Saturday, June 30, 2012

More Programs To Help Homeless Veterans Start Tomorrow

Almost 9,000 homeless Veterans are going to begin getting more help starting July 1, thanks to a $15 million grant announced last week by the Department of Labor.  The funding is part of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program and will be distributed to 64 agencies nationwide that work with Veterans and their families.

"As a nation, it is our sacred obligation to the countless fathers and mothers, to the sons and daughters who put their own lives on the line to protect ours," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said of efforts to assist homeless veterans. "No service member should ever have to come home and be homeless. They should never have to go to sleep in cars, streets, under bridges, or in vacant homes."

The money for this program is awarded on a competitive basis to state and local workforce investment boards, local public agencies and other groups that have demonstrated that they can provide effective help to homeless veterans.

“This is pretty fundamental. You send people to war, you make damn sure they’re not living on the streets when they come home,” said Senator John Kerry (D-MA), of the funding. “This money will help homeless vets and their families find jobs and safe housing.”

The organizations receiving the grants provide a wide range of services to America’s Veterans including career counseling and job training as well as basic support services such as clothing, housing referrals and access to substance abuse counselors.

Soldier On, a Massachusetts organization that serves homeless Veterans, will receive $300,000 of the grant money to provide Veterans with employment training.

John F. Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, praised federal and local representatives for their efforts to help secure the grant, saying that many elected officials have “…once again showed their commitment to serving veterans by not only supporting us in applying for this grant, but by making the commitment to actualize these grants in the lives of the veterans we mutually serve.”

Easter Seals of Oregon was also a funding recipient, garnering $200,000 to assist homeless Vets.  Katie Shepard, Rogue Valley area director for Easter Seals, which works closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Oregon, said the money can’t come too soon.

"These veterans have just run into barriers in life," she said. "Because they faced homelessness does not make them less. They still deserve respect and dignity as all our nation's heroes do.”

According to Shepard, many suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, addiction problems or military sexual trauma but “… in general, the veterans we work with are eager and ready to work."

Solis spelled out the demographics for homeless Vets saying that almost two-thirds are between the ages of 35 and 54, and that an increasing number of those are women.  She also noted progress made by the Obama administration, adding that while the number of homeless Veterans was estimated at 90,000 four years ago, that number stands at 60,000 today.

“We’re making some progress but we know we have to do more,” Solis said. "The men and women who have served our country with distinction should not have to struggle to find good jobs when they return from service. These grants will help homeless veterans gain access to meaningful employment and more stable post-military lives."

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced Friday the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
They died June 27, in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device.

1st Lt. Stephen C. Prasnicki, 24, of Lexington, Va., was assigned to 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Warner Barracks, Bamberg, Germany.

Prasnicki was a highly recruited high school athlete and played football at West Point, serving as a backup quarterback and playing at free safety as a senior.

He had just arrived in Afghanistan Sunday.

He leaves behind his wife, Emily, his parents and siblings.

Sgt. James L. Skalberg Jr., 25, of Cullman, Ala., was assigned to 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

After graduating from Nishna Valley High School in 2005, Skalberg played football at Peru State College in Nebraska before enlisting in the Army in February 2007. His first duty station was in Germany, according to the Iowa National Guard.

As a soldier, Skalberg earned many awards and qualifications including the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Achievement Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Air Assault Badge.

He has been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

 Skalberg and his wife, Jessica, met as teenagers. Their son, Carter, is nearing his first birthday.

Friday, June 29, 2012

America Marks Vietnam War's 50th Anniversary

Starting on Memorial Day -- and slipping very much under the radar -- was the beginning of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, which will be observed in many ways throughout the summer.  It's a good time to think back on this part of our history, both in terms of the mistake of the war itself and the huge societal dysfunction in how we treated our Veterans returning from service in that unpopular war.

A total of 58,282 American died in that war... That is amazing and profoundly sad.

Here's some moving words on the service and sacrifice of Vietnam Veterans from President Obama:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Leach, 29, of Ferndale, Mich., died June 26, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 1/334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division (Leader Training), Fraser, Mich.

Staff Sgt. Leach enlisted in the Army in 2003 and served until 2008, with two tours of duty in Iraq. He then entered the Army Reserve and was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord said Leach was found unresponsive and the cause of death was not immediately known. His death is under investigation at this time.

He is survived by a wife and infant son.

Company Must Hand Over Domain To VA

Following an investigation by the attorneys general of 15 states, a private company must give the domain name to the Veterans Administration and pay $2.5 million to cover the cost of the investigation, based on alleged violations of consumer protection laws.

Marketing company QuinStreet Inc., agreed to the terms after being investigated for misleading Veterans with a web site using the address and decorated with military emblems and logos. The states investigating QuinStreet accused them of convincing Veterans that their site was government sponsored and using that ruse to harvest personal information, which they then passed on as sales leads to affiliated for-profit schools.  

QuinStreet Inc. denied any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, saying "QuinStreet … does not engage in deceptive marketing practices and does not believe that its websites were misleading prior to the Agreement." 

While the site now shows disclaimers making clear that it is not associated with the VA or other government agencies, the site showed no such disclaimer until very recently.

“We’re acting to ensure that servicemembers are not deceived by companies who are more interested in adding to their bottom line than in providing clear information to soldiers about the educational benefits they have earned while protecting us,” said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, one of the attorneys involved.

You can read more about this story here.

