Published: March 31, 2010
The long saga of MCAS Futenma continued to drag on Wednesday as Japan let pass a self-imposed deadline to announce its favored alternative plan to relocate the embattled Marine air base. David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida report that the prime minister said he wasn't concerned that the deadline had come and gone, but hinted that the decision could become public soon.
Missing the target by a day or two is not a big deal," Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said.
Meanwhile, Warren Peace reports that the Marine Corps has lifted its ban on social media access, though Marines in Europe found the sites still blocked.
Japan misses deadline for alternative Futenma proposal (Stars and Stripes)
Marines lift social media ban (Stars and Stripes)
U.S. troops end last Kosovo patrol (Stars and Stripes)
Anger rises over bill to father of slain Marine (The Baltimore Sun)
VA doctors prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana (The Associated Press)
U.S. forces set sights on Taliban bastion of Kandahar (The Washington Post)
Afghan militant packs a surprise (Los Angeles Times)
Published: March 30, 2010
When Kim Ruoccos husband, Marine Maj. John Ruocco, committed suicide in 2005, she was suddenly faced with the question of how to explain his death to her two children.
Initially, she listened to the experts and told them he died in an accident, but the children were confused and blamed themselves, so she told them the truth.
This is one of the lessons learned that Ruocco and her family will share on an upcoming Sesame Street special on how children deal can move beyond grief.
The program features four families, two of which lost loved ones in the military, said Lynn Chwatsky, who oversaw the project.
In previous specials, Sesame Street has dealt with issues of how children can cope when their parents are deployed and when they come home injured, Chwatsky said.
When it was broached that we should do this next phase, the death of a parent, I will be honest, there was a lot of concern here, she said. There was hesitation: How could we do this? This is too serious for us.
Theres also us realizing that we have done so much already and committed so much to our military families that if we didnt do this, we would be doing them a disservice.
In the special, Elmos uncle dies. While he tries to understand death, he also has to figure out how to help his cousin who is hit hard by her fathers death.
They start with these uncomfortable feelings and what they do is, they end laughing and they remember all the funny things about Uncle Jack and the silly jokes he played and the silly things about him, Chwatsky said.
Also on the program, Ruocco and her family talk about ways to about how to keep the memory of your loved one alive.
On the first Fathers Day we planted a pine tree in the backyard, and we called it Dadas Tree, and the kids hang stuff on it and sometimes put notes on it, Ruocco said. At Christmas, we put the Christmas lights that he loved, the big huge colored lights on it.
What makes the program so powerful is it shows what works when dealing with grief, she said.
I wish I would have had it right after I lost my husband, she said.
The show airs at 8 p.m. on April 14 on PBS.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Sesame Workshop
Published: March 30, 2010
Last summer a GAO report found glaring deficiencies in health care offerings and options for female veterans: A lack of private changing rooms, physicians inexperienced with women patients, limited child care assistance at VA facilities.
This summer, VA officials are hoping to take another major step in fixing those issues. The Department this week announced a forum this July designed to discuss the quality of VA health care for women and ways to improve access to benefits for female veterans.
Published: March 30, 2010
Stars and Stripes' letters pages have been particularly lively lately, with readers offering their opinions after Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the U.S. Army commander in the Pacific, was rapped by his superiors for using the forum to urge like-minded people to speak against plans to repeal the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers. Worth a read.
Meanwhile, Ramstein, Germany-based Airman 1st Class Juston Besaw was sentenced to five months in jail, but can remain in the Air Force, following his court-martial over an incident in which he threw a punch that ultimately led to his best friend's death. Jennifer Svan's coverage explains why it's not such a simple case.
Airman gets five months for throwing punch that led to friend's death (Stars and Stripes)
Afghans say they've heard it all before (USA Today)
Afghan leader is seen to flout influence of U.S. (The New York Times)
Panel: Firms need U.S. guidance to reduce contractors in Iraq (The Washington Post)
Arms treaty with Russia may go to Congress in April (The Washington Post)
South Korean military on alert after ship explosion (The Associated Press)
Remains of Korean War soldier laid to rest (Chicago Tribune)
Published: March 29, 2010
Most of the attention yesterday to President Obama's first visit to Afghanistan since taking office (14 months into his presidency) focused on his admonishment of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other leaders there to do more in the fight.
But the visit also provided a chance for the Commander in Chief to rally the troops, thanking them for their service and promising that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. Below is part of his comments to servicemembers at Bagram Airfield early Monday morning:
Published: March 26, 2010
A coalition led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi appears to have won Iraqs parliamentary elections, according to the Associated Press.
Allawi was interim prime minister during the U.S. offensive against Fallujah in late 2004, but he ran as a secular candidate in contrast to other Shiite politicians, reportedly earning him support from disenchanted Sunnis.
The good news: The Iraqi government has been slow to incorporate the former Sunni insurgents who turned against al Qaida into the Iraqi security forces. Maybe Allawi will be able to do better. The bad news:
This is Iraq, where democracy is often a blood sport, so it will likely be months of painful and potentially violent wrangling before we know who will run the country next.
If Allawi does become prime minister, hopefully hes mellowed since his first time in office, when he was reportedly a big fan of using force to settle problems.
In July 2004, an Australian journalist alleged that Allawi personally executed about half a dozen insurgents. But in relative terms, that pales in comparison to the orgasm of violence that erupted in Iraq between 2005 and 2007.
IN OTHER NEWS: A South Korean ship sank near the North Korean border, prompting the South Korean government to meet in emergency session, according to media reports.
The South Korean government backed away from earlier statements that indicated the ship might have been torpedoed.
The incident happened as the heads of U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea were both heading home after testifying in Washington this week.
Coincidence or ingenious North Korean planning?
AND FINALLY: Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza Friday, according to Reuters.
The incursion comes as U.S./Israeli relations are strained by Israels announcement that it will build homes in East Jerusalem despite President Obamas demand that Israel freeze settlements.
A White House spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Friday afternoon.
PHOTO: Associated Press
Published: March 25, 2010
Defense officials have struggled to assure personnel in recent days that Tricare won't be changed at all by health care reform. But at least one group of military families wishes it would be: those with dependent children about to be dropped from the program.
Currently, Tricare only covers children up until age 23. Under the health care reform bill signed into law this week, health insurance providers will be required to cover children until age 26. But since Tricare programs are exempted from the measure, they won't be required to extend coverage that extra three years.
On Thursday Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.,introduced a measure to change that, mandating that Tricare increase the maximum age to 26 at which our troops and military retirees are allowed to provide health coverage to their dependent children.
