Two bills before Legislature could help Huntsville area, state compete in next BRAC

Grand Opening Ceremony of the Army Materiel Command BuildingThe Army Materiel Command and its subordinate, the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, whose new headquarters buildings on Redstone Arsenal are shown here, were two of the big wins for Huntsville in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. Two bills now before the Legislature are aimed at helping the area compete in coming BRAC rounds. (The Huntsville Times/Eric Schultz)HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — A bill before the Legislature would allow school boards in the Huntsville area to borrow money to build new classrooms without raising local taxes.

The bill seeks to eliminate the requirement that BRAC-affected school systems receive an increase in sales or property tax rates before becoming eligible for special renovation or construction bonds. The bill holds significant implications for the rural Madison County school system, which does not have the money to build new schools nor a municipality able to raise taxes.

It’s also one of two bills designed to help the area compete in the next round of Base Realignment and Closure decisions, which have been rumored to come as early as 2013 or ’15, or both. Both bills make changes to already-existing laws.

Senate Bill 245 amends a 2010 act that allows the Alabama Public School and College Authority to sell up to $175 million in bonds for schools crowded by growth from the 2005 BRAC.

“We’re hoping that now, with some of the new faces and new relationships in Montgomery, that we’re able to loosen some of the constraints in the original BRAC bill that were a little unrealistic,” said State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, who sponsored the bill.

“The 2012 bill just tweaks some of the standards that were put in place in 2010 to hopefully increase the participation by the school districts for construction,” said co-sponsor State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

SB 245 decreases the number of full-time jobs that must be proved to have been created by the 2005 BRAC from 7,000 to 4,700 – about the number of federal positions that were moved to the arsenal. And it lowers the required average salary or equivalent wage of those jobs from $85,000 to $80,000.

The bill also changes the baseline date for those measures from 2010 to 2006. It still requires a dollar-for-dollar match in local support for the capital projects.

Primarily, the bill clarifies the job and income accounting tests to be met to access the money.

Local officials found that the very competitive companies in Research Park and elsewhere aren’t always willing to release precise data about their employees, said Joe Ritch, chair of the Tennessee Valley BRAC Committee. So the amended bill ties the bond requirements simply to growth on Redstone Arsenal.

“We are still expecting about 5,000 contractor jobs over time. Many of them have already moved here. But an accurate calculation is almost impossible,” Ritch said.

SB 245 is currently being considered by the senate Finance and Taxation-Education committee.

Orr is sponsor of another bill, SB 234, that would expand the ability of the Huntsville Federal Building Authority – and similar groups across the state – to spend local tax or other dollars in support of activities on federal property such as Redstone Arsenal. The bill goes beyond allowing spending on construction projects.

“It allows a little more flexibility,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. For instance, the bill would let the city authority hire consultants and acquire other tools to help with BRAC planning, he said.

Ritch said they could also support studies and the production of videos and other materials to help promote the area to BRAC decision-makers and employees considering moving here.

“We looked at the (original) bill and it really only allowed capital expenditures,” he said. “This opens up what we can do with that authority.”

The Huntsville City Council recently appointed new members to the Federal Building Authority, originally created to build modern homes for generals on Redstone Arsenal. It now also handles some matters related to the long-term, $1 billion Redstone Gateway office park now under way on 470 acres of arsenal land.

Orr pointed out the bill could benefit other areas adjacent to federal installations, such as Montgomery near Maxwell Air Force Base, or Dale County, Dothan, Ozark and Enterprise near Fort Rucker, or Anniston near the Anniston Army Depot.

The Senate approved SB 234 on Feb. 16 and it has been referred to the House Committee on County and Municipal Government.

Neither bill obligates any money, and Battle expects both to pass the Legislature. “Every time that we have asked they have responded,” he said. “We’ve been able to show them what our needs were, how to achieve those needs, and they have been very supportive.”

Orr said a lot of the “low hanging fruit” – the easier decisions – were made in the 1995 and 2005 BRAC rounds. The bills are needed because, in the next BRAC rounds, communities across the country will be even more competitive as they fight for new jobs, or at least hold on to what they have.

