AFGE Launches Cell Phones for Soldiers Pilot Program

AFGE Locals will sponsor drop-off sites at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers across the country for individuals interested in donating their used cell phones. Any make or model cell phone with an attached battery will be accepted.
The AFGE Cell Phones for Soldiers program is an offshoot of the national Cell Phone for Soldiers program based in Massachusetts. Started by two teenagers, Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, the program started in 2004 and has raised more than $250,000 and sent more than 9,000 prepaid calling cards to U.S. troops.
"When we heard about this wonderful program started by two teenagers, we were inspired by their commitment to support our nation's soldiers during this difficult time," says Patrick Russell of AFGE's National VA Council and president of AFGE Local 1539. "Since many of our members are veterans, we thought this was a wonderful way to show our support for these brave men and women."
VA medical centers in the following cities will serve as deposit sites for used cell phones: Vancouver, Wash.; Roseburg, Ore.; Portland, Ore.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Tucson, Ariz.
"Our hope is to expand this program to more VA medical centers around the country," says Russell.
Each individual VA center will determine its own exact drop-off locations and hours of operation. For this information, as well as the name and number of a local contact, contact the AFGE Communications Department at (202) 639-6419.

Sandy Rathbun Reports
Old cell phones wanted for troops
Aug 6, 2005, 8:58 AM
There's something you can do to help soldiers in Iraq keep in touch with their families in the United States.
Employees at Tucson's VA Medical Center want you to donate your old cell phone.
Judy Gafner, who is secretary of the American Federation of Government Employees local 495, says, "The phones are collected, sold to a recycling center and then the money is used to purchase phone cards which are then given to the soldiers so that they can contact their families."
Two Massachusetts teenagers started the program last year. Now VA employees and union members are expanding it nationwide.
Gafner says, "Working with veterans I think we're all very aware here, everybody who works here, of what some of these people are going through."
Jose Ortiz served three years in the Army and remembers how important a phone call can be.
Ortiz says, "To be able to hear my sister's voice, my dad's voice, it was real soothing for me. It was comforting, especially in those hard times when you're out there by yourself and you're not used to being out there by yourself."
In the past month Tucson's VA Medical Center collected boxes full of old cell phones. You can donate one by calling 629-1819.

No bail for ex-border agent in conspiracy

By Onell R. Soto
August 6, 2005
A former Border Patrol agent accused of lying about his citizenship to get his job and then helping to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States was ordered held without bail yesterday.
Oscar Antonio Ortiz, 28, appeared in court dressed in a jail-issue orange jumpsuit and said little during a brief hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony J. Battaglia.
The judge set a bail hearing for Wednesday. Prosecutors say Ortiz should remain behind bars until his case is decided.
Ortiz pleaded not guilty to lying about his citizenship and conspiracy to smuggle immigrants, felony charges that could result in up to 13 years in prison.
As in many cases, additional charges are possible as prosecutors evaluate the evidence and present it to a grand jury.
It's a crime – corruption – for public officials to violate the public trust in exchange for money.
It's also against the law for illegal immigrants to possess weapons in the United States, and all Border Patrol agents must carry firearms.
Ortiz was arrested Thursday afternoon in Escondido by agents of the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General.
Escondido police, members of the North County Regional Gang Task Force and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents assisted.
Ortiz and another agent were placed on administrative in June, about the same time Ortiz's house was searched while 33 members of an Encinitas-based drug trafficking ring were arrested, authorities said.
The investigation of the two El Cajon-based agents began after investigators heard Ortiz while listening to wiretaps in the drug investigation, said sheriff's Lt. Derek Clark, head of the North County gang unit.
"We turned that over to the Inspector General's office," Clark said yesterday. "We're not an internal affairs unit and that's where that type of case needed to be dealt with. . . . It had no direct connection to our case."
He said there may be a family relationship between the agents and the defendants in the drug case.
Ortiz was born in Tijuana, but he presented a fake copy of an Illinois birth certificate when he applied for the Border Patrol on Oct. 30, 2001, an ICE agent said in court papers filed Thursday.
Ortiz worked with another rogue Border Patrol agent to look the other way – "just clear the way," as the other agent put it – while illegal immigrants were smuggled across the border east of Tecate, according to the court filing.
The agents were paid $300 per person, according to a wiretapped conversation cited in the filing, and up to $2,000 if they smuggled the immigrants themselves.
The other agent has not been arrested or charged.
"It's embarrassing. There are no two ways about it," said T.J. Bonner, the San Diego-based president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union, of the apparent hiring of an undocumented immigrant to work guarding the border.
Local representatives of the Border Patrol declined to say how it was that Ortiz got past their screening processes, but provided a written statement from agency Chief David V. Aguilar.
"Any agent who defies the Border Patrol's motto of 'Honor First' and chooses to violate the trust of the citizens they swore to protect will be held accountable," Aguilar said in the statement. "There is no place in the Border Patrol for behavior that tarnishes and discredits the badge we proudly wear."
Ortiz won't wear that badge again.
"He has now resigned from the Border Patrol," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alana Wong told the judge.
It doesn't appear as though Ortiz entered the United States legally.
A review of Department of Homeland Security immigration records yesterday did not produce any record of a person with the same name and date of birth as those of Ortiz.
How Ortiz managed to scrape through the requisite background check for Border Patrol agents, who must be U.S. citizens, is still a mystery.
Union officials have pinned the blame on rushed hiring and the subcontracting of background screenings for new hires, a practice they say places a highly sensitive matter in the hands of contractors who don't have a vested interest in national security.
In the rush to hire, there have been instances in which background checks have not been completed until people have already been on board for months, Bonner said.
"We are not talking about people who are working at a 7-Eleven," Bonner said.
He said such charges are highly unusual.
"The public needs to understand that these are a few rogue agents," Bonner said. "It is not the culture of the Border Patrol. The overwhelming majority of the agents are out there risking their lives, enforcing immigration laws, doing a daunting and largely thankless task."
In April, an El Centro-based Border Patrol agent pleaded guilty to drug smuggling, admitting he used his patrol vehicle to smuggle about 750 pounds of Mexican marijuana in a duffel bag.
Luis Higareda is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 12 to at least five years in prison.

