Friday, July 27, 2012

100 U.S. Dead in Afghanistan In Three Months

With so much else going on in the news – a horrific mass shooting in Colorado, a huge election year and, of course, the economy—it is far too easy for the average American to forget that we are a nation at war.  What little public debate there is about the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan is incredibly muted and our people appear to largely believe we are winding down in that conflict. So we have a recipe for ignorance in which the majority of Americans have no clue about how many of our men and women are dying there every day.

The numbers of our war dead in Afghanistan just since May 1 are both sad and astounding: 100 troops have died in less than three months, with 40 killed in May, 28 in June and 32 so far in July.

To give you an idea of how we are most assuredly not “winding down,” there have been 2,061 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan in the 10 years and nine months since our war there began – or an average of 16 deaths a month for almost 11 years.

We have lost 100 of our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and parents in just the last three months – does this sound like we're winding down to you?

The one thing I always believed as I watched young people stand mostly silent during the Iraq War – their version of Vietnam – and now have nothing collectively to say about the losses we continue to sustain with no clear mission in Afghanistan, is that the absence of a military draft is largely the reason for this indifference.

If our twenty-somethings and teens were being pulled off college campuses or drafted right out of high school to attain a murky objective in a brutal and distant land, there would be protests going on from the University of Maine to San Diego State.  But the vast majority of the burden for our most recent wars has always been shouldered by our military people and their immediate and extended families – and that’s about it.

There’s been no shared sacrifice and, as we lose a person a day in Afghanistan, our population floats merrily along waiting for the next hyped-up domestic news story or for the latest episode of The Kardashians.

And who have we lost since May while we are so preoccupied with anything but that?

Marine Lance Cpl. Eugene C. Mills III, of Laurel, Md., was only 21 years old when he died June 22 in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  According to his father, 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," said his  father.

Another young Marine, Pfc. Steven P. Stevens II, 23, of Tallahassee, Fla., was also killed in June and never got to meet his son, who was born just days after Stevens left for Afghanistan.

Army Pfc. Cody O. Moosman, was only 24 when he died on July 3, in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan.  He had been an Eagle Scout and looked forward to returning home to Preston, Idaho, where his passion was hunting and fishing.

One of the most recently killed, Army Pfc. Adam C. Ross, 19, of Lyman, S.C., died this week in an ambush while on foot patrol in Afghanistan after only being in the country for three weeks.  He was just 19 years old.

And 37-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Raul M. Guerra, of Union City, N.J., died on the 4th of July during his fifth – that’s right, his fifth – combat deployment.

Those are just some of the names and stories behind these numbers that should get more attention, but receive next to none.

And for what, at this point, have we lost these young people?

The original mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and defeat al-Qaeda has been accomplished. The Taliban is in tatters and capable only of setting IEDs or taking pot-shots at our troops, who are now operating primarily as targets in a country destined for perpetual holy war.

And most experts agree that while there will continue to be anti-terrorism battles to fight, they are best pursued as targeted efforts that don’t necessarily conform to one country’s boundaries. Which all leads to an obvious, inescapable conclusion – it’s time to get the hell out of Afghanistan.

If 100 of our people dead in less than three months doesn’t tell us that, I don’t know what will.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

Earlier this week, the Department of Defense announced the deaths of four soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.  The following are brief profiles of those we have lost.

Staff Sgt. Carl E. Hammar, 24, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., died July 14, in Khost province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from enemy small arms fire.

Hammar was assigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Staff Sgt. Hammar, who previously served two tours of duty in Iraq, had been in Afghanistan since December. He graduated from Lake Havasu High School in 2005 and went on to take classes at Mohave Community College’s Lake Havasu City campus from fall 2004 to fall 2006.

“He was very funny,” said Lamae Spellman-Douglas, who taught Hammar at Mohave Community College. “He was always telling jokes. And he listened to the weirdest music, like that ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic. He was always saying, ‘Here you gotta listen to this.’”

Spellman-Douglas said Hammar felt strongly about his Swedish heritage, and had come to her house to cook Swedish pancakes for her and her husband a few years ago.

“He was really excited about going in (to the Army),” she said. “He’ll be missed by his friends.”

Hammar joined the Army in December 2005 and graduated from basic training, advanced individual training and the basic airborne course at Fort Benning, Ga., before being stationed as an infantryman at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered that the flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff Tuesday and again on the day of his burial.

“This is a day to offer our condolences, prayers and due respect for Staff Sgt. Hammar and the family he leaves behind,” Brewer said in a prepared statement.

Sgt. Erik N. May, 26, of Independence, Kan., died July 14, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. May was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

May joined the Army in September 2007 and was assigned to Fort Riley in February 2009. He was on his second deployment when he died, having served in Iraq in 2009.

His awards include an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, and the Iraq Campaign Medal with one campaign star.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued a statement Tuesday on the death of Sergeant May. It states: “All Americans will forever be indebted to Sergeant May for his service on our behalf. My deepest sympathies go out to his family, and I ask all Kansans to join me in remembering his family and friends in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

According to Moran's press release, initial reports indicate that May died of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident.

