Friday, January 29, 2010

Calling All Vets And Those That Support Them

Generations of Warriors
“Vets helping Vets”


Members of the Generations of Warriors are bound together with a common bond of compassion for those grandparents, parents, brothers and
sisters who have experienced the price of sacrifice yet continue to suffer the anguish of readjustment into the society of civility, gentleness, peace
and freedom for which they fought.

Since the earliest of times there have been warriors returning to civilian life only to find that they have developed a behavior that is unacceptable in their old communities. After the Civil War in the US, the condition was called “soldier’s heart”; experiences in WWI produced “Shell Shock” and that was carried over into the WWII era; and warriors in the Pacific called it “going Asian”. It was after the Vietnam War that it came to be known as “PTSD”, post traumatic stress disorder.

To those that haven’t either been in the mental health field or to those that have been wounded in this way, it is a doubly perplexing condition to understand. Many think that it is only a result of continued bombardment or from extended close combat in the field. This is only partially true. Many more experiences contribute to the wounds. Furthermore, these wounds last for a lifetime…and don’t qualify for a purple heart. It is, for the most part, a matter of shame for those that have these wounds. There has been very little consideration of the fact that many of our heroes have these wounds and have nightmares, night sweats, isolation from others, unexpected outbursts of anger, a lack of concentration abilities, depression/anxiety, etc. that hinder their abilities to adjust to civil societies. They impede their education. Friends are few and far between. Marriages and relationships are many…and often fail.

You would be shocked to know how many returned veterans have “holed up” in their homes after their returns and have never come out except for the bare essentials and often those are retrieved late at night. There are many that live in the woods in bare shelters such as in the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington State or in the hills of Southern Oregon. Most of you are only familiar with reports of the Veterans on the streets that are homeless of the crazies that are incarcerated for their anti-social behavior.

The costs because of this problem are great. Broken families and lost fathers or mothers make it to the top of the list. Generations of instability and lost opportunities result from these problems. Something should be done now that we have the means to treat these wounded.

Veterans often talk of their issues only with other trusted vets, if at all. Most never do, or if they do, it’s very cursory. Crazy. Weak. Soft. These are traits at odds with a warrior. Some hear, ‘Why don’t you just get over it?” from the uninformed. It’s a destructive but understandable remark when one considers the lack of information out there regarding the wounds.

Generations of Warriors is determined to put a dent in that field of the uninformed. Making a warrior’s return to civil society a more gentle experience is one of our main goals. If the families, employers and employees, the judges and police forces, friends and general public can know more about the nature of the wounds and the severity of the conditions that these veterans face, it will go a long way toward lessening the re-adjustment and coping problems.

Because families are the worse for wear in these matters, and returning warriors often find themselves alone, “Never Without Family” has become our motto. The families formed within therapy groups help to strengthen the families in society at large.

Spencer Oland
Benton City, WA

How You Can Help,..

First and for most we need to get everyone on the same page,.. there is so many Vet's, Service Members, Military Families, Organizations, and regular civilians out there that really wants to see our Vet's get what they need, however the problem is, that we're all scattered about everywhere. I do believe one person can make a difference, however pulled together we can make an Impact !!! Can you just imagine the impact we all can have gathering together in the thousand's. I know not all of us are able to gather in DC, but it goes much further than that. It is Americans standing up and asking what can they do as an individuals to help a Vet out. That's where i Really, Really need your help. I am contacting everyone that I humanly can and asking them to join in for this project/event, however there is thousands across America. This is where you come in,...

I am asking you to please take initiative and spread this around like wild fire !!! Contact those in your local communities via e-mail, phone, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook and word of mouth.

Spencer and many other Veteran's is planning to make 5 stops throughout Washington and 3 more stops on his way to his final destination of D.C. The locations is still being determined at this time. We have many calls to make to set up locations and what nots. We are asking for anyone who would like to assist in this project/event to contact us. There is much to be done in planning this momentous event and we need All the help we can get.

HUNTER ORANGE will be the color to let others know of your support. Caps will be available. We'll want a blanket of orange to cover the fields of the memorials, etc. Wear your own group colors but please wear the orange cap or bandanna.

America let's show our Vet's that they are important to us and that we care and they have Not been forgotten !!!! It is long Over-Due. They need our help,..They need our support,..PLEASE let's give it to them.

If you'd like to partake or have any questions you can contact me at

Also I ask that you please visit and show your support by leaving him a comment. He has written many aricals that gives such insight and much can be learned.

Shout Out,...

Many wounded veterans won't have the cash to make this trip so those of you that are interested in helping them can consider sending prepaid gas cards to help:

Generations of Warriors Project
1551 NE 12th St
Benton City, WA

Military families cry for help

Kevin Kammerdiener's mother, Leslie, takes care of his every need, which would be fine if he were in preschool.

The thing is, "Kamm" is 21. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, shattered bones and burns on 25% of his body in Afghanistan in May 2008, which left him in a wheelchair, unable to speak and in chronic pain.

Leslie moved from Pennsylvania to her son's home in Riverview, Fla., to care for him after he spent months at a military hospital in San Antonio.

Now Leslie Kammerdiener, 44, spends her days making sure Kevin eats well, is clean and comfortable, and is not in pain. More recently, she has been helping him rebuild his vocabulary (he can say about 100 words), which he lost after a suicide bomber drove a vehicle full of explosives into his Humvee. By night, she soothes him when he is wakeful, which she says is pretty much all the time.

"I'm lucky if I get two to four hours of sleep at one time," Kammerdiener says.

Mostly, Leslie just wants her once-strapping son to be safe and happy — to teach him enough words so he can let people know what he needs, maybe even have a relationship one day, she says hopefully, mentioning the prom photo he sometimes cradles and sobs over.

Kammerdiener is among thousands of unpaid caregivers — parents, spouses, siblings and war buddies — helping veterans injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars get through each day, says Barbara Cohoon, deputy director of government relations for the non-profit National Military Family Association. She says the caregivers are a vulnerable group, often under-recognized, and in need of help to navigate the military's medical system. Cohoon says not all caregivers receive military benefits, even though many have quit jobs, moved out of their homes and drained their savings to care for their loved ones.

"Nobody's got a handle on numbers, but 7,500 is the number bandied about," says Cohoon, whose organization provides counseling and helps families negotiate the health system.

The range of injuries caregivers attend to spans from gashes and fractures that will heal, to comas, amputations, burns, paralysis, nerve damage and brain injuries so severe that cognitive function lingers at the toddler level or below.

The Defense Department's most recent tally of Afghan and Iraq war-related traumatic brain injuries is 161,025. A 2008 report from the non-profit research company RAND, however, put the figure at 320,000 out of the 1.64 million deployed by that time. Cohoon says it's estimated that about 350 to 400 such patients are so severely hurt they will need full-time care for the rest of their lives.

