30 July 2008

Reports of Electrical Hazards Overblown, Pentagon Spokesman Says

Reports of electrical hazards caused by negligence in Iraq are overblown, a senior Defense Department spokesman said here yesterday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell spoke at a news conference on the eve of testimony before the House Government Reform Committee. Acting DoD Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell is one of four Pentagon officials expected to testify, according to House officials.

The hearing will examine allegations that KBR, a large defense contractor responsible for building and maintaining much of the U.S. infrastructure in Iraq, and the Army have caused deaths among American servicemembers in Iraq through negligence.

"We certainly understand and appreciate Congress's concern for the well-being of servicemembers and other U.S. personnel deployed in Iraq, but there seems to be a misperception out there that our facilities in that theater are replete with electrical hazards that have caused hundreds of fires and multiple fatalities," the press secretary said.

"What's more, some seem to believe that this department and one of the Army's lead logistical support contractors are so negligent or callous that we have failed to address these dangers," he continued.

Morrell said the characterization is "flat-out wrong."

"We care far too much about our men and women in uniform, as evidenced by the tens of billions of dollars we spend on force protection equipment, to knowingly allow them to live or work in an unsafe environment," Morrell said. "Our civilian and military leadership would simply not tolerate that."

He acknowledged that 16 servicemembers have been killed in electrical accidents since March 2003. "We grieve for each and every one of them," he said. "But it is wrong to suggest that all these deaths were the result of shoddy workmanship by defense contractors or lack of oversight by the Pentagon."

Of the 16, eight deaths occurred outside military bases and are attributable to servicemembers accidentally making contact with live power lines. This is a constant risk in the cities and villages of Iraq, where people hook up their homes to the power grid with any kind of wire possible -- including barbed wire. Overhead wires also often are lower than 10 feet off the ground.

"Three more troops were killed while working with electrical generators that were not properly grounded," Morrell said. Another was electrocuted in a pool that once belonged to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"The remaining four deaths do seem to stem from wiring problems, but only one of them involves work done by KBR, although the inspector general is still looking into all these incidents," Morrell said.

A total of 10 U.S. troops have been electrocuted outside Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, he noted.

Every death is a tragedy, Morrell said, adding that he is not attempting to diminish them. "But they should be viewed in proper context," he said.

DoD has several investigations under way into this issue. In the meantime, "every facility our troops operate out of in Iraq is undergoing a safety inspection," he said. "That's nearly 5,000 buildings in all."

U.S. officials in Iraq have created a uniform electrical code for military facilities in the country.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, has appointed Army Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McHale as his chief safety officer. McHale also serves as the command's director of personnel, logistics and resources.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Older Vets Offer Encouragement, Example for Newly Wounded Troops

Recently wounded combat troops are here getting advice and encouragement from those who understand best what they're up against: other disabled veterans who have learned to live with their disabilities.

Veterans of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including five current patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, are among about 500 participants in the 28th National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The event is cosponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and is open to all veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations and other conditions that impair mobility.

For Mitch Bocik, an Army reservist wounded when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle just south of Baghdad in May 2006, the games offer a chance to recapture his love of competition. By yesterday afternoon, he'd already collected a silver medal in slalom and a bronze in nine-ball pool, and he had his sights on a silver or gold in basketball.

But beyond the thrill of victory, Bocik said, the biggest takeaway from the games is the chance to get motivated by what other disabled veterans have accomplished. "That's the main thing," he said. "It's helped me realize that I can pretty much do everything I used to do. I just do it differently."

Army Spc. Darrell Lawrence was back from his deployment for just over five months when a motorcycle accident at Fort Campbell, Ky., put him in a wheelchair. Two years later, he's medically retired and back for his second summer games, where he's already won two gold medals, in air rifles and slalom.

Lawrence called winning sports competitions "a big boost to morale," but agreed that getting to meet and learn from with other disabled veterans is the event's biggest draw.

"I've seen so much and learned so much talking to these guys," he said. "You can get a wealth of knowledge as they show you things that you thought weren't possible before."

Like Lawrence, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony Felder was injured in a motorcycle accident, losing his left leg after returning from a Middle East deployment in 2006. Still assigned to the patient squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., he has received approval to remain in the Air Force as an F-15 crew chief.

Felder said he loves the competition of the games, which he calls "downright fun," but said he's found inspiration here, too.

"It's great being around people in similar situations and be able to share stories and network," he said. "Everybody wants to win. But being around here and getting to learn from each other is inspirational."

Among those offering that inspiration is Charles Allen, who was injured during a 1993 training accident at Fort Hood, Texas. Allen, now 36, called the games an opportunity to share what he's gained during the past 15 years. "The older guys taught me when I was new," he said. "Now it's time for me to help steer someone else in the right direction."

Like many of the newly wounded troops, Allen said, he went through tough times as he adjusted to the physical and mental challenges of being confined to a wheelchair. He credits his introduction to wheelchair basketball as a big step in his rehabilitation.

"Life is not over because you are injured," he said. "It might not be the life you had planned, but it can also be a new beginning, like being reborn."

Kevin Poindexter, a Navy petty officer 3rd class who was medically retired after being shot in the back during a carjacking attempt, said the wheelchair games offer more than an opportunity to chalk up medals, although he already has two and hopes for a third today.

Even more valuable, he said, is the opportunity to meet and encourage veterans with new injuries. "I like to be able to give back what I've learned during the past 13 years," said Poindexter, who now lives in Tampa, Fla. "If we can get these guys out here and show them what people just like them are able to do, it can help them a lot."

Tourgee Bryant, a former Marine corporal paralyzed 19 years ago when he fell asleep at the wheel and his car hit a tree, said he's excited to be able to help motivate newly disabled veterans. "We've got to let them know that there are still opportunities for them to do things. They just have to go out there and try," he said.

As he sat in his chair watching a high-action basketball playoff, Bryant found himself cheering wildly for his fellow veterans, especially the younger ones.

"You can't help but yell for them," he said. "That's what the spirit of the games is all about."

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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29 July 2008

New GI Bill Provides Increased Educational Benefits

The latest GI Bill considerably improves the opportunity for today's servicemembers to obtain their education, a senior Defense Department official said.
President Bush signed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008 on June 30. The new law mirrors the tenets of the original GI Bill, which gave returning World War II veterans the opportunity to go to any school they wanted while receiving a living stipend, Bob Clark, the Pentagon's assistant director of accessions policy, said.

"The original GI Bill was said to be one of the most significant social impacts of the 20th century," Clark said. "We believe the new bill is going to have a similar impact."

The ew GI Bill is applies to individuals who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and offers education benefits worth an average of $80,000 – double the value of those in the previous program. It covers the full costs of tuition and books, which are paid directly to the school, and it provides a variable stipend for living expenses. It's also transferable to family members of career servicemembers.

Its only restriction is that payment amounts are limited to the most expensive in-state cost to attend a college or university in the state where veterans attend school, he said.

The variable stipend is based on the Defense Department's basic allowance for housing for an E-5, which averages about $1,200 a month, and $1,000 a year will be paid directly to the servicemember for books and supplies, he added.

Enrollment into the Post-9/11 GI Bill is free. Eligibility for the Montgomery GI Bill is based on service commitment and requires active-duty servicemembers to pay a $1,200 fee over the initial year of their enlistment.

The new bill requires that an individual serve at least 90 days on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001, and if discharged, be separated on honorable terms. Servicemembers discharged due to a service-connected disability are eligible if they served 30 continuous days on active duty. Servicemembers must serve 36 aggregated months to qualify for the full amount of benefits.

Servicemembers are entitled to benefits of the new bill for up to 36 months and have up to 15 years from their last 30 days of continuous service to use their entitlements. But as successful as Defense Department officials anticipate the new bill to be, Clark suggested that new recruits still enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill.

The Montgomery GI Bill gives benefits for higher education as well as vocational training, apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training, he explained. The Post-9/11 GI Bill focuses solely on higher education and can only be used at institutions that offer at least an associate's degree, he said.

"We recommend that all new recruits think hard before turning down the Montgomery GI Bill, because they will limit their opportunities for additional education without it," he added.

Servicemembers also are "highly encouraged" to use the Defense Department's tuition assistance program while on active duty, because the Post-9/11 GI Bill's full entitlements, such as the living stipend and book allowance, will not be available, Clark said.

"If you use the Post-9/11 GI Bill while on active duty, it will merely cover tuition or the difference of what tuition assistance will pay," he explained. "Another downside to that is each month you use [the new bill], you lose a month of your 36 months of eligibility."

