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Saturday, December 28, 2019

All I Wanted for Christmas…Was Information About U.S. Military Deployments

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23 Inf. B Co. celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques.
Editor's Note:  Emma Still Does not have her wish a year later. 

"Cato Institute" By Emma Ashford

"The fundamental problem is simple. With only limited knowledge of where American troops are, and what they are doing there, we cannot even have a coherent public discussion about the scope of U.S. military intervention around the globe."

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"U.S. troops are currently engaged in counterterrorism and support missions in Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, and elsewhere, deployments which have never been debated by Congress and are authorized only under a patchwork of shaky, existing authorities.
Take Syria, where the Pentagon long claimed that there were only 500 boots on the ground, even though anecdotal accounts suggested a much higher total. When Maj. General James Jarrard accidentally admitted to reporters at a press conference in October that the number was closer to 4000, his statement was quickly walked back. Finally, last week, the Pentagon officially acknowledged that there are in fact 2000 troops on the ground in Syria, and pledged that they will stay there ‘indefinitely.’ 
Even when we do know how many troops are stationed abroad, we often don’t know what they’re doing. Look at Niger, where a firefight in October left four soldiers dead. Prior to this news—and to the President’s disturbing decision to publicly feud with the widow of one of the soldiers—most Americans had no idea that troops deployed to Africa on so-called ‘train-and equip’ missions were engaged in active combat.
Even in the Middle East, deployments have been increasing substantially under the Trump administration, with the number of troops and civilian support staff in the region increasing by almost 30% during the summer of 2017 alone. These dramatic increases were noted in the Pentagon’s quarterly personnel report, but no effort was made to draw public attention to them.
So if I could ask for one change to U.S. foreign policy for Christmas, I’d like to know where American troops are and what they’re doing there."









Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Deeper Lasting Costs Of War

Marine John Thomas Doody, (Chris O’Meara/AP)
   

CLICK IMAGES TO VIEW OR ENLARGE  - Video and Chart Brown University “Costs of War”


MILITARY TIMES
A new collection of studies reveals at the often unseen effects of those wars both at home and abroad ranging from fractured families, strained caregivers, increased cancer rates to mistrust of health workers, demolished infrastructure and military suicides.
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“Impact from the past two decades of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be seen in dollars spent, lives shattered by injury or trauma and dead service members carried home.
“War and Health” is a collection of ethnographies covering a range of people affected from the wars beginnings, current day and likely long-term future ripples.
In it researchers have found correlations between areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan with higher number of drone strikes are also less likely to accept polio vaccinations and other medical assistance due to mistrust of government aid.
They’ve seen increased rates of behavior incidents and low school performance among children of frequently-deployed military parents.
The reports show waves of Iraqis seeking medical care in Beirut, Lebanon with late-stage cancers because they couldn’t get early screening in Iraq, which previously boasted the leading medical care in the region.
Researchers found military suicides, increased family violence and higher numbers of substance abuse and DUIs even among non-combat service members correlated with faster-paced deployment schedules and training.
While half of all caregivers for veterans are spouses, parents or immediate family, a full one-third of caregivers are friends or neighbors who don’t qualify to receive financial compensation created in recent years to ease the burden that caregivers for vets can face.
Catherine Lutz and Andrea Mazzarino edited the collection as part of their work with the “Costs of War Project,” out of Brown University.
The project collects information on war dead, military and civilian casualties, budget figures and other measures of the costs of the conflicts in the Global War on Terror. The project began in 2011 and recently kicked off a new effort to update past reports and develop new measures by 2021, the 20th anniversary of the start of the wars.
The same project recently released and updated notice on the fiscal costs of the Global War on Terror. The release noted that an estimated $6.4 trillion had been spent between late 2001 and today, a large portion of which has been financed through deficit spending.
But, those numbers can be difficult to nail down, as noted in the report, which quotes Christopher Mann of the Congressional Research Service.
“No government-wide reporting consistently accounts for both DOD and non-DOD war costs,” he said.
Part of the Costs of War Project’s work is to pull together disparate sources to find the tally of the wars.
Their research has found that that a growing cost will be medical care.
One example included 10-year costs estimates for post-9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injuries is expected to cost $2.4 billion from 2020 to 2029.
Mazzarino spoke with Military Times about the nature of the project and what she and its contributors hope it will accomplish.
She and others have participated in media interviews and, through the Costs of War Project, have been in touch with Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT and hope to testify before Congress on their findings.
“The whole point of the project is to move beyond the academy to influencing advocacy and public policy,” Mazzarino said.
That’s not an easy task. Data-driven studies such as past reports on increasing servicemember suicides and strains on military families garnered political and public attention, but that took years and resulted in some changes in programs.
What Mazzarino and her colleagues are working with is less black-and-white and more focused on the second- and third-order effects of having a military at war on a daily basis for decades.
But, it may be that what they’re finding will have as much a long-term impact as other major war-related concerns.
“People who were serving when the war started, they’re entering old age soon,” Mazzarino said. “That’s going to come with all kinds of financial burdens to the U.S. government, especially with care for those veterans.”
And overseas, the imprint of decades of combat leave their own kind of toll.
“There are subtle and unexpected ways that the destruction of infrastructure has affected public health,” she said.
The Costs of War Project website has compiled estimates that a many as 480,000 people have died in direct war violence. They estimate far more have died due to “indirect” war violence such as when access to food, water and medical care was restricted or unavailable due to combat.
Their research estimates that more than 244,000 civilians have been killed in connection to the wars and as many as 21 million have been displaced and many are now war refugees, with substandard living conditions away from their native lands.
One harder to measure item is how the estimated $5.9 trillion spent on the wars could have been spent, the report notes. What healthcare, infrastructure or education projects were curtailed, limited or ended as a result in budget priorities to fight the wars instead?
Mazzarino has seen firsthand some of the effects of the wartime military. Her husband serves as a submariner in the Navy. That’s meant more frequent and unexpected deployments that his predecessors faced.
And she’s seen that strain on fellow military families, members and commanders.
Some similar experiences were reflected in a section titled, “It’s Not Okay: War’s Toll on Health Brought Home to Communities and Environments.”
One vignette profiled Dolores, the young wife of an infantry sergeant whose unit had seen a number of murders committed by soldiers back home and increases in domestic violence.
Those experiences had weighed heavily on her husband who returned and completed another Iraq deployment, this time being injured and later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Six years after he had returned from theater, she had become his main caregiver and had to quit her job to do that work and to advocate for his care.
The section’s authors, Jean Scandlyn and Sarah Hautzinger, wrote that many of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan they interviewed still saw themselves as deeply entangled in what had happened during their deployments.
“Assessing war’s toll on health requires that we consider the ways we all become entangled in wars seemingly distant, and how war particularly erodes wellness in domestic military communities,” they wrote.”




