Defense Department Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Niall W. Cotisears, 23, of Arlington, Va., died June 23 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

This was Cotisears' first deployment to Afghanistan since he enlisted in 2008. His military awards and decorations include the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

According to his mother, Cotisears was a talented musician. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School and studied music composition for a year at a college in England. He played guitar and classical piano, an instrument he excelled at, family members said.

He came home and joined the Marines in November, 2008.

"And he could have chosen anything," his mother said. "But he wanted to be infantry. He wanted to be in Afghanistan. He wanted to be out there ... in the most dangerous situations. And he really believed in that cause."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

California Congressman Rips VA Over Claims Backlogs

In a meeting last week of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the ranking member of that panel, ripped the Veterans Administration for their huge backlog of claims and the glacial pace at which America's Vets are getting needed services.

Filner, said that the system for handling Veterans' claims is hopelessly broken and has called for a stringent audit process similar to what is used by the Internal Revenue Service to ensure faster and more accurate handling of VA disability and pension claims.

“This is disgraceful and an insult to our veterans,” Filner said. “Somebody has to take responsibility for this and try something new.”

The San Diego Congressman appeared on MSNBC's  Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday to discuss the problem, saying "... people die before they get final adjudication or may commit suicide."

"It's so bad that these things occur," he said. "And I think it's a bureaucracy that has been in charge for decades that doesn't want to do anything differently."

"We want to talk about the glory of war, how patriotic it is. And we don't want to focus on the cost of war, what happens when the young men and women come back."

Representative Filner has some good things to say on the subject and is showing much-needed leadership right now.  Have a look at the full clip from last night:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rerun: President Obama Having A Beer With Dakota Meyer

I know it's from last year, but I love this picture and since we're celebrating Dakota Meyer's birthday today, what the hell.

President Barack Obama enjoys a beer with Dakota Meyer on the patio outside of the Oval Office, Sept. 14, 2011. The President presented Meyer with the Medal of Honor the following day during a ceremony at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Happy Birthday to Medal of Honor Recipient Dakota L. Meyer

On September 15, 2011, in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, for his heroic actions on September 8, 2009, when Meyer was just 21 years old.

While on patrol with Afghan security forces, Meyer and his fellow Americans were ambushed from three sides by a large group of insurgents near the village of Ganjgal.  Despite the chaos and death happening around them, Meyer, along with Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, jumped into the thick of battle and, when the dust had settled, were responsible for rescuing and providing cover for 36 American and Afghan troops under the most severe combat conditions.

Here's the official Medal of Honor Citation:
Corporal Meyer maintained security at a patrol rally point while other members of his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National Army and Border Police into the village of Ganjgal for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns from houses and fortified positions on the slopes above.
Hearing over the radio that four U.S. team members were cut off, Corporal Meyer seized the initiative. With a fellow Marine driving, Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner's position in a gun-truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. 

Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near point blank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed a return to the rally point to switch to another gun-truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. 

Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun-truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members. 

Corporal Meyer's daring initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the 6-hour battle significantly disrupted the enemy's attack and inspired the members of the combined force to fight on. His unwavering courage and steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades in the face of almost certain death reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Over 120 of Meyer's family and friends were at the White House that day and they watched along with the Marine's comrades from the Embedded Training Team 2-8, as the President honored this young man's courage.

"Because of your honor, 36 men are alive today. Because of your courage, four fallen American heroes came home, and -- in the words of James Layton’s mom -- they could lay their sons to rest with dignity," said President Obama.  "Because of your commitment -- in the thick of the fight, hour after hour -- a former Marine who read about your story said that you showed how 'in the most desperate, final hours…our brothers and God will not forsake us.'"

"And because of your humble example, our kids -- especially back in Columbia, Kentucky, in small towns all across America -- they’ll know that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can do great things as a citizen and as a member of the American family."

Dakota Meyer is out of the Marines and, in addition to work and many other activities, in now blogging at Actions Not Words.

Today is his 24th birthday and Dakota writes about what his life has been like over the last year and his commitment to living life to the fullest out of respect for his friends who did not make it home alive.

"I'll never know why my guys died and why I survived.  But I do know that I was given the opportunity to continue living for myself and for each of them," writes Meyer today. " Celebrating another year of life is a bit of struggle for me when I know my guys will never have the chance.  But, as I've said before, you can see situations in life as obstacles or as opportunities.  I choose to see the opportunity and to make the most of it."

The word 'hero' is tossed around a bit too freely these days but when you speak of people like Meyer and other Medal of Honor recipients, you're acknowledging the people for whom that word is truly intended.

Happy Birthday, Dakota Meyer.

Defense Department Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Hunter D. Hogan, 21, of Norman, Ind., died June 23 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Lance Cpl. Hogan was an Indiana native and a 2009 graduate of Brownstown Central High School.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marine Dies Before Meeting Infant Son

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pfc. Steven P. Stevens II, 23, of Tallahassee, Fla., died June 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Stevens enlisted in the Marine Corps. in June of 2009, after attending Florida A&M University for two years on a swimming scholarship.  He was on his first deployment to Afghanistan and had already been awarded a Purple Heart Medal in addition to other decorations.

Adding even more sadness to this, is the fact that Pfc. Stevens, who grew up in Detroit, leaves behind an infant son he never got to meet.  Stevens went to Afghanistan on March 21, just days before his wife, Monique, gave birth to their son on March 29.

