June 2, 2010

From the Front: 06/02/2010

News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New complete posts come in below)

Dispatches:

Army Live: Wounded veteran sings tribute to comrades - There are few things more American than country music, well maybe a Soldier or veteran who plays country music. Josh Revak is a retired wounded veteran. He’s also a country singer who writes songs to honor the memory of fellow soldiers who lost their lives in combat. Revak served in the Army with the 1st Brigade, 37th Armor Regiment from Jan 30, 2002 until Jul 1, 2007. During his first deployment to Iraq in 2003 his friend Tim Hayslett was killed. Revak wrote a song and was asked to play the song at Kayslett’s memorial. Revak wrote a song for each memorial, sadly almost always honoring a friend of his. Revak’s war zone country music making came to an end when a mortar projectile explosion left him with shrapnel in his feet, a fused ankle and a concussion. “The song ‘Empty Boots’ was written after I had already been wounded and was recovering in Germany,” said Revak. “Andrew Daul, a really good friend of mine, was killed..." (READ MORE)

Chandler's Watch: New Strain of Gulf War Syndrome - Now I don’t want to down grade or make light of the original Gulf War Syndrome, but there is another variety or should I say strain of the syndrome. It seems that since the fight in the Persian Gulf back in 1991 most of America seems to have been afflicted with this strain of GWS. This different strain may also be traced back to the mid to late 60’s during the conflict in Viet Nam and just went viral from the early 90’s through today in 2010. With Memorial Day weekend behind us it seems to have died down a little bit but it is still present. The symptoms of this syndrome can be seen every day on the streets of America and it affects people from all walks of life regardless of their color, creed, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation. It wasn’t that long ago that Afghanistan was the “Good War” and we were told that Iraq was a “War of Choice”. In fact President Obama campaigned on the fact that we as a nation needed to win in Afghanistan. (READ MORE)

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan: Flag ceremony marks new command and control structure in southern Afghanistan - Changes to the command and control of ISAF forces in southern Afghanistan that sees the current Regional Command (South) split in two come into force on Tuesday 1 June 2010. The changes, which were announced on 21 May, are based on the military advice of ISAF commanders on the ground and reflect a number of significant changes over recent months, including the large increase in the number of ISAF troops in southern Afghanistan. The changes see a new Regional Command (South West), based in Helmand, which will oversee Helmand and Nimruz provinces, while the existing Regional Command (South), headquartered in Kandahar, will continue to control ISAF forces in Kandahar, Daykundi, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces. Regional Command (South West) will operate under a rotational command, agreed in principle to be shared between US and UK forces. (READ MORE)

Home From Iraq: Military Future - It's June and the Army Old Age clock is ticking faster for me. Without a waiver from the commanding general of the PA NAtional Guard, I will be a civilian exactly three years from yesterday. My discharge date is May 31, 2013. I will not be retired on that day. I am reliving my father's Army Career in many ways. He lost his pension when the age-in-grade law caused him to be mustered out with 19 years service. The Army retirement requires 20 years to get any benefits. I will have 17 years in 2013. I would have to stay until I was 63 to get a retirement, at least as far as I understand the rules, and that would require three consecutive waivers. Not likely. But I knew that when I needed a waiver from a general officer to get in three years ago. In the short term, I also have to decide what to do for the remaining three years. A public affairs officer in the Stryker brigade would like me to work in his office--he does not have a staff writer--but does not have an E5 slot. (READ MORE)

Jamie McIntyre: Fear the Reaper - Droning On In Afghanistan - It all comes down to the quality of the intelligence. This week provided graphic evidence of the both effectiveness and the limits of killing bad guys by remote control from the deserts of Arizona. First the bad intell: a U.S. military investigation delivered a scathingly critical assessment: showing not only how screw-ups can get innocent people killed, but also how the U.S. military really does take seriously the investigation of unintended civilian casualties. It does not simply write off the deaths of women, children, and other non-combatants as “collateral damage” –a term that has increasingly taken on an unwarranted pejorative tone, implying that U.S. forces are uncaring and unfeeling about the loss of innocent life. The report detailing the findings of the investigation makes several key points, while in no way excusing the failings of crews in Nevada to properly inform the ground commander about what they did or didn’t know about a civilian convoy mistaken for an insurgent force on the move. (READ MORE)