Spc. Sergio E. Perez Jr., 21, of Crown Point, Ind. and  Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, 20, of Berne, Ind. both died July 16, in Wali Kot District, Afghanistan, from injuries suffered when their vehicle was struck by enemy rocket propelled grenades.  The soldiers were assigned to the 81st Troop Command, Indiana National Guard, Indianapolis, Ind.

Spc. Perez graduated from Lake Central High School in May of 2010 and not long after graduation joined the Indiana National Guard. After training in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the 17th Engineer Company. His company mobilized at the end of September 2011 and is scheduled to return toward the end of September this year.

Friend and former co-worker Amber Counts said Perez made a strong impression on those who knew him.

"Sergio was very, very friendly," she said. "He always asked how people were doing and was concerned about them."

"He was just an all-around great guy - no matter who you are, he would get along with you no matter what," said friend Esteban Gutierrez.

"He would do anything for anybody. No questions asked," said good friend Mitchell Peters, who got a tattoo to honor Perez Tuesday morning. "There's nothing anyone would say bad about him."

Perez is survived by his parents, Sergio E. Perez Sr. and Veronica Orozco.

Spc. Nicholas Taylor,  the son of Timothy Ray and Stephania Dawn Taylor, graduated from South Adams High School in May of 2010. His father is the police chief in Berne, a community in northeast Indiana.

"For the young men and women that do serve our country, I cannot say enough about them to volunteer and do that," said Asst. Chief Jim Newbold of the Berne Police Department. "As for Nick, I am kind of at a loss for words."

After graduating from high school, where he played football, wrestled and ran track,  Taylor enlisted in the Indiana Army National Guard and went to basic training and Combat Engineer training at Fort Leonard Wood.  Taylor returned to Fort Leonard Wood in April 2011 to attend the Route/Reconnaissance Clearance Operations Course in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

According to family, Taylor was scheduled to come home in September and had spoken about enrolling in college with his brother and majoring in criminal justice.

"He was very well thought of, very highly respected," said Matt Lehman, a former co-worker of Taylor. "He was kind of a people magnet... whenever you saw him, he had a big smile, and people were naturally attracted to him."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Memo To Governor Mark Dayton: Football Is Not War

In a political year filled with more stupid statements than Mitt Romney has offshore bank accounts, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton unleashed a doozy yesterday.  While discussing the recent legal problems of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has been charged with resisting arrest after getting into a fracas with an off-duty cop in Houston earlier this month, Dayton told Minnesota Public Radio that playing football is very much like being in military combat.

He started by saying that football players are so accustomed to violence at work that getting in trouble on their off time is more likely for them than for John Q. Public.

''It means that young males who are heavily armored and heavily psyched as necessary to carry out their job are probably more susceptible to be in bars at 2 o'clock in the morning and have problems, or DUIs. It doesn't excuse it, it just says that it probably comes with it,'' Dayton said.

But then he took it too far, saying that football players may be as likely to cross the law as some small percentage of war Veterans because of the similarities between playing football and serving in combat.

''It's basically slightly civilized war,” said Dayton, of playing professional football. “And then they take that into society, much as solders come back, and they've been in combat or the edge of it and then suddenly that adjustment back to civilian life is a real challenge.''

While the Vikings lead the NFL with 39 arrests since 2000 and should probably consider having a criminal lawyer on retainer, comparing guys playing a game 40 to 50 hours a year to the enormous danger and strain faced by our troops in combat is both absurd and offensive.

More than 6,500 of our military men and women have died at war in the last 10 years, which is in stark contrast to the, well, none, who have been killed in a professional football game in the same period.

And there’s an obvious difference between your foe being someone who wants to make you fall down and go boom and an enemy whose express goal is to end your life and the lives of everyone around you.  The biggest risk faced by NFL players is an under-diagnosed concussion which, while a serious problem, is significantly down the scale from being shot to death or suddenly being blown to bits by an improvised explosive device.

Professional football players also work before adoring, cheering crowds to earn riches in an environment where the most hostile action they’re likely to face is a drunken lout from the other team’s fan base dumping beer on them as they head for the locker room, a press conference and their waiting Ferraris.

Comparing football to war is like saying someone accidentally stepping on your toe is similar to them running you down with their car.

If you want to liken football to the stresses of combat, let’s start by arming, say, 20 percent of the stadium crowd with assault rifles and maybe five percent of them with RPG launchers.  Oh, and then the players need to be on the field in front of these fans – who can fire at will – every day for a year or so.  And then the NFL warriors get to come back and do that for two, three and four times during their careers.

By the way -- and in case this isn’t obvious -- Governor Dayton has never served in the military.

And that’s fine.  Being a Veteran is not a prerequisite for serving honorably and ably in public life.  But when you’ve chosen a profession that gives you the opportunity to frequently step in front of a microphone, it’s important that you choose your words carefully and avoid saying something that at the very least is silly and at worst is downright contemptuous of the sacrifices made by our military people.

News flash for Minnesota’s governor: America has lost 85 men and women in Afghanistan since just the beginning of May.