“I’m sorry that he never got a chance to see his son,” said his grandmother Dorothy Atkins, 85. “I wish he could have had that blessing.”

Family members say the thought of traveling the world and studying abroad was enticing to him.

He is survived by his wife, son and parents.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Maj. Paul C. Voelke, 36, of Monroe, N.Y., died Jun. 22 in Mazar E. Sharif, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

The Third Infantry Division's public affairs office said Voelke died from non-combat-related injuries. They said the matter is under investigation and more details will be released once the inquiry is complete.

A member of the 1998 graduating class at West Point, Voelke was in the middle of a nine-month deployment that began in February. This was his second deployment to Afghanistan. He had also served two tours of duty in Iraq.

Voelke had been in the Army for 14 years and during that time was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, in addition to an Afghanistan Campaign Medal.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

National Veterans Wheelchair Games Begin Today

Acknowledging the lot of America's military Veterans can be a tough balancing act sometimes.  We need to pay more attention to the bad things happening in areas such as untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the alarmingly high rate of suicide among our Vets, but we should also not lose sight of the vast majority of our men and women who adjust, persevere and thrive despite being dealt a bad hand.

An outstanding example of that is the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), that open today in Richmond, Va., and run through June 30.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, the NVWG is the largest annual wheelchair sports competition in the world and offers a wide array of events including basketball, softball, swimming, weightlifting and even rugby.  The Games include a total of 17 different sports with competition among Veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, amputations and neurological diseases.

"This event means a lot to me, it’s something I look forward to all year long,” said Anthony Radetic, 32, a combat Veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, who has lost the use of both legs. “It’s a great social gathering for military veterans. Every soldier I know has a competitive spirit, a motivational drive to challenge themselves to reach and seize the moment; this is the place to do exactly that.”

The NVWG, which attracts over 500 athletes every year, offers a range of competition and levels from world-class champions to newly-disabled Vets adjusting to the new challenges they face and wanting to continue in competitive sports.  According to the VA, about 25 percent of the athletes have never participated in any type of organized wheelchair sports competition before coming to the NVWG.

"The National Veterans Wheelchair Games started in the city of Richmond whose motto is 'Thus do we reach the stars,'" said Bill Lawson, national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. "As the Games return to the city this year, I know they will inspire everyone -- athletes and spectators alike -- to reach for the stars, to overcome adversity, and to reach their full potential."

Dempsey Speaks To Gold Star Mothers

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to American Gold Star Mothers on Sunday during their 75th annual national convention in Arlington, VA.

"I would never ever suggest that I know what you've been through," said Dempsey, to the mothers of some of our men and women killed at war. "But I am thrilled that you're here going through it together, so well done to the Gold Star Moms, Gold Star Dads and Gold Star Families associations."

"Those of us still serving love you and we will do everything we can to honor the sacrifices that your loved ones have made."

Here's the video of General Dempsey's remarks:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Lance Cpl. Eugene C. Mills III, 21, of Laurel, Md., died June 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

He was first deployed in 2010 to Now Zad, Afghanistan. He left home for his second deployment in the country in March. His family would send him care packages, and he would give most of what was in them to Afghan children, his father said.

According to Mills' father, Corporal Mills decided to join the military while still a boy, after watching the September 11 attacks on television.

"When my son was 11-years-old, he saw the towers fall and said he wanted to serve his country," the father said.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced Friday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, 22, of Gustine, Calif., died June 19, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy, small arms fire.

Rodriquez was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

This was his second deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom; his first deployment was from July 2009 through June 2010. He had just deployed with the 2nd Stryker Brigade to Afghanistan in April.

Rodriguez graduated from Gustine High School in 2008 and joined the Army later that year. In 2009, he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.

His is survived by his wife Lupita Rodriguez and their 13-month-old son, Octavian.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Unemployed Army Vet Sells Medal On eBay

It's no secret to anyone paying attention that, in addition to all the other challenges faced by our men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment has become chief among those.

So it was tough times for Bill Shephard, an Army Veteran from Woodbury, New Jersey, who came home from Iraq in 2009, when he lost his job at Best Buy and was unable to find continued employment to support his family.  This prompted the 43-year-old Shephard to make the incredibly difficult decision to raise money for his family by selling his Army Achievement Medal on eBay.

"Instead of going under a bridge with a sign, 'Will Work for Food,'" Shephard said, "I decided to place the award online for a bid."

Shephard has three children — two boys, ages 4 and 8 and a 12-year-old daughter — and he reached a point of desperation after his unemployment checks ran out in October.

"I served my country from 2008 until 2009 in support of operation Iraqi freedom. When I returned home I immediately went back to work at BestBuy to support my family, BestBuy closed the department that I worked in so, like many Americans,  I found myself on unemployment," wrote Shephard in his eBay post.  "I am still unemployed and have three beautiful young children that are counting on me for support, I have used numerous  VA agencies to help seek employment and also have resumes posted with all the top career resume posting websites."

"I have now decided to sell my award I received during my deployment in  hopes that it will generate a generous financial  response with the intent on using the income to support of my wife and three wonderful children that sacrificed alot while I was away."

But this story, while sad in what precipitated it, has a happy ending.

Shephard's medal "sold" on eBay yesterday for $5,200 in a move that was undoubtedly more charitable than an effort by someone to acquire an Army decoration.  He hopes to use the proceeds from his medal to buy a lawnmower to start a landscaping business.

Others offered donations to Shephard and his family.