Border Agents Blast Politicians' Strategy
Date 2005/8/7 7:24:00 | Topic: Politics
by Jim Kouri, CPP

Imagine the manager of the San Diego Padres requiring outfielders to remain in one location in the outfield while playing. The other teams would immediately figure out the weakness in the Padres’ strategy. Although outfielders might catch a few balls in the first innings, eventually, they would only catch balls hit right to them.

Now, instead of telling the Padres’ manager to stop restricting the outfielders’ movement in the field, imagine the owner of the Padres concluding the outfielders were ineffective and no longer needed in the outfield. In an effort to improve the team, the owner tells the manager to move all outfielders to the infield to strengthen their efforts and improve their chances of catching the ball.

Isn’t this idea ridiculous? It is and this concept is what happened with the United States Border Patrol in San Diego. In 1996, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Border Patrol policies restricted other checkpoint enforcement operations. Agents were no longer permitted to patrol day-labor sites, transportation hubs, and other areas where illegal aliens regularly gathered. Patrolling the side roads while the checkpoints were operational was also terminated. These enforcement activities are within the authority of the Border Patrol and increased the effectiveness of the checkpoints.

At the same time, Congressman Robert Packard concluded Border Patrol checkpoints on highways I-5 and I-15 would be more effective if they were operated seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day and incorporated language into the appropriations bill which required the I-5 and I-15 checkpoints to operate 24/7. Consequently, all of these negative events caused apprehensions to plummet.

Congressman Darrell Issa recently said, “Closing the Temecula and San Clemente checkpoints would improve the Border Patrol’s chances of catching undocumented immigrants and seizing illegal drugs.” Officials of National Border Patrol Council, Local 1613 strongly disagree with this statement. Local 1613 officials previously informed Congressman Issa of a misuse of resources within the Border Patrol and the checkpoints on I-5 and I-15.

Closing the checkpoints and moving 200 agents from these checkpoints to the border is not the solution for reducing the number of illegal entrants. As long as people around the world know that once they circumvent the infield, there is an unmanned outfield and they will score a hit and make it to home base in the United States without any fear of being caught. There is no doubt the terrorists are exploiting this vulnerability.

The Border Patrol must maintain an outfield that is free to play their legal positions; otherwise, Border Patrol Agents assigned to checkpoints will continue to catch only the few people who hit the ball directly to them and the checkpoints will never be successful.

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others, and he's a columnist for TheConservativeVoice.Com. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com,, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.

