run, not just as a site for tourism, but as a site for engagement, for education, and for inspiration, we thank you,” he said. “It is a big piece of America’s history, and that makes it an important piece of America’s future.”

    For more information about the C-5A display and the Air Mobility Command Museum, visit www.amcmuseum.org.  

    Dover Air Force Base
  • ‘Prayer answered,’ Senator Coons salutes safe return of Delaware National Guard unit

    Members of Delaware's 153rd Military Police Company returning home from their eight-month deployment in Afghanistan on September 28, 2013.

    Senator Coons had the honor of welcoming home more than 120 members of the Delaware National Guard’s 153rd Military Police Company on Saturday. More than 1,000 family members, friends, and supporters gathered at historic Fort DuPont in Delaware City to greet and offer thanks to service members returning from their nine-month deployment in Afghanistan.

    “I am so grateful to God almighty, to your friends and family, to the veterans who have supported you, to the prayers that have lifted you up, to the National Guard who has trained and sustained and supported you, and to the men and women of this community that you are here home safe today,” Senator Coons said. “You are a prayer answered.”

    The 153rd participated in nearly 400 missions, many in concert with the Afghan Uniformed Police. The unit responded to significant acts on the western side of Kandahar City, conducted combat patrols, protected power plants, and operated checkpoints that netted six known Taliban members.

    Among the ranks were Master Sergeant Marvin Hackett, Staff Sergeant Sidney Baker, and Sergeant Richard Whalen, who completed their fourth tours of duty, as well as Specialist Luis Toledo-Reyes, who recently earned his United States citizenship while in Afghanistan.

    The 153rd arrived at the ceremony accompanied by the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationally known motorcycle brigade whose mission is to honor those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security.

    “The Patriot Guard Riders brought you in with style and with courage and they remind us that every veteran deserves a welcome home,” Senator Coons said. “We are thankful they were able to give the 153rd that welcome home today.”

    Senator Coons closed his remarks with a message of gratitude for Delaware’s servicemen and women. “You are a remarkable group, not just of soldiers, but of citizens; not just of citizens, but of patriots. We are grateful to God for your service and your safe return home.”

    National Guard
  • Senator Coons questions Kerry, Hagel, Dempsey on Syria

    At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Senator Coons questioned Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey about President Obama's request for an authorization of the use of military force in Syria. A transcript follows:

    SENATOR COONS: Thank you, Chairman Menendez. I would like to thank Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and Chairman Dempsey for your service to your nation, for your testimony in front of us today. I think the authorization of the use of force, I think the commitment of America's military strength is one of the most important issues that we will ever debate in this Congress, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation today. As secretary Kerry said, in his opening testimony, not just what we decide, but how we decide it, will send a very important message around the world, that this Congress can still function in a nonpartisan way, in the interest of the people of the United States.

    As I've listened to Delawareans in recent days, I think they reflect a nation that is weary of war and that is wary of inadvertently repeating some of the challenges of our engagement in Iraq. I've heard specific and pointed concerns that we not rush into action, based on uneven or inaccurate intelligence, that we not be drawn into a civil war we don't fully understand or where we can't quite discern the good guys from the bad guys. And more than anything, that we not commit to an open-ended participation, a direct military invasion in an occupation of a country in a part of the world that is often confounding and is full of competing priorities.

    Having reviewed the intelligence this morning in a classified briefing, having participated in a number of briefings from you and from folks leading in your agencies and departments, I am persuaded that this is not that circumstance. That the intelligence is solid. That we have, in this distance, a clear violation of a long-standing global red line against the use of chemical weapons. As you've stated, something embedded in America's statutes and in our treaty commitments, something that is a truly global standard.

    My view, as I've watched both the images on TV that were presented at the beginning of this hearing, and as I've spoken to family and friends and neighbors at home, is that we face a real risk here if we do not act. That this is an instance where one of the world's worst dictators has steadily ratcheted up an ascending crescendo of death in his own nation. He began with thugs, police, and the military taking on peaceful demonstrations, graduated to snipers, killing innocent civilians. Has used helicopters and jet fighters against his own people, has deployed cluster bombs and scud missiles. I think over the last two years, there is no doubt that Bashar al Assad and his regime is willing to go to any lengths to stay in power.

    So the challenge now for those of us who seek an appropriate path forward is to make sure that we craft an authorization for the use of military force that responds to American's legitimate concerns but still allows the administration to act in a decisive and timely way to both deter and punish the Assad regime for what they've done.