The unemployment rate for America's Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans hovers consistently at four to five percent over the national average so there's no quick fixes for Shephard or any other unemployed Vet.  But it's nice to go into the weekend with an inspiring story of people stepping up in a way that goes way beyond slapping a support-the-troops sticker on their car.

Here's more:


UPDATE 06/22/12 6:30 PM EDT: The Gloucester County Times ( is reporting that the first buyer for the medal (at $5,200) has backed out on the offer. Why would someone do that? You can go here to read more.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of three soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died June 20, in Khowst province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire and an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 133rd Military Police Company, 51st Military Police Battalion, Florence, S.C.
Killed were:
  • 1st Lt. Ryan D. Rawl, 30, Lexington, S.C.,
  • Sgt. 1st Class Matthew B. Thomas, 30, Travelers Rest, S.C., and
  • Spc. John D. Meador II, 36, Columbia, S.C.
While the official notice from the Defense Department (above) gives the cause of death as a broader attack by enemy forces, more recent news reports indicate that the soldiers died in a suicide bombing.

1st Lt. Rawl, a 2000 graduate of Lexington High School and a 2004 graduate of The Citadel, was a Richland County Sheriff’s deputy who once served as a school resource officer at Crayton Middle School.  He is survived by his wife and two children.

A graduate of Travelers Rest High School, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas leaves behind his wife, Jana and a two-year-old son, Cayden.

Spc. Meador was a 1994 graduate of Lexington High School and is survived by his wife and three children.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Movie: In The Shadow Of The Blade

"America's Vietnam Veterans didn't talk much about their war... Until a Huey came to town."

That's the tagline for a 2004 documentary centered on a Vietnam-era helicopter, a UH-1 Iroquios "Huey", as it travels around the country giving rides to Vietnam Veterans, while they tell stories of their war and perhaps find some peace, comfort and healing.

Here's a blurb from the film's website:
Once, she carried them to war...Strap in, pull pitch, and take your heart for a ride as a restored Vietnam War UH-1H Huey helicopter makes history in a journey across America to hear the untold stories of Vietnam veterans and their families.

As she lands in backyards and farmyards "Huey 091" – now in the Smithsonian Museum of American History – becomes a powerful catalyst for emotional healing, reconciliation, and tribute as veterans share, reflect, and demonstrate to the world that one can "hate war, but love the American warrior."
All flights in the movie carried Vietnam Vets and their families and were flown by pilots who also served in that war.  And it allowed these Vets to talk about their experiences and find comfort in the honor of their service -- regardless of the judgement history now passes on that war.

Perhaps because of our collective guilt over how Vietnam Vets were treated when they came home from that terrible war, we Americans have embraced people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with tremendous enthusiasm.  This film is a nice reminder that we have aging Vets from a very unpopular war who also deserve some pats on the back.

Here's the trailer:

The movie is shown every so often on Discovery's Military Channel and you can also learn more at the film's web site.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pentagon Spokesman Acknowledges “Tough Day” In Afghanistan

Speaking at a press briefing late Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged that yesterday was a difficult day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and said that the warmer months ahead can only be expected to bring more attacks on American troops.

“Yesterday was -- and today, tough day. There's no question about that,” said  Navy Capt. John Kirby. “And it's not uncommon that in the warm months of the year, violence will increase there in Afghanistan."

"Part of that is because of the weather. Part of it is because ISAF and coalition forces are being more aggressive. They're out and about much more, particularly in the south. So there -- they have occasion to be in more contact with or more of a problem for the enemy and therefore eliciting some of these attacks.”

ISAF stands for International Security Assistance Force, which is the NATO arm whose primary mission is to train Afghan National Security Forces and assist in rebuilding the Afghan government.

Kirby also said that it is still unclear if the individuals responsible for the death Tuesday of 20-year-old Army Pfc. Jarrod Lallier were actually members of the Afghan police or simply wearing the uniforms of that force.

“We do believe that it was at least facilitated -- potentially facilitated by an individual dressed in an Afghan National Police uniform,” the Navy captain said. “But again, details are very sketchy right now. ISAF is certainly looking into this.”

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in the same briefing that he believes Afghan forces in concert with ISAF will be able to handle internal terrorist threats after the planned U.S. withdrawal in 2014.

“As we transition to a new phase in our relationship with Afghanistan, we believe that the Afghans themselves, working with ISAF countries that could maintain a presence beyond 2014, are going to be able to effectively suppress this threat,” Little said. “Al-Qaida should take no comfort in 2014 as an end date for the Lisbon transition. [This] will be a continuing priority and focus of the United States and our allies, to include Afghanistan. They will continue to see pressure brought to bear against them. That pressure is happening now, and it will continue in the future.”

You can read more here or watch the entire briefing here.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Pfc. Jarrod A. Lallier, 20, of Spokane, Wash., died June 18 in Zharay, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when individuals in Afghan Police uniforms turned their weapons against his unit.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

See my post here for more on Pfc. Lallier's death.

Another U.S. Soldier Killed By Enemy Disguised As Afghan Police – Enough Is Enough

Among the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that many of our most recent war Veterans will carry with them for the rest of their lives, hypervigilance -- the experience of being "on guard" and prepared for the worst every waking minute – will be one of the most pervasive.  It is especially acute among our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they have served in countries where they are not only in constant danger, but where that risk is aggravated by the enemy often hiding in plain sight and blending easily with other Iraqi or Afghan citizens.