So, if servicemembers serve on active duty on or after Aug. 1, 2009, and meet the minimum time-in-service requirement, they will be eligible for the new GI Bill while also maintaining benefits from the Montgomery GI Bill, he said.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill also brings good news for officers and for servicemembers who enlisted under the loan repayment program. Since eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill is based on time already served, more servicemembers will be able to take advantage of its benefits, Clark added. Officers commissioned through one of the service academies or through ROTC and enlisted servicemembers participating in the loan repayment program don't qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill, he said.

Those servicemembers will be able to qualify if they finish their initial obligatory service. Commissioned officers must complete their initial five-year commitment if they attended a service academy or their four-year agreement if they were commissioned through college ROTC. Servicemembers whose college loans were paid off by the Defense Department as a re-enlistment incentive must finish their initial commitment – whether it is three, four or five years – before they can apply, Clark said.

"Any amount of time an individual served after their obligated service counts for qualifying service under the new GI Bill," he said.

Another facet unique to the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that it's transferable to family members. The feature gives the defense and service secretaries the authority to offer career servicemembers the opportunity to transfer unused benefits to their family. Though Defense Department officials still are working with the services to hash out eligibility requirements, there are four prerequisites that are subject to adjustment or change, Clark said.

Currently transferability requirements are:

-- Qualifying service to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill;

-- Active duty service in the armed forces on or after Aug. 1, 2009;

-- At least six years of service in the armed forces;

-- Agreement to serve four more years in the armed forces.

"We're really excited about transferability," Clark said. "That was one of the things about education and the GI Bill that's come up the most often from the field and fleet."

Individuals who may not qualify to transfer unused benefits because they leave the service before the new bill's effective date most likely still will qualify for the bill. As long as the separated servicemembers meet the minimum qualifying time served, they can contact their local Veterans Affairs office and apply for the program. While payments are not retroactive, eligibility is, Clark said.

"This new bill will allow our veterans to chase their dreams," Clark said. "It will allow them to go back and experience college like they deserve, much like their grandfathers did in World War II."

More information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill is available at local Veterans Affairs Office and at www.gibill.va.gov.

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

First Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Dies in San Antonio

Retired Air Force Gen. Robert T. Herres, the first vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died July 24 after a long illness. He was 75.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said all members of the armed forces mourn the passing of a man he called a pioneer.

"As we mourn his passing, so too should we reflect on his contributions to our national security -- of the thousands of lives he guided, the careers he mentored, the difference he made simply by virtue of his leadership," Mullen said. "We are a stronger, more capable military today in large part because of his efforts to make us so. He will be missed."

Herres was born in Denver on Dec. 1, 1932. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, but took his commission in the Air Force in 1954. He flew F-86 fighters and served at various posts in the United States and Europe.

In 1966, the Air Force selected Herres as an astronaut-pilot for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, but officials cancelled the program in 1969, and Herres never got a chance to fly in space.

As a colonel, Herres commanded the provisional 310th Strategic Wing, based in Utapao, Thailand. The wing supported U.S. operations in Southeast Asia. He became a brigadier general in 1974. He commanded Air Force Communications Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., from 1979 to 1981 and 8th Air Force based at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., from 1981 to 1982.

In 1984, Herres pinned on his fourth star and took over North American Aerospace Defense Command. The Defense Department was working to put all space assets under one command, and on Sept. 23, 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating the U.S. Space Command and appointed Herres as its first commander.

Military actions in the early 1980s in Iran, Grenada, Lebanon and other areas highlighted the need for the services to act jointly. The result was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which reorganized the Joint Chiefs of Staff and created the position of vice chairman. Reagan selected Herres to be the first vice chairman, and he took office serving first under Navy Adm. William J. Crowe and then under Army Gen. Colin Powell during their terms as chairman.

The job was new, and Crowe, Herres and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger set out to make it meaningful. In addition to acting as the chairman when the chairman was not available, they decided the vice chairman would chair the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Nuclear Command and Control System. Herres also served as the vice chairman of the Defense Acquisition Board. These positions allowed him to help set military requirements for major acquisitions. During his term, he concentrated on close-air support, space-based surveillance and anti-satellite systems.

Herres retired in February 1990. He moved to San Antonio and joined USAA, an insurance and financial services association.

"As the very first vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ... it was he who institutionalized the role of the military in setting requirements for major weapons systems, putting that process back in the hands of the Joint Staff," Mullen said. "He served his nation nobly for more than 35 years as a skilled pilot, engineer, programmer and analyst. He was an early pioneer of aerospace research and a master of command, control and communications management, leading at virtually every level in the U.S. Air Force."

Herres is survived by his wife of 51 years, Shirley, and three children: Julie Latenser, Michael Herres and Jennifer Babeon. He will be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

26 July 2008

McCain's Remarks at 2008 American GI Forum

U.S. Senator John McCain's remarks as prepared for delivery at the 2008 American GI Forum of the United States National Convention in Denver, CO, 7/25/08:

Thank you for that kind introduction and warm welcome. I want to begin by talking about an issue in this campaign that I know concerns you as it concerns all Americans: the war in Iraq. Thankfully, the news from Iraq today is much more encouraging than I could have reported to you last year.

Eighteen months ago, America faced a crisis as profound as any in our history. Iraq was in flames, torn apart by violence that was escaping our control. Al Qaeda was succeeding in what Osama bin Laden called the central front in their war against us. The mullahs in Iran waited for America's humiliation in Iraq, and the resulting increase in their influence. Thousands of Iraqis died violently every month. American casualties were mounting. We were on the brink of a disastrous defeat just a little more than five years after the attacks of September 11, and America faced a profound choice. Would we accept defeat and leave Iraq and our strategic position in the Middle East in ruins, risking a wider war in the near future? Or would we summon our resolve, deploy additional forces, and change our failed strategy? Senator Obama and I also faced a decision, which amounted to a real-time test for a future commander-in-chief. America passed that test. I believe my judgment passed that test. And I believe Senator Obama's failed.

We both knew the politically safe choice was to support some form of retreat. All the polls said the "surge" was unpopular. Many pundits, experts and policymakers opposed it and advocated withdrawing our troops and accepting the consequences. I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops -- which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. Many observers said my position would end my hopes of becoming president. I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war. My choice was not smart politics. It didn't test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls. It also didn't matter. The country I love had one final chance to succeed in Iraq. The new strategy was it. So I supported it. Today, the effects of the new strategy are obvious. The surge has succeeded, and we are, at long last, finally winning this war.

Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.

And as our troops took the fight to the enemy, Senator Obama tried to cut off funding for them. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the emergency funding in May 2007 that supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would choose to lose in Iraq in hopes of winning in Afghanistan. But had his position been adopted, we would have lost both wars.
Three weeks after Senator Obama voted to deny funding for our troops in the field, General Ray Odierno launched the first major combat operations of the surge. Senator Obama declared defeat one month later: "My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now." His assessment was popular at the time. But it couldn't have been more wrong.

By November 2007, the success of the surge was becoming apparent. Attacks on Coalition forces had dropped almost 60 percent from pre-surge levels. American casualties had fallen by more than half. Iraqi civilian deaths had fallen by more than two-thirds. But Senator Obama ignored the new and encouraging reality. "Not only have we not seen improvements," he said, "but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there."

If Senator Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi Army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically. Al Qaeda would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the "Sunni Awakening" would have been strangled at birth. Al Qaeda fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners, and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely.

Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened. Our military, strained by years of sacrifice, would have suffered a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe would have been emboldened. Terrorists would have seen our defeat as evidence America lacked the resolve to defeat them. As Iraq descended into chaos, other countries in the Middle East would have come to the aid of their favored factions, and the entire region might have erupted in war. Every American diplomat, American military commander, and American leader would have been forced to speak and act from a position of weakness.

Senator Obama told the American people what he thought you wanted to hear. I told you the truth. From the early days of this war, I feared the administration was pursuing a mistaken strategy, and I said so. I went to Iraq many times, and heard all the phony explanations about how we were winning. I knew we were failing, and I told that to an administration that did not want to hear it. I pushed for the strategy that is now succeeding before most people even admitted that there was a problem.

Fortunately, Senator Obama failed, not our military. We rejected the audacity of hopelessness, and we were right. Violence in Iraq fell to such low levels for such a long time that Senator Obama, detecting the success he never believed possible, falsely claimed that he had always predicted it. There have been almost no sectarian killings in Baghdad for more than 13 weeks. American casualties are at the lowest levels recorded in this war. The Iraqi Army is stronger and fighting harder. The Iraqi Government has met most of the benchmarks for political progress we demanded of them, and the nation's largest Sunni party recently rejoined the government. In Iraq, we are no longer on the doorstep of defeat, but on the road to victory.

Senator Obama said this week that even knowing what he knows today that he still would have opposed the surge. In retrospect, given the opportunity to choose between failure and success, he chooses failure. I cannot conceive of a Commander in Chief making that choice.