Wednesday, November 06, 2019

For Veterans Day - Wanted: More Veterans in Congress to Break Gridlock


“DOD BUZZ”

“A retired two-star general has come up with a new explanation for what’s wrong with Congress – Not enough veterans in the House and Senate.
 
“Veterans would instinctively understand when mutual sacrifice was necessary to achieve a common goal”

“I really do believe that,” said retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, who has a unique perspective on the ways and mores of Capitol Hill from his 24 years as a staffer with former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat and an iconic figure on defense issues as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The temptation would be to pass off Punaro’s analysis as yet another insider’s gripe-fest, but he has made the case at length in his book “On War And Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington’s Beltway” (Naval Institute Press).

“Today’s so-called ‘leaders’ are fully aware of the problems that need solving. They just don’t seem to have the courage to make the hard choices — not if it means they may lose votes or campaign contributions,” Punaro said. “I believe it’s because most of today’s bureaucrats and elected officials have never faced a real battle or had to risk their very lives in a shared effort.”

He pointed to statistics showing that “in 1981, when we could still compromise, 64 percent of the members of Congress were veterans. In 2015, only 18 percent had served.”
Veterans would instinctively understand “when mutual sacrifice was necessary to achieve a common goal,” Punaro said, but compromise has become a dirty word in the how-do-I-avoid-a-primary era of gridlock, government shutdowns, and perennial failures to pass a defense budget.

In his book, and in a phone interview, Punaro said the decline in the number of veterans in Congress could be traced directly to the scrapping of the draft and the introduction of the all-volunteer force, which he continues to support — with reservations.

In 1970, as protests against the Vietnam War rattled the nation, President Richard Nixon issued an executive order creating a 15-member Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, led by former Defense Secretary Thomas Gates, “to develop a comprehensive plan for eliminating conscription and moving toward an all-volunteer armed force.”

Nixon directed the commission to study the various aspects of an all-volunteer force, such as pay, recruitment incentives, benefits and selection standards. The all-volunteer force went into effect over the objections of much of the Pentagon’s leadership, who feared the impact on recruitment.

“A lot of people were skeptical about replacing the draft,” which happened in 1973, “but I wasn’t in their ranks. I’d seen firsthand what it did to both our country and men who never should have been put behind a trigger,” Punaro said.

But by the late 1970s, the all-volunteer force was on the verge of collapse as the services could not meet recruiting and retention goals and costs were ballooning far beyond original estimates.

Nunn put together hearings detailing the problems and calling on the Defense Department to boost standards and increase pay and benefits to attract recruits. The bottom line — “The quality of the force was more important to him [Nunn] than the price tag,” Punaro said.