Lately, our troops can’t even trust people wearing the uniform of their counterparts in the Afghan Army or police force.

Another sickening example came home to roost on Tuesday with the announcement by the Defense Department that 20-year-old Army Pfc. Jarrod A. Lallier, 20, of Spokane, Wash., was killed in Zharay Afghanistan “of wounds suffered when individuals in Afghan Police uniforms turned their weapons against his unit.”  A spokesman for Afghanistan’s Kandahar province reported that the attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Lallier's unit and fled the scene. 

According to the Associated Press, it was unclear whether the gunmen were in fact members of the Afghan National Police or militants dressed in their uniforms.

Nine U.S. troops were also injured in the attack.

Lallier, a paratrooper who had already been awarded the Bronze Star, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. and was serving his first combat tour in Afghanistan.

"Pfc. Lallier was a quiet professional; he impressed people with his deeds, not words," said Capt. Michael Kelvington, commander of the regiment, in a release. "He was proud to be a part of the rare .45 percent that served his nation in a noble cause."

"Never shying away from a challenge, his performance during operations over the past few months in combat has been everything that I could ask from a daring paratrooper," Kelvington continued. "His example and love for his brothers will be deeply missed. It was a privilege to serve alongside of him."

The attack that killed Lallier is part of the disturbing trend in Afghanistan known as “green on blue” violence, or instances where U.S. and NATO troops are attacked by militants disguised as members of the Afghan Army or police or, infinitely worse, those who are in fact serving in that capacity.  The attacks have spiked this year as American troops step up their training of Afghan forces for an eventual turnover of the country’s security.

More than a dozen such attacks have occurred this year, causing 20 or more deaths.

Also yesterday, militants wearing Afghan Army uniforms attacked a military base and a police checkpoint.  Earlier in the day, gunmen wearing Afghan police uniforms attacked a checkpoint in Kandahar city.

In March, two U.S. soldiers were killed at the Sang-e-Sar outpost in Kandahar when two Afghan soldiers and a civilian teacher fired at the Americans.

According to U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, attacks like this are common in any warfare involving an insurgent element.

"We experienced these in Iraq. We experienced them in Vietnam," Allen said in March. "On any occasion where you're dealing with an insurgency and where you're also growing an indigenous force ... the enemy's going to do all that they can to disrupt both the counterinsurgency operations."

So we know a couple of things here.  One is that our troops have never been in a “conventional” war in Afghanistan and it is getting even worse to the point of not being able to tell when their Afghan counterparts – or someone dressed exactly like them – are going to shoot them or blow them up.  In addition, American men and women are continuing to die in a country that seems destined for endless civil war and where everyone from Alexander The Great to the Russians have had their asses handed to them in this eternal cultural and tactical nightmare.

Despite all that we Veterans agree on these days, one of the sticking points in our conversations is invariably the debate over whether our troops still have a mission in Afghanistan or if they no longer serve any purpose other than being live targets and sitting ducks in the middle of a perpetual holy war.

I say it’s past time to bring them home.

Ten years is enough.  Our original mission was to get Osama bin Laden and defeat al-Qaeda.  If you’ll pardon the expression, mission accomplished.

We were never there to stomp out every last vestige of the Taliban – are we prepared to be there hundreds of years to do that? – and we damned sure should not be sacrificing even one more of our men and women to force democracy on a country where that society is about as likely as the village elders welcoming in casinos and strip clubs.

The fight to protect our country against terrorism is ongoing and a righteous one – but that’s a war without defined borders and it’s time we stop pretending this definition exists and that our troops are in the right place.  They are not.

I know many will disagree with me on this and that’s fine.  But I can’t look at one more picture of yet another young man or woman who has been killed for the current non-mission in Afghanistan and think it’s worth even one more American death.

It just isn’t.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. 

They died in Panjwa'l, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 18th Engineer Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Killed were:

  • Sgt. Joseph M. Lilly, 25, of Flint, Mich., who died June 14, and 
  • Spc. Trevor A. Pinnick, 20, of Lawrenceville, Ill., who died June 12. 

Sgt. Lilly, who had volunteered for his latest tour in Afghanistan, is survived by his wife Katrina and a 3-year-old son.

Spc. Pinnick had just deployed to Afghanistan in April and leaves behind a wife and a young daughter.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's Message on Father's Day

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today issued the following Father's Day message to all military Fathers -- those serving on active duty or to the Dads and husbands of those who serve in our armed forces:
"As we mark Father's Day this weekend, I'd like to convey my thanks and gratitude to the fathers and grandfathers in our military family.  This is a time for all of us to recognize and show our appreciation to fathers for everything they do in bettering our military, securing our nation, helping to raise and nurture our families, and inspiring future generations of Americans to serve. 
"To all fathers in uniform:  thank you for your loyalty and dedication to our country, and for your willingness to balance the demands of military and family life.  Over the past year as Secretary of Defense, I've had the opportunity to meet many of you deployed around the world.  I've seen how you focus on the mission while enduring extended periods away from loved ones.  Through it all, you've shown courage on the battlefield and tenderness to your families at home. 
"To fathers and husbands of those who serve:  we simply could not do our jobs without your love and support.  It is never easy to deal with the challenges and concerns of a deployment, just as it is always hard to take care of everything back at home. 
"To all of you, I join your families in saluting you and offering my most heartfelt thanks.  You are true heroes in the eyes of your fellow citizens and most especially in the eyes of your children.  We honor you as fathers and we will always be thankful for your leadership and your love of family, of service, and of America."