"Invisible" mental health wounds, including post-traumatic stress disorder, are also a major concern for returning veterans, even those who show no outward wounds, says Rene Bardorf, director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps the families of injured veterans. It was launched by Bob and Lee Woodruff after the ABC News anchor almost died from a brain injury in Iraq in 2006. Bardorf says it's estimated that more than 300,000 service members have psychological wounds.

"We're seeing complex injuries — individuals who simply would not have survived previous conflicts, and this has placed an enormous load on families," says U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Loree Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in Arlington, Va.

Sutton, the Army's highest-ranking psychiatrist, points out that groups such as Cohoon's are trying to turn caregiver legislation — two bills are now being debated in the House and Senate — into a law that would give those like Leslie Kammerdiener financial support, including health insurance.

Kammerdiener, who has a degenerative nerve disease, no longer has health insurance, and she relies on donations.

Losses all around

Ed and Beth Edmundson's son Eric, 29, headed to Iraq healthy and strong in August 2005 and returned in October with a severe brain injury after a bomb exploded near him. He is unable to walk and is cognitively impaired.

Before the injury, both parents had good jobs and retirement savings, but they moved to New Bern, N.C., to live with Eric, his young wife, Stephanie, and their baby, Gracie. They've run through their savings and can't afford health insurance.

"Eric needs help with every aspect of survival," his father says. "It was a loss all around for everybody. A loss of income, retirement, time together."

Financial losses aren't all caregivers rack up. Social lives and relationships change or go away.

"My relationship with my wife today is different than it was four years ago," Ed says. "The weekend before Eric was injured, Beth and I were living in our own home, involved in sea turtle rescues, walking on the beach, and everything's hunky-dory. And the next weekend, your world is caved in."

Their health has been affected by the stress as well. Last fall, Ed couldn't afford to visit the doctor when a chest cold turned into pneumonia. The non-profit group Wounded Warrior Project stepped up with a donation that paid for antibiotics, breathing treatments and steroids.

Recently, an extra strain hit their finely tuned family routine when Beth, who does the bulk of the cooking, cleaning and hygiene for Eric, broke her ankle while playing with Eric's now-5-year-old daughter. Her medical bill topped $46,000.

"Beth and I aren't moving forward. We're a foot forward and a foot back," he says.

Sutton says the military has increased its support resources for families and has more on the way. "There has been a steady crescendo of efforts in recognition for the need to build family resilience," she says.

She points to a family assistance program and a 24-hour hotline. She says the Defense Department plans this spring to release a "caregiver's curriculum," a guide for caregivers and medical staff treating wounded veterans and their families.

Gap in understanding

Kammerdiener has been disappointed by the military support and says the programs have done nothing for her physical and mental health needs.

Cohoon says many caregivers don't know about federal recovery coordinators, who can help caregivers make sense of the military's medical resources. "They're not letting them even know they exist," Cohoon says.

Getting the physical and emotional health support they need may be easier for those still on active duty, such as Doug McCarron, who returned from Iraq after a blast injury led to a toe amputation and shrapnel wounds in one leg caused nerve damage. McCarron works on a base near his home in Whittier, Calif., but is still healing.

"I have phantom pains, nerve pain, walking challenges. I strain to hear," says McCarron, 39, who also wrestles with post-traumatic stress. His wife of one year, Cherish, 32, soothes him when he has nightmares, but he worries about causing her distress.

Even if they want to, family members may not be prepared to help injured veterans, says Paul Larson, professor of psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which works with veterans and their relatives as part of The Yellow Ribbon Project, developed last year with the Illinois Army National Guard. "They come at it as best they can with common-sense wisdom, but there's this gap between recognizing a behavior, like aggression and irritability, and actually handling it," Larson says.

Some families, such as the Edmundsons, have turned to non-profit groups. The National Military Family Association offers healing adventure camps for families where they can share experiences and are given resources.

The Woodruff Foundation funnels donations to community-based projects that support injured veterans and their families in their hometowns.

Larson says caregivers can relieve burnout by creating times of emotional distance between themselves and the patient.

Sutton says it's important to keep hope alive, too. "Troops wage war. Healers wage hope."

The Edmundsons are doing just that. "We made it a goal to protect the nucleus of our family," Ed says. But as their medical bills and house and car repairs pile up, he says, a little extra help would be embraced: "We're holding out and hoping for the caregivers legislation."

Army's suicide 'crisis' leads to action

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by the suicides of eight soldiers in the year's first eight days, the Army's No. 2 general told commanders to have face-to-face contact with GIs to remind them "each one is valued by our Army," according to the Jan. 8 memorandum provided to USA TODAY.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, reinforced that message last week, telling leaders in a videoconference they must pay extra attention to soldiers who are moving from one installation to another and may need more help, says Col. Chris Philbrick, head of the Army's suicide task force.

Although Army officials say the suicide rate has dropped since then, Chiarelli's message illustrates the continuing challenge the service faces despite an anti-suicide campaign that started last year.

The military faces a suicide "crisis," said Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a conference in Washington this month.

The 160 confirmed and suspected Army suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2009 was a record. Winter months were the worst, records show. Twenty-nine soldiers in all parts of the Army killed themselves in January 2009, nearly twice the 15 killed in combat that month.. In February, 27 more committed suicide. The Marine Corps suffered a record 52 suicides last year.

Army officers and supervisors must "troop the line, walk through the motor pool, stop by the barracks, eat a meal in the dining facility and visit the guard post at midnight. … It is important for all soldiers to know and understand their self-worth," Chiarelli wrote.

The rate of suicides has declined since the memo, Philbrick says, and "we are well lower (than January 2009)." He did not provide specific numbers.

The Army's suicide rate has nearly doubled since 2005 to 23 per 100,000, according to data released this month. That's higher than the civilian rate of about 20 per 100,000.

Suicides may be linked to lengthy separations caused by the current wars and the fractured relationships that can occur as a result, said Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, in an interview last week. The broken relationship may even be in terms of how a soldier sees his or her connection with the Army, he says.

"We've seen soldiers who have received sometimes minor punishment … go out and kill themselves," Schoomaker says.

Chiarelli appointed a task force last March to learn why more soldiers were killing themselves, and the Army increased suicide-prevention programs. The Marine Corps last year ordered that all sergeants and corporals learn how to talk to their Marines about personal problems.

Area firefighters join "Red Shirt Fridays" campaign

GREEN BAY (WFRV) - The Green Bay Fire Department joins the nationwide movement "Red Shirt Fridays" in an effort to show solidarity in support of U.S. soldiers.

Every Friday members of the GBFD have the option to wear a traditional GBFD t-shirt in red. The shirts will be worn every Friday indefinitely until all our troops are home.