Because of the new health reform bill passed by Congress, Americans who receive health insurance through a group plan will soon be able to provide coverage to dependent children up to age 26," he said in a statement. "Our military health coverage must meet that same standard and be nothing less.
Allowing parents to provide health coverage to their dependent adult children is just one of the many small things we can do to show our military families how much we appreciate them and honor their service to our country.
Several lawmakers have expressed concern about the health care loophole allowing Tricare to keep the 23-year-old age limit. If approved, Heinrich's bill would go into effect on Oct. 1. The health care reform legislation already passed by Congress mandates private insurance companies extend health care to children up to 26 by this September.
Health care bill won't impact Tricare, VA programs
Published: March 25, 2010
The U.S. military's contribution to the so-far $779-million U.S. relief effort seems to be coming close to an end.
Yesterday the last Navy ship and Marine unit pulled out. The departure of those 2,000 Marines and sailors, leaves about 3,300 troops on the ground in Haiti. That's down from a peak of more than 22,000 who were involved in the response to January's 7.0-magnitude quake that rocked the Caribbean island, killing upwards of 200,000.
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the USS Bataan, will get back to Camp Legune, NC early next month.
Most of the 82nd Airborne soldiers have already left. Only about 900 remain. And last week the USNS Comfort, a 5,000-bed capacity hospital ship, returned to port in Baltimore. The Comfort crew of Navy doctors and nurses treated about 1,000 patients, 29 of whom died.
The 22nd MEU, which had been in Haiti since Jan. 18, worked in southwest Haiti, near the epicenter of the quake in the cities of Leogane, Petit Goave, Grand Goave and Carrefour. The Marines mainly coordinated humanitarian aid, working with the UN, USAID and other nongovernmental organizations. Helicopters with the unit flew more than 618 missions.
For stories of what they and the other servicemembers were up to in Haiti, check out Stripes' Haiti page.
Published: March 24, 2010
Protesters are common at defense-related hearings on Capitol Hill, and usually Capitol police officers who are stationed in the room swiftly and firmly usher them out into the halls.
But as a woman with long, disheveled grey hair stood up and started ranting Wednesday during an appearance by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, nobody immediately intervened.
The woman began shouting that the government should focus on the people instead of weapons.
The nation doesnt want billions and billions and billions of dollars to be spent killing people and lining the pockets of military contractors, she said.
Slowly, steadily, she approached the witness table.
Gates and Mullen stared straight ahead without flinching. Their personal security officers stood up from their posts to block her.
As the chairman, Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., banged his gavel and called out, Please, would you sit down, please, the two plainclothes security officers looked around the room, searching for help from uniformed police officers who never came.
Finally, when the loud woman was near the witness table, the men military personnel from the U.S. Army Protective Services Battalion, of Fort Belvoir, Va. calmly grabbed her by the arms and escorted her out of the hearing room.
The U.S. Capitol Police did not respond to phone calls seeking further information.
Gates spokesman, Geoff Morrell, expressed concern that the protester was able to come within an arms length of Gates and Mullen.
"I was surprised at how long she was allowed to rant, how close she was able to get, and that it required our security personnel to intervene," Morrell said.
A spokesman for Dicks, George Behan, said, "We are confident that the Members and the official witnesses at committee hearings receive adequate protection." And while Capitol Police may not divulge its security details, he added, "we can say that they are always aware of the movement of cabinet officials, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, etc."
"In this case the personal protective detail officers sitting immediately behind the Secretary acted appropriately; U.S. Capitol Police responded instantaneously; and the committee has no residual concern about security at its hearings," said Behan. "While occasional outbursts such as this one occur in open public hearings, this is, after all, the peoples House and we attempt to ensure that visitors from across the nation can have access to their government.
Published: March 24, 2010
President Barack Obama pledged to clean up this town by overhauling how the Pentagon buys stuff.
This week, after a yearlong study, 14 hearings, two briefings, a House panel released a report on Defense Acquisition Reform it says could save taxpayers $135 billion over five years
to the sound of crickets.
In some ways it seemed like this panel was more symbolic than substantive, said Mandy Smithberger, a national security investigator at the Project on Government Oversight.
Its not that the report is stale, she said, but the Senate already is tackling the same problems and implementing changes. And the real actionable item reforms point to already happened: last years 2009 Weapons System Acquisition Reform Act (signing ceremony pictured above).
Her community is more interested in a forthcoming Pentagon follow-on report from that bill which will reveal if the big octagon is actually following independent analysis and recommendations.
The House met Wednesday morning to discuss the findings.
I expect that the Panels recommendations will serve as the basis for legislation that will be considered in the House this year and will ultimately be enacted into law, wrote the panels chairman, Congressman Rob Andrews, D-N.J., in a statement released a day earlier.
But dont expect any major legislation to come from this report, which did little more than gather conventional wisdom on headliner problems already known, according to Smithberger.
The panelists said they focused on the pillars of acquisition workforce, the departments financial management system, and the military industrial base. Smithberger said that leaves out one other critical pillar: House appropriators.
One thing that I was a little surprised by, and disappointed by, was that there wasnt much of a discussion as to Congress role in the acquisition process, and where they needed to improve their oversight, she said. They had a lot of recommendations for the Pentagon, but I think its hard to do a real assessment of the acquisition process and pretend that its depoliticized and that its not impacted by who sits on an appropriations committee and what defense contractor is in their district.
What matters more to me is what the House
does today (with the Joint Strike Fighter program), than with this report.
Published: March 23, 2010
Dozens of people in the last couple months have been bilked out of thousands of dollars each by scammers masquerading as lovelorn solders downrange, according to U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command.
Claiming to be serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, the fiends strike up a romantic relationship with women and then ask them for money, usually to buy special laptop computers, or other means to continue their relationship. They also claim that they are unable to access their bank accounts or credit cards, or they need to buy leave papers from the Army, or they need money for a flight home.
One woman took out a second mortgage on her home to pay the scammer, CID spokesman Christopher Grey said.
The scammers troll the internet for pictures of servicemembers from Web sites such as Facebook, which they then use on dating sites using a false identity.
Many of these scams are run out of foreign countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, making them tough to track, he said.
Theyre definitely predators, and their preying on the emotions of unsuspecting female victims, he said.
CID offers the following tips to people corresponding online with people claiming to be servicemembers:
- See if their story checks out by touching base with someone you know, such as a current or former servicemember.
- Be very suspicious if someone says you they cant receive phone calls or regular mail.
- Also be very suspicious of someone asks for money for things such as transportation, marriage processing or medical expenses, especially if you are asked to send money to a third party, such as a company.