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. Nicholas C. Fredsti, 30, of San Diego, Calif., died June 15, in Spedar, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.  He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

“He was an all around good guy and always joking, but when it came to work, he was hard on that too.  Led from the front.  He was a hero,” said Sgt. Joshua Bracey, one of his team leaders.

Fredsti attended West Hills High School in Santee, California and served in the Army since 2000. He is survived by his mother Sherry, his father Carl, his sister Sarah, and his fiancé Cassie.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Panetta Salutes Gays In Military

What a long way the U.S. military has come since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today released a video in which he recognized June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month and thanked gay and lesbian service members for serving the nation.

"During Pride Month, and every month, let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all," said Panetta, who also acknowledged that diversity has always been one of America’s biggest strengths. "The successful repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' proved to the nation that, just like the country we defend, we share different backgrounds, different values and different beliefs.  But together we form the greatest military force in the world."

When President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December of 2010, he said that "We are not a nation that says, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.'”

“We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today."

And this is clearly a Defense Department that reports to that President because the Pentagon also announced today that its first official gay pride event will be held on June 26, with guest speakers and panel discussions on the value of diversity in general and, specifically, the positive strides being made in accepting the contributions of all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation. 

While this sets important precedent in terms of equality for gay Americans, it’s hardly unique in the military as the Defense Department has long celebrated cultural observances such as Black History Month and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

But to witness the Secretary of Defense being so up-front in his acknowledgment of gay Americans and to hear him thank them and their families for their sacrifices is huge – and long overdue.

“I want to personally thank all of our gay and lesbian service members, LGBT civilians and their families for their dedicated service to our country,” said Panetta. “Before the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ you faithfully served your country with professionalism and courage. And now after repeal, you can be proud of serving your country and be proud of who you are when in uniform.”

"Going forward,  I remain committed to removing as many barriers as possible to make America's military a model of equal opportunity, to ensure all who are qualified can serve in America's military, and to give every man and woman in uniform the opportunity to rise to their highest potential."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Sgt. 1st Class Barett W. McNabb, of Chino Valley, Ariz., died June 12, in Khakrez, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when he was attacked by an enemy improvised explosive device.

McNabb was assigned to the 562nd Engineer Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

"Sgt. 1st Class McNabb was an inspirational and highly motivated leader who always put the needs of his Sappers [engineer soldiers] before his own," said 1st Lt. Robert Gold, executive officer of the 562nd Engineer Company, which is part of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat team, 2nd Infantry Division.

McNabb, who joined the Army in November 1999 and was deployed to Iraq twice before going to Afghanistan, was 33. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and the Army Commendation with Valor.

Defense Department Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Cpl. Taylor J. Baune, 21, of Andover, Minn., died June 13 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Cpl. Baune had just been married in March and is survived by his wife Colleen, 20; his father, Gary Baune, of Andover; a half brother and a half sister.  

"He had a passion for life, loved to meet new people, never took a day for granted," Colleen said. "Once he had his mind set on something, he was stuck on it."  

"He wanted us to get married so if anything happened to him overseas I was covered." 

Keepin’ It Cool In Afghanistan

Laboring in full fatigues and lugging yourself, your weapon and ancillary equipment around would not exactly be a Marine’s joy in even the nicest weather, but when temperatures routinely spike at over 100 degrees in Afghanistan, the guy who keeps the air conditioning humming may at times be the most popular guy on the base.

Such is the case for U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Flores, a refrigeration mechanic in the 9th Communication Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, whose job it is to make sure that our troops can, wherever possible, have some semblance of air-conditioned comfort in one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.

Among the Marine’s duties are keeping tabs of over 170 air-conditioning units at Camp Leatherneck – the massive, 1,600 acre Marine Corps base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan – and making sure that they are maintained and fixed quickly if they break down. While this may be a routine job in a 170-unit stateside apartment complex, almost nothing is easy in the unforgiving Afghan terrain, a harsh environment subject to temperature extremes and dust storms – not to mention the occasional incoming mortar.

"Biweekly, I go to all my [air conditioning] units," said Flores. "I do visual inspections, make sure they're good, and clean the dust filters. Right now, I already know just by the wind which ones are dirty."

"His mission is important, because he creates a controlled climate environment for the critical communications equipment here, which creates a lot of heat in an already hot environment," said Marine Corps Sgt. Jeremiah Loeffler, the battalion's air conditioning section head and quality control noncommissioned officer.

It’s not easy to be in Afghanistan – ever – and guys like Lance Cpl. Flores help with all the little things that make the rigors of being away from home and in a war zone just a little easier to bear.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

U.S. Army Celebrates Birthday This Week

The United States Army is 237 years old this week -- specifically, tomorrow, June 14.

It was 1775 when the Continental Army was established to defend our fledgling country, in an act that merged the militias of the original 13 colonies to beat back British rule. George Washington was named the first commander-in-chief of the Army and served in that role from 1775 to 1783.

At a wreath-laying ceremony at Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon, Secretary of the Army John McHugh tipped his hat to today's troops and said that this Army birthday is a time to honor their ongoing sacrifice.

"I doubt if anybody  in early 2001 could have believed that a volunteer force could have gone out and taken on the two missions in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and these soldiers have been so successful -- and at the same time commit ourselves to dozens and dozens of other missions across the planet," said McHugh. "So it really is a celebration of the resiliency of the American soldier."