Starting today, the shirts are being sold to the public for $10 at fire stations #2 (University Ave), #5 (Finger Road) and #6 (W. Mason St.) daily between 1-6pm. Proceeds from the shirts go to Wounded Warriors, and Homes for our Troops

For more details, visit

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

4Troops: Band of brothers-in-arms

Somewhere, Irving Berlin is turning red, white and blue.

The spirit of the man who wrote God Bless America infuses a pair of patriotic albums due in 2010. 4Troops, a crooning quartet of former Army soldiers that includes a top-20 finisher on America's Got Talent, makes its debut today on Good Morning America. The single For Freedom lands in March, and a Sony Masterworks album arrives May 25.

Also this year, expect Coming Home, an album from a trio of active-duty military calling themselves The Soldiers. Atlantic Records put the group together after a similar project featuring British soldiers found success in the U.K. last fall.

"Bringing more awareness about our troops and their sacrifices is what we're all about," says 4Troops singer Meredith Melcher, 29, an Army captain who in 2003 served as a platoon leader in Iraq, where she helped evacuate wounded soldiers.

Melcher says she never had big singing ambitions and failed at an American Idoltryout a few years ago. "Nerves, I guess," she says.

Don't be fooled, says Victor Hurtado, the group's artistic director. "When Meredith opens her mouth, glory comes out," he says. "And sometimes a little bit of Aretha (Franklin)."

As the man who for decades has overseen the Army's entertainment division and traveling musical shows, Hurtado hand-picked the members of 4Troops, which also includes Daniels Jens, Ron Henry and David Clemo.

The idea came from Sony executives, who asked Hurtado to create an ensemble that could sing, tour and raise money for veterans groups. A percentage of proceeds benefit a range of charities, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Peter Ganbarg, vice president of artists and repertoire at Atlantic, says "the time just feels right for this sort of project. There's a sense of patriotism that's palpable right now." He says The Soldiers have been selected and will be revealed soon.

Meanwhile, 4Troops is busy recording its album in New York, working with producer Frank Fillipetti, whose credits range from Kiss to James Taylor. The fare is largely of the flag-waving variety, including Hurtado's updating of Toby Keith's post-9/11 Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.

The timing could be right, says Gail Mitchell, senior editor at Billboard. "The first lady has pledged to help raise awareness of the troops and their families, so this sort of thing could fit right in," she says. "The only question is with this narrow focus, where do you go from here?"

But this may be far enough for these former soldiers, who sound off in grateful tones.

"I grew up singing to the Jackson 5 and dreaming of this day," says Henry, 41, recently retired from the Army, where he was a transport manager in Iraq.

For Clemo, 30, it's an opportunity to work through difficult emotions. "The songs about saying goodbye and staying motivated so you get back alive really ring true," says Clemo, who laid fiber-optic cables in Iraq.

And as thrilled as Jens is to be in this group, the America's Got Talent Season 3 veteran recalls an even greater gig he played not long ago in a bare barrack in Iraq.

"My best memories were grabbing my guitar and singing," says Jens, 36, who was deployed to Iraq as a field artillery cannon crewmember. "My friends would join in. To see the war melt off their faces was surreal."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Marines studied their own history in Haiti

GRAND-GOAVE, Haiti — The 100-ton landing craft turned on its air jets and rose slowly out of the brush. It hovered briefly on the shore, pivoted on a cushion of air and headed out to sea.

The dust and dirt kicked up by the air jets turned to sea spray as the craft flew seamlessly from shore to sea, skimming across the water.

"I've never seen anything like that in my life," said Jaques Ado, as the hovercraft, called a Landing Craft Air Cushion, or LCAC, disappeared over the horizon.

Ado, 63, was among dozens of Haitians who watched the massive hovercraft Friday on a beachhead established by U.S. Marines who arrived off the coast last week. Since arriving, The Marines have moved tons of food and water ashore for aid groups to carry away in trucks to survivors of the Haiti earthquake Jan. 12.

It's not the Marines' first time in Haiti. Troops were here in 2004 to prevent massacres in the wake of the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti is a major part of Marine Corps lore for other reasons.

The Corps governed Haiti from 1915 to 1934 after an invasion force was sent to prevent an anti-American dictator from assuming power. Young, non-commissioned officers governed Haiti with little supervision.

The Marines were reminded of that history as they prepared for the Haiti mission, said Lt. Col. Gary Keim, who commands a logistics battalion.

"We were required to reread it," he said. "We've been here before. We've been successful before."

The Marines viewed those years as a model for nation building and counterinsurgency strategy. Many Haitians viewed it as imperialism. Roads, bridges and schools were built during the U.S. occupation, but that did little to help Haiti govern itself.

"When they came in 1915 it wasn't acceptable," said Paul St. Jean, 31, who watched the Marines land. "This is different. They come to help."

About 4,000 sailors and Marines have been deployed to Haiti, bringing total military troops here to about 17,000. There are about 11,000 troops and police from the United Nations as well, but some Haitians prefer U.S. troops.

U.N. troops "do not help us enough," St. Jean said.

The Marines have moved into the outskirts of Port-au-Prince to protect aid convoys from theft and riots. Keim says security has been good.

"Wherever they know the Marines are around, they (local residents) believe security will be provided," Pvt. James Cyrille said.

This section of shoreline in Grand-Goave, west of Port-au-Prince, is a tough site for an amphibious landing. Steep mountains come right down to the shoreline. Marines brought hovercraft ashore at a narrow opening where a stream empties into the ocean.

Hand-carved wooden canoes sit on the beach. Homes of concrete with corrugated tin roofs line the shore.

The need in this part of the island is great. Small towns nestled between the mountains and coast have been nearly flattened. Most of the aid has flowed into Port-au-Prince.

"We are poor people," Ado said. "Maybe they are here to help us. Maybe life can change for us."

The Marines may be here doing relief work for some time.

"We've been told we'll be here indefinitely," Keim said.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Brothers and sisters in arms

Contributed Photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika
There are three sets of siblings serving together in Troop R 3rd Squadron of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Pictured above, from left, are Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cross, of Chattanooga; Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer, of Chickamagua, Ga.; Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross, of Ringgold, Ga.; Spc. Anthony Dawson, of Pikeville, Tenn. Seated atop the Humvee is Spc. Adam Lee, of Chickamauga. Spc. Lee and Staff Sgt. Oyer are brother and sister. Sgt. 1st Class Cross and Staff Sgt. Cross are brothers. Also serving in the unit but not pictured is Spc. Darrel Cross, brother of Spc. Anthony Cross.

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. -- Soldiers often call each other "brother," but for three sets of siblings in a Chattanooga-based unit, that title is more than a word.

For one set, having family nearby when deploying to a combat zone has become second nature. For another, it's a chance for a big sister to give her little brother a little advice. And for two brothers on their first deployment, it's no big deal.