- Be aware of spelling and grammatical errors in e-mails.
If you are victimized, here is where you can go for help:
Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) (FBI-NW3C Partnership).
United States Army Criminal Investigation Command
United States Navy Criminal Investigative Service
United States Air Force Office of Special of Special Investigations
United States Coast Guard Investigative Service
Published: March 23, 2010
Republicans are predicting the big health care vote last weekend will lead to a rough election day for Democrats and President Obama this fall. But the president has picked up new support with his military policy in Afghanistan, a sharp turn around from just a few months ago.
According to a new Pew Research Center poll, more than half of people surveyed believe the military effort in Afghanistan is going well, and only 35 percent believe the situation is getting worse. That's a near-complete reversal from November, when Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops into the country.
Published: March 22, 2010
Defense Sec. Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen head to Mexico Monday evening in advance of Tuesdays bilateral conference.
Though largely a State Department-run event, Gates will meet Tuesday morning with his counterparts, the heads of Mexicos Army and Navy.
Published: March 22, 2010
Even before the health care vote yesterday military and veterans groups were scrambling to head off panic about the possible impact of the new rules on servicemembers' care and veterans programs. The bottom line: None of these changes should have an impact on Tricare or VA health benefits.
Late last night Kevin posted this comment from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, promising that any national health care changes "will not negatively impact" the Tricare system. Earlier in the day, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki released a similar statement noting that the new bill "will provide the protections afforded our nations veterans and the health care they have earned through their service."
Published: March 22, 2010
Minutes after the House passed the health care reform bill Sunday evening, Defense Sec. Robert M. Gates said the program will not "negatively impact" TRICARE, the military health system.
Gates said, "the health and well-being of America's men and women in uniform is my highest priority.
Published: March 19, 2010
The Anti-Defamation League, a 100-year old Jewish-American civil rights group and staunch defender of Israel, blasted Gen. David Petraeus Thursday for linking the perpetual Israeli-Palestinian conflict to American success in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Or, as the ADL put it: The Generals assertions lead to the illusory conclusion that if only there was a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. could successfully complete its mission in the region.
Petraeus Hill remarks this week have caused a bit of a stir. They came in the wake of a news report that Petraeus was requesting the Joint Chiefs redraw the maps of the geographic combatant commands to move Israel from Europe into Central Command, or CENTCOM, under his purview.
Petraeus said he had made no formal request. Its not a new idea, a senior Pentagon writer tells me other CENTCOM commanders and leaders for decades have proposed the same idea: put the entire Middle East under one roof by shifting the geographic lines dividing Central Command and European Command, currently led by NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis.
Syria and Lebanon, to Israels north, already are lumped into Central Command, which stretches to Pakistan. Israel sticks out on the map as an island, but is linked to Europe because it is considered more Westernized.
But back to ADLs beef. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples, said Petraeus, who is constantly visiting with leaders of the countries in his charge.
Few dispute that from Turkey to Pakistan, there is intense Arab focus on the Jewish state and its "close, unshakable" relations with the U.S. (Those are Sec. of State Hillary Clinton's words). American commanders have said they discover after deploying to the war zones just how much Arabs and Muslims perceive American actions through the Israeli-Palestinian paradigm lens. But as one commentator put it this week, nobody thinks a Taliban sniper is going to say, I heard Israel is canceling those settlements, so I wont shoot today.
The ADL has pushed back vehemently. Petraeus was implying, they say, that if only Israel would capitulate to U.S. interests (and stop angering Arab populations), it would take some heat off of American servicemembers trying to do their jobs.
In Washington, the groups statement also has drawn attention simply for being the first time since MoveOn.orgs General Betray-Us campaign ads that anyone has openly criticized Gen. Petraeus who maintains a squeaky, clean, though politically bland, media image. Perhaps our general political reporter friends should peek at some military commentary of the past few years.
Here is the ADL statement in full:
The assumptions Gen. Petraeus presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee wrongly attribute insufficient progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel as significantly impeding the U.S. military mission in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and in dealing with the Iranian influences in the region. It is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero.
The Generals assertions lead to the illusory conclusion that if only there was a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. could successfully complete its mission in the region.
Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel. This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive.
Whenever the Israeli-Arab conflict is made a focal point, Israel comes to be seen as the problem. If only Israel would stop settlements, if only Israel would talk with Hamas, if only Israel would make concessions on refugees, if only it would share Jerusalem, everything in the region would then fall into line.
Published: March 18, 2010
Women will soon be aboard submarines, but how will submarine crews deal with sexual assaults?
That question was raised by one of my colleagues at Navy Times Thursday at a roundtable with Navy officials on sexual assault prevention.
The reporter noted that submarine crews live in very close quarters and can spend months submerged.
I believe weve already been operating in that environment for years, said Rear Adm. Daniel Holloway, director of manpower, personnel, training and education.
"No.1: On our frigates and our destroyers today, very close quarters. In our individual augmentees and support overseas, whether its inside the camp fence line or in a foxhole, and in our mine countermeasures, our mine sweepers, our women today serve side by side.
When asked how an alleged perpetrator or victim could be taken off a submarine, Holloway said submarines can surface to evacuate sailors having a medical crisis.
We view the sexual assault, and the mental health condition, re-victimization, her or his safety, the same way as appendicitis, he said.
In such cases, the submarine rendezvous with a surface ship and the sailor is usually taken off by helicopter, said Lory Manning, director of the Women in the Military Project, a non-profit group that looks at policy and law on what women can do in the military.
Its not something that would be unique to a rape, she said in a phone interview Thursday.
Crimes such as male-on-male rape already happen on submarines from time to time, said Manning, a retired Navy captain.
In fact there are more male-on-male rapes in the military than male-on-female rapes, she said.
PHOTO: U.S. Navy.
Published: March 18, 2010
Last fall, as dozens of veterans groups complained about late payments and missing information with the newly implemented post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, Assistant VA Secretary Tammy Duckworth was among the department leaders scrambling to answer questions and calm fears about the program.
Now, she's experiencing those issues first-hand. Duckworth, an Illinois guardsman who was severly injured in Iraq, is hoping to finish her Ph.D. with money available to her through the new education benefit.
Published: March 17, 2010
U.S. troops have not given up on trying to take Osama bin Laden alive, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said.
If Osama bin laden comes inside Afghanistan which is the writ of my mandate, because Im the ISAF commander here, we certainly would go after trying to capture him alive and bring him to justice, Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters on Wednesday.
That is something understood by everyone, he added.
But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers the day before that bin Laden will not stand trial because he will either be killed by U.S. forces or his own people, the Washington Post reported.