Kerplunk: A Day on the Brooklyn Bridge - If there's a better way to spend Memorial Day than walking the Brooklyn Bridge with the illustrious City Girl, I'm not allowed to vocalize it. We started on the Brooklyn side, and thus walked straight into picturesque view after picturesque view of lower Manhattan. We got our sun on, then our grub on, and then (finally!) our beer on. Idyllic in a place that supposedly doesn't allow for it. I thought about old comrades, especially those that fell, or have since gotten lost. Remember and honor, like Reagan talked about, because it's all we can do. It's not enough of course, but it's never enough. I hope everyone had an equally peaceful and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: It’s All in the (Tactical) Pants - One thing you notice at about every FOB in Afghanistan is that there are a lot of civilians walking around base — all contractors of one sort or another. And it seems that every one of those civilians (aside from the kitchen workers) are wearing so-called “tactical” pants…and when you get a closer look at their duds, you notice it’s pretty much a 5.11 world over there (I say ‘there’ because we’re back from our embed now, safe and sound). I’ll have to admit, I brought two pairs of pants on my embed: one was an old pair of Patagonia cargo pants that have served me well on embeds since 2004 and one was a pair of 5.11 tactical pants in FR material I got for Iraq back in ‘08. It just so happens that I received an email while I was over there from a company that built a Web site dedicated to reviewing a wide range of tactical pants — it’s artfully titled The Ultimate Guide to Tactical Pants. (READ MORE)

The Kitchen Dispatch: Andrew Lubin's Response to "Should We Be in Afghanistan?" - There are 2 questions here: 1- Should be in Afghanistan? 2 - Are we using the correct tactics for success? And so as I sit here waiting to board a plane for my 5th embed into Afghanistan, let me answer. 1 - Yes, we need to be in A'stan. It's not that we're nation-building (altho we are); it's keeping those 15% anti-west, anti-US Taliban-AQI-whomever from using A'stan as a base from where to attack us again - as proven 2 weeks ago in NYCV, and with the Christmas Day bomber, they will. These folks don't like us, want to kill us, and need to be stopped, And if it's 1st Marine Div who does the stopping - so much the better. 2 - Tactics: But we're doing it wrong. McChrystal and the entrenched Army bureaucracy is running a war that ignores the realities on the ground - this is a country with an annual income of approximately $ 2.00 / day; we need to bring basic job programs that get folks working. (READ MORE)

Sebastian Junger: Should We Be in Afghanistan? - I'm on book tour, and even though War is not a political work, people are asking me very political questions about it. Should we be in Afghanistan? Should we pull out? What about civilian casualties? Is there any such thing as a "good" war, or are all wars by definition evil?Is there any such thing as a "good" war, or are all wars by definition evil? There are no easy answers — I wish there were — and coming to any useful conclusion requires a person to let go of any political freight they may be carrying. My experience in war started in Bosnia in 1993. A quarter-million civilians died in the ethnic conflict there, and the carnage finally stopped when NATO forces bombed Serb positions around Sarajevo and forced a rough peace. The triggering event was when Serb militias machine-gunned seven thousand men and young boys into pits after overrunning the city of Srebrenica. My career reads like a human rights report from the past decade and a half: (READ MORE)

Bill Roggio: Pakistani military ends operation in Arakzai - The Pakistani military has called an end to an operation in a Taliban-dominated tribal area in the northwest. The Pakistani Army announced the cessation of operations in Arakzai as General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), visited troops in Arakzai and Kurram today, and said Arakzai is now cleared of the Taliban. "COAS’ visit to Arakzai Agency marks the successful conclusion of operations in the Agency," a press release at the Inter-Services Public Relations website stated today. "Return of IDPs [internally displaced persons] is excepted to start shortly. He appreciated the professional conduct of the operation which has cleared the Agency of terrorists." The military's declaration of victory in Arakzai took place seven weeks after it claimed the Taliban was "fleeing" Arakzai and was on the verge of defeat. (READ MORE)