“Now, going forward, it gets even more difficult to be successful,” Orr said.

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Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville subject of $1.7 million fraud lawsuit (updated)

Tommy TubervilleTommy Tuberville stands in his office at TS Capital during a July 2009 interview with The Birmingham News. (The Birmingham News/Charles Goldberg)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Tommy Tuberville has been listed in a federal suit that alleges the former Auburn coach and his partner defrauded investors out of more than $1.7 million.

The complaint, filed Friday afternoon in the in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, claims Tuberville and TS Capital co-founder John David Stroud “employed devices, schemes, and artifices” to commit fraud. Seven plaintiffs from Alabama and Tennessee are seeking damages against the Auburn-based investment company.

Tuberville has served as head football coach at Texas Tech since Jan. 9, 2010. Tuberville, who coached Auburn to a 14-0 record in 2004, resigned after the 2008 season.

By July 2009, Tuberville was the subject of a Birmingham News story that touted him as an “amateur stock guru.” In the story, Tuberville is reported as working at TS Capital Partners, looking to “drum up a little business for a big-time hedge fund run by Stroud Capital.”

Both TS Capital Partners and Stroud Capital are listed among the eight entities associated with Tuberville and Stroud in the complaint. Stroud did not respond to an email request for comment from The Times.

Vic Hayslip, Tuberville’s attorney, issued a statement Tuesday saying that Tuberville was surprised to learn of the suit and “categorically denies any wrongdoing which has been attributed to him in this suit.”

The 32-page suit alleges Tuberville and Stroud mixed their clients’ assets with their own, failed to file tax returns, falsified client statements, falsified fund performance reports and “generally disregarded and violated customary practices and procedures followed in the hedge fund and security investments industry.”

Several plaintiffs, including at least one former employee of TS Capital, have demanded their money be returned, yet, according to the complaint, none of the money invested has been accounted for. The suit also states that investors listed “have reason to believe that most, and possibly all, of their invested funds have been misappropriated, improperly converted and/or squandered.”

The suit lists 16 complaints against Tuberville and Stroud, including “negligence or wantonness,” “fraudulent misrepresentation” and “fraudulent suppression.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys declined comment when reached by The Times on Tuesday morning.

The statement from Tuberville’s attorney, quoted in national media Tuesday evening, says that Tuberville “has never even met or spoken with most of the plaintiffs and he is acquainted minimally with the few other plaintiffs only because they were employees at TS Capital Partners, LLC.”

“Coach Tuberville absolutely never solicited any investment from any of these or other individuals. It is important to note that Coach Tuberville himself invested significant funds and has never received any return from his own investment.”

According to documents from financial regulatory agencies, signs of trouble for TS Capital began Oct. 12, when the National Futures Association was contacted by a former employee who had invested his life savings – more than $500,000 – with Stroud.

According to a 15-page NFA report dated Oct. 26, the employee had been requesting the full balance of his investment for several weeks but no funds were returned. He was instead assured by Stroud that the TS Fund contained more than $6.7 million in capital.

The former employee provided NFA with a purported bank statement he received from Stroud in June 2011 that showed the TS fund contained a balance of $6.79 million.

The NFA report goes on to state: “To date, the NFA has been able to confirm that TS Management and its affiliated entities have in aggregate less than $3,500 based upon bank and brokerage account records produced by Stroud to the NFA.”

On Oct. 27, 2011, NFA announced it was taking “emergency enforcement action” against TS Capital Management after it failed to cooperate with an NFA audit. NFA reported that TS Capital Management was affiliated with several unregistered entities operated by Stroud and ordered the company to cease trade the solicitation of funds.

It also required TS Capital Management to immediately provide a copy of the NFA notice to its investors. The plaintiffs state in their complaint that they never received the notice.

According to the NFA report, representatives of TS Capital Management, after delaying the audit request, admitted in an Oct. 24 email to NFA that several of the statements Stroud had made “concerning deposits and wire transfers were false.”