The reality is, we will be reading Miranda rights to a corpse, Holder said, according to the Washington Post.
Holder had originally planned to try terrorist suspects linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, but he faced a strong backlash from local officials and Republican lawmakers, prompting the Obama administration to look trying them by military tribunal.
President George W. Bush famously proclaimed in 2001 that bin Laden was wanted dead or alive, but the United States missed its best chance of capturing bin Laden in December 2001 at the battle of Tora Bora by relying on Afghan forces instead of U.S. troops to surround him.
PHOTO: Associated Press.
Published: March 17, 2010
At a dinner party last night, the talk turned to the once forgotten war suddenly everybody has an opinion about: Afghanistan.
Marveling at the Marjah operation and how resoundingly praised it has been, someone remarked: "At least Afghanistan isn't as bad as Iraq was."
I replied, while shaking my head and knocking on the wood table, that the fight had only just begun.
That eight years into the war we can describe it as just now getting started is a long and, some would say, sorry tale, but it's the message Defense Secretary Gates has been practically shouting from the rooftops. (That is, of course, as much as the man can given he speaks with a 12-inch voice a Kindergarten teacher would love.)
Traveling with him last week in the Middle East, including a stop in Afghanistan, the refrain the press corps heard over and over again is that people "ought not get too impatient." (And I think he was directing this at us reporters as much as he was the general public.) Gen. David Petraeus echoed that point this week on Capitol Hill.
During his stop in Afghanistan Gates repeatedly pointed out that only 6,000 of the 30,000 "surge" troops are in country yet. He cautioned about "leaning too far forward" and "reading too much into specific positive developments," and was dismissive of all the talk already about reconciliation with the Taliban. Overall, he seemed wary that the early success of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy would lead to an overdose of optimism among Americans - which is often followed by unrealistic expectations.
"It's very early yet and people stilll need to understand there is some very hard fighting, very hard days ahead," he said, adding "the early signs are encouraging but I worry that people will get too impatient and think things are better than they actually are."
Therein lies the trick for Obama's White House: sell the new strategy as successful without setting the stage for Joe Public (and Congress) to start kicking the back of the seat and asking "are we there yet?"
Published: March 17, 2010
The Bush administration promised many good things would come to Iraq if the U.S. would just stick it out a bit longer: liberty, democracy, human rights, rule of law, sustainable oil revenues for the people.
Not on that list: artificial turf.
On Tuesday, the U.S. company FieldTurf (don't call it AstroTurf) sent reporters a press release boasting they had completed the installation of a brand spanking new sports field at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the first in Iraq for the U.S. Government.
This is not just any artificial turf, this is the same stuff used at the NFL combine, at the Super Bowl, at Ohio State Universitys big horseshoe, at Syracuses Carrier Dome, and even at Gillette Stadium. Good enough for the Patriots, good enough for patriots.
Of course, this is not just any embassy. This one cost $736 million.
The entire FieldTurf family could not be more proud that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad chose FieldTurf for their sports field resurfacing project, said FieldTurf President Eric Daliere. We can assure all that will use the field in Baghdad that they are training on the safest, highest performing, and most durable artificial turf system in the world.
The release does not explain why U.S. employees in a war zone need the safest, highest performing, and most durable artificial turf system in the world, but they got one. The company did not respond to Stars and Stripes' requests for further details.
FieldTurf calls itself the worlds leader in artificial turf and has provided fields at many military installations, from Guantanamo Bay to West Point.
Since this has to do with the Iraq war, it might bear explaining that in Washington politics, a grassroots movement is one that builds on popular support, people organizing from the bottom up to make a change. Astroturf refers to a fake movement about an issue that has little actual roots anywhere, is created spontaneously by high-level, highly-paid political operatives of special interest groups, often hidden from public view, claiming to represent a larger movement or following than actually exists.
Published: March 17, 2010
The military on Tuesday released an annual report that showed an 11 percent increase in sexual assault reports in which a military member is either the victim, the suspect or both. But Stripes' Jeff Schogol finds the report does not address is the reason for the spike.
The Defense Department suggests that it could be because of a changing attitde toward reporting sexual assaults, but Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Womens Action Network, an advocacy group for female servicemembers and veterans, says that reporting assaults remains a scary thing.
Meanwhile, David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida report that a sailor has been arrested on suspicion of hit and run after a Navy Humvee was reportedly seen speeding away after rear-ending a car carrying a Japanese family. Two children were left with minor injuries.
But it's a turbulent time on Okinawa, as the U.S. and Japanese governments square off over disagreements about the military presence on the island. And thus, any such incident can become a catalyst for further unrest.
Military sex assaults up 11 percent, according to DOD report (Stars and Stripes)
Sailor driving Humvee accused of hit and run on Okinawa (Stars and Stripes)
Thiessen picked to lead Marines in the Pacific (Stars and Stripes)
Recent spate of American jihadists expose new challenges (The Associated Press)
Navy relieves sub commander for drunken incident (The Associated Press)
Obama revises Pentagon succession plan (The New York Times)
Afghan poppy harvest is next challenge in Marjah (McClatchy Newspapers)
Iraqi prime minister accuses election panel of fraud (The Washington Post)
Published: March 16, 2010
Just in case anyone on Capitol Hill was wildly optimistic about defeating the Taliban and Al Qaidia this year, CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus did his best to burst that bubble before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today.
"2010 will be a difficult year, full of tough fighting and perodic setbacks," he told the lawmakers in his testimony. "We're likely to see it get harder before it gets easier."
Published: March 16, 2010
Showers? No, not really. Baby wipes.
That's life for the Marines at a crude camp on the outskirts of Marjah. No modern amenities and no end in sight. Stars and Stripes' Drew Brown spent some time with the Marines recently. It was, he notes, roughing it. They sleep on the ground, wash their clothes in buckets and try to build on the success of the recent offensive in the former Taliban stronghold.
I feel like a pioneer in the 1800s, Lance Cpl. Christopher Bello, as he dried his desert camouflage trousers next to a small fire.
If only they had parachuting bears with GPS and night-vision goggles to save the day. That's what one helpful citizen offered as a suggestion for defense officials. Jeff Schogol reports that the Pentagon receives plenty of equally bizarre messages through its Web site. Check it out, if the Secret Service doesn't get to you first.
