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It was another demanding year for America’s military, but with an improving situation on the ground in Iraq, there was a palpable sense of progress.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the helm on Dec. 18, 2006. Soon after, President Bush announced a “surge” of five combat brigades at a very violent time in the Iraq war, when lawmakers and pundits were calling for an immediate drawdown.

While political progress in Iraq has lagged behind the security gains, it was nevertheless great news that all measures of violence dropped as the year wore on.

The news was less positive in Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces — still thinner on the ground than commanders would like — were fighting an enemy flush with cash, thanks to record crops of opium, and increasingly borrowing suicide tactics from Iraqi insurgents.

Here’s a look at some of the events that shaped the U.S. military in 2007:

JANUARYJan. 10 Bush announces the “surge,” adding five combat brigades to Iraq to focus on counter-insurgency operations and to secure Baghdad.Jan. 11 Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for diving onto a live grenade to shield his troops during an ambush in Iraq. He is the first Marine to receive the award for actions in that country.Jan. 23 In his State of the Union address, Bush says that the war in Iraq is not going as planned. “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,” he said. “Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won.”

FEBRUARYFeb. 5 The $2.9 trillion federal budget request for 2008 includes money for increasing the size of the U.S. Army and Marines, and $145 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.Feb. 18 The Washington Post uncovers poor living conditions, long care delays and growing frustration among patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The series sparks a full presidential and congressional review of the military health system.

MARCHMarch 1 Following reports in the Washington Post about problems with outpatient care for wounded veterans and badly dilapidated facilities at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, its commander, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, is removed from his post.March 2 Secretary Gates announces that Army Secretary Francis Harvey will also step down.March 13 Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expresses regret that he called homosexuality immoral in an interview with the Chicago Tribune editorial board. Pace does not apologize, saying only that he should have stuck to matters of policy.March 14 Commandant Gen. James Conway says it is a “moral imperative” to get Marines into MRAPs because they provide more protection from roadside bombs than up-armored Humvees.March 26 Nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, are cited for critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of former NFL star and San Jose, Calif., native Pat Tillman, but no criminal wrongdoing is found to have occurred.

APRILApril 11 Secretary Gates announces all active-duty Army units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours instead of the standard 12 months overseas. He said the move was made to ensure units receive a full year of dwell time stateside between deployments.April 22 The Marine Corps announces it will no longer send Marines younger than 18 into battle.

MAYMay 2 The Marine Corps announces that it will only notify families that a Marine has been killed or is missing between 5 a.m. and midnight, as opposed to a 24 hour process, so families can have access to other support immediately.May 12 Defense officials announce new restrictions to military computers worldwide, including banning the popular sites MySpace and YouTube on official workstations.May 20 NBC News reports that a commercially available brand of body armor known as “Dragon Skin” stopped more rounds than standard-issue body armor during independent ballistic tests.

JUNEJune 6 Defense officials tell lawmakers that “Dragon Skin” body armor failed several ballistic tests in 2006 and its ceramic-plate construction falls apart in extreme temperature changes.June 8 The White House says Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace will not be reappointed to a second term. Secretary Gates says he wants to avoid a confrontational Senate hearing on Pace’s renomination that would focus on Iraq.

JULYJuly 17 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson resigns from his post.July 25 A bipartisan presidential commission, set up in response to the inadequate treatment of troops at the Walter Reed Medical Center, says the Defense Department should revamp the disability and compensation determination system and improve treatment for brain injuries and post traumatic stress.July 31 The Army censures a retired three-star general for a “perfect storm of mistakes, misjudgments and a failure of leadership” after the death of Pat Tillman.

AUGUSTAug. 30 A B-52 bomber armed with six nuclear warheads flies cross-country unnoticed, in serious breach of nuclear security; the Air Force later punishes 70 people.

SEPTEMBERSept. 10 In highly anticipated testimony, Army Gen. David Petraeus tells members of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees that the number of troops in Iraq can be reduced from 20 brigades to 15, or from 160,000 troops to 130,000, beginning in July 2008.Sept. 13 In a nationally televised address, Bush says by July 2008 troop levels would drop from the current high of 169,000 to the pre-“surge” level of roughly 130,000.Sept. 20 Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell announces that the total number of MRAPs authorized for all branches of the service has gone from 7,774 to 15,274.

OCTOBEROct. 1 The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform finds that employees of security company Blackwater USA, which was involved in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in September, has been involved in some 200 shootings in Iraq overall.Oct. 12 Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, tells a group of military reporters and editors that the United States is “living a nightmare with no end in sight” in Iraq. He also accuses the media of bias, singling out Stars and Stripes for its coverage of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.Oct. 29 Firefighters rein in a four-month-old wildfire north of Santa Barbara that burned more than 240,000 acres. Guard aircraft from several states battled the fires from above, while Navy Seabees and Marines helped on the ground. The fires burned hundreds of acres on Camp Pendleton.

NOVEMBERNov. 13 Bush signs into law a $459.6 billion defense appropriations bill for 2008, which includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel starting Jan. 1.Nov. 24 The first withdrawal of “surge” troops begins with a brigade of 5,000 U.S. troops leaving Diyala province.

DECEMBERDec. 7 Gen. James Conway announces that Secretary Gates has passed on a proposal to shift Marines out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, in an effort to realign the long-term focus of both forces.Dec. 7 For the third time in six weeks, the Air Force grounded older models of the F-15 fighter plane. Inspections revealed cracks in the aircraft’s longerons, metal supports that hold much of the aircraft’s weight.Dec. 18 James Peake is sworn in as secretary of veterans affairs.Dec. 19 The Pentagon announces it will stand up six new combat brigades to posts in Texas, Georgia, and Colorado in the coming years as part of the plan to increase the size of the Army by 74,000 soldiers by 2010.

Sources: Infoplease.com, CNN.com, The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes and other media reports

More year in reviewMideast: Progress in Iraq, but toll for U.S. is still high

Europe: Deployments, weak dollar make ’07 tough

Japan: A year on the move

Okinawa: Deployments and deaths take a toll

South Korea: USKF Growing and expanding bases

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