I bet their families would give anything to see them playing football right now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Busting PTSD Myths

There was a good post recently on the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE ) blog about some of the false assumptions surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and some truths to help knock down those myths.  The piece refutes the idea that only weak people get gripped by PTSD as well as discussing the notion that PTSD effects can be so overwhelming that treatment won't help.

You can read that blog post here.

The DCoE also offers an excellent PTSD fact sheet that expands on that blog post. For example, it answers with the following on why, if PTSD is clinically legitimate, every person ever exposed to trauma is not afflicted:
Fact: While it’s true that only a percentage of people exposed to trauma develop PTSD, this is due to several specific factors. Each individual exposed to a trauma has their own set of risk factors for potentially developing PTSD, some of which are genetics, past history of other traumas and the degree or duration of their exposure to traumatic events.
Have a look at the DCoE PTSD fact sheet here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

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

Sgt. Michael E. Ristau, 25, of Rockford, Ill., died July 13 in Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.

He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Ristau joined the Army in July 2004 and attended Initial Army Training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Benning, GA. He had been at Lewis-McChord since he completed that training and deployed to Afghanistan with his brigade in December 2011.

This was Ristau's second deployment, having served in Iraq from June 2006 to August 2007.

Ristau's family released the following statement,
"Sergeant Michael Ristau, husband, father, son, brother, died serving the country that he loved. He will live on forever in our memories. Though his time on earth was short, his impact was huge. We have lost our Michael, but we are still so proud of him and his choice to serve our nation. He had a tremendous love for life and was passionate about bull riding. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and many family and friends. We want to thank all of our friends, family, community and the nation for their prayers and support during this time of great loss.”
Sgt. Ristau had just been married in June of 2011 and was a  father to a newborn baby.

During his career he earned several awards including the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star and Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star.

Ristau is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, one child and a large family.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Spc. Sterling W. Wyatt, 21, of Columbia, Mo., died July 11, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.

Wyatt was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

According to his mother, Sherry Wyatt, her son was killed while on patrol and in transit between two bases in Afghanistan. She said he entered the military knowing full well that he could be deployed to a foreign theater. He was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and was assigned as a gun turret operator on armored vehicles.

"He went into it with open eyes and a willing heart," she said.

A 2009 graduate of Rock Bridge High School, Wyatt joined the Army in November 2010 and deployed on this combat mission in December 2011. This was his first deployment.

The young soldier was an Eagle Scout and had a history of community service.  As part of his efforts to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout, Wyatt constructed a walkway in a courtyard at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School leading to an outdoor classroom. The project was intended to make travel easier for students who use wheelchairs.

"I think he would have been a future leader of the community in some fashion," his mother said.

Jeff Guillory, who serves as scoutmaster for Wyatt's former Boy Scout troop, said he was surprised when Wyatt joined the Army. But, he said, the young man felt it was part of his "duty to God and country, as it says in the Scouts oath."

Guillory described Wyatt as "very loyal to his friends and family."

Wyatt was also a member of Columbia’s First Baptist Church, and he carried out community service projects in his hometown.

“He left Columbia a boy, and he’s coming back a hero,” said Judy Baker, a former Missouri state representative whose husband is pastor at the church.

Wyatt had earned the following awards and decorations:  National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, NATO Medal, Certificate of Achievement, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father, Randy Wyatt, and a brother.

Mine Detection Dogs Save Lives In Afghanistan

I love dogs and there's nothing like a story like this from the Defense Department to make me appreciate their service to mankind even more.

The piece features, Lobo and his handler, Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Black, who risk their lives in Afghanistan to find and clear explosives before our troops drive over them or, even worse, step on them.  They are part of the 49th Engineer Detachment from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and the full-time job of these canine soldiers is to find buried mines and other explosives and warn the troops so further preventative action can be taken.

Here's an excerpt from the article, which tells of a common scenario:
Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Black moved back toward the mine clearance vehicle to watch from a safe distance as a team traced the wire of a suspected improvised explosive device back toward the road. 
Black’s military working dog, Lobo, was held on the end of a leash as the pair took a short break after searching the last 500 meters along the road. 
Suddenly, enemy forces unleashed AK-47 rifle fire. The U.S. soldiers hugged the ground and returned fire. Support vehicles joined in engaging the enemy and after five minutes, forced the attackers to withdraw. 
The team lost the wire’s location during the engagement and was now scrambling to find it. Black brought Lobo up to search. Lobo walked out front, nose to the ground, with Black still on the leash close behind. After no more than 70 meters, Lobo stopped. Black called Lobo back, marked the site, and called for support. The site was inspected and 200 pounds of homemade explosive was found buried four feet down.
Gutsy individuals, these men and women and their dogs, doing incredibly dangerous work that has helped save many lives during America's 10-year presence in Afghanistan.

The handlers and their dogs go through months of training together and are fully certified in explosive detection at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona before being deployed.

I always hope that when it's their time to "retire" these dogs get to go home with one of their handlers, which was the case with former Marine Megan Leavey and her dog Rex earlier this year.

So, while I'm not a cat hater, it's clear who you want on your side when you need some serious help.

You can go here to read the whole article on these amazing dogs and the work they do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Six Killed in Afghanistan

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

They died in a massive explosion on July 8, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 978th Military Police Company, 93rd Military Police Battalion, Fort Bliss, Texas.