A new hope is rising in Iraq today. Across the country, Iraqis are preparing for upcoming provincial elections. And security has improved enough to permit the Iraqi government to begin seriously providing services and opportunities to the Iraqi people. This progress is encouraging but reversible if we heed those who have always counseled defeat when they now argue to risk our fragile gains and withdraw from Iraq according to a politically expedient timetable rather than the advice from the commanders who so brilliantly led this stunning turnaround in our situation in Iraq.

I said that the surge has succeeded, and it has. That is why the additional surge brigades are almost all home. I said we can win, and we will. I'm confident we will be able to reduce our forces in Iraq next year, and our forces will be out of regular combat operations and dramatically reduced in number during the term of the next President. We have fought the worst battles, survived the toughest threats, and the hardest part of this war is behind us. But it is not over yet. And we have come too far, sacrificed too much, to risk everything we have gained and all we could yet gain because the politics of the hour make defeat the more convenient position.

Because of the choice we made and all the surge has accomplished, the time will soon come when our troops can come home. But we face another choice today. We can withdraw when we have secured the peace and the gains we have sacrificed so much to achieve are safe. Or we can follow Senator Obama's unconditional withdrawal and risk losing the peace even if that results in spreading violence and a third Iraq war. Senator Obama has suggested he would consider sending troops back if that happened. When I bring them home in victory and with honor, they are staying home.

Senator Obama might dismiss defeat in Iraq as the current President's problem. But presidents don't lose wars. Nations do. And presidents don't fight wars. You do, the men and women of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. The sacrifices you've made deserve to be memorialized in something more lasting than bronze or in the fleeting effect of a politician's speeches. Your valor and devotion have earned your country's abiding concern for your welfare. When our government forgets our debts to you, it is a stain upon America's honor. The Walter Reed scandal recalled not just the government but the people who elect it, to our responsibilities to those who risk life and limb to meet their responsibilities to us.

Those who have borne the burden of war for our sake must be treated fairly and expeditiously as they seek compensation for disability or illness. We owe them compassion, knowledge and hands-on care in their transition to civilian life. We owe them training, rehabilitation and education. We owe their families, parents and caregivers our concern and support. They should never be deprived of quality medical care and mental health care coverage for illness or injury incurred as a result of their service to our country.

As President, I will ensure that those who serve today and who have served in the past have access to the highest quality health, mental health and rehabilitative care in the world. The disgrace of Walter Reed will not be forgotten. Nor will we accept a situation in which veterans are denied access to care due to great travel distances, backlogs of appointments, and years of pending disability evaluation and claims. In addition to strengthening the VA, we should give veterans the option to use a simple plastic card to receive timely and accessible care at a convenient location through a provider of their choosing. I will not stand for requiring veterans to make an appointment to stand in line to make an appointment to stand in line for substandard care of the injuries you have suffered to keep our country safe. Whatever our commitments to veterans cost, we will keep them, as you have kept every commitment to us. The honor o f a great nation is at stake.

Let me close by expressing my gratitude for the contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to the security of the country I have served all my adult life. I represent Arizona where Spanish was spoken before English was, and where the character and prosperity of our state owes much to the Arizonans of Hispanic descent who live there. And I know this country, which I love more than almost anything, would be poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from Mexico, Central and South America.

When you take the solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it is hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Lopez that so sadly adorn it. When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters, my fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. As a private citizen or as President, I will never, never do anything to dishonor our obligations to them and their families.

No story better exemplifies the sacrifices Hispanic Americans have made for our country than the story of Roy Benavidez. I have told it before, and this won't be the last time I tell it. All Americans need to hear it.

Roy Benavidez was the son of a Texas sharecropper, a seventh grade dropout who suffered the humiliation of being constantly taunted as a "dumb Mexican." He grew up to become a master sergeant in the Green Berets, and served in Vietnam. He was a member of that rare class of warriors whose service was so honorable and brave they are privileged to wear the Medal of Honor. He was decorated by Ronald Reagan, who said that if the story of his heroism were a movie "you would not believe it."

On May 2, 1968, in an outpost near the Cambodian border, Sergeant Benavidez listened on his radio as the voice of a terrified American, part of a 12 man patrol surrounded by a North Vietnamese battalion, pleaded to be rescued. Armed with only a knife, Roy jumped into a helicopter and took off with a three-man crew to rescue his trapped comrades.

When they arrived at the battle, the enemy was too numerous for the helicopter to evacuate the surrounded soldiers. It had to land seventy-five yards away from their position. After making the sign of the cross, Sergeant Benavidez jumped out of the helicopter as it hovered ten feet above the ground, and ran toward his comrades carrying his knife and a medic bag.

He was shot almost immediately, but he got up and kept moving. A grenade knocked him down again, shrapnel tearing into his face. He got up and kept moving. Reaching the Americans' position, he found four men dead, and all the others badly wounded. He armed himself with an enemy rifle, and began to treat the wounded, distribute ammunition and call in air strikes. He was shot again. He then ordered the helicopter to come in closer as he dragged the dead and wounded aboard. After he got all the wounded aboard, he ran back to retrieve classified documents from the body of a fallen soldier. He was shot in the stomach, and grenade fragments cut into his back. He got up and kept moving, and made it back to the helicopter.

The pilot was shot and the helicopter crashed. Roy pulled the wounded from the wreckage and radioed for air strikes and another helicopter. He kept fighting until air support arrived. He was shot several more times before a second helicopter landed. As he was carrying a wounded man toward it, a North Vietnamese soldier clubbed him with his rifle and stabbed him with a bayonet. Sergeant Benavidez fought him hand to hand, to death. After rescuing three more soldiers, he was finally flown with them to safety.

Bleeding profusely, and completely immobile, a doctor thought him to be dead. Roy was placed in a body bag, before anyone discovered he was still alive. He spent a year in hospitals recovering from seven serious gunshot wounds, twenty-eight shrapnel wounds, and bayonet wounds in both arms.

It took thirteen years for Roy Benavidez to receive his Medal of Honor. But it didn't seem to matter to him. He stayed in the Army. The war, and his forgotten heroism never embittered him. He spent his retirement counseling troubled kids, encouraging them to stay in school and off drugs.

"I'm proud to be an American," Roy Benavidez said as he lay dying in a San Antonio hospital ten years ago. May God bless his soul. And may Americans, all Americans, be very proud that Roy Benavidez was one of us. I wouldn't want to live in a country that didn't recognize how much we needed such a good man.

I prefer to live in a bigger place. I prefer to live in a growing America, as proud of its variety as it is of the ideals that unite us. I prefer to live in a hopeful country. I prefer to live in Roy Benavidez' America. Thank you very much.

McCain Campaign on Barack Obama's Cancelled Troop Visits

Today, retired Lt. Colonel Joe Repya issued the following statement on Barack Obama's cancelled visit to Ramstein and Landstuhl:

"The most solemn duty of a commander in chief is to fulfill his responsibility to the men and women who serve this country in uniform. Barack Obama had scheduled a visit with wounded American troops who have served with honor and distinction in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he broke that commitment, instead flitting from one European capital to the next. Several explanations were offered, none was convincing and each was at odds with the statements of American military leaders in Germany and Washington. For a young man so apt at playing president, Barack Obama badly misjudged the important demands of the office he seeks. Visits with world leaders and speeches to cheering Europeans shouldn't be a substitute for comforting injured American heroes."

Army Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Joe Repya served 30 years of duty and three wars, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was born in 1946 in Gary, Indiana. He was the oldest son of a disabled combat wounded veteran of the European Campaign of World War II. Awarded an ROTC scholarship he attended Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, graduating in 1969. Upon graduation he was appointed to the Regular Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. His 30 years of service in the US Army (12 years Active and 18 years in the National Guard & Reserves) lasted from 1969 until 2006. He served as a Combat Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader in Viet Nam in 1970/71 with the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers "Currahee's"), and an Aero Rifle Platoon Leader with A Troop, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment. In Desert Storm 1990/91, he served as a Combat Helicopter Pilot and Staff Officer with the 4th Brigade (Aviation), 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One). He initially retired in 1998.

After the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, he was one of 12,000 US Army retirees who volunteered for Retiree Recall to Active US Army duty for Operation Iraqi Freedom. LTC Repya was selected as one of only 350 retirees who were returned to active duty status. At 58 years old on October 1, 2004 he returned as an Aviation Branch Officer for two more additional years of active duty service with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, KY. He served for nine months as the G-3 Air for the Division. In 2005 he served as the Senior Liaison Officer for the 101st Airborne Division with the Multi National Corps Headquarters at Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq. He reentered retired status at the end of September 2006 at the age of 60.