More than 3,200 soldiers with the Knoxville-based 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment are now training here for a yearlong mission to Iraq. Among those, Troop R, 3rd Squadron, is made up of 131 soldiers from around Tennessee, more than 80 of them from the Chattanooga area.

At 47, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Cross, of Chattanooga, may be the older brother, but 45-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross, of Ringgold, Ga., holds rank on the job. The two brothers have served 17 and 20 years, respectively, in the regular Army and Tennessee Army National Guard.

They have served together for most of that time and also work together in their own painting business when not wearing combat gear.

This is the third deployment faced by the pair. Both are a part of the 1/181st Field Artillery Battalion based in Chattanooga. Soldiers from the unit were assigned to Troop R to help build manpower for the 278th's mission in Iraq.

Both brothers went to Iraq on the 278th's first deployment in 2004 and returned for a second tour in 2007 with the 1/181st.

In 2004, the two were together only for the first few weeks, but three years later with the 1/181st, the men worked at Camp Bucca, a detainee prison in southern Iraq near the Kuwait border.

Each Saturday that fall, they would meet up to watch Tennessee Volunteer football games or NASCAR races.

"Yeah, he's a Kyle Bush fan, but I can't stand him," said Sgt. 1st Class Cross. "I'd say, 'Yeah, your boy got put in the wall today.'"

The sergeant said having his brother with him each time was helpful, especially when the stress of problems at home built.

"I feel bad for my mother because it breaks her heart every time," said Sgt. 1st Class Cross. "I waited as long as I could before I told her about this one."


In another set of siblings, a big sister is helping her younger brother on his first deployment to Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer, 47, of Chickamauga, Ga., is heading into her third deployment, so she has some advice for her 26-year-old brother, Spc. Adam Lee.

"You're going to have days when you wished you were home," Staff Sgt. Oyer told her brother early on. "That's OK. Everybody's like that."

The sergeant said she plays two roles -- one as a sister, the other as a senior noncommissioned officer.

"If I see him doing something wrong or something he needs to know, I give him a heads up," she said.

Spc. Lee said he's gotten some good guidance from his sister, but when he does see her, he tries to talk about something other than the deployment.

"We're going to be on this deployment for a long time," he said. "We talk about other things."

military heritage

Spc. Anthony Dawson, 21, and Spc. Darrel Dawson, 20, both of Pikeville, Tenn., are going through their first deployment preparations, but they've already learned a lot from their mother and father.

Their father, Sgt. Larry Dawson, met their mother, Sgt. Esperance Dawson, when the two were in the U.S. Marine Corps. When the two boys were still in school, their parents left the Marines and later joined the Guard together.

Sgt. Larry Dawson went to Iraq in 2007 with the 1/181st, while Sgt. Esperance Dawson heads to Kuwait in one year with the 230th Sustainment Brigade.

When their father left for Iraq, Spc. Anthony Dawson was in Guard job training, Spc. Darrel Dawson was in boot camp and their mother was in training at another Army base.

"So we know what it's like to be apart," Spc. Anthony Dawson said.

The two brothers said they don't hang out too much during their training, but when they do, talk turns to the "important stuff" like video games and movies, laughed Spc. Anthony Dawson.

As a family, they don't talk much about service, the specialist said.

"It depends. For the first few days it's, 'How was your drill?'"

"It's very, very hard for them. They get through it, my family's strong." Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer talking about how her family handles both her and her brother Spc. Adam Lee being on deployment at the same time.

"It's a lot different than just having friends with you." -- Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross

"The main thing I learned from (my Dad) was the battle with boredom. I'm hoping just to battle boredom." -- Spc. Darrel Dawson

"I feel bad for my mother because it breaks her heart every time."

-- Sgt. 1st Class Billy Cross

"You're going to have days when you wished you were home. That's OK. Everybody's like that."

-- Staff Sgt. Robin Oyer

U.S. Marines to mark official end of their Anbar mission in Iraq

U.S. Marines formally end their presence in Iraq's Anbar province Saturday, marking the conclusion of a bloody seven-year battle that claimed hundreds of Marine lives and featured some of the war's fiercest fighting.

In a ceremony Saturday, the Marines will hand over responsibility for Anbar to the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, an Army training unit out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Those soldiers largely will remain on their base in Anbar's capital of Ramadi and focus on training Iraqi troops who lead most patrols.

The number of Marines in Anbar then will drop from the current level of 3,500 to about 180 in March, before all of them are gone in June.

After so much bloodshed, however, the conclusion of the Marines' mission in Iraq sparked barely a whimper as Marine planners focused instead on shifting resources to Afghanistan, where there are roughly 12,000 Marines. Two Marine Expeditionary Units also have been dispatched to Haiti.

What the Marines are leaving behind in Anbar remains unclear.

Marines say they've successfully pacified what had been a violence-ridden province that saw the rise of the insurgency in 2003 and yet was also the birthplace of the reconciliation efforts between U.S. troops and Iraq's disaffected minority Sunni Muslims.

Violence hasn't been eradicated, however. On Thursday, at least eight Iraqis were killed in five bombings throughout the province, raising concerns that security is deteriorating once again for residents.

Fears of violence also have been fed by the decision earlier this month by Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission to disqualify 500 candidates for the parliamentary elections March 7, many of them leading Sunni politicians.

Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq on Friday for a two-day trip designed in part to address rising tensions in the country.

Marines were among the first U.S. forces to arrive in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and they moved west into Anbar within days. While the Anbaris initially welcomed the U.S. military, the shooting of several children in a field by U.S. Army troops kicked off tensions that lasted for more than four years.

Of the roughly 3,500 U.S. troops who have been killed in combat in Iraq, 1,021 were Marines, according to Pentagon statistics. At their peak in October 2008, there were 27,249 active and reserve Marines in Iraq.

Anbar has been the site of many turning points in the war. In the spring of 2004, four Blackwater contractors were killed and their bodies hung on a bridge in the Anbar city of Fallujah. Shortly afterward, the United States launched the first of two major offensives in an effort to clear Fallujah of insurgent forces.

Insurgents then planted thousands of homemade bombs that took scores of Marine lives. One explosion in November 2005 triggered a Marine response that killed 24 civilians, including women and children, in Haditha.

An outraged Iraqi public demanded retaliation from its nascent government for incidents such as Haditha, and when it didn't happen, some turned to the insurgency, which waged war against the Americans until, tired of threats against them by Islamic extremists, Anbar's tribal leaders turned against them and allied with the Americans.

Today, U.S. troops largely are confined to their bases as Iraqis conduct patrols. The last confirmed Marine combat death in Anbar was recorded on July 19.