Here's more:

While I appreciate the Secretary's sentiments, let's not get too complacent about how "resilient" anyone can be after being deployed on two, three and four combat tours and take this time to look at helping our active-duty troops and Veterans with key issues like employment, PTSD and the epidemic of suicides among our ranks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Military Suicides Now Outnumber War Deaths

It's been no secret to anyone that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the suicide rate among active-duty military personnel to jump at an alarming rate over the last decade and the latest numbers out of the Defense Department give a sick score for 2012:

Number of war deaths since January 1 = 124

Number of military suicides since January 1 = 154

This puts the pace of military suicides at almost one per day so far this year and gives us a stark reminder that more of our troops are now killing themselves than are dying at the hands of the people we are fighting.

Here's the New York Times:
Suicides have increased even as the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq and stepped up efforts to provide mental health, drug and alcohol, and financial counseling services. 

The military said Friday that there had been 154 suicides among active-duty troops through Thursday, a rate of nearly one each day this year. The figures were first reported this week by The Associated Press.

That number represents an 18 percent increase over the 130 active-duty military suicides for the same period in 2011. There were 123 suicides from January to early June in 2010, and 133 during that period in 2009, the Pentagon said. 
Veterans groups -- and certainly all of us who have served -- know that it isn't rocket science to see that when you have an overextended military for a decade, the standard stress of a combat tour and the ridiculous and harmful number of times our troops are being sent back into action, this will always be the result.

“It is clear that the military, at the level of the platoon, the company and the battalion, that these things are not being addressed on a compassionate and understanding basis,” said Bruce Parry, chairman of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations.  “They need to understand on a much deeper level the trauma the troops are facing.”  

And Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that the problem is not only the obvious causes, like multiple combat deployments, but also the shortage of mental health professionals and counseling to help active-duty troops and Veterans adjust to all facets of life once they return home -- such as taking care of their families.

“They are thinking about combat, yeah, but they are also thinking about their wives and kids back home,” said Rieckhoff.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Upcoming Smartphone App To Guide Arlington Visitors

It's easy to laugh about the wide array of useless and ridiculous applications available for smartphones and tablet computers these days and to think they truly do nothing more than add to the dumbing-down of America -- but this is one that I think we can all agree is a wonderful, amazing use of mobile technology.

Arlington National Cemetery has announced that by this fall they will have a smartphone app available that will allow Arlington visitors to use GPS technology to easily find their way around and locate specific graves in that massive cemetery.

"What we wanted to do was use technology to field a geospatial capability that allows us to assign and manage grave sites digitally on a single map and get away from the bits of paper, but use all of the data and electronic records to manage cemetery operations more efficiently" said Army Maj. Nicholas Miller, chief information officer at Arlington.

"With over 400,000 individuals buried at the cemetery, to do anything across all of these pieces of paper is a labor-intensive effort," Miller continued. "This fall we're set to launch a common smartphone application so that family members and visitors can log onto their smartphone, find grave site directions and download images of their loved-one's headstone -- and that'll be across not only the iPhone but the Droid and Blackberry platforms so that everybody who comes to the cemetery can better honor and explore using technology to enable and enhance their visit."

Having just visited Arlington on Memorial Day I can tell you that the sheer scope of it can be very overwhelming and I believe this is an excellent use of technology to make visits there more manageable for all concerned.

You can read more about it here or have a look at the video below.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Obama and Romney Blow Off D-Day Anniversary

As a writer, I've been amazed for the longest time to see journalists now using Twitter for attributable quotes. A person's Twitter output is only as secure as the password on their account so, unless you actually see someone typing in their latest stream-of-conscience thought, there's no proof that their Twitter message really came from them.

But that's modern journalism - oh, well.

It's another thing entirely when the President of the United States and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, could only muster up a lame "tweet" yesterday in response to the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by Allied forces in Europe.

Here's the commander in chief (at least according to Twitter):
68 years ago today--D-Day--the brave members of the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. We have never forgotten their heroism. --bo
And Mitt Romney, the man who wants to be the next commander in chief, allegedly sent this via Twitter:
Thank you to those who stormed the beaches, took the cliffs and freed a continent. We should never forget #DDay
I'm sure the 9,000 Americans who died on that one day would appreciate all this effort made by both men - and, of course, Romney's moving use of hashtags.

And, again, we can't be 100-percent positive these messages even came from the Obama and Romney camps -- but it's all we've got.

The official White House schedule had the President in California all day Wednesday on a campaign fundraising swing, including a stop last night at the Los Angeles home of "Glee'" creator Ryan Murphy to raise more money.

Romney spent the day at campaign events in Texas.

I understand that both sides need to feed the campaign beast and that's all well and good. But would it have been too much trouble to at least issue a more substantive press release or even take a minute or two to record an audio or video message commemorating this important event in world history and the people who gave their lives on that day?

While the President did give a good speech in 2009 for the 65th anniversary of D-Day, there was no speech or written proclamation over the last two years and the best the President could produce yesterday was 140 characters or less.

Romney's no better, but he's not commander in chief so I hold the President even more accountable in this instance.

The official White House blog could only offer a meaningless post "From The Archives" replaying what the President said in his 2009 D-Day speech - that's right, the White House web site gave Americans a rerun on the 68th Anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

This is inexcusable from a leadership perspective and stupid in a political year. Fortunately for both of our Presidential candidates this year, from a political point of view, one guy's negligent behavior nullifies the other.