John McCain 2008 Launches New TV Ad: "Troops"

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today released its latest television ad entitled "Troops." The ad highlights Barack Obama's record of not calling a single oversight hearing on NATO's mission in Afghanistan, not visiting in Iraq for over 900 days, not supporting our troops when he voted against critical funding in 2007 and not visiting our wounded troops in Germany when he made time to go to the gym but cancelled trips to Ramstein and Landstuhl. The ad will air in key states.
VIEW THE AD HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49hC9TpP_rY
Script For "Troops" (TV :30)
Anncr: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.
He hadn't been to Iraq in years.
He voted against funding our troops.
And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops.
Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.
John McCain is always there for our troops.
McCain. Country first.
John McCain: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.
AD FACTS: Script For "Troops" (TV :30)
ANNCR: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.
· Barack Obama: "I became Chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan." (MSNBC Democratic Presidential Debate, 2/26/08)
ANNCR: He hadn't been to Iraq in years.
· The New York Times: Barack Obama Had Not Been To Iraq For Over 900 Days. "For months, Senator John McCain and other Republicans have been criticizing Senator Barack Obama for not having visited Iraq in a long time, even running a daily tally that is now well past 900 days." (Larry Rohter, "A Mixed Take By McCain Camp On Obama's Trip To War Zones," The New York Times, 7/19/08)

ANNCR: He voted against funding our troops.

· Barack Obama Voted Against Providing $94.4 Billion In Critical Funding For The Troops In Iraq And Afghanistan. (H.R. 2206, CQ Vote #181: Passed 80-14: R 42-3; D 37-10; I 1-1, 5/24/07, Obama Voted Nay)

ANNCR: And now, he made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras.

· Barack Obama Cancelled A Planned Visit To Ramstein And Landstuhl In Germany. "SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that Obama has cancelled a planned short visit to the Rammstein and Landstuhl US military bases in the southwest German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The visits were planned for Friday. Barack Obama will not be coming to us,' a spokesperson for the US military hospital in Landstuhl announced. I don't know why.' Shortly before the same spokeswoman had announced a planned visit by Obama." (Der Spiegel Website, http://www.spiegel.de, Accessed 7/24/08)

· Obama Senior Strategist David Axelrod Said The Pentagon Told The Campaign That Barack Obama "Should Not Come." "Though the Rammstein visit had been planned for days, Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said that that Pentagon notified an Obama military advisor only yesterday or the day before that he should not come. The Pentagon 'viewed this as a campaign event and therefore they said he should not come,' Axelrod said. Obama has been at the base in previous overseas trips. He visited with troops--even played basketball--when he touched down in Kuwait during the Iraq and Afghanistan leg of his swing." (Lynn Sweet, "Pentagon Tells Obama Not To Visit U.S. Troops At German Base Because It Would Be Too Political," Chicago Sun Times' "Sweet" Blog, http://blogs.suntimes.com, Posted 7/25/08)

· "The [Military] Official Said 'We Didn't Know Why' Th e Request To Visit The Wounded Troops Was Withdrawn. 'He (Obama) Was More Than Welcome. We Were All Ready For Him." (Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, "What's Not On Obama's Schedule..." MSNBC's "First Read," http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com, Posted 7/24/08)

· Military "Prepared To Accommodate Obama's Traveling Press And Campaign Staff At The Passenger Terminal At Ramstein Air Base." "Morrell said the U.S. military was prepared to accommodate Obama's traveling press and campaign staff at the passenger terminal at Ramstein Air Base, the U.S. Air Force base in southern Germany where Obama's plane had been cleared to land." (Michael Finnegan And Peter Spiegel, "Obama's Cancellation Of A Military Hospital Visit Leaves Unanswered Questions," Los Angeles Times' "Top Of The Ticket" Blog, 7/25/08)

· Defense Department Press Secretary Geoff Morrell: "Sen. Obama is more than welcome to visit Landstuhl or any other military hospital around the world. ... But he has to do so, just as any other senator has to do so, in his official capacity. It is not acceptable to do so as a candidate." (Michael Finnegan And Peter Spiegel, "Obama's Cancellation Of A Military Hospital Visit Leaves Unanswered Questions," Los Angeles Times' "Top Of The Ticket" Blog, 7/25/08)

· Defense Department: "But The Pentagon Certainly Did Not Tell The Senator That He Could Not Visit Landstuhl." "Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters later Friday the Pentagon did not explicitly say Obama should not visit the base, but was concerned with whether his capacity there would be one of a presidential candidate, not a senator. 'We do have certain policy guidelines for political campaigns and elections. And what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in those situations. But the Pentagon certainly did not tell the senator that he could not visit Landstuhl,' Whitman said." (Alexander Mooney And Sasha Johnson, "Pentagon Was Concerned With Obama Visit To Hospital," CNN's "Political Ticker" Blog, 7/25/08)

· Obama Campaign Explanation "Didn't Square With The Defense Department Explanation." "On Obama's flight from Berlin to Paris, Gibbs offered more details. Around July 15, the Pentagon approved Obama's visit. But military officials later invoked a rule on political activity at military bases and questioned whether it would cover Obama's visit, Gibbs said. Obama spokesmen said they were seeking clarification on what the rule is. Gibbs also declined to speculate on why the Pentagon did not cite the rule until Wednesday. That account, however, didn't square with the Defense Department's explanation. The Pentagon said it informed the Obama campaign on Monday that he and his Senate staff could visit Landstuhl, where wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated, but that no press would be allowed." (Michael Finnegan And Peter Spiegel, "Obama's Cancellation Of A Military Hospital Visit Leaves Unanswered Questions," Los Angeles Times ' "Top Of The Ticket" Blog, 7/25/08)

· The Pentagon Reportedly Informed Obama That He And His Senate Staff Were Permitted To Visit Landstuhl, But "No Press Would Be Allowed" In Military Base. "The Pentagon said it informed the Obama campaign on Monday that he and his Senate staff could visit Landstuhl, where wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated, but that no press would be allowed." (Michael Finnegan And Peter Spiegel, "Obama's Cancellation Of A Military Hospital Visit Leaves Unanswered Questions," Los Angeles Times' "Top Of The Ticket" Blog, 7/25/08)

· Barack Obama "Would Not Have Been Able To Address The Media Or Make Any Campaign-Related Statements." "A memo sent out Wednesday from Undersecretary of Defense David Chu explained that Obama's visit to such a military facility would be limited under these circumstances. Obama would not have been able to bring any of his campaign staff -- only one Senate staffer and security. He also would not have been able to address the media or make any campaign-related statements." ("Obama Camp: Visit To Troops Would Have Seemed Too Political," Fox News, 7/25/08)

· Before His Thursday Speech, Barack Obama Went To The Ritz Carlton To Work Out While In Berlin. "Still, Obama, just like George W. Bush in the 2000 election, managed to squeeze in his workout time despite a heavy schedule of high-level meetings with government officials and his big speech at the Siegessule, or Victory Column, around 7 p.m. Berlin time. '4:49 p.m.: Obama enters the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel wearing a T-shirt, black sweatpants and white trainers -- apparently to work out in the hotel's gym. He kept up the campaigning on the way there, smiling and waving at tourists and other onlookers,' the breathless Spiegel ticker reported." (Jill Zuckman, "Barack Obama Gets A Workout At Ritz Gym," Chicago Tribune's "Swamp" Blog, http://www.swamppolitics.com , Posted 7/24/08)

· After His Thursday Speech, Barack Obama Joined His Campaign Staff And The Press Corps For A Martini At A Berlin Restaurant. "After the speech was over, the candidate, in a celebratory mood, joined his campaign staff -- and the press corps traveling with him -- for dinner and a very dry vodka martini with olives at a downtown Berlin restaurant." (Karen Tumulty, "Obama Urges Unity In Berlin," Time, www.time.com, 7/24/08)

· Barack Obama Said That He Was Going To Have Some "Down Time" In Berlin And That He "Would Love To Tour A Little Bit." "Obama noted that in a break from his whirlwind schedule, 'we've got some down time tonight. What are you guys gonna do in Berlin? Huh? Huh? You guys got any big. plans? I've never been to Berlin, so...I would love to tour around a little bit.'" (Jake Tapper, "Obama On Tonight's Berlin Speech: "A Crapshoot"," ABC News' "Political Punch" Blog, http://blogs.abcnews.com, Posted 7/24/08)

JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

Surge Successful By Any Measure, Pentagon Official Says

The surge in Iraq has been a success by any measure, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said during a news conference today.

The surge has allowed Iraq to make improvements from security, political and economic standpoints, Morrell said. The last of the five surge brigade combat teams recently left Iraq. The policy, announced by President Bush in December 2006, pushed the brigades in to Iraq to provide a security umbrella so the Iraqi military could build and the country's government could grow.

"By every metric that we measure violence in Iraq, there has been a dramatic improvement from where things were before the surge," Morrell said. "I'll just point to one, and that is [that] in July of last year, we had 79 U.S. [servicemembers killed in action] in Iraq. We have four thus far this month."