McClatchy Newspapers

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Army begins helicopter drop

How to Help Haiti

Many people have asked NPR how they can make donations to charities involved in earthquake relief efforts. International charities are just beginning to ramp up their efforts in Haiti. If you're looking to give money to help these relief activities, we've compiled a list of some of the larger, established international aid organizations responding to the disaster:

American Red Cross

American Jewish World Service



Catholic Relief Services

Direct Relief International

Doctors Without Borders

International Committee of the Red Cross

International Rescue Committee

Mercy Corps


Partners in Health

The Salvation Army

Save the Children


World Food Programme

One of the ways some organizations are collecting donations is through text message. You can text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross relief for Haiti, charged to your cell phone bill.

NPR is not endorsing or vouching for any of these groups. The list is just a starting point for you and your own research. There are a number of online tools available for evaluating charities and making donations to a broader range of NGOs, including and

Friday, January 15, 2010

Obama pledges starter of $100M in relief

By Ron Sachs, Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Obama promised $100 million or more in rapid earthquake aid for Haiti on Thursday as the government sought to speed American troops and supplies to an increasingly desperate populace.

U.S. special operations forces secured the airport in the capital and began an airlift of urgently needed medicine, water and other essentials in what Obama called "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history."

One hundred paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division arrived Thursday, two days after a magnitude-7 earthquake killed 45,000 to 50,000 people, according to the International Red Cross. An additional 800 of the division's soldiers are to arrive today.

By Monday, as many as 5,500 soldiers and Marines will be on the ground in Haiti or aboard ships offshore, according to the Pentagon. Up to 3,000 members of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit will leave Camp Lejeune in North Carolina today and are expected to arrive Monday, said Capt. Clark Carpenter, a Marine spokesman.

A Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, and a flotilla of other ships will arrive in Haiti today, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship based in Baltimore, will arrive by next Friday. The Comfort has 12 operating rooms.

Four U.S. Coast Guard cutters worked in the waters offshore of Haiti, and the service's aircraft crews had evacuated at least 200 Americans from the island, the guard said in a statement.

Cargo planes took off for Haiti from New Jersey's Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst late Thursday afternoon packed with tents, communications gear and forklifts, said Capt. Dustin Doyle, an Air Force spokesman. The Air Force has sent a Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance drone from its base in Northern California to assess damage, said Lt. Col. Mark Lozier of the Air Force's 12th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Leading the military response in Haiti will be Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, the military deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

All of the aid efforts Thursday were stymied by logistical problems, including a damaged port and an overloaded airfield.

"It will take hours — and in many cases days — to get all of our people and resources on the ground," Obama said. "Right now in Haiti, roads are impassable, the main port is badly damaged, communications are just beginning to come online, and aftershocks continue. None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who's trapped, if you're sleeping on the streets, if you can't feed your children."

The Red Cross has estimated 3 million people — a third of the population — may need emergency relief. Planes from China, France, Spain and the United States landed at Port-au-Prince's airport Thursday, carrying searchers and tons of water, food, medicine and other supplies. The offloading moved slowly.

It took six hours to unload a Chinese plane Wednesday because of a lack of equipment, according to the Associated Press.

Col. Brian O'Connor, commander of the 621st Contingency Response Wing at McGuire, said planes carrying aid from other countries had swamped the Port-au-Prince airport, slowing the flow.

"We could do so much more if we did it in an orderly fashion," he said. The foreign aircraft "slow us down a bit."

The 115 airmen from the 621st "will bring order" to the airport, he said.

The 621st is sending five C-17 cargo jets loaded with communications gear, freight-moving equipment and tents to house the crews. The airmen are prepared to spend several months there if necessary, he said.

Some experts praised the intensity of the U.S. effort but questioned why it wasn't bigger and faster.

"There are serious logistical barriers to getting the rescuers to the places where they can do the most good," said Irwin Redlener, who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "I don't know why we're not getting helicopters over there and setting down emergency equipment and supplies. We have an Airborne unit leaving today. I don't know why that didn't happen yesterday."

Haiti lacks the capacity to get more aid in faster, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

"You have an airport with a single runway, so we have things that are queued up," he said. "You can't flow people before you know how you're going to be able to sustain them on the ground."

The U.S. military will be able to play a decisive role once it arrives in force in Haiti, military experts said.

"What they really want to do is get the main airfield up to full capacity," said retired general Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff. "As soon as they get (a headquarters set up), a lot of things will go much more rapidly because they know how to organize this thing."

The military could drop supplies from their aircraft, said Mark Kimmitt, a retired general and former State Department official.

Besides pledging at least $100 million, Obama enlisted former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to raise money for Haiti relief. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama called the former presidents Wednesday to discuss their involvement. Their roles will be defined soon.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook, Richard Wolf; the Associated Press

Army wives with deployed husbands suffer higher mental health issues

WASHINGTON — Wives of soldiers sent to war suffered significantly higher rates of mental health issues than those whose husbands stayed home, according to the largest study ever done on the emotional impact of war on Army wives.

Those rates were higher among wives whose husband deployed longer than 11 months, according to findings that will be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For example, wives of soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan between one and 11 months had an 18% higher rate of suffering from depression than those whose husbands did not go to war, the study shows. When soldiers were deployed 11 months or longer, their wives had a 24% higher rate of suffering from depression.

The study looked at more than 250,000 Army wives, of which two-thirds had husbands who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2006.

"Mental health effects of current operations are extending beyond soldiers and into their immediate families," the study concludes.

"There's a very clear relationship between deployment and these mental health diagnoses in these women," said Alyssa Mansfield, an epidemiologist with RTI International, a non-profit research organization, and lead author on the study. "We find that these women are experiencing greater mental health problems and there's a need for services for them."

The study shows again "that when a servicemember deploys, the entire family deploys," said Air Force Maj. April Cunningham, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

She identified several programs designed to help families including Military OneSource, a hotline — 800-342-9647 — and Web-based program that provides counseling.

The study likely underestimates the mental impact of deployments on wives, Cunningham and Mansfield said, in part because of the continuing stigma within the military about seeking mental health care.

"We know there's a stigma," Deborah Mullen, wife of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, said at a suicide conference Wednesday. "Spouses tell me all the time that they would like to get mental health assistance, but they really believe — as incorrect as this is … that if they seek help, that it will have a negative impact on their spouse's military career."

The results of the Journal study reflect findings in a RAND Corp. study of military children, said Joyce Raezer, director of the National Military Family Association, which sponsored the study. Children of deployed parents suffer more emotional issues, particularly if separations are long or the parent at home is troubled, says the study, which was published last month.

"What worries me (is that) … kids do worse when Mom does worse," Raezer said. "So if spouses are more likely to need mental health services as deployment times increase, than their kids are more at risk."

Researchers in the Journal study identified how many additional cases of mental health diagnoses among wives were generated by the deployments of their husbands, findings which they said could help the Pentagon budget for additional mental health resources for families.