Marines endure flies, fleas, filth in Marjah (Stars and Stripes)
Airborne bears to catch bin Laden, and other letters to the Pentagon (Stars and Stripes)
Report: Petraeus wants West Bank, Gaza responsibility (Stars and Stripes)
U.S. reining in Special Ops forces in Afghanistan (The New York Times)
Afghan women fear loss of hard-won progress (The Washington Post)
Published: March 15, 2010
Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Brendan Mack and Seaman Lonnie Davis Jr. were celebrating for New Year's Eve. That much is known. And then they were dead, both lying unresponsive on side-by-side beds in a Ghana hotel room.
The coroner decided that both deaths were caused by mixed drug and alcohol intoxication." But the military decided that the men, who had been on liberty, died in the line of duty. Lisa Novak reports that even though a command investigation ruled that it was "highly probable" they'd acquired and taken the drugs voluntarily, the Navy did not see that as sufficient proof to justify a misconduct ruling that would deny some survivor benefits to their families.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Dianna Cahn recently spent some time with a group of soldiers who feel forgotten as they set up shop in a dangerous, remote area of Afghanistan, while the new focus of the war is on population centers.
I came in all gung-ho and about three months in, I lost my faith, said Sgt. Cody Teller, 27, of Rome, Mich. I am proud of the work we do as a platoon. I love fighting for my country, [but] for a reason.
Apparent overdose deaths ruled 'in the line of duty' (Stars and Stripes)
In remote Afghanistan, on the front lines of a forgotten war (Stars and Stripes)
Troops with malaria could face punishment for disobeying orders (Stars and Stripes)
Marines in Haiti training for next mission: Afghanistan (Stars and Stripes)
Absence of U.S. flag in Haiti sparks controversy (USA Today)
U.S. regains huge weapons cache lost by Afghans (USA Today)
Contractors tied to efforts to track, kill militants (The New York Times)
Marines gone rogue or leading the fight? (The Washington Post)
Al-Maliki seeking to form governing coalition (The Washington Post)
Published: March 12, 2010
Could bears be used to hunt for Osama bin Laden?
Thats a suggestion to the Pentagon received from someone who noted that bears sense of smell is much more powerful than bloodhounds.
"Overnight, Parachute some bears into areas [bin Laden] might be, the person wrote. Attempt to train bears to take off parachutes after landing, or use parachutes that self-destruct after landing.
This is just one of the many weird queries the Pentagon gets from the general public. The Defense Department provided a sampling of such queries to Stars and Stripes the authors names were withheld.
One person suggested building a Noahs Ark Biosphere in North America to preserve civilization in case a massive war breaks out. The specifications for said ark are laid out in the Bible, the writer noted.
Then after the period of Hibernation people and materials would emerge to repopulate the Earth, the person wrote.
Another persons query didnt make any sense, but I think you can get the gist of it from the first two sentences:
I still have people torturing my pelvis and lungs with dispersed sound waves and my eye and stomach, hip, pelvic region with other types of sound waves, the person wrote. When the secret service came out they had a letter all prepared by my mother to force me on disability and not let me live with her and try to leave me penniless and homeless again.
And then theres this person, who gets an A for effort, but an F for spelling:
So do you have any top scret information you would to like to tell me? I am doing a project for my senior economics class, and was just wondering...email me back.
Published: March 12, 2010
If you're a gay soldier in the age of 'don't ask, don't tell,' you'd probably rather not be outed and risk being booted from the military. And so it might at first seem a bad idea to be hanging out in a bar district dubbed "Homo Hill."
But Stars and Stripes' Ashley Rowland reports that for many closeted servicemembers in South Korea, the openly gay district not far from Yongsan Garrison is an open secret. Troops mix and mingle there with virtually no risk of retribution from the military, even as uniformed military police patrol the area alongside the local South Korean police.
No one questions their presence on Homo Hill.
"They walk past and keep their eyes straight ahead," said a 25-year-old inactive IRR sergeant who recently left South Korea. "It's kind of like asking."
No asking, no telling.
Said garrison spokesman Dan Thompson: "This obviously is not a pressing matter requiring garrison attention."
South Korea bar district offers safe haven for gay servicemembers (Stars and Stripes)
Mayor of Haitian city not eager to see Marines leave (Stars and Stripes)
General: Army reserve to weed out underachieving soldiers (Stars and Stripes)
Sharp: South Korea 'on track' to take wartime command (Stars and Stripes)
Spouse education program to resume payouts Saturday (Stars and Stripes)
Pentagon says F-35 fighter cost has doubled (The Associated Press)
Program aims to rebuild Afghan police, repair image (The Washington Post)
Internet making it easier to become a terrorist (Los Angeles Times)
Some U.S. officials see growing al-Qaida-Taliban rift (Los Angeles Times)
Published: March 11, 2010
News from the VA late yesterday -- Researchers there saw an 18 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans last year, and down more than 30 percent from 2007 levels.
That's encouraging news for the department, which just began the second year of a five-year plan to "end homelessness among veterans." Two years ago the VAs Community Homeless Assessment estimated that on any given night 154,000 veterans were without housing; By the end of 2009, that number had dropped to 107,000.
In a statement VA Secretary Eric Shinseki credited "enhanced collaboration with other federal, state, faith-based, veteran service organizations and community partners for reducing the numbers. Last year, more than 92,000 homeless veterans were assisted through VAs specialized homeless programs with federal and private partners, an increase of 15 percent from 2008.
Still, even with the drop the department faces a difficult challenge finding ways to help the still 100,000-plus veterans living on the streets.
To eliminate homelessness, we must help more than veterans currently without a place to live, Shinseki sad in the statement. We must prevent approximately 27,000 new veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless from crossing that tragic line each year.
"It will take the dedication, creativity and hard work of many parts of American society to end homelessness among veterans. But mostly it takes the resolve to say: It is unacceptable for a single veteran to spend the night on the streets of America.
[PHOTO: Department of Veterans Affairs]
Published: March 10, 2010
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program could start up again soon, a senior defense official said.
The program, which offers spouses up to $6,000 to cover education-related expenses, was unexpectedly put on hold last month due to an unforeseen, unprecedented spike in enrollments, according to a Defense Department message.
Since then, defense officials have been working on both short- and long-term solutions to help military spouses within fiscal constraints, said Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Our proposals are in the final stage of approval and we hope to restart the program very soon, Stanley told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Stanley would not give a time line for when the program might resume.
As soon as the [Defense] Secretary looks at the options, hell decide, Stanley said after Wednesdays hearing.
It may [already] be decided, he added. Its that close in terms of resuming.
A Defense Department spokesman said there was no update on the program as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Stanley acknowledged on Wednesday that the Defense Department did a poor job of letting people know why the program was temporarily halted.
Many participants didnt know about the move until they tried to access their accounts.
We know we must make a concerted effort to restore our credibility and confidence with our military spouses, servicemembers and the American public, Stanley said.