An Army spokesman said the military usually waits 24 hours after the family is notified before making a public announcement of a soldier's death.  The delay in this case was because of multiple deaths from a single incident, where the names are not released until all families are notified and 24 hours have passed.

In addition to these six deaths, bombs and attacks killed 16 Afghan civilians, five policemen and two members of the U.S.-led coalition in southern Afghanistan on the same day, Afghan and NATO authorities said.

The six American deaths occurred just south of Kabul, when their armored vehicle struck a bomb.

The following are brief profiles of the soldiers lost in this attack.

Pfc. Trevor B. Adkins was 21 years old and from Spring Lake, N.C. He was a 2010 graduate of  Overhills High School where he was remembered fondly by teachers and staff.

"He wanted to be an MP. That's what he always talked about," said Stephanie Creech, his former chemistry teacher. "He loved junior ROTC. He absolutely loved it."

An Overhills High guidance counselor described Adkins as "quietly awesome."

Spc. Erica P. Alecksen was just 21 years old and from Eatonton, Ga.  She  joined the Army shortly after graduating from Putnam County High School in Georgia in 2009.

“She loved being in the Army,” said Alecksen’s grandmother, Maurine Huggins. “She was always praised for her ability to follow orders.”

But she didn’t take herself too seriously and had tremendous wit, her aunt said.

“I’m probably the coolest dork,” reads the Facebook cover photo she changed June 30. It was her last post.

"It's hard to put words to it,” Alecksen’s father, Lars Alecksen said. “Every word you could express is just a small part of what we're feeling."

According to information provided by her family, her regular duty involved driving MRAP – mine-resistant, ambush-protected – vehicles on patrol missions. She also was involved with the communications and security center, as well as KP, mail and food delivery.

She called her father almost every day while in Afghanistan.

"It meant the world to me," her father said. "You can write letters, send e-mails, there's different forms of communication. But for me, that voice, and hearing her joy, it just gave me heart and it gave me hope."

Alecksen had been an MP with the 978th since August 2010. The unit first deployed in June 2011.

Relatives said the young soldier was married and her husband has been living in El Paso, Texas, where she was based at Fort Bliss.

Erica Alecksen is survived by her husband and a large family.

Pfc. Alejandro J. Pardo, 21, of Porterville, Calif., was described as an All-American boy, who hoped to someday open a pizza parlor in Chicago. Pardo, a 2009 graduate of Granite Hills High School in California’s Central Valley, joined the Army about a month after graduating.

He was in the middle of a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Pardo played cello in middle school and performed with a school orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City, said Veronica Padilla, a parent of a former classmate. As a teen, Pardo was active in the church youth group at St. Anne's Parish.

Hannah Risvold, 20, of Springville, said she spoke via the Internet with Pardo a few days ago. He told her he lost friends in the war a few days earlier and was excited at the prospect of coming home in November.

"He was an All-American kid," said Risvold, who was in the church youth group with Pardo when they were teens. "He always had a smile on his face."

His aunt said he volunteered to go to Afghanistan but imagined the day he would be out of uniform.

"He told me when he got out of the service that he really wanted to open a pizza restaurant in Chicago," she said.

Aneliz Jimenez, a former member of the church youth group, said she gave him a small pink bow when he left for assignment in Korea.

"I told him he needs a dash of color," Jimenez said. "He wore it under his uniform. A year later when he got back, he told me he was still wearing it."

Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman Allen Ishida requested on Wednesday that all United States flags to be flown at half-staff at all County buildings in remembrance of Alejandro Pardo. The city of Porterville lowered its flags Tuesday.

“Our thoughts are prayers go out to the family of Alejandro Pardo and all the families who have lost young men and women who died serving our Country,” Ishida said. “Tulare County will fly our flags at half-staff and encourage individuals, businesses, and other organizations to join us in remembrance of Mr. Pardo for his sacrifice to our Country.”

Pardo is survived by his mother Kate and an older brother, Anthony.

Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, of Tampa, Fla., joined the Army in 2000 and was on his first combat mission to Afghanistan, arriving there in March.

He was initially scheduled to return in November. But his mother and father are elderly and facing health issues. He was granted permission to return in August to spend time with them and his son, 8-year-old Ricardo, from his first marriage.

Seija’s parents are Colombian, but he was born in Chicago and spent much of his childhood there. The family moved to Tampa in 1998.  Seija attended and graduated from Tampa’s Leto High in 1999 and soon thereafter enlisted in the Army.

"He wanted to defend his homeland," his mother, Ignacia Seija said. "He loved this country very much."

"I want America to remember him as a hero. And he'll always be in my heart."

The youngest of three sons, Seija had previously served in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Germany.

He was recently remarried – in March of 2012, just before this deployment – and he leaves behind his wife, Sunny, in El Paso, Texas.

Seija is also survived by his mother, Ignacia Seija, his father, Ricardo Seija, both of Tampa; a son from a previous marriage, Ricardo Seija, 8, of Missouri; and two older brothers, Jose Seija, and Eduardo Seija, both of Chicago, Ill.