“Today, the AVF is again unsustainable from the standpoint of fully-burdened life-cycle costs. DoD spends more than half of its budget supporting people,” Puinaro said, but he remained a supporter of the AVF. “I’m amused when some people label me as a critic of the AVF. I’m still a supporter of the concept but our force as it stands today is no longer sustainable in the long-term,” he said.

Punaro wrote that “The Gates commission foresaw this circumstance, stating in 1970 that a volunteer force would not be sustainable unless lawmakers eliminated the 20-year cliff retirement, reformed the ‘up or out’ promotion system, and changed the pay and compensation from a simple time-in-grade to a skill and performance-based system. None of these recommendations were adopted and reforms in those areas are long overdue.”

While praising individual Pentagon leaders, such as current Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Punaro’s book said the institution itself could be as hidebound as Congress when it came to reform. Sometimes, head fakes were required to get anything done.
Punaro cited the 1986 passage of the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act reforming the structure and responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs Chairman, the service chiefs and the Combatant Commanders with the goal of improving joint operations.

To get the bill passed, Nunn and Sen Barry Goldwater “fought every single civilian and military leader,” including then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Punaro said. “From my early days as a staffer, I knew that the Pentagon always overreacted to reform efforts, so we included fake provisions in our proposal to keep them diverted in their response.”
“One was to get rid of the Joint Chiefs of Staff entirely. We obviously had no desire to actually do this but while the Pentagon was busy pummeling our straw man, we were gathering votes for the real elements of change, like unifying the Joint Chiefs through a more powerful chairman and vice chairman.”

The book goes on to detail other legislative battles won and lost but frequently returns to the lessons learned by 2nd Lt. Punaro in Vietnam as leader of 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

The book is dedicated to Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, who was from another platoon in Lima Company but raced to rescue Punaro when he was wounded in an ambush on Jan. 4, 1970.

“Someone had come after me,” Punaro wrote. “Incredibly brave. Incredibly risky. I grabbed his flak jacket and yelled ‘Let’s go. Let’s go.’ No answer. My hand came back covered with blood. An unfamiliar pale, long face fell back. I didn’t know him. ‘I can’t move,’ I yelled, but he didn’t’ respond. Just lay there on top of me, jerking as the bullets hammered his flak jacket.”

“I didn’t know what had caused Corp. Roy Lee Hammonds, 21, of Waxahachie, Texas, to come to my rescue. He’d been in country since Feb. 25, 1969, and was within weeks of going home.”

Aboard the medevac helicopter, “in the last fading golden light, I looked out over the rolling hills of the battle-scarred country we were leaving and laid a protective arm over Roy’s body.”

“He died saving my life,” Punaro said over the phone. In writing the book, “I wanted to tell the story of those Marines and what they did,” of their dedication to a mission and to each other. “The second thing was – I was becoming increasingly concerned, watching the deterioration of the executive and legislative process to where we weren’t solving anything.”
What was needed, he said, was finding a way to imbue in current members of the House and Senate that same commitment to a cause greater than themselves that is ingrained in those who serve in the military.

“The best advocates for the military are our troops,” and members need to spend more time with them, Punaro said. “I think if we could get more people in Congress to spend less time politicking and more time learning about what’s going on in the military that would take the place of some of the experience” gained by actually being in the ranks.

“If you haven’t been there, it’s hard to explain to somebody who’s never served in the military, never knew anybody who ever served in the military, what our military goes through.”

In his foreword to the book, former Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican who was once Punaro’s boss as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gently warned him to expect some blowback from those who might be offended by Punaro’s characterizations.
Warner said Punaro should give himself the same advice he gave his platoon in Vietnam: “Every man must now put on his flak jacket, zip it up, for the incoming will soon be targeting down on us.”

Wanted: More Veterans in Congress to Break Gridlock

Friday, November 01, 2019

Are Americans Truly Independent?





























THE BRANCH UPON WHICH WE SIT

Technology has permitted marvelous advances and opportunities in communication and convenience. 

It has also impacted independent thought and created concerns with respect to privacy and transparency in government. Our focus has shifted recently to sophisticated forms of government technological control that may be both legal and illegal, and are being challenged in our court systems.

Mass marketing and communications have created expectations beyond reality in venues from romance web sites to building wealth.  They have also confused us about our government functions, our elected representatives and where they are taking us.

We have grown used to the convenience of viewing the world through media sound bites, opinionated, biased, news and insincere, short sighted, money driven politicians, who are financed by loosely controlled contributors and influenced by lobbying firms that spend enormous amounts of money made available by the wealthy to impact our opinions.

We have become less competitive in the global economy, as a concentration of wealth has shifted to a very few and our corporations evolve operations outside the country, taking the resulting tax relief, profits, investments and resources with them. 

Are Corporations More Powerful Than Countries?