PHOTO: From the Defense Department
DOD halts funds for spouse tuition
Frustration, questions after spouse employment program is shut down
Published: March 10, 2010
Safia Ismail warned her husband not to come for her and the kids. It was too dangerous.
But he came anyway.
Iraq's violence was at its peak then and her husband never made it home, was never heard from again, Michael Gisick reports today in a heartbreaking piece. Thus began Safia's new life as a war widow , a title that gets little support or sympathy in Iraq. There are by one estimate 900,000 women like Safia now, but the government and the community offer little help and too often, aid workers suggest, these women are left to survive as beggars, servants or prostitutes.
Meanwhile, Megan McCloskey is traveling with the defense secretary, and the rhetoric is flying back and forth between Robert Gates and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In Haiti, Seth Robson reports that the Marines working with locals to tackle the most critical environmental problems. But the problems predated the earthquake and the fixes are only temporary.
Staggering number of Iraq widows left to fend for themselves (Stars and Stripes)
Gates, Ahmadinejad disagree on who's playing 'double game' (Stars and Stripes)
Marines say fixes to Haiti's environmental woes are only temporary (Stars and Stripes)
Afghan, coalition forces make gains in Bala Murghab (Stars and Stripes)
American 'JihadJane' faces terrorism charges (The Washington Post)
Dispute threatens legitimacy of Iraqi election (The Washington Post)
Internal report is black eye for U.S. Embassy in Kabul (USA Today)
Published: March 9, 2010
The Hospital ship USNS Comfort will leave Haiti Wednesday after treating 871 patients over the last six weeks, according to U.S. Southern Command.
The ship was rushed to Haiti after Januarys devastating earthquake. It made good time, anchoring off Port-au-Prince on Jan. 20.
The ships medical staff treated more than 540 critically injured patients in the first 10 days alone.
One challenge early on was the ship deployed so quickly that it only had one orthopedic surgeon aboard.
Cmdr. William Todd worked for 47.5 half hours straight and said he has no idea how many surgeries he performed or consulted on in that time.
It's all sort of a blur, he told Stars and Stripes. "What was most shocking was the number of people coming in with severe fractures. I've seen most of these injuries before in ones and twos but never by the dozens and dozens.
Capt. Andy Johnson, the ship's director of medical operations, said the lack of orthopedic surgeons was a result of both mobilizing so quickly and failing to anticipate the overwhelming number of orthopedic injuries.
We augmented with more as soon as we got here, he said. I don't think having more right away would have saved lives. Those first few days I didn't say to myself 'My God, if we just had more orthopedists.
Another issue was that Haitians evacuated to the ship initially had no place to go because local hospitals were overwhelmed.
But by late February, local medical facilities had staged such a turnaround that a 250-bed interim hospital ashore was no longer needed. The Comfort stopped treating earthquake-related injuries on Feb. 28.
The Comfort is expected to return to its port in Baltimore on March 14.
Aout 9,000 U.S. servicemembers will continue to take part in Haiti relief efforts, said SOUTHCOM spokesman Jose Ruiz.
Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey contributed to this blog.
PHOTO: Associated Press
Published: March 9, 2010
It's been a few days since we put together a proper Morning Reading list and in that time Stars and Stripes reporters have cranked out several stories worth taking a moment to read.
In Haiti, Seth Robson reports that the military is testing for hazardous toxins in areas where troops and engineers are busy helping locals dig out of the rubble left by January's earthquake. Some have reported coughing and chest pain and fear that this deployment could stick with them long after they return home.
Charlie Reed turned in an excellent piece on military plastic surgeons performing cosmetic surgeries on the military's dime. The military keeps these highly skilled doctors on staff largely to perform reconstructive surgeries on war-mangled veterans, but there isn't always enough surgeries to keep the doctors' skill sharp. And so, a Pentagon audit found, many have been performing breast augmentations or reductions without charging patients the out-of-pocket costs such procedures call for.
And Megan McCloskey is traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Afghanistan this week. On Monday, he met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, where the message was focused on bringing some Taliban fighters back into the fabric of society.
Gates, Karzai talk of reconciliation with insurgents (Stars and Stripes)
Troops may have been exposed to hazardous materials in Haiti (Stars and Stripes)
Nip and tuck ... sometimes on the military's buck (Stars and Stripes)
Contractor will now coordinate off-base health care overseas (Stars and Stripes)
After quality review, 45 soldiers asked to retire (Stars and Stripes)
Unauthorized residents to get the boot at Yokota (Stars and Stripes)
Zabul province seeks U.S. troops, but is caught in numbers game (The Washington Post)
Northrop halts pursuit of tanker contract (The Washington Post)
Candidates speculate on results of Iraq vote (The New York Times)
Published: March 8, 2010
Read an interesting New York Times story this morning about Sunnis in Iraqs Anbar province pinning their hopes on Ayad Allawi, Iraqs former prime minister who is running as a secular alternative to sectarian parties.
That sounds a little odd because Allawi, an apparent advocate of using force to settle problems, gave his blessing to the U.S. assault on Fallujah in late 2004, and one Australian journalist reported allegations that Allawi personally executed insurgents.
A few years ago, that might have made him seem like an unattractive candidate for Sunnis, but that was before Iraqs civil war from 2005 to 2007, the death squads, the ethnic cleansing of Sunni neighborhoods, and the current Iraqi governments lethargic approach to incorporating the mostly Sunni Sons of Iraq into Iraqi security forces.
So Allawi has gone from strongman to consensus maker.
Stripes reporter Michael Gisick has been covering Iraqs recent parliamentary elections, and he talked to one man named Hussein al-Najar about the secular movement.
People have seen the results of sectarian politics and religious parties, which have basically been a disaster for this country, the high school principal said. They are ready for a different way.
But one defense analyst said that Iraqi politics will continue to be dominated by religious and sectarian identities.
That broad secular middle class that Dick Cheney told us about either left the country or never existed in the first place, said Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C.
PHOTO: From the Associated Press
Published: March 8, 2010
Late last night the Iraq war movie "The Hurt Locker" snagged both Best Picture and Best Director honors at the Academy Awards, Hollywood's annual recognition of the best filmaking of the year. But that's hardly likely to stop the debate over one of the most controversial war movies in recent memory.
The film, which follows the leader of a explosive ordnance disposal team in Iraq, is the first major motion picture to take a close look at the bomb disposal crews' work in recent wars. Critics have heaped praise on the look and feel of the movie since its debut, saying it has given the public a genuine glimpse at the world's most dangerous profession.