They're both just bad.

But take heart, literary fans. The White House did find time on June 6 to issue a statement on the death of Ray Bradbury.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

68th Anniversary of D-Day

The Allied invasion at Normandy, on June 6, 1944, was a pivotal event in World War II and paved the way for the end of the war in Europe.

Today is the 68th Anniversary of D-Day, which resulted in the deaths of 9,000 Americans -- an enormous number for only one day in all of World War II.

"You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months," Said General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the troops just before the invasion. "The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world."

"I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory."

You can find some great information commemorating this important day in world history here, including photos, maps, and audio of General Eisenhower's address to the troops.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Latest From Paul Jamiol

Here's a good one from my friend, editorial cartoonist, Paul Jamiol.

You can visit Paul and see more of his work at Jamiol's World

Congressional Staff to War Widows: “Have a Happy Memorial Day!”

Kristen Fenty and Siobhan Esposito are widows whose husbands were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and they’re on a couple of missions. One is a serious legislative issue for people in Congress and the other is a simple request – and an incredibly offensive thing for them to have to mention – that they be treated with appropriate sensitivity and respect when they visit our representatives.

And they couldn’t be more right on both.

First the tough one for those in Congress: You need to get rid of the “Widow's Tax”, that arcane set of rules that provides an offset of one survivor’s benefit for another and effectively rips off the women who have lost husbands in service to our country. It may be a bit tedious in its legislative incarnation, but in spirit the issue should be so simple to support – if someone has given their life for our country, the least we should do is not withhold earned benefits from their surviving spouses.

Good grief, even two Senators from the oil-and-water wing of bipartisanship, Democrat Barbara Boxer of California and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, agree that the Widow’s Tax must go. Boxer calls its elimination “a matter of simple fairness" and Inhofe says "military families continue to make incredible sacrifices on behalf of our nation's freedom and it is time we give back these benefits."

The bills that would end this unfair practice are S. 260 in the Senate and H.R. 178 in the House.

And here’s the really easy one: If you’re not going to give a rat’s behind about what Gold Star Wives have to say when they come to visit your offices, at least have the spine to just tell them that and teach your staffers some basic social skills when dealing with constituents.

Fenty and Esposito have made at least two trips to Capitol Hill this year to drum up support for these bills and the treatment they are getting from elected representatives and Congressional staff runs the gamut from “tell them I’m not here” to brain-dead staffers chirping “have a happy Memorial Day” to two women whose husbands are the subject of that holiday – because they died.

“When we went into some of the offices, when we left, they told us ‘have a happy Memorial Day,’” said Esposito. “And I found that… jarring. I found it jarring because Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave their lives for this country.”

Fenty’s husband, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Fenty Jr. was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2006, while Esposito’s husband, Army Captain Phillip T. Esposito, died in Iraq in 2005.

In Fenty and Esposito you are dealing with two tough, smart women and they understand that the average American may not have the attention span to discern the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day – or, for the knuckleheads they are encountering in Capitol Hill offices, the difference between the day honoring our war dead and Groundhog Day.

But maybe our Senators and House members could make these distinctions a part of new-hire orientation. Memorial Day is to… memorialize those who gave their lives for our county and are not living any longer. Veterans Day is for celebrating the contribution made by our nation’s military... Veterans. In other words, the people we honor in November are still alive and the men and women we remember on the last Monday in May are not.

Memorial Day is a tough, serious holiday. Military families who have lost a loved one don’t have a “happy”, “fun” or even “nice” Memorial Day.

“When not even our Representatives, our Senators and their staffs recognize that, it really shows that Memorial Day is lost on America as a nation,” said Fenty. “This is about those who have served and died.”

“And to be wished a happy Memorial Day or a good weekend when we’ve been greeted with very boilerplate greetings and not an eye is even blinked when we say we’re here the Thursday before Memorial Day because our husbands have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t even get an ‘oh, wow’ or ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘this must be a tough weekend for you’ but ‘have a happy weekend’ or ‘have a happy Memorial Day.’”

Fenty also commented on the number of times they go into offices for meetings, are told that the Senator or Representative is not there and then find this to be untrue.

“I find it frustrating when I go into offices and you’re being screened so clearly,” said Fenty. “In one office we were told the Senator wasn’t there but three phone calls came in to him and they were connected. I don’t want to be lied to when I go into an office.”

At least the office of Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was straightforward with the two women, telling them that the Senator understands what military families need on the issue but that it just isn’t a priority to this Congress. According to Esposito, she and Fenty were told by Lugar’s staff that “military surviving spouses and their families are not a priority.”

“[They said] that it’s understandably wrong that survivor retirement annuities are not being paid,” said Fenty. “But paying them is not a priority and that the money needs to go to other priorities first.”

Now that’s how you get it done in honestly conveying your indifference. If you truly don’t care about the surviving spouses of our war dead, be like Lugar and have the balls to just come right out and say it.

Or you could do some really out-of-the-box thinking, and either take the support-the-troops sticker off your car or actually starting giving a damn about our military families.

Concluded Fenty: “The 'memorial' needs to be put back into Memorial Day, not just on The Mall, not just in neighborhood parades, but in the offices of the leaders who create the laws that govern this country.”

* * * * * *
Please make your voice heard with your Congressional representatives on this issue. You can visit the Two Widows Walking Tall blog to read more and go here to easily let your House Representative know that you support ending the Widow's Tax.