Married to the Military: When one door closes - Well. I've been meaning to write this post for 2 weeks now, yet every time I've started I've sat and stared at the blinking cursor and my brain has emptied. I guess I needed some time to get my thoughts in order on the subject. Many of you know that about a year ago *J* began looking into something called AECP, which is one of the Air Force's commissioning programs. If accepted it allows you a reprieve from your usual job duties for up to 3 years to finish your Bachelors or Masters degree full time, and upon completion rejoin the AF as an officer retrained in a job based on that new degree (electrical engineering in *J*'s case). For the last 7 months *J* has built his life around the application process for this program. Much time has been spent on it, including many hours away from our family which is always sort of a bummer when you deal with frequent TDYs and deployments in your line of work to begin with. (READ MORE)

C.J. Chivers: Afghan Police Earn Poor Grade for Marja Mission - Three months after arriving in the most dangerous area of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, a contingent of specialized Afghan police officers has logged a mediocre performance while being almost wholly dependent on American supervision and support, Westerners who work with the officers said. The conduct of Marja’s interim police, from a unit American officials describe as the Interior Ministry’s most promising force, has been undercut by drug use, petty corruption and, at times, a lack of commitment in the face of the ordinary hardships and duties of uniformed life. When the force first arrived in late winter, entire units refused to stand guard or clean their living areas, several Marines said, and in northern Marja, police shifts often still abandon checkpoints during the sweltering midday heat, disappearing for lunch breaks lasting hours. Some officers have deserted the force. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: Change Step, March! - It's been a few years since Sherpa had to concern himself with spit-and-polish problems such as calling the cadence, drill and ceremony, and marching up and down the square. Still, in shifting my battle-blogging rhythm in preparation for field duty, I was reminded of a little trick from Army Field Manual 22-5 (now renamed FM 3-21.5). The trick is the change-step. Something you might call a "skip." As I recall it, the change-step is one of the few U.S. Army marching commands that is called when the right foot hits the ground. The command of preparation is "Change-step ..." and the command of execution is "MARCH!" Upon the command of "Change step, MARCH," the unit executes a half-step. By executing this maneuver, a leader can bring his unit into step with others. It can also be executed as an individual, particularly one who finds him- or herself marching to a slightly different beat. Here's how the manual describes "change step": (READ MORE)

Sarah: A Hobby Is Not the Answer - I haven't written anything lately because life has been hectic. My husband returned from Afghanistan ten days before our first child was born. For those of you who have reintegrated from a deployment and had a baby, I imagine you can understand that doing those two things simultaneously has not been easy. I was on bed rest at the end of my pregnancy, so my husband came home to an enormous wife in bed and his mother-in-law in the house. And then a screaming new infant joined his life as well. Those first few weeks are rough on any parents, but my husband has had a really tough time with it. He was quick to get frustrated, quick to tire of her crying, and quick to not be able to handle the stress. I was proud of him when he decided to see one of the mental health professionals on post. I was proud that he openly admitted that he needed help and wasn't afraid to let his fellow soldiers know it. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Standing tall - Life has been different for Lt. Dan Berschinski since his walk through Afghanistan's Kandahar province on August 18, 2009. As his unit patrolled the war zone, Lt. Berschinski reached one of the Arghandab River Valley's most ominous spots. Just beneath his feet was an improvised explosive device planted by terrorists. The ensuing violent blast nearly killed the 25-year-old soldier. His legs were shattered and one arm was severely injured. Yet despite the many months of pain that followed the explosion, which included a multitude of surgeries, Berschinski's will to recover remained strong. While his legs were lost overseas, the young volunteer's extraordinary ambition returned to American shores. In the ten months since Berschinski was presented with a life-altering challenge, he has met with Vice President Biden, returned to West Point to motivate cadets, and walked half a mile on his own. (READ MORE)



News from the Home Front:
Purple Heart recipient billed for $3,000 in missing equipment - An injured soldier who spent a year recovering at Joint Base Lewis-McChord said the military gave him a Purple Heart--and a bill for $3,000, KIRO-TV reports. (READ MORE)

Wounded warriors a year away from new quarters - By next spring, hundreds of injured, wounded and chronically ill soldiers at Joint Base-Lewis McChord are expected to have a new place to live, recuperate and plan their futures. (READ MORE)

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