Spring Grove, Pa. was home to Pfc. Cameron J. Stambaugh, who died Sunday at age 20.

According to his family, Stambaugh always wanted to be a soldier and he and his brother – who is less than a year younger -- made a pact when they were kids to join the military. His brother is stationed at Fort Hood in Texas now. Military service ran in the family, with his grandfather serving during World War II.

Stambaugh had been in Afghanistan for only about three months and was wounded by shrapnel only three weeks after he arrived, but recovered and was back on duty.

His father said he regretted his son being placed in harm's way.

"I regret him being over there," he said. "Absolutely, we should not be there. It's senseless. The people over there just live to kill. They're probably celebrating."

"He was only a kid."

The soldier’s father described him as quiet, confident and inquisitive, saying "He could get into your head without saying a word."

Along with the rest of his family, Stambaugh had a lifelong passion for hunting and fishing.

Spc. Clarence Williams III, 23, was from Brooksville, Fla. and was just weeks away from the end of a six-month deployment when he was killed.

A 2008 graduate of Hernando High School, Williams was an avid hunter and fisherman who was happiest in the woods or in the water, according to his family. He played football at Hernando High and sang in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Brooksville.

His father, Clarence Williams Jr., is a corporal with the Florida Highway Patrol who served in the Army and still is a reservist. Williams wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and to experience some adventure beyond Brooksville, so he enlisted in 2009 for five years, with plans to become a military police officer.

He also participated in the Hernando County Sheriff's Office Explorer's program.

"He was a fine young man," said Col. Mike Maurer, the second-in-command at the sheriff's office who befriended the future soldier. "It would almost be the highlight of your day when he walked in to say hello."

The young man would make the occasional return visit and meet the new Explorers. On at least one occasion he came in wearing his Army uniform. He made for a great role model, Maurer said.

"He was a real respectful, nice kid," he said.

Williams, who had already earned an associate's degree in criminal justice, last saw his family in December, and left for Afghanistan in February. He spoke to his family often by webcam or phone. Williams was able to wish his sister a happy Independence Day last week.

Rodney Byrd, who coached Williams in high school, had known him since he was a little boy.  He said Williams was a great kid who turned into an outstanding man.

“He was a 'yes sir, no sir' type guy," Byrd said. "Very good kid, very honorable kid. Honest and had integrity.”

Clarence Williams III is survived by his father, his mother, Talisa Williams; and his sisters, Abrill Edwards of Kissimmee and Samantha Williams of Brooksville.

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

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

Cpl. Juan P. Navarro, 23, of Austin, Texas, died July 7, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device.  Navarro was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Navarro graduated from Austin's Lanier High School in 2007 and became the first of 11 brothers and sisters to attend college. Soon after, he became the first in his family to enter the military, joining the Army in 2008 and going to Fort Benning, Ga. for Initial Army Training and Advanced Individual Training.

"He wasn't afraid," said his brother-in-law Eleazar Dominguez. "He was courageous. He wasn't afraid of gunshots. He wasn't afraid of anything."

"He was the type of person that even if he didn't know you he would give you a big smile and a hug," said his older brother, Miguel Pantoja. "I'm proud of everything he did. I'm proud of him because he did what he wanted to do."

Navarro had planned on leaving the Army within a few months and resuming his studies at Texas State University.  According to his family, he had  taken a break from college because he didn't want to burden his family with paying for his education and he knew the Army would pay for him to go to school.

"The world feels empty. Like the world is gone. That's how it feels," said Navarro's younger sister Carmen Navarro.

New TSA Rules Coming For Service Members

Well, I suppose this is something, even if the rest of us still get treated like terrorists...

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced yesterday that it is planning new procedures that would accelerate passing through airport security for people in active-duty military service.

"TSA recognizes the trustworthiness of our service men and women," said the TSA's Chris McLaughlin in a congressional hearing. "We know that they pose little risk to aviation security and we are dedicated to doing everything we can to meet the needs of U.S. military personnel when they travel by air."

Of the new procedures being proposed, one would allow families of our service members returning from overseas duty to pass through security and be allowed to meet their loved ones at the gate.  That's a nice consideration and it looks like when boarding a flight our troops won't have to go through the process of removing their shoes.

I guess they have finally come to the conclusion that, given that our men and women in uniform are often fighting terrorists, they are unlikely to actually be terrorists.  No word on how TSA will verify the identities of service members and one assumes it will be something other than the uniform they are wearing.

Better late than never with those obvious conclusions, TSA.

As for the rest of you terrorist suspects, get those shoes off and empty those sippy cups!

Here's the video from The Pentagon Channel:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

GOP Congressman on Afghanistan: “There is not one thing that we're going to accomplish over there.”

Like almost everyone else in the Congress, Republican Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional district voted to give President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq.  And like almost everyone else in Congress, he soon realized that was a mistake, fought Bush – and at times, his own party – on the Iraq war and has gone as far as to introduce a House resolution this year that would make it an impeachable offense for any president to ever again start a war without an act of Congress.

And lately, Jones has really had it with our continued military presence in Afghanistan.