The dramatic security gains have provided room for political and economic successes. "You name it, it is happening in Iraq," Morrell said. "Do you want to talk about political gains? We've had basically all the major benchmark legislation passed."

The Sunni bloc has returned to the government, 10 of 18 Iraqi provinces are under local control, and Najaf International Airport has reopened. "You see a $300 million luxury hotel opening up in the Green Zone [and] $50 million in refurbishment of the airport road," Morrell said. "There's economic investment, and there's political progress. There's increased security. All those things are undeniable, and they are attributable to the fact that we plussed up forces in there."

There were, of course, other factors at work in the security improvement, Morrell said, but the surge and the change in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy made all else possible. The "Anbar Awakening" that allied formerly insurgent Sunni Muslims with the coalition and influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire were other factors, he said, but he noted they didn't happen independently of other events.

"If we think that Sadr acted in a vacuum, I think we're kidding ourselves," Morrell said. "There clearly was political and military pressure which caused him to make a decision to have his troops stand down.

"But we benefitted from it, no doubt," he continued. "There's no question that the awakening in Anbar, the cease-fire by Sadr, simultaneous to the surge, has helped the overall security situation in Iraq."

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Soldiers With Enlistment Waivers Find Success

When Army Staff Sgt. Clarence Masiwemai greets someone, it's with a large grin and firm handshake. Beneath his smile, his chest and arm are covered in badges and awards that showcase his Army accomplishments, including the Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge and the esteemed Ranger tab. At 23, Masiwemai is a decorated combat veteran who's led paratroopers in Iraq. In many ways, he seems like the prototype of a paratrooper on an Army recruiting poster.

But Masiwemai wasn't always so picture-perfect. Before he joined the Army, he had an anger problem; if someone looked at him funny, he was ready to fight. In fact, he had so many brushes with the law because of his brawling that he needed a waiver to be allowed to join.

"If [someone] tried to make a joke and it was in reference to our friends, family or where we came from, we'd respond back with fists," said Masiwemai, the land and ammunition noncommissioned officer for Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, in reference to how he and his friends were. "Now I'm the one making the jokes."

According to Army Recruiting Command statistics, the past three years have seen a 65 percent increase in the number of recruits who needed conduct waivers to join the Army. Today, about one in eight new armed services recruits are let in on these waivers. Media outlets have reported on this with a tone of concern for the quality of today's soldiers.

But Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy, stresses that waivers don't mean the military relaxes its standards, and that each waiver decision is based on "solid judgment calls."

"Last year's [waivered enlistees] proved to perform; they retained as well as the non-waivered counterparts, and they wouldn't be retaining if they weren't performing," he told online journalists and bloggers in an April 25 conference call. "They are doing as well as the non-waiver crowd. Therefore, we are making correct bets on the risks that we take for someone that has done something that was that much of an aberration against what we expect of our teenagers."

In fact, a study by the Army's Human Resource Center showed that soldiers who enter the Army on a conduct waiver are more likely to re-enlist, are promoted quicker than their peers, and even win more awards and badges.

Like Masiwemai, Sgt. John Adkerson, a squad leader from the 82nd Airborne Division's Company A, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, was allowed to join the Army on a conduct waiver.

"Really, I joined because I wanted to -- I needed to -- keep myself out of trouble," said Adkerson, an Alpharetta, Ga., native.

Adkerson has done more than that. He's in charge of seven soldiers, has led paratroopers in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and received a Purple Heart after being wounded by shrapnel from a mortar.

"He leads from the front," Army 1st Lt. Travis Pride, Adkerson's former platoon leader, said. "He's a good role model."

Adkerson will give advice to his soldiers even if they don't know they need it, Pride explained.

When he was a private first class, Adkerson passed Ranger School, an intense combat leadership course, paving the way for a speedy promotion to sergeant in a little over two years. The average soldier takes 4.2 years. Masiwemai -- "Masi" for short -- also took two years to be promoted to sergeant; it took him five and a half to make staff sergeant.

Masiwemai, an Island of Yap, Micronesia, native, said that as soon as he finished basic training, he started to notice a change in himself as well as a few of his comrades who also came in on conduct waivers.

"Right when they finished basic training was when they realized, 'Hey, this is helping me out. I'm changing. I'm becoming a better person than I once was,'" Masiwemai explained. He said he believes soldiers who required a waiver to enlist end up doing well because they strive to improve themselves.

"They try harder to stay in the military by having an outstanding performance, by learning their job and knowing that the military is a great place to change yourself," he explained.

Adkerson said he believes that granting waivers to Army hopefuls with a questionable past helps get them off the streets and out of trouble.

"Waivers are the right thing to do," Adkerson said. "Instead of keeping people out of the Army, it's going to help the kids and make them a better person to society. ... People say you join a gang to get a family. The Army's a tighter family than you'd ever have."

Author Army Sgt. Susan Wilt serves in the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.

Army Wrestler Earns Greco-Roman Berth in Beijing Olympics

Army Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers secured an Olympic berth by defeating U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program teammate Spc. Timothy Taylor in the Greco-Roman heavyweight finals of the U.S. Olympic team trials for wrestling June 15... Click to read: Army Wrestler Earns Greco-Roman Berth in Beijing Olympics

24 July 2008

Take a Trip to Kabul-

MMF Note: This article caught our eye and we thought you'd enjoy reading one young American's experience in Afghanistan.

The Ghosts of Kabul
by Jeffrey E. Stern
Duke Magazine

A young journalist is introduced to the strange quality of life in Afghanistan: "I saw my share of suicide bombings. I got arrested getting a haircut. And I wrote about everything.".....

Read the story.

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Community News You Can Use
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McCain - That's Not What He Said: Barack Obama Divided About Jerusalem

MMF Note: While this article is not directly about our current military situation in Iraq, its implications are major in the mideast should Obama succeed in his quest.

Today (July 23, 2008), in an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, Barack Obama once again demonstrated that his words on Jerusalem really don't matter. When asked about his direct statement that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" and his subsequent backtracking, Barack Obama said, "I conceded that the wording was poor." Unfortunately, for Barack Obama, poor wording has consequences in foreign policy and it is still not what he said to AIPAC:

BARACK OBAMA: "I Conceded That The Wording Was Poor"...

Tonight, Barack Obama Said "I Conceded That The Wording Was Poor" When He Stated Jerusalem Should Be The "Undivided" Capital Of Israel.

ABC's Charlie Gibson: "And then there's the issue of Jerusalem. You've said in the speech, to AIPAC, Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel. And it must remain undivided. When you said that did you not realize the significance that that has for so many people in this region?"

Barack Obama: "Well, number one, the fact is that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. And so I was simply saying a fact, with respect to..."

Gibson: "You said 'must remain undivided,' those are code words."

Obama: "Well the issue of it being undivided, I have said and I said immediately after the speech that that word was poorly chosen, that what I was referring to is making sure that we're not setting up barbed wire across Israel..."

Gibson: "But Senator, it was a very simple, declarative statement. It must remain, and you started the paragraph by saying, 'Let me be clear.'"

Obama: "Charlie, the day after, or the day of making the speech I conceded that the wording was poor, and it's immediately corrected."

Gibson: "Rookie mistake?" Obama: "Well I wouldn't say rookie mistake, I think that veterans make mistakes as well." (ABC's "World News Tonight," 7/23/08)

· Watch Barack Obama.

WORDS MATTER: ABC's Charlie Gibson Repeatedly Presses Barack Obama On His Rather Clear Words

ABC's Charlie Gibson: "When You Said That Did You Not Realize The Significance That That Has For So Many People In The Region?"

Gibson: "And then there's the issue of Jerusalem. You've said in the speech, to AIPAC, Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel. And it must remain undivided. When you said that did you not realize the significance that that has for so many people in this region?"

Barack Obama: "Well, number one, the fact is that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. And so I was simply saying a fact, with respect to ..." (ABC's "World News Tonight," 7/23/08)

ABC's Charlie Gibson: "Those Are Code Words."

Gibson: "You said 'must remain undivided,' those are code words."

Obama: "Well the issue of it being undivided, I have said and I said immediately after the speech that that word was poorly chosen, that what I was referring to is making sure that we're not setting up barbed wire across Israel..." (ABC's "World News Tonight," 7/23/08)

ABC's Charlie Gibson: "It Was A Very Simple, Declarative Statement ... You Started The Paragraph By Saying, 'Let Me Be Clear.'"

Gibson: "But Senator, it was a very simple, declarative statement. It must remain, and you started the paragraph by saying, 'Let me be clear.'"