But IAVA leadersand other veterans group have called the film embarrassing. EOD specialists aren't adrenaline junkies looking to play hero, they say. Scenes which show dramatic flair and solo heroics may make for good storytelling, they say, but they're a mockery of the serious, dangerous work still being done every day overseas.
Last July "Hurt Locker" star Jeremey Renner admitted to Stripesthat many parts of the movie aren't realistic. One scene in particular -- when Renner's character carelessly picks up a chain of multiple mortar shells rigged to detonate together -- drove the explosive ordnance disposal crews he trained with crazy.
"I hope that they just roll their eyes at the Hollywood stuff, let that be what it is," he said. "But if it helps bridge the gap between these guys and civilians, helps show some of what theyre going through
If even theres a fraction of truth that they can use with their family or friends to help show that, then thats amazing.
The story isn't complete fiction -- along with the actors' work alongside actual EOD crews before filming, script writer Mark Boal was a freelance journalist embedded with a bomb disposal team in Iraq who drew on that experience for the story.
In her acceptance speech last night director Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman ever to win that prize) dedicated the Oscar win "to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world. And may they come home safe."
[PHOTO: Summit Entertainment]
Published: March 5, 2010
More than four months since the Army started accepting retroactive stop-loss pay applications, nearly 100,000 eligible soldiers and surviving spouses have yet to apply.
Thats prompting the Army to start sending direct mailings this to 50,000 people believed to have been stop-lossed, said Maj. Roy Whitley, project manager for the compensation program.
The mailings will have passwords that allow recipients to access a Web site that can expedite the claims process, Whitley said.
Hopefully its accurate, Whitley said. It may not be precise.
Based on the response the Army gets, it could send mailings to the other 50,000 people yet to file claims, he said.
So far, 10,000 claims have been sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for payment. Another 1,400 claims have been deemed invalid because the applicants received a bonus while being held under stop-loss.
One reason why the Army didnt start sending direct mailings back in October is that it did not know how many claims it would deal with, or how long individual claims would take, Whitley said.
One person sent 27 e-mails regarding his claim, he said, and another person has 34 claims on 14 different claim numbers.
We never thought people were going to be doing that, Whitley said. And we didnt think people would believe that they eligible for stop-loss for six, eight, 10 years, but we have thousands of those.
Published: March 5, 2010
An inspector general's report into the conduct of Capt. Holly Graf, the former commander of the USS Cowpens out of Yokosuka, Japan, reveals a history of abusive and intimidating behavior.
Graf was relieved of her command in January, and Erik Slavin reports that the 50-page IG report is filled with details of profane interactions with subordinates. Several of them told the IG that they were cursed at and demeaned. One claimed he was made to stand in a corner as a "timeout" -- in front of fellow sailors. Sailors reportedly felt unsafe, unprepared or generally embarrassed.
Some of the more quotable gems:
Dont come to me with your problems, youre a [expletive] department head.
What are you, [expletive] stupid?
I thought you flew a [expletive] all-weather aircraft. Now [expletive] me to tears.
Well then ... Keep checking back on Stripes.com this weekend for full coverage of Sunday's critical elections in Iraq. We're also planning an expansive look at the future of the U.S. military in Asia, as questions abound about the American presence in Japan, Guam and elsewhere.
IG report: Cowpens commander abused her subordinates verbally, physically (Stars and Stripes)
Troops in Europe still waiting for access to social media sites (Stars and Stripes)
U.S. soldiers' tent struck by stray bullets in Haiti (Stars and Stripes)
Pentagon gunman acted alone, officials say (The Washington Post)
In a switch, administration could try 9/11 suspects in military court (The Washington Post)
Conservatives rally behind SEALs accused of mistreating Iraqi (The Washington Post)
Suspicious and angry, cleric's followers await results of vote (The New York Times)
Pakistan steps up anti-Taliban efforts (USA Today)
Published: March 4, 2010
At yesterday's House Armed Services subcommittee hearing the co-chairs of the "don't ask, don't tell" working group asked for patience in repealing the 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military. Jeh Johnson, General Counsel for the Defense Department, told lawmakers the he's working under the assumption a repeal will take place, but maintains the year-long study is needed to make sure it's not disruptive to troops readiness or unit cohesion.
But it looks less and less like he'll get that. Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate are already working on plans to insert a repeal in the 2011 defense budget bills (to be finalized by this October) or as stand alone measures.
Yesterday Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa. -- now the leading voice for repeal on the House side -- offered the possibility that language in some legislation might contain an early 2011 trigger date. That way, lawmakers could guarantee a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" will take place soon after the Pentagon's study group finishes it's work, and gay rights groups could avoid more months or years of waiting for action.
But Johnson resisted that suggestion, saying that even if lawmakers' mind is made up they should wait and listen to the findings of the study. The working group will spend the coming months canvassing military and civilian experts on the issue, looking at the potential impact on recruiting, retention, family support and morale.
"Our review might inform what this Congress wants to do," he said during a House Armed Services subcommittee on the issue Wednesday. "Before we move ahead, I want to make sure we hit all the right issues."
Just before the hearing, however, a coalition of Senate Democrats (and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.) introduced their own stand-alone legislation to force a repeal. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has said publicly he is exploring ways to move the issue through his chamber as soon as possible.
Opponents of a repeal have objected to this approach, saying that President Obama has already decided to make the change without carefully studying its possible negative effects. But waiting for the working group to complete its surveys might be a moot point -- they've also blasted that work as biased in favor of a repeal, and called its impending results a foregone conclusion.
A quick personal note -- For all of you who've noticed that my postings have dropped off, I'm out of the office for the next few weeks following the birth of my son. But the rest of the Stripes Central crew is still hard at work, so if you have story ideas or requests keep them flowing our way.
Published: March 4, 2010
The soldiers in Wardak, Afghanistan are opting for a longer commute. Stars and Stripes reporter Heath Druzin reports they are eschewing vehicles - and the IED perils that come with that mode of transportation - and instead humping it.
We almost always walk, Capt. Kirby Jones, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiments Company B, said. I see two benefits to that: You get to interact with the people and you dont get blown up.
And it's not exactly warm in Afghanistan right now, making for a boot-sucking slog with cold, wet feet, filthy uniforms, and a chill that penetrates every layer of clothing, as Druzin writes. Check out his awesome photo, which sums up things nicely.
Meanwhile over in Iraq, a Shiite militant group that hasn't been so willing to give up the militancy aspect and join the political system could complicate the U.S. drawdown. And the election has drawn suicide bombings in the capitol, killing 17 early voters today.