    So I have a few questions for you if I might. First to General Dempsey. And I know we've spoken to this before, but I think it is worth repeating. How do we strike the right balance between military action that is too insignificant to actually effectively deter or degrade Assad's capabilities and one that is so decisive and overwhelming that it reaches beyond the scope of an authorization and becomes actually a regime change effort.

    GENERAL DEMPSEY: Well, Senator, I won't recommend an option or a set of targets that won't effectively deter and degrade. That's the task that I've been given. And now we'll continue to refine that, not just based on intelligence, but based on the resolution that comes out of this committee.

    SENATOR COONS: And could you, in your view, accomplish that mission with an authorization that is limited in scope, in terms of a time duration, and in scope as has been discussed with Secretary Kerry in terms of not introducing U.S. troops on the ground?

    GENERAL DEMPSEY: Well, it won't surprise you to know that as the military leader responsible for this, the more -- the broader the resolution, the less limiting, the better off I will be in crafting a set of options. But I completely -- I defer to the secretary of state to give me what I need to do then.

    SENATOR COONS: Well, if I might then to Secretary Kerry, because our goal here is to not pass or even consider an authorization that is so narrow that it prevents any effective message to be sent here. As you said, in a compelling way in your opening statement, our actions are not just meant to deter Assad but to send a strong message to Pyongyang, to Tehran, to non-state actors around the world who might use chemical weapons or might seek nuclear weapons. How do we craft an authorization, how do we take actions that are effective in deterring other countries that are watching our decisiveness and our action in this instance?

    SECRETARY KERRY: I think the language that the administration submitted with respect to the military action necessary to degrade and deter and prevent the use of chemical weapons, specifically, is very targeted.

    But as I've said several times now and will repeat again, I know the administration has zero intention of putting troops on the ground, and within the confines of this authorization, I'm confident would have zero problem in including some kind of prohibition there, if that makes you comfortable.

    I would not urge an excessively pinpointed congressionally mandated set of targets. And I think in the course of the classified briefings, the intelligence community and the military community will make it very clear to you why that's not advisable. And I think they have to have some -- the general needs some latitude here to be able to make sure he can accomplish his task. But I think the broad confines and constraints of this particular operation are not hard for us to arrive at in agreement, and I'm confident we'll do it very quickly.

    SENATOR COONS: Thank you.

    One of my other concerns, Mr. Secretary, is the flood of refugees and their impact on the region. In a visit in January to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, I was moved both by the humanitarian situation they're facing and by the very real impact that this is having on our regional allies. On Jordan, on Turkey, the destabilizing impact on Lebanon, and of course, the real impact it's potentially going to have on our close ally, Israel.

    I was encouraged to hear there was successful missile defense system test earlier today. Secretary Hagel, what steps are we taking to ensure that our allies in this immediate area of Turkey and Jordan and Israel are able to defend themselves from a potential response by the Assad regime?

    SECRETARY HAGEL: Well, Senator, first, Jordan, you know we have Patriot Missile defense batteries in Jordan. And we also are working very closely with the Israelis. You know they have a very sophisticated Iron Dome and aero-system missile defense system. We are in constant coordination with all the allies in the region. And as you may know, General Dempsey was just in Jordan for a commander's meeting, which included all the senior military from the neighboring countries and our partners. So we are closely connected with and assisting our allies on this and other issues.

    SENATOR COONS: Thank you.

    Last question, Secretary Kerry, if I might. I am interested in our having a follow-on conversation about how this specific strike and this specific authorization that you're seeking can also lead to a broader strategy, a strategy for support and engagement with the opposition that will lead to the diplomatic resolution of the Syrian civil war that you've spoken about repeatedly.

    I don't think these are mutually exclusive. I do think it's possible for us to take action that reinforces a global red line against chemical weapons use but to still continue to strengthen and broaden our engagement with the opposition in a way that moves towards a post- Assad Syria that is sustainable and secure. And I look forward to your input with us on your next hearing on that topic.

    SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely, Senator, I look forward to it, too. What I'd like to do is get the whole committee maybe to come down to the department, and we can have this discussion in that confine, as a committee, also. And I think that might be helpful, in addition to what we do in the classified briefing tomorrow.

    SENATOR COONS: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, if you want to do that, I'm happy to do that.

