Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to hold virtual town hall

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen took to Twitter to publicize a new online initiative called "Ask the Chairman" designed to solicit questions from the public on a wide range of military issues, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to project's YouTube site, Mullen will select questions submitted on the video site before August 31 then respond to them in a "podcast" at a later date.

Mullen tweeted:
Trying something new called Ask the Chairman and looking 4 YOUR video questions on YouTube @

"Got a question about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, military families, warrior care, the new GI Bill, or anything else about the U.S. military? Just click video response and upload your question," asks the page. "This is your chance to get the straight scoop from the man at the top of the U.S. military...record your question and send it in today."

At the urging of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Pentagon this year has expanded its presence in online social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Mullen and Price Floyd, a top Pentagon public relations official, are both on Twitter. The Defense Department also launched its redesigned website on Monday.

While the Pentagon is using the web to engage with more Americans and reach a younger audience, some concerns have arisen that the efforts could pose security issues.

The U.S. Strategic Command issued a "warning order" in July that suggested the military should ban social networking sites due to security concerns. A day later, the Marine Corps enacted a unilateral social media ban in response to the report.

In the wake of these actions, Mullen reassured his Twitter followers that he would continue to use the service.

Here is the "Ask the Chairman" video:

Cross-posted to the Twitter Room

Defense Department redesigns website to feature social media

The Department of Defense announced on Monday that they overhauled their website to accommodate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to interact with younger Americans who use these tools.

The announcement comes at a time when the Pentagon is reviewing the use of social media within its own ranks. Some reports have indicated the military is considering a service-wide ban of the sites. The Marines have already banned access to social media earlier this month.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon still sees social media as an important means to reach the public. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen uses Twitter and the U.S. forces in Afghanistan have an official Facebook account.

"We need to embrace these technologies. We need to use them because thats what the young people use these days. We need to communicate with them," Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said in a statement. "If we just stick to the traditional ways of communicating, we leave out a huge portion of society."

Floyd, who also uses Twitter, said the Pentagon is also changing the name of its site from "" to ""

"Most people on the outside wouldn't have guessed that DefenseLink was the Web site for the Defense Department," Floyd said. He also noted that these changes were encouraged by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"Unlike most Web sites, more people over 45 go to DefenseLINK than under 45," he added. "This was another reason why we needed to change the Web site and rebrand it was to reach that younger audience. But we also don't want to lose the audience we have now."

The re-design's timing alongside the social media review shows the underlying tension in the Pentagon between using social media as an outreach tool and the safety concerns posed by the openness of the sites.

Here is a screen grab of the site. Note the social media links on the left sidebar and the "We Want to Hear From You" section on the right:

Cross-posted to the Twitter Room

Sanction lifted on Murtha-related company

The U.S. Navy has lifted a suspension on government work on Kuchera Defense Systems, a contractor with ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) whose offices were raided by the FBI earlier this year.

The agreement comes even though the Justice Department seems to be intensifying its investigation, according to a report in the Associated Press.

An attorney for Kuchera told the AP that the firm was removed from the Navy's Excluded Parties List System because Kuchera made some accounting adjustments that satisfied the Navy.

The larger investigation is focused on campaign donations from defense contractors to members of Congress and the earmarks that those firms, in turn, receive.

Murtha has directed millions of dollars in earmarks to Kuchera and several other Pennsylvania-area defense contractors, and he those same firms have showered him with campaign donations.

--Susan Crabtree

Skelton to hold hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services indicated that he will hold hearings on the repeal of the controversial ban on openly gay people serving in the military.

Skelton responded to some pressure from other Democratic members who want to see the law, known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell, repealed. President Obama promised during the campaign to reverse the law, but Congress has to pass legislation for that to happen.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund issued a statement praising the Democrats who challenged Skelton:
"We applaud Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) for respectfully challenging the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), to take action on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and replaces it with a policy of nondiscrimination. DADT needs more attention in the House (and Senate)," said Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "Rep. Polis was joined in the colloquy by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), who also called for action on repeal. We are pleased Chairman Skelton agreed to hold additional hearings and to engage the Pentagon and White House."

--Roxana Tiron