The nine-term Congressman took to the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday to again announce his dismay at continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, saying that people in his district have turned against the war and told him again over the Independence Day holiday that they want all American troops to come home.

“I went home to my district as the other Members went to their districts… and I'm getting the same message,” said Jones on the House floor. “Why are you still in Afghanistan? Why don't you Members of Congress vote to bring our troops home? Why are you spending the money we don't have, and young men and women are getting killed?”

And like many Americans, Jones supported the initial invasion of Afghanistan and the mission at the time, which was to get Osama bin Laden and destroy any ability for Al Qaeda to use that country as a safe haven and training ground.

“We have defeated bin Laden. He is dead,” said Jones. “Al Qaeda has been dispersed all around the world, but we continue to fund a corrupt leader who will not survive in the long term.”

Jones ripped Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, further implying that he is not a legitimate long-term leader of the Afghan people and that the U.S. is wasting time, money and military lives simply to keep him in power.

“We're playing this little game of spend the American taxpayers' money to keep him in office,” Jones said in the House chamber. “And let's borrow the money from the Chinese that we're spending -- because that's the way it's happening -- to keep Karzai in office.”

“Seventy-two percent of the American people have agreed with most of us in the House -- not all -- that it's time to bring our troops home. There is not one thing that we're going to accomplish over there.”

Representative Jones also reiterated his objection to the ongoing investment of U.S. money in maintaining a presence in Afghanistan – and lamented what Americans are losing domestically because of that.

“After 2014, we will continue to have a military presence of anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000,” he said of Afghanistan.  “We are spending approximately $4 billion a month -- that's probably a lowball figure --  but $4 billion a month for 10 years. That adds up to about $480 billion in addition to what we've already spent, which is over $1 trillion, in Afghanistan and in Iraq.”

“The poor American people are paying the taxes and are getting their programs cut for children, for schools, for senior citizens, for health programs. Yet we in Congress continue to fund the war in Afghanistan.”

And for Jones, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, it ultimately comes down to the lives that we continue to lose every day in Afghanistan, on a questionable mission that the vast majority of the American people no longer support.

“This past weekend, we had eight Americans killed,” said Jones. “I have signed over 10,740 letters to families across this Nation because I bought the lie by the previous administration that said Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, which he never did have.”

“We keep sending our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen over there so they can be shot and killed and have their feet blown away. It is time for this Congress to wake up.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

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

Spc. Jonathan Batista, 22, of Kinnelon, N.J., died July 8, in Zharay, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Batista, who had just gotten  married, was a  2007 graduate of Rutherford High School in New Jersey.

He joined the Army in March 2010, attended airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., and served as a mine detector operator, clearing paths for his platoon as they patrolled throughout Kandahar Province.

"Jon was a devoted son, a caring brother, a Paratooper dedicated to the safety and security of his Infantry team and a newlywed," Lt. Col. Philip Raymond, Batista's battalion commander, said in a press release. "As a soldier, he represented the qualities and values that make our nation great."

"Their safety was his priority," said Raymond, speaking of Batista's devotion to helping protect the other soldiers in his unit. "His courage bolstered theirs and endeared him to his platoon.”

This was his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Batista’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, NATO medal, Combat Infantry Badge and Parachutist Badge.

Soldier Dies In Afghanistan On Fifth Deployment ‎

When our men and women in uniform go to war, they know that their safe return can be a crapshoot and that multiple deployments to a combat zone can, to put it mildly, tempt fate to the limit.

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was on his fifth deployment in the last 10 years.
Staff Sgt. Raul M. Guerra, 37, of Union City, N.J., died July 4, in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan.

He was assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Guerra enlisted in 1999 and was initially trained as a mechanic. He deployed to Afghanistan three times with a unit from Fort Bragg, N.C. between 2002 and 2006.

He went to Iraq from October 2007 to December 2008 after changing his Army specialty and becoming  a human intelligence collector, which the Army defines as one who "is responsible for information collection operations" providing Army personnel "with information about the enemy force’s strengths, weaknesses and potential battle areas."

His fifth deployment, back to Afghanistan, began in May.

Guerra's awards and decorations include the Joint Service Commendation, the Army Commendation, the Army Good Conduct and National Defense Service medals.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Post-9/11 Veteran Unemployment Rate Continues to Fall

Good news came out of the Department of Labor on Friday with the announcement that unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan-era Veterans dropped over three full percentage points to 9.5 percent for the month of June.  This is tremendous improvement -- and a drop from 12.7 percent in the previous month -- but still more than a full percentage point over the national average unemployment rate of 8.2 percent for the same period.

But this is encouraging news that can perhaps be attributed to a bunch of good state and federal programs that are being implemented to help Veterans get both government and private-sector jobs. Many government grants have been announced to encourage hiring veterans. For example, the Transportation Department announced Monday that it is awarding grants to improve transportation access so that Veterans and their families could reach jobs.

And a  total of 1,300 job offers went to Veterans last week as the result of a Detroit job fair hosted jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  There are plans to host similar events at other locations around the country. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualty

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

Pfc. Cody O. Moosman, 24, of Preston, Idaho, died July 3, in Gayan Alwara Mandi, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.