"What they should take away from this is that we may need to devote more services for the prevention of some of these problems," Mansfield said.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There’s growing recognition of the needs of women vets


Last Sunday, a letter from a Warren writer, “Women veterans deserve better treatment from peers,” chastised the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars for not doing more to support women veterans. As the former national commander of AMVETS, another leading veterans service organization, I am proud to report that a major concerted effort is underway to address the needs of our women veterans.

AMVETS National Service Officers provide free counseling to veterans, men and women of all conflicts and eras, to help them file their claims and appeals to the VA for their earned benefits. In 2008, AMVETS NSOs filed more than 65,000 claims and recovered more than $410 million for our heroes and their families. Current VA data shows than more than 20 percent of the 112,000 women veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many of these cases are a result of sexual trauma experienced while in the military service. Accordingly, AMVETS NSOs are trained to address the specific needs of this population, and 17 percent of AMVETS NSOs are themselves women.

As coauthors of The Independent Budget, a roadmap to guide Congress in providing sufficient, timely and predictable funding for Veterans Affairs, AMVETS has long advocated for improved resources to meet the needs of our women veterans. Additionally, AMVETS legislative staff is diligently at work on Capitol Hill advocating for legislation to benefit all veterans, women included. VA statistics show that the number of women veterans will increase by nearly 20 percent between 2008 and 2033 and AMVETS will continue to fight to ensure VA has the capabilities and specialized programs in place to treat the complex physical and mental health issues unique to our women veterans’ population.

In August 2010, AMVETS will hold the AMVETS Symposium for 21st Century Veterans during its annual national convention in Louisville, Ky. This event will address the most pressing concerns of our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan in the areas of transition assistance, health care, education, homelessness and more. We will have a number of sessions that specifically address the needs of our women veterans.

By proactively seeking ways to serve our women veterans through all the above means, AMVETS has successfully attracted a significant number of women into its ranks. In the past decade, AMVETS has doubled the overall proportion of women in its membership and, as a result, has many women leaders at the post, department and national levels. I encourage your readers to learn more about AMVETS and its many programs by visiting

Repeated deplyments weigh heavily on troops

WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Martin Jr. has been fighting insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan longer than the entire three years the Korean War lasted.

At age 34 and finishing a fourth combat tour, he has seen five of his men killed since 2003. Four died this year, including two on Martin's birthday in May. Thirty-eight cumulative months in combat have left him with bad knees, aching shins and recurring headaches from a roadside blast, ailments he hides from his soldiers.

Out of earshot of his troops, Martin concedes, "This is a lot of wear and tear."

American soldiers of the 21st century are quietly making history, serving in combat longer than almost any U.S. soldiers in the nation's past, military historians say.

For many, the fighting seems without end, a fatalism increasingly shared by most Americans. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted late last week found that 67% believe the U.S. will constantly have combat troops fighting somewhere in the world for at least the next 20 years.

President Obama is sending 30,000 more troops here, expanding a war that by the end of 2010 will be the nation's longest.

The cycles of combat have been so long and so frequent that nearly 13,000 soldiers now have spent three to four cumulative years at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army records. About 500 GIs have spent more than four years in combat, the Army says.

"Undoubtedly this is unprecedented," says Stephen Maxner, a military historian and director of the Vietnam Center and Archive in Lubbock, Texas.

He says small numbers of soldiers volunteered for multiple tours in Vietnam, but the vast majority served single, year-long deployments in that longest of American wars.

"My grandfather's generation is always called the 'greatest generation,' " says Army Capt. Jason Adler, 33, commander of Charlie Company, where Martin is one of his platoon leaders. "I disagree. It's these men here who go to war three or four times and continue to do what's asked of them, when others refuse."

Fewer than two in 10 soldiers on their first or second combat deployment showed signs of mental illness or reported marital problems, according to battlefield research in Afghanistan completed last year. The rate increased to three in 10 soldiers for those on a third or fourth deployment.

Leaders such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, acknowledge the increasing stress on the military.

Suicides are at record levels. The divorce rate among enlisted soldiers has steadily increased during the war years. Rates of mental health and prescription drug abuse are on the rise.

With a growing number of injured or wounded soldiers, painkillers are now the most abused drug in the Army. One in four GIs admit to illicitly using narcotic medication during a 12-month period, according to a 2008 Pentagon health survey.

"It speaks pretty well to the fortitude of these folks that they just keep coming back for more," says James Willbanks, director of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "But it's difficult to watch, because it's really hard on them, and very, very difficult on the families."

Martin finished his fourth combat tour and rejoined his family on Dec. 31. In the years away at war, Martin missed the birth of his son, Bobby Martin III, 3, in 2006, and has been away for two-thirds of the child's life.

Spc. Shamont Simpson, 28, is another soldier in Charlie Company completing a fourth deployment. He has racked up 42 months, rivaling the 45 months it took the United States to fight World War II or the 48 months the Civil War lasted. Simpson says he barely knows his 7-year-old son, Stefon, from a first marriage.

Both soldiers serve with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, about 3,500, deploys to Afghanistan this spring with 20 soldiers on a fifth combat tour and five beginning a sixth deployment, says Staff Sgt. John Queen, a brigade spokesman.

"(I'm) just tired," Simpson says. "Physically tired, mentally tired."

The increasing toll

Without a clear indication of when the USA will once again be at peace, Army research shows that the strain on soldiers can otherwise be eased with extended breaks between deployments. The longer soldiers rest, the better they endure.

When time at home stretches to two years, morale increases and cases of mental illness decline, the research shows.

"(But) it's a very tough trade-off to make," says Army Col. Carl Castro, a psychologist, "between fulfilling operational missions and giving soldiers time to recover."

The Army's aim is to allow two years of recovery for every year in combat. Given the current pace of war, however, it will be a "couple of more years" before that goal is met, says Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For those in the infantry, who do so much of the fighting, a return to combat often comes within a year.

Meanwhile, soldiers must return to war again and again because the size of the nation's all-volunteer force is limited, Army leaders say. In the past, the government could grow the Army quickly through conscription, allowing the burden of war to be shared by more people.

"It's quite unusual, the inequality," says Christopher Hamner, a military historian at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "You've got the vast majority of the American military-aged population that is being asked to do virtually nothing in these two conflicts. And then a very small percentage is being asked to shoulder enormous burdens."

This leaves many soldiers suspicious that other GIs are avoiding combat duty.

"I feel some guys are hiding. Some guys don't want to go. And I think that the people around them just take care of them," says Martin, whose first two combat tours in Iraq were with the Marine Corps before he joined the Army. "(For) us on the line, it's hard to get an assignment to get out."

"The big Army," says Simpson, "they got you in a unit that deploys, they'd rather keep you there then bring somebody in who hasn't."

While there is a need to keep combat-experienced troops in the field, Army commanders say no one is allowed to avoid war duty.