THE CONUNDRUM

Consider simpler times a few years past (say 50). Trust was necessary in many venues as a means of survival on a day-to-day basis. We relied on others extensively for our well-being from our local store to our banker, from the policeman to the politician. And we knew them all better, we could reach out and touch them and we were not viewing them in sound bites and web sites, nor were we being bombarded with multiple forms of input to digest about them.

Americans have very little trust in the current era.  We see a negative, idealistically bound, bloated government, growing like a money- eating beast and putting generations in hock with unwarranted incursions into foreign countries and a focus on big corporations and big business. 

THE CHALLENGE

The key to our true independence is in becoming involved as individuals, taking flight on wings that grow strong by exercising our intellect, our shared opinions and our participation in government.  We must research a personal perspective based on our personal values and take time in the fast pace our culture demands to communicate with those we elect to government before and after the election.

Trust is hard to establish in the modern era.  We see very little true statesmanship in the good people we send to Washington, who promptly become ground up in the huge machine there in order to survive.  That machine must change and the people we send to change it must share that objective with us. 

HOW STRONG ARE OUR WINGS?

Communications and expectations are two vital elements in measuring trust.
To an extraordinary extent, the age in which we live is requiring us to redefine trust and the degree to which communication and expectations contribute to it. 
To become truly independent, we must become much more sophisticated ourselves in the manner with which we view all this input and sift it in a meaningful way to have true trust.

To a very large degree this is a personal responsibility. We must become involved, make prudent judgments and think for ourselves, then communicate our expectations to those who represent us.

If we do not, we run a high risk of tyranny and that fact is inescapable. 






Tuesday, October 01, 2019

How To Increase Civilian Understanding Of Our Military And First Responders






Image: Spencer PlatGetty Images

"MILITARY TIMES” By Kevin M. Schmiegel and Patrick A. Burke



Addressing the civilian-military/civilian-service divide and ensuring support for our military, first responders, and their families, are critical at this time.

One proven solution to build understanding and increase engagement is the creation of hands-on volunteer opportunities during which civilians can meet our military and first responders in person and learn what they do and what they experience.
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For 18 years our nation has been at war. In the face of conflict and adversity at home and abroad, brave Americans have volunteered to serve not only in our armed forces but as first responders in thousands of communities across the country. Between them, more than 4.4 million men and women have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and pledged to protect the freedoms and securities we enjoy as Americans.
Since 9/11, however, observers have acknowledged a widening gap of “understanding” between the 2.1 million Americans who serve in our all-volunteer military force and the rest of the population. While our nation’s longest war continues and hundreds of thousands of service members still and will continue to deploy each year, a majority of military families feel increasingly isolated from their communities and disconnected from their civilian counterparts.

Americans are also less personally connected to military service than ever before. According to the Department of Defense, the number of young adults with parents who have served in the military has dropped from 40 percent in 1995 to 15 percent today, and less than 1 percent of the U.S. population currently serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

Unfortunately, a similar “civilian-service divide” is developing between the general public and the 2.3 million police and firefighters who also serve in harm’s way. In the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey issued last fall, the number of Americans age 16 or older who had contact with the police declined from 26 percent to 21 percent in four years, a drop of more than 9 million people. 

This lack of understanding and positive interaction could also be contributing factors to record-low levels of recruitment for both the military and law enforcement.

Examples of how communities are joining together successfully to share experiences can be seen through recent events in Baltimore on June 1, Philadelphia on July 11, and Nashville on Aug. 17, when hundreds of volunteers stood alongside service families to express gratitude in a tangible way. The battalion chief for the Baltimore County Fire Department said it was “the most incredible thing” he had seen in almost 44 years in fire service. That sentiment was further reinforced by the Baltimore Police Department’s chief of patrol, who pointed out officers “needed the community … to help solve issues.”

Fittingly, a similar large-scale service project took place in New York City on Sept. 5 with the production of more than 10,000 signature Operation Gratitude Care Packages and Care Pouches. During the week of Sept. 11, volunteers will deliver those packages to deployed service members around the world and to first responders who responded to the Pentagon attack 18 years ago. These interpersonal activities will help close the gap between those who serve and those who are served and provide avenues to express mutual respect and appreciation.

With the deaths of 15 service members in Afghanistan and 118 police and firefighter fatalities here at home so far in 2019, communities in our country yearn for opportunities to recognize and thank all who serve in uniform. Hands-on volunteerism is the most effective way for American citizens to engage with our military and first responders, forge strong bonds and build sustainable relationships that ultimately will strengthen their communities, as well as strengthen the resolve of the brave men and women who serve and protect them.”


ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Kevin M. Schmiegel is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who now serves as the chief executive officer of Operation Gratitude, a national 501c3 nonprofit.

The Honorable Patrick A. Burke is the former United States marshal and assistant chief of police for the District of Columbia, and now serves as the executive director of the Washington D.C. Police Foundation

 e Images