Moosman joined the Army in 2010, at age 22. He was an avid hunter and fisherman who had completed his Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scouts.

"Cody told us when he was in 3rd grade that he wanted to be in the Army when he grew up," said the Moosman family in a statement released on Tuesday. "We think his experience as a Boy Scout, who reached the level of Eagle Scout, helped prepare him for his role as a soldier. He loved the idea of protecting his fellow citizens."

"Our family enjoyed watching him stand up for America. Cody loved the outdoors, and hunting and fishing were his passion... We loved him, and we will miss him very much."

The soldier leaves behind his mother and father, two brothers and two sisters, his grandparents and his nieces and nephews.

From The Pen of Paul Jamiol

A sad rerun from my friend, cartoonist Paul Jamiol...

Good Commentary On Scumbag Going After Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth, the highly-decorated former Army helicopter pilot, who lost both legs under enemy attack in Iraq, doesn't need to explain herself to anyone -- and certainly not to Tea Party darling Joe Walsh. Duckworth, who was grievously wounded while serving in Iraq in 2004, is a candidate for Congress in Illinois's 8th congressional district and Walsh, the Republic incumbant in that district, is her opponent.

Walsh, who has never served in the military, went after Duckworth on Sunday, lauding Sentaor John McCain's (R-AZ) service record and calling him a "true hero" while implying that Duckworth was not a hero because, according to Walsh, she talks too much about her time in Iraq on the campaign trail.

As a reminder, Representative Walsh is the same sterling character who once suggested that the only reason President Barack Obama was elected -- in a landslide, mind you -- was "white guilt" in America.

“He’s just trying to shift the focus away from the fact he’s done nothing in his two years in Congress other than be an extremist loudmouth for the tea party, and really he’s not served his district at all,” Duckworth said on Tuesday. “I’m proud of my service. I’m proud that I have lived up to my responsibilities to this nation in uniform, that I lived up to my responsibilities as a public servant.”

And Vote Vets, a non-partisan advocacy group on veterans issues, called on Walsh to resign for his remarks, issuing the following statement:
Joe Walsh’s disgust for our veterans’ sacrifices knows no bounds. First, he falsely and maliciously claims that Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost her legs in Iraq didn’t have much of a record of service. Now, he denigrates that same American hero for talking about how her experience shaped her worldview and strengthened her resolve to serve even more – a conversation that isn’t just legitimate to have, but crucial as America charts its course domestically and internationally. This is a new low for this deadbeat dad. Telling a veteran to shut up on the 4th of July is beyond the pale. We are past the point of calling on Joe Walsh to apologize. He should step aside and and stop embarrassing his district and America.
Vote Vets chairman Jon Soltz, who himself has served two tours of duty in Iraq, appeared on MSNBC's Hardball Tuesday and called Walsh's comments "hurtful" saying also that he found it especially bad that the Tea Party crowd in attendance at the town hall meeting actually laughed at the remarks against Duckworth.

"He challenged Tammy Duckworth to a debate at the same time she was at military duty and now this," said Soltz. "I think he's got a long track record of insulting her service."

Former Congressman and Iraq war Veteran Patrick Murphy then commented on the fact that Walsh has also stooped to calling Duckworth a "bureaucrat" because she once served the country as an Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.   

"Let me tell you something: Joe Walsh never served," said Murphy. "He doesn't know what it's like to leave your friends, to leave your family to go serve for months at a time in 130-degree heat, to not know if you're ever going to see the people you love again. He doesn't have a right to attack Tammy Duckworth's service."

"He doesn't even have a right now as a congressman to vote on Veterans issues because he has no idea what it's about," Murphy continued.  "He's a disgrace. An absolute disgrace."

Here's the entire Hardball segment with Soltz and Murphy:

We have been a nation at war for over a decade and the issue of how we use our military has been the subject of long and contentious debate in our country -- and will continue to be.  Duckworth does not, as Walsh contends, oversell her Veterans credentials but she does indeed point out that her service -- and her sacrifice -- give her a unique view on the use of American power and what should be required to commit our men and women to a war zone.

Let's hope that voters in Illinois's 8th district take both experience and character into account when electing their next representative in November.  If they do, Tammy Duckworth will be on her way to Washington and Joe Walsh can look for a new job -- maybe sweeping the floors at his state's American Legion halls.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Your Veteran And The Fireworks Problem

For the first few years after being discharged from the military, many Veterans who have experienced combat and the serious bangs and booms that go along with it, have a difficult time on July 4th or any occasion accompanied by fireworks.  It’s not that we Vets don’t have the capacity to differentiate between being at war and watching a cool pyrotechnic display on a national holiday.  It’s more that the reactions evoked take place on what is, sadly, an ingrained, instantaneous basis and the response can be anything from slight discomfort to all-out panic.

When you have served in any war and know the tell-tale whistle and hum of an incoming mortar, the mere sound of fireworks streaking upward can be enough to send you diving for cover.  And when the explosions actually start, a Vet’s heart rate and blood pressure can go through the roof and produce a feeling of extreme anxiety.