Border Patrol agent charged with smuggling, faking citizenship

Associated Press
SAN DIEGO - A Border Patrol agent was charged Friday with smuggling illegal immigrants and forging a birth certificate to get hired.
Oscar Antonio Ortiz, a Mexican citizen who was born in Tijuana, allegedly secured his job with the Border Patrol in 2001 by using a fake birth certificate that stated he was born in Chicago.
Authorities say the number on his birth certificate corresponds to that of another person who was born one month before him.
Ortiz, 28, pleaded not guilty to charges of migrant smuggling and making a false citizenship claim. U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Battaglia scheduled a hearing Wednesday to consider bail.
"There is no place in the Border Patrol for behavior that tarnishes and discredits the badge that we proudly wear," said Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar.
Ortiz, who worked at the agency's El Cajon station east of San Diego, was arrested Thursday and has been placed on administrative leave. Agency officials declined to elaborate on the charges or his employment history, and Ortiz' attorney, Stephen White, declined to discuss the case.
Wire intercepts show that Ortiz spoke on "many occasions" with another unnamed agent about smuggling people into the United States from Mexico through a mountainous area that he patrolled near Tecate, according to the complaint. Tecate is about 35 miles east of San Diego.
The other agent allegedly told a family member May 20 that he and Ortiz were smuggling groups of several dozen people and getting paid up to $2,000 a person.
"We have just started to work over here," the agent said, according to the complaint. "It's 30, 40, 50 and up ... We don't do anything, just clear the way and we get 300 per head. But if we put in, then it's 2,000 or 1,800."
Ortiz and the other agent allegedly talked May 3 about how much to charge an immigrant smuggler.
"I don't know how the guy wants to work, but I'll talk to him," Ortiz is quoted saying.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alana Wong declined to comment on the unnamed agent.
T.J. Bonner, who heads a labor union of Border Patrol agents, said the FBI used to perform background checks on prospective employees but turned that work over to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
"It's a two-minute phone call to verify whether the number (on the birth certificate) matches the name," said Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "Any rookie who is trained in immigration law could have figured that out."
Stephen Benowitz, OPM's associate director for human resources products and services, confirmed that his office screens applicants based on criteria established by the Border Patrol. He said he was unfamiliar with Ortiz's case.
Border Patrol agents must be U.S. citizens.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report Friday noting three major challenges the Department of Veterans Affairs faces while completing and implementing Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services.

CARES is a VA program designed to identify which health care services it needs at which locations through FY 2022. VA’s existing locations include 172 medical facilities, 77 health care markets and 21 health care networks.

The first major hurdle GAO found was VA lacked enough data to complete “inpatient service alignment decisions,” the GAO report stated. Based on the report’s findings VA determined their organization:

* Lacked decision-making information for both long-term care and mental health services

* “Did not have sufficient information to complete alignment decisions for inpatient services at 12 facilities”

The VA has taken steps to develop data needed, “such as working to develop improved models of demand for these services.”

The second challenge that the VA faces, the GAO report stated, is improving the supervision of the VA’s excess property -- including 8.5 million square feet of vacant space. This may be an issue because of strict federal guidelines regarding property.

“Some VA managers have retained excess property because the complexity and costs of complying with these requirements were disincentives to disposal,” stated the 32-page report. To address this problem, the VA has hired “network-level capital asset managers to facilitate disposal.”

The third hurdle that VA faces is deciphering priorities for purchasing inpatient services to enhance accessibility to care. The VA has determined that buying services from non-VA health care providers in over 20 markets “would be a reasonable option for providing care closer to where veterans live, [but] VA’s network managers have to balance the costs and benefits of purchasing care against competing priorities. To take on this issue, the VA has worked on facilitating “managers’ development of information they need to decide among priorities, including information on the cost effectiveness of proposed contracts and their impact on other health care priorities.”

VA concurred with both GAO’s findings and conclusions.

To view the report, visit:

Cell Phone for Soldiers
By Diane Maeschen

AFGE Local 1509 in cooperation with the VAEA will sponsoring the Cell Phones for Soldiers program in Sioux Falls. This program was created by Brittany, age 13, & Robbie Bergquist, 12, of Norwell, MA. After reading a story about how a soldier had ran up a huge phone bill calling home from Iraq, these two teenagers decided to help out.

They started by opening an account with $21 of their own money. The South Shore Bank in Norwell donated $500 to help them get started. Their goal is to help our soldiers serving overseas call home. They hope to provide as many soldiers as possible with prepaid calling cards for now with an ultimate goal of providing banks of cell, satellite or VOIP communications. They have already distributed calling cards to soldiers in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The campaign has raised more than $150,000 and has sent more than 4,000 prepaid calling cards to our troops.

Cell Phone for Soldiers will accept any make of model of cell phone or a cash donation.
The cell phones are recycled for cash to purchase more calling cards. Drop off sites at the Sioux Falls VAMC will be at the Information desk in the front lobby, Rough Rider Café, Human Resources in Building 1 and all the branches of the Sioux Empire Federal Credit Union.

Cell Phone for Soldiers will start on August 1 and is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Any checks, cash or prepaid calling cards can be sent directly to the South Shore Savings Bank 1530 Main Street South Weymouth, MA 02190 or can be sent directly to Cell Phones for Soldiers c/o South Shore Savings Bank 5 Assinippi Avenue Hanover, MA 02339 phone (781) 659-7789 or can be routed to the Union office. Checks should be made to “Cell Phones for Soldiers.” If you want to make a donation by credit card will visit website

If you would like to help with this program, or have any questions , you can contact Diane at extension 6059. For more information on this program, you can visit the website

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