Soldiers find success, safety on foot (Stars and Stripes)
US soldiers' tents struck by stray bullets in Haiti (Stars and Stripes)
17 Killed in Baghdad strikes targeting voters (The Associated Press)
Shiite militia may snarl Iraq drawdown (Washington Post)
Afghan survivors describe NATO helicopter assault(McClatchy)
Army soldier sues of 'Hurt Locker' (Los Angeles Times)
A call for a new type of U.S. warfare (Los Angeles Times)
Published: March 3, 2010
Using the old standby cliche "think outside the box" probably wasn't the best way to make a point about the Department of Veterans Affairs' need to innovate, but the message was heard nonetheless.
The VA simply can't be so insular if it wants to truly tackle mental-health issues and reach the high-risk population of veterans who largely haven't gone to the VA for help, experts told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday during a hearing on suicide prevention.
Published: March 2, 2010
Its been a while since I posted about retroactive stop-loss pay, so I wanted to let you know the latest that I have, which is not much.
So far, 21,000 claims have been submitted to the Army, of which 8,800 have been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, according to Army spokesman Maj. Tim Beninato.
Someone posted a while back that there was some kind of systems glitch that prevented banks from validating checks from DFAS.
As it turns out, there was no glitch.
Every day, DFAS sends the Treasury Department information on the checks it has issued.
In the case posted online, it sounds like Treasury hadnt yet opened the latest file on checks from DFAS.
If that occurs, your bank can call DFAS, which will validate the check.
Now I turn the floor over to you: What are your latest issues and concerns?
As always, feel free to respond in the comment box below.
Published: March 2, 2010
Several military experts and scholars are urging Congress to make up their own mind on repealing "dont ask, dont tell" instead of deferring to the service chiefs.
It needs to be clear that the military doesnt decide this question, said. Martin Cook, a professor at the United States Naval War College. That this is a decision for the civilian leadership, both congressional and presidential.
Cook is one of 28 experts, including a brigadier general and a rear admiral, who signed a statement from the University of Californias Palm Center, a research institute that opposes the militarys policy against allowing gay and lesbian servicemembers to serve openly.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz have both told Congress that they are concerned repealing "dont ask, dont tell" could affect readiness, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told lawmakers that the policy seems to be working.
The Palm Center statement said it was appropriate for the service chiefs to give their opinions, but it cautions that, Political leaders seem poised to accept advice provided by the Service Chiefs uncritically, advice which does not seem to take into account considerable research that has emerged over the past fifty years about the impact of openly gay service on military effectiveness.
Much of that research was conducted by the militarys own experts, the statement said.
Lawmakers need to press military leaders about what the basis is for their opinions on repealing dont ask dont tell, Cook said.
The opinion of the military people should not be the definitive opinion, unless they can show that it is grounded in empirical information, which so far they have not done, he said.
It hurts civilian control of the military when civilian leaders accept military advice not based in evidence so wholeheartedly, said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center.
The military is trying to pass off bad data as if it were true and it is trying to pass off advice as if that advice were based on data, Belkin said.
PHOTO: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway, courtesy of the Defense Department
Published: March 2, 2010
They range in age from 85 to 97 and they've flown halfway across the world. The group of 12 World War II veterans arrived on Okinawa on Saturday, what they meant to be a stop on their way to Iwo Jima where they planned to attend a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the epic battle. But now, Charlie Reed reports, they have no way to get there. A charter plane company that had volunteered to fly them has backed out and the U.S. military declined to take them the rest of the way, fearing that it would set an unsustainable precedent.
"Reality is kicking in," said Timothy Davis, president of the Greatest Generation Foundation. "Come the 70th anniversary, most of them are going to be dead."
Military officials recommended the foundation arrange the flight with another company, but the foundation can't afford the $50,000 it would cost, after spending $150,000 getting the group -- which includes students and journalists chronicling the trip -- to Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Seth Robson in Haiti reports on a Ramstein, Germany-based unit that, even as Haitian medical facilities improve, still is called on to airlift patients to the U.S. to receive care not available on the island.
As clock ticks, WWII vets need help getting back to Iwo Jima (Stars and Stripes)
Germany-based unit still flying Haitians to U.S. hospitals (Stars and Stripes)
Army testing new policy on civilian sexual assault reporting (Stars and Stripes)
U.S. to pull troops off battlefield after blasts to guard against TBI (USA Today)
Offensive in Marjah entering a new phase (The Washington Post)
Taliban militants find haven in slums of karachi (Los Angeles Times)
Iraqis awash in gifts from candidates (The New York Times)
Published: March 1, 2010
Public affairs deputy Price Floyd is referred to as the Pentagon's social media czar but now there's someone who actually has "social media" in his title.
And now that DOD has a new social-media policy, too - setting the "default switch on access to open," as Floyd put it - the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense of Outreach and Social Media (whew!) Sumit Agarwal wants everyone to just chill out a bit.
Seeking prescriptive guidance on how - exactly - to use sites like Twitter and Facebook is a little "antithetical to social media," Argarwal said Monday afternoon during a blogger's roundtable with him and Floyd.
"We shouldn't be so dogmatic with this stuff," Floyd added, saying he hopes the new policy leads the services to try new things and experiment.
As any military observer knows, that's not such an easy thing.
Floyd concedes middle management has some "cultural shifting to do."
Before Friday's announcement to open access to social networking sites on non-classified government computers, the services had disparate policies and attitudes towards the sites. The Marines, for example, outright banned them, while the Air Force had more lenient policies.
Floyd said use of the sites should be guided by the same policies on information-sharing servicemembers have been beholden to since phone calls and hand-written letters were the norm of communication.
"In one sense there's nothing new here," he said.
For troops downrange that might be a disappointment. Combatant commanders have been loathe to allow battlefield bloggers or social networking access.
Under the new rules, commanders cannot simply block the sites as a matter of policy, Floyd said, but they do have wide latitude to temporarily shutdown access.
Just what "temporary" means is up to interpretation. There's no definition in the official policy. Agarwal said its whatever time period the commander considers reasonable - even if that's, say, a year.
Over the next 180 days the Pentagon will look at compliance across the system and spin out additional guidance for how the policy should be implemented, but Floyd said he's not sure at this point how rigid the rules will be.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens with access on the frontlines.
Published: March 1, 2010
Who's Pentagon is it? After more than a year in office, can President Barack Obama -- who during his campaign was highly cricial of the Bush administration's use of the military -- now claim to have imposed his will as commander-in-chief? Or is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush administration holdover, still the man setting the agenda?
Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane went looking for the answer and one expert after another told him that it is still, without a doubt, Robert Gates' Pentagon. Check out his story to find out why.