Three employees were fired by Stroud in late September after reaching out to Tuberville to discuss TS Fund’s operations, according to the NFA. One of the three told NFA that Stroud had more than $200,000 in unpaid bills at the time of his termination.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim Stroud stopped managing the hedge fund after the Financial Industry of Regulatory Authority suspended his registration in April 2011. The investors allege that Stroud also did not disclose this fact to them.

The NFA report states that Stroud’s suspension in 2011 by FINRA “was apparently based on his failure to pay two FINRA arbitration awards” against him for a combined $840,000.

The statement from Tuberville’s attorney concluded that Tuberville “has cooperated with every regulatory inquiry and not a single one has asserted that he was involved in any wrongdoing. He intends to vigorously defend the allegations made against him and is confident he will be exonerated.”

Times Staff Writers Challen Stephens and Brian Lawson contributed to this report.

Updated at 6:55 p.m. to include a statement from Tommy Tuberville.

Updated at 7:48 p.m. to correct a date.

Tuberville Suit
National Futures Association report

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Century Bank appoints new president

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MOBILE, Alabama — Peter van Lingen has been promoted to president of Century Bank, according to an announcement by the bank’s board of directors and Chairman and CEO Douglas T. Luce Jr.

Century Bank has four branches in the Mobile-Baldwin area with about $55.7 million in deposits.

Van Lingen began his career with Century Bank in 1996 as a teller. He was promoted to vice president in 2006.

Van Lingen, his wife, Laurie, and their two children live in Mobile.

Originally named Bank of Lucedale, Century Bank was founded in 1903 by Gregory M. Luce, who served as president and chairman of the board until his death in 1935. The Luce family continued to lead the bank, changing its name to Century Bank in 1999. Douglas T. Luce also served as president until van Lingen’s appointment.

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Port of Mobile looks to install mass-notification system


MOBILE, Alabama — The Alabama State Port Authority on Tuesday hired a consultant to help create a mass-notification system for businesses at the Port of Mobile.

The authority has received a grant that would cover about 75 percent of the $500,000 cost of installing such a system, said the port’s Executive Director Jimmy Lyons.

The system would send alerts by a number of methods, including text messages, automated phone calls and emails, should emergency situations arise at the port, he said.

The system can be tailored so that it would just notify people on properties close to the accident if the threat is minor, he said.

The authority will pay IntraMetrix Consulting Inc. $39,500 to oversee the implementation of the service. 

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Port expanding steel capacity with $7 million project

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MOBILE, Alabama — The Alabama State Port Authority has closed a pier for six months to facilitate a $7 million renovation, the latest sign of the explosive growth of the steel and iron trade at the Port of Mobile.

A few days ago, port officials closed Pier C North, on the north end of the port’s Mobile River properties, which had traditionally been the port’s main steel terminal.

Workers will demolish the current concrete slab and take out unused road and rail spurs at the base of it, then completely resurface the pier, said Jimmy Lyons, the authority’s executive director.

The end result will be about 15-20 percent more outside storage space for steel beams, hot rolled coils and plates, Lyons said.

The project reflects the port’s growing steel presence. In the first four months of this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the port handled nearly 1.5 million tons of iron and steel, compared to 780,000 tons over the same time period the year before.

Much of that has to do with ThyssenKrupp AG, the German steel giant that built a $5 billion mill in north Mobile County. The carbon steel side of the mill process slabs that are shipped through the Port’s Pinto Island Terminal.

But it’s not just import slabs driving the increased steel trade, Lyons said. ThyssenKrupp is also sending finished steel back out to foreign customers, and other steelmakers in the region are doing the same as a weak dollar and greater economic strength abroad make American steel more attractive.

The port used to handle about 500,000 tons of steel a year. Last year, it handled more than 1 million tons, not including the ThyssenKrupp slabs, and most of that was export, Lyons said.