Obama: "Charlie, the day after, or the day of making the speech I conceded that the wording was poor, and it's immediately corrected." (ABC's "World News Tonight," 7/23/08)

ABC's Charlie Gibson: "Rookie Mistake?" Gibson: "Rookie mistake?" Obama: "Well I wouldn't say rookie mistake, I think that veterans make mistakes as well." (ABC's "World News Tonight," 7/23/08)

WORDS MATTER: After Saying At The Annual AIPAC Policy Conference In June 2008 That Jerusalem Should Be "Undivided," Barack Obama Has Since Backtracked

At The Annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Barack Obama Says Clearly That Jerusalem Should Be The "Undivided" Capital Of Israel. Obama: "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." (Sen. Barack Obama, Remarks At The Annual AIPAC Policy Conference, Arlington, VA, 6/4/08)

· One Day After The AIPAC Conference, Barack Obama Said The Future Of Jerusalem Would Have To Be Negotiated By Israel And The Palestinians. CNN's Candy Crowley: "I want to ask you about something you said in AIPAC yesterday. You said that Jerusalem must remain undivided. Do Palestinians have no claim to Jerusalem in the future?"

Obama: "Well, obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues." (CNN's "The Situation Room," 6/5/08)

· "Facing Criticism From Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama Acknowledged Today That The Status Of Jerusalem Will Need To Be Negotiated In Future Peace Talks, Amending A Statement Earlier In The Week That Jerusalem 'Must Remain Undivided.'" (Glenn Kessler, "Obama Clarifies Remarks On Jerusalem," The Washington Post's "The Trail" Blog, www.washingtonpost.com, 6/5/08)

WORDS MATTER: Barack Obama Actually Has A Record Of Saying Jerusalem Should Be "Undivided"

In An American Jewish Committee Election Questionnaire, Barack Obama Said "Jerusalem Will Remain Israel's Capital, And No One Should Want Or Expect It To Be Re-Divided." "The United States cannot dictate the terms of a final status agreement. We should support the parties as they negotiate these difficult issues, but they will have to reach agreements that they can live with. In general terms, clearly Israel must emerge in a final status agreement with secure borders. Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided." ("Barack Obama Responses," American Jewish Committee, http://www.ajc.org/site/c.ijITI2PHKoG/b.3878133/, Accessed 7/22/08)

In A 2000 Position Paper, Barack Obama Stated That "Jerusalem Should Remain United And Should Be Recognized As Israel's Capital." "Third, he addressed the issue in 2000 in a position paper on Israel as part of his unsuccessful congressional campaign that year. In that paper, he stated, 'Jerusalem should remain united and should be recognized as Israel's capital.'" (Rick Richman, "Obama's Redivided Jerusalem," New York Sun, 7/16/08)

23 July 2008

Face of Defense: Infantryman Rejoins Army to Lead Combat Troops

When Army Sgt. Victor Faggiano was growing up in Manchester, N.H., he always knew the military was the choice from him in life.

"I pretty much always wanted to join the Army since I was playing with little green Army men, and I never saw myself doing anything different," he said.

He remembers watching films like "To Hell and Back" and "Hamburger Hill," and knowing he wanted to be an infantryman fighting off enemy forces.

Faggiano, an assistant team leader with Company C, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, grew up wrestling for his school, living what he explains was the average American life. He lived on the outskirts of Manchester with his parents and his brother, Mario. His family has lived there for generations, since his great grandparents moved there.

Faggiano, whose family is a mix of French-Canadian and Italian ancestry, initially joined the Army in July 2003, almost immediately after graduating from high school. Following basic training, javelin school and airborne school, Faggiano was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, where he served in a long-range surveillance unit. While assigned to the airborne unit, he often trained in Germany, observing targets and conducting surveillance and long-range reconnaissance.

In March 2005, Faggiano deployed with the 173rd to Afghanistan's Helmand province, where he traveled as part of a five-man team, carrying heavy rucksacks into the mountains to observe enemy forces.

"It was physically very hard," he said.

He often stayed at small combat outposts with a machine-gun nest and a small team.
More than halfway through his deployment, his unit was re-assigned to Kandahar province to augment a few platoons from the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He went from being a radio-telephone operator roaming through the mountains of Afghanistan with his five-man team to being an assistant gunner on an M240-B machine gun team, clearing villages and conducting various combat operations against the Taliban throughout the province.

Afghanistan was a different world for the young soldier. His team often found itself in open areas within small villages, fighting off the Taliban.

"In Afghanistan you always knew where to go to find the enemy," Faggiano said. "You knew you were going to get in a fight there."

Though Faggiano enjoyed his experiences in Afghanistan, upon re-deploying to Italy he decided it was time to leave the military and take on another life.

"I was a pretty young dude, 21 years old," he said. "I didn't really think of my future being in the Army. I got deployed, served and did the whole infantry thing, and thought, 'That's it, I guess.'"

Faggiano went to the University of New Hampshire, but one semester was all he needed to know it wasn't for him.

"[College] didn't really do it for me as I thought it would," he said. "It wasn't exciting."

He then tried working for a landscaping company for some time, but "that was a dead-end job," he said. "All the guys who had been there for a while had never really moved up." Then he found himself talking with many of his friends from the 173rd who were gearing up to head back into Afghanistan.

"I kind of felt I was missing out," Faggiano said. "In college, everyone seemed so detached from what was really going on in the world, and I still had friends doing this. I kind of felt guilty." Soon, he found himself back at the recruiting station. Faggiano knew he wanted to be an infantryman, and chose Fort Campbell, Ky., as his duty station upon re-enlistment.

"I ended up picking Fort Campbell because I heard a lot of good things about the unit," Faggiano said. "I knew the 101st [Airborne Division] was deploying real soon, and I wanted to get back in it as quickly as possible."

Faggiano joined Company C soon thereafter, and just as he wanted, he quickly was appointed as an assistant team leader.

"It was real tough going from sitting on my couch at home to having a five-man team of soldiers who are ready to be molded into infantryman who are getting ready to deploy to Baghdad, Iraq, one of the most dangerous places in the world," Faggiano said. "It was hard at first, but I feel real comfortable with it now."

In October 2007, Faggiano deployed to northwest Baghdad, where his company controls the Jouadine, Ramaniyah and Katieb areas of northern Ghazaliyah.

The soldiers interact with the local populace, search for enemy weapons stockpiles, gather information on the whereabouts of enemy forces, and continue to help build the local economy through grants and community projects.

"We are doing a lot to maintain security in our zone, and are trying to assist the Iraqi security forces and help them get better at being able to secure their own [area of operations] and support them as they need it," Faggiano said. "We help the population as much as possible -- build their economy, defend the zone and conduct offensive operations when needed."

When Faggiano first arrived in Iraq he was a bit surprised and thrown off by the number of people the soldiers mix in with daily. In Afghanistan, villages are sparsely populated, and soldiers and enemy fighters often outnumber village residents, he said. Iraq, with large numbers of civilians mixed among the soldiers and the enemy, is an entirely different experience.

Interacting with the local populace is key to the soldiers' success in northern Ghazaliyah, Faggiano said.

"It makes no sense to not take into account the large amount of people," he said. "You can't leave them out of it. You have to take into account humanitarian aid and how people feel about you."

But with enemy fighters mixed in with the local population and the ever-present danger of improvised explosive devices, Faggiano said, the soldiers must always be vigilant.

"When you go out in sector during the day, everyone is waving at you," he said. "I can be talking to a little kid on the street one moment, and all of a sudden Checkpoint 11 gets hit or there is an IED. It's a difficult task, politically and militarily, to solve this militia problem in Baghdad."

The soldiers do what they must to track criminals among the people. They continue to target and build information on these men to remove them from the streets, continually making the Iraqis' life a lot better, Faggiano said. Activity within their area has tapered off significantly, but when the intensity was high and the soldiers were fighting enemy forces, he recalled, it was the most exciting part the deployment.

One night in March, when the soldiers were receiving heavy enemy contact, his team was on a dismounted patrol and was going to set up an observation post.

"I was walking point, and we made contact, and I got to maneuver my guys the real, old-school way," he said. "It went well -- by the book. We had suppressed them, and [the enemy] had to break contact."

The opportunity to lead troops in combat is what Faggiano wanted to do when he rejoined the Army.

"I enjoy being able to run a team, mentoring soldiers on the right way to do things," he said. "I really enjoy being in a team with guys who all rely on each other. I really like my job as an [assistant team leader], because I still get to do what the soldiers do, but still lead them."

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Smith, a native of Burlington, N.C., said Faggiano is a very approachable leader who continually leads from the front.

"He is constantly trying to learn," said Smith, Faggiano's platoon sergeant. "He is very approachable, and good with the soldiers. The soldiers come to him with their problems."

Smith said he believes Faggiano's experience from Afghanistan, his constant motivation and good attitude help him and his soldiers succeed.

To this point, Faggiano said, he has yet to regret his return to the military. But he doesn't regret getting out the first time, either.