"Every day, we are out there working to identify and to move non-deploying soldiers into deploying formations," says Army Col. Jon Finke, director of the office that manages enlisted assignments.

For the past six years, the percentage of soldiers at any given moment who have gone to war has held steady at about 32% of the Army, says Louis Henkel, deputy director of the management office.

However, Army records show that when the service accounts for soldiers in training, preparing to deploy, serving overseas in places such as South Korea, in poor health or assigned as drill sergeants or recruiters, there are fewer than 15,000 who can be tapped to fill in for the combat veterans.

These are soldiers who work at the Pentagon and elsewhere, and only a few hundred of those are infantry, says Lt. Col. Douglas DeLancey, who supervises infantry assignments. Most are medical, aviation or military intelligence personnel, Army statistics show.

"We absolutely believe the numbers (available to fill in overseas) are small," Finke says.

The result is that many requests for a break from combat, such as those Martin and Simpson made after their third deployments, are turned down.

The Army has asked the RAND Corp., an independent think tank with ties to the military, to study the issue and find better ways to spell weary war veterans, says Joe Dougherty, a RAND spokesman.

Keeping troops focused

Comparing the soldiers experience for long and hard fighting in different wars is "an imperfect calculus," says Don Wright, a historian and research chief at the Army's Combat Studies Institute. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is not as consistently intense as other major American wars, historians say.

But the strain of long and repeated exposures to combat is what makes these current wars historically unique, they say.

"What is exceptional ... is the repeated deployments," says Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian James McPherson.

He says the average Civil War tour of duty was about 2½ years, with small numbers serving for the duration.

"These (current deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan) may take a greater physical and psychological toll than a single deployment, even if the latter is longer," McPherson says.

For the young recruits pouring into the Army and shipping off to combat for the first time, however, these veterans guide the way. The young soldiers of Martin's platoon see him as a disciplinarian whose stern voice keeps them centered during an ambush or when a roadside bomb explodes.

"He's going to be calm so you yourself are not going to panic," says Spc. Don Ezra Plemons, the platoon medic.

"He never wavers. He doesn't show that he's hurt. ... He's always a leader," says Staff Sgt. Kenneth Brook, the company medic, who seeks out Martin for counseling when the stress gets hard.

Simpson has a similar reputation. When a renegade Afghan National Army soldier opened fire with an AK-47 on Oct. 2, killing two American GIs and wounding three, Simpson was first on the scene and moved rapidly to staunch the bleeding of a mortally wounded sergeant.

Pfc. James Radovich, 21, was right behind him, marveling at Simpson's composure and focus amid the blood and chaos.

"He was very calm doing what he had to do. ... He had it under control," Radovich says. "Anything he would say, I would do without hesitation."

But families of both men, weary of the long absences, say the Army needs to relax its grip on these men.

"You keep planning for him to come home," says Joyce Sellars, of her son, Shamont, "and he comes home once, and he comes home twice and he comes home the third time. And you wonder, Lord is this (next) time, the time I'm not going to see my child again."

"It's like, when is this going to end?" his wife Faith Martin says.

It may be soon. Martin has finally been promised a training assignment to Fort Shelby in Mississippi and a period away from war.

"We need this time to work on us and our family," says his wife.

Simpson is guardedly optimistic that he, too, will step out the cycle of combat for a while. So far, he says, "I've got pretty good feedback."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

HOOAH!!! Radio - Operation Rip Off the Knob

Welcome to HOOAH!!!! Radio, founded October 25th, 2005, and it is the "ORGINAL" veteran owned, FREE internet-based radio station saluting our Troops, Military Families, and Veterans. HOOAH!!!! Radio brings another way for families and soldiers to connect with one another, another way for us to salute our men and women of the US Military and Allied Forces being active duty or a veteran, and to act as a source of entertainment, directed towards their interests and personalities. For them, by them and their families.

Dom is a 10 year U.S. Army veteran who knows what it's like to be alone, and his son was recently deployed to Iraq, our wish for him and ALL other members of the U.S. Military & Allied Forces serving in all branches everywhere in the world, is to feel a personal and active connection to the station and their families to help them feel that are not separated from Home and Country. HOOAH!!!! Radio also gives veterans a chance to feel connected, to participate once again in the sacred and bonded brotherhood that will always bind us together.

HOOAH!!!! Radio is commencing OPERATION "RIP OFF THE KNOB". Taking the internet by storm one soldier and one family member at a time, Shock and Awe baby! Stay tuned and hold on tight for the ride. We are privately-owned by a military veteran and operated solely by volunteers. We are Not For Profit Organization, our operating costs are covered by donations and corporate sponsors. Our goal is to also bring awareness and contribute to the many worthy non profit organizations that benefit the Troops and their Families.

Click on the banner at the top to tune into you will not be disapointed! OR click here

How You Can Help Wounded Veterans brings volunteers together through sports fundraisers. Find local events at its site.

Heroes at Home, repairs and equips old homes to accommodate disabilities.

Homes for Troops builds and donates handicapped-accessible houses nationwide. Visit to create a tribute page, get fundraising ideas, and more.

Homes for Vets gives new houses to families of critically injured ex-soldiers. Nominate beneficiaries and contribute online.

Project H.E.R.O. (Homes Eliminated of Restrictions and Obstacles) works with Rebuilding Together volunteers to identify low-income soldiers, educate communities, and renovate houses.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

US troops, families face cuts in on-base services as Pentagon tries to hold down spending

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Soldiers and their families on Army bases around the country could see cutbacks in trash pickup, lawn-mowing and other services as the military tries to hold down non-war spending while escalating the fight in Afghanistan.

Even as total defense spending rises, the portion of the Army budget dedicated to running its bases is down 20 percent this year, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by an Army official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about them.

The budgets for individual bases are not yet final. But the proposed cuts vary in size and run as deep as 40 percent at some major installations, including Fort Campbell, according to the figures.

Fort Campbell, the home of the 101st Airborne Division, is considering eliminating lawn-mowing and janitorial services and shortening hours at recreation centers, Fort Campbell spokeswoman Kelly Tyler said. But that may not be enough, she said.

Some members of the military are worried money will be pulled from programs that help spouses and children cope with soldiers' repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, who as head of the Army's Installation Management Command is in charge of the budget for bases, said in a recent commentary distributed to Army post newspapers that the service has enjoyed unprecedented levels of funding in the past years, but that can't continue.

"As the country faces some stiff economic challenges, we are forced to reduce funding and exact a greater level of stewardship over our resources," Lynch said. Starting this year, "performance levels for some installation services will be notably less than we've had in recent years and will remain at that level for the foreseeable future."

"The Administration has been clear," White House budget office spokesman Tom Gavin said. "Funding intended for our troops at war should go to our troops at war. Those funds should not be diverted for cutting grass or other general operations at military bases." He said the Pentagon "receives significant funds each year for base operations, and the Pentagon determines how those funds are utilized."

