5 Things to Start Your Week from Military.com

In this Dec. 15, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this Dec. 15, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Here are five news stories and events to start your week, from the editors at Military.com.

1. Still No VA Secretary Nominee

President-elect Donald Trump still hasn't named a nominee to take over the Veterans Affairs Department, which with its nearly $180 billion budget is second in size only to the Defense Department. A selection was expected before the holidays and after the candidate pool was narrowed down to two frontrunners: Dr. Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam and president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and Luis Quinonez, an Army veteran of Vietnam and founder of IQ Management Services, which provides health care services to the government and the private sector. But both candidates over the weekend dropped out of consideration, according to an article by Leo Shane, a reporter for Military Times. While many vets groups want Trump to keep current VA Secretary Robert McDonald on the job, the president-elect appears to want a new face to reform the agency in part by giving vets more access to private care. Others under consideration are Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts; and Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and former chief executive of Concerned Veterans for America.

2. First Female Marines to Graduate Boot Camp

This month, the Marine Corps expects to see its first female recruits with infantry contracts graduate boot camp, bringing them one step closer to billets in combat arms units. The news comes a little more than a year after Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the services to open previously closed ground combat jobs to women. Capt. Gregory Carroll, a spokesman for the service's boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, told Military.com that nine women with infantry contracts are currently in boot camp at the base. "These are the first women to arrive to recruit training with infantry contracts, and they have all met the required gender-neutral standards," Carroll said. "This serves as a testimony to the Marine Corps' goal of leveraging every opportunity to optimize individual performance, talent and skills to maximize our warfighting capabilities. All nine women remain in recruit training, and the first group is scheduled to graduate in January 2017." They're among a larger pool of 31 female Marines who have signed enlistment contracts for jobs in ground infantry, artillery, vehicle and air support.

3. Health Experts Warn Troops on Energy Drinks

U.S. military health officials warned service members that chugging too many energy drinks can have harmful side effects. Loaded with caffeine and sugar, energy drinks come in small and large cans with labels that promise increased energy and performance. They became the beverage of choice for many service members during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research analyzed data collected during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010 and found that nearly half of deployed service members consumed at least one energy drink daily. About one in seven reported drinking three or more per day. But high amounts of caffeine can lead to increased blood pressure, panic attacks, heart palpitations, anxiety, dehydration, insomnia and even bowel irritability when energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, according to Patricia Deuster, professor and director of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Similarly, high amounts of sugar -- and potentially even artificial sweeteners -- can cause blood-sugar levels to increase, heightening risk for weight gain. Meanwhile, the neuroendocrine effects of a key ingredient -- the amino acid taurine -- are poorly understood.

4. Air Force Kicks Off Two Big Acquisition Programs

The Air Force during the last week of the year moved forward on two multi-billion-dollar acquisition programs: the $16 billion T-X trainer and the $7 billion Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. The service formally kicked off the competition to develop a new trainer aircraft by soliciting bids from defense contractors. It plans to award a contract this year as part of a program to eventually buy 350 aircraft to replace its current Northrop Grumman Corp.-made T-38 Talons. In addition to Northrop, firms competing for the business include Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. Meanwhile, the Air Force has moved closer to launching the JSTARS competition by releasing a draft request for proposals as part of an effort to replace its fleet of 16 Northrop-modified E-8C planes. The service plans to award a contract for that effort next year. Both types of aircraft are scheduled to begin flying missions around 2024, according to the Air Force.

5. McCain Calls Hearing on Russian Cyberattacks

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Thursday "to receive testimony on foreign cyber threats to the United States," according to the agenda. McCain, who spent the holidays visiting NATO's Baltic states in a show of support against Russian military activity in the region, has said of Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, "When you attack a country, it's an act of war. And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay so that we can perhaps persuade Russians to stop this kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy," according to a transcript of his remarks on Ukrainian television, CNN reported. Meanwhile, Trump and members of his transition team have repeatedly sought to downplay Russia's role in the incident, most recently telling reporters that "no computer is safe" and that "hacking is a very hard thing to prove," the Associated Press reported.

-- Richard Sisk, Hope Hodge Seck, Oriana Pawlyk and Matthew Cox contributed to this report.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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