"I'm glad I got out the first time, because if I hadn't, I really wouldn't have tried to improve," the 23-year-old soldier said. "Now I am older, and I can see the advantages of being in the Army."

By Army Sgt. James Hunter
Special to American Forces Press Service

Army Sgt. James Hunter serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.

Captain Leads Military Athletes at Olympic Track and Field Trials

U.S. Air Force World Class Athlete Program Capt. Kevin Eastler led military athletes competing in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team track and field trials by earning his second Olympic berth in the 20-kilometer race walk.

U.S. Army WCAP Sgt. John Nunn, who competed in the same event with Eastler at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, finished fourth at the trials on July 5, ending his bid to make Team USA and compete in Beijing.

On an emotional Fourth of July at Hayward Field, Army WCAP Capt. Michael Mai, a two-time Olympic Trials competitor, finished fifth in the hammer throw with a hurl of 71.75 meters. His first warm-up throw may have been good enough to make Team USA, but the throws that counted were not long enough.

"I tossed out a 75-meter throw that probably would have gotten me second place tonight," said Mai, 30, of Le Mars, Iowa. "I just couldn't quite get it as far out there as I wanted to when it counted.

"I still got fifth place and represented the U.S. Army to the best of my ability, which is why I'm here," added Mai, who is stationed at Moffett Field, Calif. "It was the best year I've had in all my years of throwing for the Army, and we'll see what the future brings."

Retired Air Force Capt. James Parker, a 2004 Olympian, placed seventh in the hammer with a throw of 69.97 meters.

Earlier in the eight-day meet, Army WCAP Spc. Nathaniel Garcia finished seventh in the first heat of the 400-meter hurdles semifinals. His time of 49.52 seconds was not fast enough to advance to the finals.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Dana Pounds finished second in the women's javelin throw with a mark of 57.83 meters but failed to earn an Olympic berth because she did not meet the qualifying standard.

Air Force 1st Lt. Paul Gensic, the only U.S. track and field competitor to medal at the 2007 Military World Games, placed sixth in the pole vault with a height of 5.5 meters -- 18 feet, ½ inch.

Former Army WCAP distance runner Dan Browne, 33, a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, doubled in the 10,000 meters and marathon at the 2004 Olympics. He finished 14th in the 10,000 meters at Eugene with a time of 28:42.78.

Eastler, 30, of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., will be Team USA's only competitor in the men's 20K race walk in Beijing. He was the lone U.S. competitor to meet the Olympic qualifying standard before toeing the start line in Eugene, where a relatively slow pace prevented others from making the team.

Eastler won the early-morning race in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 8 seconds.

Nunn, who finished in 1:30:35, knew he needed to both win the race and meet the qualifying standard of 1:24:30 to secure a berth in the Beijing Games. He took an early lead and separated from the pack during the first two of 20 laps around a 1-kilometer loop outside Autzen Stadium. Eastler and second-place finisher Matthew Boyles of Miami Valley Track Club, however, quickly reeled in Nunn and passed him on the fourth lap.

"I knew he was going to do that," said Eastler, who won by more than a minute. "He needed to get a standard today, so it was expected that he was going to go out on pace. I wasn't in shape to do that today, so I just kind of let him go to see what happened. It's just a lot of pressure on an athlete to try to do both – win and get the standard – so he had a lot of pressure. I just wanted to stay strong and see what happened."

Having already met the qualifying standard, Eastler merely needed to finish the race to earn a trip to China – unless three other walkers beat him and met the standard, which nobody did.

"My only plan was to go out on a solid pace of between 4:20 and 4:25 per kilometer," said Eastler, a 1999 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. "That's about what I ended up and it worked out."

Nunn said he felt ready for the challenge, but his legs did not cooperate.

"No one went with me [early], which is what I expected, because most of them were just racing for place," Nunn said. "So I figured I would walk it alone, but I've walked the time alone before by myself. I got into the race and things just weren't holding; it wasn't sticking. The first couple kilometers were OK, and then things slowed and I just couldn't get my turnover going. Quite honestly, I don't really have an answer for why. Some days it's on and some days it's not.

"When they passed me," he continued, "I hung with them for just a little bit and I guess I just couldn't get my legs to move. By around six kilometers, I realized it was going to take a lot to try to fight back and get the time that I had already lost. At that point, I figured let's just try to get among the top three. ... It was a shock for me – not quite at all what I fully expected. I've had good speed workouts and good distance sessions. It's hard, because 2012 is a long ways away."

Nunn's coach, Enrique Pena, a seven-time Olympic race walk competitor/coach, seconded that sentiment.

"He was ready to walk under 1:24, for sure," Pena said. "But I don't know what happened with John. It's disappointing for him and for me. He can do it, but sometimes things just don't work out."

Nunn thought of the future while choking back the tears of four tough years of training since he finished 26th at the Olympic Games in Athens.

"I'd really like to at least be a two-time Olympian and take the next four years and train to be in contention in the world," said Nunn, 30, of Evansville, Ind. "This is horribly disappointing, but the sun comes up tomorrow. We'll go on – go home and hug my daughter and keep living and enjoy life and realize there's a next time. It's four years away and that's a long time, but it gives me four more years to focus on my daughter (Ella, age 4) and my training – two things I love.

"It's been an incredible honor and a very humbling experience to be given the chance to train for the Olympics full-time with military support and to wear the Army's singlet," he said. "It's always nice to hear 'Go Army.'"

Likewise, Eastler said he could not compete on the international level without military support.

"I couldn't do this without the Air Force, that's for sure," he said. "To compete at this level, you need to train full-time and be dedicated to it. I don't think I could do it any other way."

Now he must compete against the rest of the world's best walkers.

"I had so much focus on today that I'm going to have to sit back and talk with my coach and come up with a game plan," Eastler said. "We'll just have to see how the body holds up."

After competing in the 2007 World Track and Field Championships, Eastler was slowed by persistent pain in his abdomen and underwent sports hernia surgery in December.

"I found a good therapist, trained through some pain, and finally got back," he explained. "I was a little tight today, but I mostly got rid of it."

He also is nagged by knee tendinitis.

"My body's kind of telling me this is the final season, so, yeah, this is it for me after this year," said Eastler, who hopes to improve upon his 21st-place finish in Athens at Beijing. "It's going to be tough for me to do that on my own again – to recreate such a good result. I'm sure going to try, but it's going to be an uphill battle given the injuries I've had."

By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service

Tim Hipps works in the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs Office.

22 July 2008

Face of Defense: Former Stunt Man Makes Leap to Ministry

Army Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Light gives a weekly sermon and is available for counseling whenever a soldier might need it. But he is not your ordinary chaplain. "When I was in college, money was kind of hard to come by, so I became a stunt guy to pay for college," said Light, who serves with the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team... Click to read: Face of Defense: Former Stunt Man Makes Leap to Ministry

20 July 2008

Statement by John McCain Campaign on Iraq

Today, McCain 2008 Senior Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann issued the following statement:

"Barack Obama has said repeatedly that, if elected President, he would summon the Joint Chiefs of Staff and give them a new mission: get all U.S. forces out of Iraq within 16 months, regardless of the conditions on the ground. Today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, the nation's highest ranking officer, made clear that he believes such an approach could be 'very dangerous.' Admiral Mullen further added that his view is shared by U.S. commanders in Iraq, who are 'adamant about continuing progress, about making decisions based on what's actually happening in the battle space.' Barack Obama says he wants a 'safe and responsible' withdrawal from Iraq, but is stubbornly adhering to an unconditional withdrawal that places politics above the advice of our military commanders, the success of our troops, and the security of the American people. Barack Obama is wrong to advocate withdrawal at any cost just as he was wrong to o ppose the surge that has put victory within reach. It is a strategy for defeat, and it is the only strategy Barack Obama has ever supported."

19 July 2008

McCain 2008 Launches New TV Ad: Troop Funding

Note: We will be including information from all Presidential candidates when it involves issues of interest to our Military Matters readers.

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today released its newest television ad entitled "Troop Funding." The ad highlights Barack Obama's record of failing to call a single oversight hearing on NATO's mission in Afghanistan, failing to visit our troops on the ground in Iraq for over 900 days and failing to support our troops when he voted against critical funding in 2007. The ad will air on national cable and in key states.

VIEW THE AD HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm9IUfPZsX8
Script For "Troop Funding" (TV :30)
ANNCR: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.
He hasn't been to Iraq in years.
He voted against funding our troops.
Positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president.
John McCain has always supported our troops and the surge that's working.
McCain. Country first.
JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

AD FACTS: Script For "Troop Funding" (TV :30)

ANNCR: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.

· Barack Obama: "I became Chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan." (MSNBC Democratic Presidential Debate, 2/26/08)

ANNCR: He hasn't been to Iraq in years.