Army posts provide many of the services that soldiers and their families have come to rely on, including child and youth programs, continuing education, dining and recreational facilities and help with overcoming drug and alcohol abuse.

Lynch said that certain services, such as police and fire protection, will be fully funded and that the Army is committed to continuing family-focused programs, such as child care. He did not specify where cuts would be made.

It wasn't clear how the military's other branches might be affected, though the Army is by far the largest. Officials with the Marines, Navy and Air Force did not respond to requests for information.

Some of the Army's biggest posts, where soldiers have completed four and five combat tours since the wars began, are facing significant spending reductions, according to the figures obtained by the AP.

At Fort Campbell, where about 17,000 soldiers are leaving this year for Afghanistan, commanders have been told that the operating budget for the current fiscal year could drop 40 percent, from $177.5 million last year to $106.5 million, Tyler said.

Cuts could be 39 percent at Fort Stewart, Ga., 25 percent at Fort Bragg, N.C., 22 percent at Fort Drum, N.Y., and 21 percent at Bamberg, Germany, the figures show.

Friday, January 8, 2010

At Dover, More Comfort for Mourning Families

An Air Force carry team with a transfer case containing the remains of Senior Airman Bradley R. Smith at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Monday.


DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — So many families of the nation’s war dead came here in the last year to witness what the military calls the “dignified transfer” of the remains of their loved ones that sometimes, as on a night this past June, the small waiting area grew crowded and tense.

Suzie Schwartz, the wife of Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, was here that evening and recalled Wednesday how three families — one stoic, one sobbing, one angry — collided in the only space available to them. Soon the emotions of the mother in the angry family, she said, began to spill over.

“The mom was just spinning,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “She got madder and madder. So mad family was getting kind of mad at the other family, you could just see it. They had no place to go.”

Afterward Mrs. Schwartz told her husband that the lack of privacy and cramped quarters were “unacceptable” and that something had to be done.

On Wednesday morning, something was — the official opening at Dover of the Center for the Families of the Fallen, an expansive space of soothing lighting, soft carpeting and overstuffed sofas. The center has one large room of separate seating areas for families who want some privacy but also may want to talk to the others. There are also private rooms for families who need to be alone, a nondenominational meditation room, a kitchen and a children’s room with cribs and toys.

General Schwartz, in remarks dedicating the center, called it a “bittersweet” event. “In an ideal world, one that is universally committed to resolving disputes in a peaceful manner, a center for the families of the fallen perhaps would not be necessary,” he said. “But alas, it is, as all here know very well.” Jill Biden, the wife of vice president Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former senator from Delaware, also attended the ceremony.

Since April 2009, the first month of a Pentagon policy that allowed news coverage of the transfers, the remains of 366 service members from Iraq and Afghanistan have passed through Dover, the main point of entry for the nation’s war dead to return home. They have been met by more than 1,000 family members, whose travel and lodging expenses to Dover are paid for by the military.

Under the old policy, photographs of the flag-draped cases were banned, family travel expenses were not paid to Dover and loved ones were not encouraged to come. The new policy allows families to say no to the news coverage; the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center at Dover said that 56 percent have said yes.

The single busiest night at Dover since last April has been Oct. 29, 2009, when President Obama made an unannounced trip there in the middle of the night to witness the return of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan. Three other transfers occurred that night as well.

Mrs. Schwartz said she was pleased with the change from the old room. “The military thought it was working fine,” she said. “But as a woman, you see that it was cold and sterile at the worst time in their lives.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Free computers make difference to deployed paratroopers, families

an 04, 2010 (DEFENSE DEPARTMENT DOCUMENTS AND PUBLICATIONS/ContentWorks via COMTEX) -- AL ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 31, 2009) -- Sharing photos of karate practice or birthday parties, and stories of a visit by the Tooth Fairy are just some of the things possible with a computer.

During this holiday season, Rebecca Tapia also used the computer she received from a nonprofit charity for its intended purpose: staying in touch with her deployed husband, Pfc. Joseph Tapia, a cannon-crew member with 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade).

Joseph is one of 75 paratroopers whose family received a new computer through Operation Homelink, just prior to the unit's deployment in August.

To date, the nonprofit has partnered with corporate donors to link 3,200 deployed Soldiers with their families using Internet-friendly computers.

"He'll pop up in Yahoo Messenger and say he's online," said Rebecca. "We'll talk about the kids. He'll say, 'How are you doing in school?' I just finished an online class." "I text her cell phone from Yahoo and ask her to get on the computer so we can chat," said Joseph, who has been deployed in Al Anbar province, Iraq, since August 2009. "I'll definitely be online with my wife and kids for Christmas," said Joseph.

Rebecca also uses the ultra-compact notebook to communicate with her family in Arizona, Joseph's aunt in South Carolina, and his sister in California. When Rebecca's sister had a baby, she posted the photos online for Rebecca to see.

Maintaining family connections make the deployment easier to bear, she said.

"We just had our family portraits made, and I put the pictures on Facebook," she said. "I put everything on Facebook." Donor companies share a passion for supporting military personnel and their families, said Dan Shannon, the founder of Operation Homelink. The goal is to provide refurbished computers to the spouses or parents of troops within the lowest pay grades.

On Dec. 18, in collaboration with Dell, Operation Homelink supplied 100 new computers to the families of deployed Soldiers stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash.

A week earlier with the Raytheon Company, Operation Homelink presented 150 refurbished computers with webcams, allowing recipients to see each other in real-time when they talked, to the families of a battalion with the 75th Ranger Regiment and other units stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

The Tapias' computer did not come with a webcam, but they wish it had, they said.

"With the increased use of programs like Skype, many of our recipients told us they would love to have webcams for the computers," said Shannon. "This is particularly important for holidays and birthdays. I went to our primary donors, Dell and Raytheon, and suggested we include webcams with future computers. Both wholeheartedly agreed, so going forward, all Operation Homelink computers will include a webcam." Shannon is continually inspired by the servicemembers that he meets to grow the program, he said.

"A father came up to me following the Fort Benning event," explained Shannon. "He was there to help his daughter pick up one of our computers. He said that he was deaf and that he also has a son in the Marines who is also deployed. He asked how someone in his position could get a computer so he could 'speak' with his son. I told him that I would send him a laptop. We found out that his wife is wheelchair bound and they also have a niece and nephew serving. I bought them a webcam and wireless router so it would be easier for her to use anywhere in the house from her wheelchair." Shannon later received word from the father, thanking him for making it "possible for a deaf man's voice to be heard around the world." "Who is more deserving than this family, to whom the rest of America owes a debt that we can never repay?" he asked.

(Spc. Michael J. MacLeod writes for the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), Multi National Force - West Public Affairs)