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Vulcan Materials CEO Don James said he was shocked at hostile Martin Marietta offer

Don James2.JPGDon James, the longtime CEO of Birmingham-based Vulcan Materials Co., said in court today he had no idea Martin Marietta was going to attempt a hostile takeover.BIRMINGHAM, Alabama –  Vulcan Materials Co. Chairman Don James testified today he sought a friendly combination with Martin Marietta
Materials Inc
before being shocked at a $4.7
billion hostile takeover bid, according to Bloomberg News.

Bloomberg reported that James testified Vulcan wanted a
“friendly, consensual transaction” and a “merger of equals” during 2010 negotiations with chief rival Martin Marietta, the No. 2 company in the business of supplying contractors with sand, gravel and crushed rock.

Martin Marietta, based in Raleigh, N.C., offered
on Dec. 12 to exchange half a share for each share of
Birmingham, Alabama-based Vulcan and pay a quarterly dividend
equal to 20 cents a Vulcan share to partly restore the dividend
cut to 1 cent last year.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” when Martin Marietta
informed Vulcan of the surprise hostile bid in an e-mail, James
told Chancellor Leo Strine, chief judge of Delaware Chancery Court, according to Bloomberg. “I was completely distraught.”

Vulcan says a 2010 confidentiality agreement between the companies prohibits Martin Marietta’s from attempting a hostile takeover. The companies are in court over it because Martin Marietta filed the lawsuit in December seeking a
court ruling that it didn’t violate the agreement with Vulcan.

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Alabama’s Boyd Brothers unveils innovation that could revolutionize flatbed trucking

BOYD_INTERMODAL_RAILDECK_15350675.JPGThe new flatbed deck Raildecks Intermodal produced for Birmingham’s Boyd Brothers Transporation allows industrial shipping usually reserved for flatbed trucks to be hauled on intermodal trains. (The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — A new innovation pushed by Clayton-based Boyd Brothers Transportation was unveiled to the public at its Birmingham terminal today and called “revolutionary” for its ability to get the flatbed trucking industry into the growing intermodal rail shipping game.

The new deck converts flatbed industrial cargo from over-the-road truck trailers to intermodal rail previously reserved for large, enclosed shipping containers.

It was developed over the last two years by Boyd Brothers, a flatbed shipper, and a Canadian company, Raildecks Intermodal, with the help of BNSF Railway. After several prototypes and 240 loads successfully shipped, the new innovation is ready for widespread use.

“Today is a big day in the transportation industry,” Chris Cooper, chief operations officer with Boyd Brothers, told a crowd at today’s unveiling. “This has never been done until now. Very rarely do we see products that have the potential to really change an industry.”

The truck trailer decks are built in Jasper through a contract with Fontaine Trailer Co. Boyd Brothers officials said they hope to have 60 of them in operation in the next couple of months and Raildecks hopes to have as many as 500 produced by the end of this year.

The new operations will fall under Boyd Intermodal, a new division created at the company as part of its Boyd International group.

Gail Cooper, chief executive of Boyd Brothers, said the new shipping deck should cut down on the number of miles trucks travel on the road and replace that with rail, but it will never eliminate the need for trucks and truck drivers to get products from the rail yard to the customer.

“Without trucks, America would stop,” she said. “Every truck has a driver.”

What it could mean is less miles carrying cargo like large steel pipes or flat-rolled steel coils that too often find themselves taking chunks out of interstates or blocking traffic when they come off flatbed trucks.

Richard Bailey, president of Boyd Brothers, said the reasons for going the intermodal route are clear.

“Three reason: Capacity, capacity, capacity,” he said. “We believe (intermodal) is the future.”

Bailey said the costs of paying for fuel, tires, maintenance and other expenses for over-the-road drivers and trucks continue to go up while productivity is going down. Much of those additional costs can be negated through the use of intermodal rail, he said.

Rick Jocson, chief executive of Raildecks, said although some European shippers are using a similar deck system, the Boyd Brothers-Raildecks product is the first time a domestic U.S. shipping company has introduced anything like this.

Jocson said both Boyd Brothers and Raildecks were reaching out to BNSF at around the same time, leading to a serendipitous relationship forming.