  • Bill to reform military justice system gains key bipartisan support

    The Military Justice Improvement Act, a bill that would remove the prosecution of sexual assault in the military from the chain of command, gained key bipartisan support in the Senate this week. Senator Coons, an original cosponsor of the bill, said he was pleased by the announcement that Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will support the measure and was encouraged by the broad spectrum of support that now backs legislation to fundamentally reform and improve the military justice system.

    The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), will be offered as an amendment to the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act and could come to the Senate floor as early as this month. The bill would separate the prosecution of all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement from the military chain of command, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave. The prosecutorial decision would instead lie with independent, specially trained military prosecutors.

    "The disturbing rise in sexual assaults in our armed forces is simply unacceptable and absolutely cannot be tolerated," Senator Coons said. "The Pentagon has to do a better job of preventing these criminal acts, and that starts with making sure that everyone who wears a uniform knows that sexual abuse not only is unacceptable but also carries real repercussions. This legislation will put people who are trained and skilled at administering justice in charge of how accusations of sexual assault are handled in our armed forces, and it will encourage those who are sexually assaulted to report the crime without having to fear retaliation. The support of Senators Paul and Cruz is a promising step toward passing this legislation and demonstrates the extent to which this issue transcends party lines."

    Senator Paul said he tries not to look at problems “through a partisan lens” and kept an open mind when Senator Gillibrand approached him on the Senate floor about the legislation. After further research and a few modifications, Senator Paul said he was able to give the bill his support.

    Senator Cruz said he entered the Armed Services Committee markup of the bill undecided but was “really persuaded by Senator Gillibrand’s passionate and able advocacy.” Cruz has provided a consistent vote for the legislation in the Armed Services Committee.

    Armed Services
  • Halting the rise in sexual assaults in the military

    Senator Coons at a press conference to unveil legislation to combat sexual assaults in the military

    The disturbing arrests of an Army sergeant and an Air Force colonel who were responsible for training servicemembers to prevent sexual assaults have brought into acute focus to what has become a widespread problem: the staggering rise in sexual assaults within our military.

    Senator Coons is determined to stop it and end the truly corrosive impact of this behavior in our armed forces.

    According to the FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office report released last week by the Defense Department, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Another report released by the Defense Department late last month showed that more than 1 in 5 female servicemembers reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.

    Stopping this trend has earned bipartisan and bicameral support in the form of the Military Justice Improvement Act, which Senator Coons helped introduce on Thursday.

    Senator Coons, who described the rise as "chilling," told the News Journal that "we clearly have a cultural problem" in our armed forces, noting that a lack of real consequence has led to widespread abuse.

    "This bill tries to strike at what is driving that continuing cultural problem, which is that the U.S. military has a legal system that is significantly out of date," Senator Coons said. "And it puts the responsibility for prosecution and conviction where it should be – in the hands of a competent prosecutor rather than in the hands of the officers who often don’t have the training or experience to handle it.”

    The Military Justice Improvement Act would for the first time remove the decision whether to take a case to special or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced military prosecutors for all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL.

  • Senator Coons disappointed indefinite detention provisions survived 2013 NDAA

    When the Senate debated the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act last month, included among its provisions was an amendment to repeal powers granted to the U.S. military in last year's NDAA to indefinitely detain American citizens.

    Senator Coons, who pledged last December to work to remove those powers, cosponsored the amendment and praised the Senate's progress on Twitter:

    That progress was short-lived, however, and the amendment was stripped out of the bill when Senate and House negotiators met to reconcile the chambers' versions of the legislation. As a result, the military's power to detain American citizens indefinitely has survived.

    Here's how Senator Coons reacted to the news:

    "As a nation, we must strike the essential balance between national security and civil liberties. I am deeply disappointed that the final version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act fails this test by removing an amendment I cosponsored, along with Senator Feinstein, to prohibit the indefinite detention of American citizens by the military."

    "The detention authorities provided by this legislation were not requested by the Pentagon and will not make us safer. At the same time, they erode the fundamental promise of our Constitution – that an American citizen has a right to due process of law. Our civilian criminal justice system has proven itself capable — time and again — of obtaining convictions and tough sentences for terrorists that act on our soil.  Civilian trials not only provide tough sentences for terrorists, but they also protect all of us from the prospect of facing a military tribunal for a crime we did not commit."

    "We live in a dangerous world, and we must ensure our military has the tools and resources they need to keep us safe. But threats to our safety are no excuse for curtailing the liberties guaranteed to every American citizen by the Founders of our country."

    Civil Liberties
    National Security
Untitled Document