"It's upsetting to most Veterans with PTSD. It's something they try to avoid," said Dr. Jeffrey Fine, Director of the PTSD program at the Veterans Administration’s Harbor Healthcare System in New York.

According to Fine the gut-level reaction experienced by many Veterans “can range from a startle to a full blown anxiety attack and flashback of combat."

“Some Veterans have acclimatized and have learned how to successfully minimize their reaction to fireworks like TV and sudden noises," he said.

Dr. Wendy Katz, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, has years of experience in dealing with Veterans suffering from PTSD and said that these situations can also lead to social awkwardness as the person trying to deal with these feelings gets embarrassed by their own startled reactions.

"The flash of light, firecrackers, can sound to them like mortar attacks," said Dr. Katz, speaking of July 4th festivities. "I worked with one Veteran who took cover with his young son at this kind of celebration. It's very complicated for them since it's supposed to be the birthday of freedom."

Pete Chinnici, a former U.S. Marine who did two combat tours in Iraq and has dealt with the effects of PTSD, says he has adjusted and needs not avoid fireworks -- but that the sudden bursts make him instantly want to know "…where the sound is coming from so I can understand what I’m up against.”

“Even though you’re aware that it may not be anything dangerous… your body still goes through the response,” said Chinnici.

“Fireworks hit right in the heart of these causes. Here’s an explosive-looking thing and a loud noise,” said Dr. John Hart, medical science director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas.  “What they’ll feel when they hear or see fireworks is mostly fear, a sense of threat as they did during combat when the IED went off or when the Humvee blew up.”

Many PTSD counselors sensibly recommend that Veterans who may have such visceral reactions seek out a more quiet place to celebrate the nation’s birthday and this may be the best thing – especially for our most recent Vets of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For many of us who are a bit older, a mental adjustment was made long ago and, while some of those instant reactions never go completely away, the predictability of fireworks displays – knowing with certainty when the bangs, booms and flashes will begin and end – makes for an easier experience that can even be enjoyed.

It’s important that families and loved ones of Veterans and, certainly, of active duty service members, remain sensitive to this dynamic and be understanding if that sudden, startled reaction occurs and, if it’s severe enough, even be open to leaving the location and circumstances prompting that anxiety. For the most part, our men and women returning from war have always been surrounded by loving family members who bend over backwards to understand what our Veterans have been through and support them unconditionally in issues like this.

But for anyone who sees this as trivial or something that our Veterans and troops just need to “get over” I’ll tell you this: Almost every human being will jump out of their skin if surprised by a loud, sudden noise.  Now imagine if over months and years of deployment in an active combat zone, you’ve been conditioned to interpret that sound as a signal that you may be about to die.

It's all part of the "invisible wounds" of war and it will very likely get better as the years go on. But if your Veteran looks a bit uncomfortable during Wednesday’s celebration, some awareness, a smile, and a hug go a long way.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Defense Department Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died June 24, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Both were assigned to the 96th Transportation Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Fort Hood, Texas.

Staff Sgt. Robert A. Massarelli, 32, of Hamilton, Ohio, completed three tours of duty in Iraq prior to his final tour in Afghanistan. Army records show he entered active duty in February 2001 as a motor transport operator.

During his years in the military, Massarelli received four Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, three Army Good Conduct Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star. 

Sgt. Michael J. Strachota, 28, was from White Hall, Arkansas.

His wife, Lauren Strachota, said the couple married in 2004 and her husband joined the military in 2007.  This was Strachota's second tour of duty --  once in Iraq and this one in Afghanistan.

He was only days away from returning home for two weeks after spending the last nine months in Afghanistan.

"He was trying to come home for our son’s third birthday on July 5," said his wife. "We missed it by a week.”  
According to his father, Patrick Strachota, Michael enjoyed fishing and riding motorcycles in his off time.

He is survived by his wife, Lauren and son, William Strachota of Fort Hood, Texas; his mother, Linda Baxter of Star City; his father, Patrick Strachota of Pine Bluff; and his grandmother, Betty Bradshaw of Pine Bluff.

"Gone To War" By Mpulse

Here's a new song about war just released by Marc 'Mpulse' Maxfield.  It's dedicated to his brother, Michael, who is currently serving in Afghanistan and features his mother -- and a Facebook buddy of mine -- Julie Driscoll.

Have a listen:

Mullen: 18 Veterans Kill Themselves Every Day In The U.S.

Excellent piece today at  The Raw Story in which Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks about the strains that America's most recent wars have caused on military families and the startling rate of suicide among Veterans and active-duty troops.

“We've got 18 vets a day who are killing themselves in the United States,” said Mullen, while also discussing  the overall impact on children whose parents have been gone on multiple deployments, for much of their childhoods.  Here's Mullen:
“If I’m a 5-year-old boy or girl in the family of one of these deploying units for the army whose average deployment was 12 months at a time, and my dad or mom – but mostly my dad – has deployed at this pace, I’m now 15 or 16 years old, and my dad has been gone three, four or five times. And my whole conscious life, from the time when I was 5 and I started to figure out that there was something out there, my whole conscious life has been at war. The United States has never, never experienced that before. And we see incredible stresses on families.”
You can read the entire story at The Raw Story.