“If we can be successful at this conversion, it could be beneficial to all of us,” Jocson remembered thinking.

Well, two years and 240 shipments later, they were successful — not only with BNSF, but with Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Corp.

“Back in 2000, this was just a dream and today it’s a reality,” said Murray Crane, vice president of business development with Raildecks and the one who came up with the initial idea for the new shipping deck.

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UAB research may make quick identification of fish imposters possible

phony grouper fish 120223.JPGCases of catfish that were being sold as grouper. (Special/NOAA)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — If research being conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham pans out, you may soon be a lot more likely to get the fish you order in restaurants and at the market, instead of getting a cheaper species being passed off as the real thing.

A group of UAB graduate students working in a university program designed to take biotechnology research to market is developing a genetic test that may enable the seafood industry to quickly identify species of fish.

A study by the nonprofit organization Oceana found that a quarter to a third of all seafood is fraudulently labeled, and government studies have reached similar conclusions. Fish sold as red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod most often is mislabeled. Catfish, tilapia and rockfish often are passed off as other, more expensive species, Oceana and federal regulators have found.

Jeff Hicks, a UAB graduate student working on the project, said current tests are complex and time-consuming, with a wait of days or even weeks for results. The method Hicks and other students are developing would use a DNA testing system created at the nonprofit HudsonAlpha Institute in Huntsville and would take about three hours.

“If a fisherman brings in a catch in the morning, you could know before lunch what they’re selling,” Hicks said Thursday.

The HudsonAlpha system, called iCubate, is essentially a DNA lab in a box. Researchers place samples in a cassette, which is loaded into a self-contained machine that includes a centrifuge and a laser and is capable of searching for multiple DNA markers simultaneously. HudsonAlpha executives have said in the past that they anticipate the technology will allow for rapid testing for multiple viruses and have other applications.

Hicks, who has had discussions with some of the leading scientists in the field, learned Thursday that the FDA agreed to share control samples of fish DNA to assist in the project.

“This has been really exciting,” he said.

Hicks’ project is one of five from the program recently selected for consideration by the UAB Research Foundation, the school’s technology transfer office.

HudsonAlpha scientist Dr. Jian Han, who regularly works with students in UAB’s biotechnology program, challenged graduate students to come up with applications for iCubate that could be marketed.

“I challenged them to develop an app that would protect human health or the environment,” he said in a prepared statement.

Han and UAB faculty picked the top five proposals, and students were divided into teams to develop them further. Other applications being developed include one that would serve the poultry industry, one for testing of turf on golf courses or athletic fields, and one that would test fungi.

Kathy Nugent, a UAB professor and director of the biotechnology program, said UAB has long been a major player in research, but hasn’t had as much success in turning discoveries into viable businesses. The 3-year-old biotechnology program is meant to address that.

“For every job created in biotechnology, five other jobs are created” in supporting or related fields, she said. “We’re not just giving students a skill set. We’re also training them on the business side, (teaching them) to understand industry.”

Hicks said he should within weeks be able to prove definitively whether the iCubate technology can be used to root out fish fraud, and if all goes as expected he and other students then will begin trying to turn the technology into commercial success. If it works as expected, the tests may one day be marketed to buyers and sellers of seafood at all levels of the supply chain, he said.

“I’d like for this to be available to everyone,” he said.

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Donna Pate sworn in as Madison County Circuit Court judge

Donna Pate Sworn in as Circuit Judge

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Huntsville attorney Donna Pate was sworn in this afternoon as a Madison County circuit judge, filling the seat vacated by the retirement of Judge Laura Hamilton.

Pate was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley to fill Hamilton’s unexpired term, which ends in January. Pate is also the only candidate on the March 13 Republican primary ballot for a full six-year term. She has no Democratic opposition.

Pate was sworn in by presiding Circuit Judge Karen Hall. Her longtime friend, and now fellow judge, District Judge Claude Hundley held the Bible. Pate held the same Bible for Hundley when he was sworn in last year.

“This is a well-deserved and much-anticipated moment,” Hundley said. “There is no more prepared person.”

Pate is a Huntsville native and has been attorney for 28 years. She has been a shareholder in the firm Lanier Ford Shaver Payne.

Jeremy King, spokesman for Bentley, said the governor is confident in Pate’s ability to serve as judge.

“Donna Pate has the qualifications and experience needed for this appointment,” King said. “She has support within the community, and she proved to be the clear choice for this position.”

Pate addressed the crowd after the swearing-in, noting that her first job was at the courthouse in 1973. She is the daughter of Emmett Sanders, the longtime Madison County license director, and has said she has fond memories of the courthouse.

Pate said that her father would bring his family with him when he would come to the courthouse after hours to catch up on work. Pate said after finishing their homework, she and her brother would race chairs and slide in their socks across the courthouse’s smooth floors.

“I want to thank Gov. Bentley for having the confidence in me to give me this job,” Pate said. “It is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time, to be a public servant for my hometown.”

Huntsville attorney Daniel Aldridge and Brian Williams, the assistant city attorney and prosecutor for the City of Huntsville, were the other judicial nominees whose names were submitted to Bentley by the Madison County Judicial Commission.

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Two Redstone Arsenal soldiers invited to ‘A Nation’s Gratitude’ dinner at White House

Army LogoHUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Two soldiers from Redstone Arsenal, veterans of the war in Iraq, will be among 78 service members having dinner with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

The event is “the beginning of a ‘thank you’ ” and is to honor all of the more than 1 million American military men and women who served in Iraq from 2003 to the end of operations in December, according to Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

Among those invited to the “A Nation’s Gratitude” dinner hosted by the president and first lady are Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald J. Riling of the Army Materiel Command headquarters, and Army Maj. Shannon Thompson of the Missile Defense Agency, both on Redstone Arsenal.

“I’m honored and humbled to represent the soldiers who served in Iraq,” Riling said. “I’ve always had pride in serving the Army and serving our soldiers. … During my time in Iraq, I felt I was just another soldier on the battlefield, doing my job, helping other soldiers and helping Marines.”

Riling, 48, has been AMC’s command sergeant major since August 2011. He served two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Silver Star for his actions during a fierce fight in Ramadi on April 6, 2004, in which 12 Marines were killed.

He and commander Col. Buck Connor were notified that Marines attached to their brigade were pinned down. They organized a team, made their way through withering fire to link up with the Marines and then fought their way out.

As they were evacuating wounded, another Marine platoon in the area came under attack. Riling saw one of the insurgents run into a building that gave him a deadly position to fire on the U.S. troops. A soldier was trying without success to kick the door down and stop him. There were only seconds to act.

The 6-foot-2-inch Riling yelled at the soldier to get back and then crashed shoulder-first into the door, knocking it off its hinges. The insurgent, who had been hiding behind the door, was mortally wounded.

Thompson, 31, is assistant product manager for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile in the MDA. He served three tours in Iraq, was one of the first American soldiers to enter the Al Anbar province in 2003, and helped secure Tall Afar during Operation Restoring Rights in 2005.

“It is a tremendous honor and I look forward to this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said of the White House dinner. “Although I understand that it is not practical to invite every individual that participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn to this event, I wish that they could all be there. …

“Every individual that served is deserving of this honor and I would hope that every service member feels just as honored as I am regardless of where they will be on Feb. 29, and that somebody shakes their hand and tells them ‘thank you.’ At least for my part, I know that I will remember, that ‘all gave some, but some gave all.’ “

Also invited is Staff Sgt. Shawon Tucker, who is from Alabama and now serves at McDonald Army Health Center in Fort Eustis, Va.

Senior enlisted advisers in each of the branches selected the servicemen and women who the Defense Department will fly to Washington, D.C., from all over the country and bases overseas.

“I don’t know what the cost is, but in terms of thanks for what they did, it is a minor drop in the bucket,” Wilson said in a statement.

He said he considers the dinner to be the start of a nationwide conversation about jobs for veterans, educational opportunities and help for military families.

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