· Barack Obama Has Not Been To Iraq Since January 2006. "The fact that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hasn't visited Iraq since January 2006 well before the troop surge has become a spirited campaign issue. On the home page of the Republican National Committee a live streamer lists the days, hours, minutes and seconds since Obama's only trip to Iraq. His lack of a recent firsthand view means he "has no credibility discussing the future of Iraq," says Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan." (Philip Dine, "Obama Takes Heat On Lack Of Iraq Trips," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/15/08)

· Barack Obama Has Been To Iraq Once -- In January 2006. "Obama, the nation's only black senator, met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Saturday. He said before his two-day trip to Iraq that he wanted to ask U.S. Commanders for a realistic time frame on bringing troops home." (Jason Straziuso, "U.S. Senate's Only Black Member Says Minorities Must Be More Involved In Iraq's Government," The Associated Press, 1/7/06)

ANNCR: He voted against funding our troops.
· Barack Obama Voted Against Providing $94.4 Billion In Critical Funding For The Troops In Iraq And Afghanistan. (H.R. 2206, CQ Vote #181: Passed 80-14: R 42-3; D 37-10; I 1-1, 5/24/07, Obama Voted Nay)

ANNCR: Positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president. John McCain has always supported our troops and the surge that's working. McCain. Country first. JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.

Statement by John McCain on Recent Iraq Progress

U.S. Senator John McCain issued the following statement on recent progress in Iraq:

"Progress between the United States and Iraq on a time horizon for American troop presence is further evidence that the surge has succeeded. Most of the U.S. forces used in the surge have already been withdrawn. When a further conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. forces is possible, it will be because we and our Iraqi partners built on the successes of the surge strategy, which Senator Obama opposed, predicted would fail, voted against and campaigned against in the primary. When we withdraw, we will withdraw with honor and victory. An honorable and victorious withdrawal would not be possible if Senator Obama's views had prevailed. An artificial timetable based on political expediency would have led to disaster and could still turn success into defeat. If we had followed Senator Obama's policy, Iraq would have descended into chaos, American casualties would be far higher, and the region would be destabilized."

17 July 2008

Disaboom and Purple Heart Service Foundation Provide Jobs for Veterans

24-7 - Disaboom (OTCBB: DSBO; http://www.disaboom.com), the premier online community for people touched by disability, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation announced this week that they have teamed up to launch a new employment venture for combat-wounded and disabled veterans. Guided by their respective mission statements, the two organizations anticipate the financial benefits will match the positive impact on the disabled veteran community.

Through this partnership, Disaboom will hire virtual agent graduates of the Purple Heart Service Foundation's job training program, "Veterans Business Training Center" (VBTC). All graduates of the VBTC are home-bound, combat-wounded or disabled veterans, fully skilled in call center and contact center technology, and all have successfully completed an online training program offered through the Purple Heart Service Foundation and the Veteran's Administration.

"Combat wounded and disabled veterans represent a large percentage of the unemployed population in America. These are individuals who have sacrificed for our nation, and who have proven talent and motivation, but who often require jobs that are flexible and accessible - jobs that meet their unique new lifestyles with disabilities," said Dr. Glen House, founder of Disaboom. "The Disaboom/Purple Heart Service Foundation employment contract offers veterans touched by combat injury or disability the unique opportunity to be employed on their own terms. They can now work from their home, utilizing the discipline and skills that they were taught. We see it as win-win for us and for those who have served our nation."

In phase one of the partnership, 20 virtual agents will be deployed to Disaboom, tasked with approaching local and national businesses to sell listings in disaboom.com's online Business Listings. Disaboom plans to expand the number of VBTC graduates employed to 150 virtual agents by the end of the year.

"We recognized two years ago that if combat-wounded or disabled veterans were properly trained they could work from home. We saw opportunity for this group of veterans to become a vital, remote work force for many large Fortune 1,000 companies, as well as smaller family owned businesses," said Greg Bresser, Executive Director of the Purple Heart Service Foundation. "We created the VBTC to help combat wounded and disabled veterans learn the skills to compete for jobs within contact center industry."

The Veterans Business Training Center provides online job training and professional placement assistance to combat-wounded and disabled veterans by using the internet and web-based training technology. The goal is to recruit, train and retain qualified veterans for careers in the Contact Center industry that offer long-term job placement. The course work maximizes the military training veterans received and reengineers their skills to the information industry - creating employment opportunities to provide for themselves and their family. Applications for participation in the program are currently being accepted at http://www.combatwoundedcallcenter.com.

16 July 2008

U.S. Will Allow Assessment Process to Run its Course in Iraq

Even with the positive trend lines in Iraq, leaders will not rush the assessment process for determining U.S. force levels in the country, Pentagon officials said today.

The assessment process is as transparent as the department can make it, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. While pundits have called for greater redeployments from Iraq, the department will wait and see what commanders recommend.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates finds his most valuable advice comes from commanders on the ground, and he will continue to rely on them, Whitman said.

"We are reaching that period of time when the post-surge assessment will be done," he said.

The last surge brigade combat team will leave Iraq by the end of this month. Commanders from all levels will give their recommendations on how things are going in their various parts of Iraq. Once the surge brigade leaves, commanders could decide on consolidation or repositioning of forces.

"Commanders are out there doing the work every day and have their eyes on the security situation," Whitman said. "They are the ones who should be making the judgment on what the way forward should be, and they will be making their recommendations through the chain of command."

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq; Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, acting commander of U.S. Central Command; and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "will all be in a position to make recommendations to the secretary about the way forward," Whitman said.

The secretary will discuss their recommendations with President Bush, who will determine the appropriate way forward, the spokesman said. "I have to emphasize that there have been no decisions made yet, and we are just entering this period of assessment," Whitman said.

No one in the Pentagon is leaning forward trying to hurry the process, Whitman said. "I don't see people in this building trying to prejudge what the commanders might think is the best way forward," he said.

There is no doubt the security situation in Iraq has improved over the last several months, Whitman said. The surge provided the manpower needed to hold areas cleared of terrorists, and the additional brigades also allowed Iraqi security forces the time to train.

"All the trend lines tend to be very positive, which would indicate that there is potential for further drawdowns in Iraq," he said. "But there have been no decisions made with respect to the force posture beyond completion of the withdrawal of the surge brigades."

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Giant Squids Land at Dover Air Force Base

A 326th Airlift Squadron aircrew landed at Dover Air Force Base, Del., July 11 with two giant squids in its cargo compartment.

The two sea creatures were transported in a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft from Europe and will be delivered to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The female preserved specimen, which will become the largest on display in the United States, measures 24 and a half feet long. The male is 9 feet long.

"My daughter is going to think I am the coolest dad ever," said Air Force Master Sgt. Phillip Vicker, a 326th AS loadmaster whose mission was to load and balance all of the cargo, including the squids, onto the aircraft.

Even though none of the aircrew or passengers could physically see the squids, Vicker said, everyone could still see the long box labeled with 'giant squids' stickers.

"They were really pumped up about it; they kept asking, 'Are those really squids in there?'" he said. "Even we didn't believe it when we first saw it on the cargo manifest."

The shipping container for the pair of squids was not as long as the actual bodies inside. The project manager at the Smithsonian, Elizabeth Musteen, said this was because the specimens' arms and tentacles were folded over the top of their mantles. However, when on display, the female will be fully expanded horizontally, and the male will be encased in a vertical state, she added.

"These specimens, brought up in deep-sea fishing nets off the coast of northern Spain, are expected to be a main attraction," Musteen said.

The giant squids will make their public debut Sept. 27, when the Smithsonian opens its new Sant Ocean Hall, an exhibition area designed to support ocean education.

"I can't wait to take the family to the display," said Air Force Maj. Mark Chagaris, one of the C-17 pilots who brought the deep ocean dwellers to the United States. "I can say, 'Your daddy helped bring that over here.'"

After unloading the squids from the C-17, four 436th Aerial Port Squadron airmen prepared the squids for transport to the Smithsonian by truck.

"There's nothing we can't handle," said Air Force Airman 1st Class David Strong, one of the four ramp services specialists who moved the 10-tentacled creatures. "If there's anything that needs to be shipped, we take care of it."

Dover's porters work for the world's largest aerial port, and are trained to load or unload cargo weighing 5 to 2 million pounds, and many have experience moving odd objects.

Air Force Senior Airman Michael Goicoechea, a ramp services specialist who helped to move the giant squids, said he has moved cargo ranging from submarines and Stryker vehicles to helicopters and Humvees.

"I was stationed previously at Kadena Air Base, Japan," he said. "But, I've moved more cargo working at Dover Air Force Base in five months than my two years in Kadena, and this is my first squid!"

While not trained to receive every single package, aerial port airmen here deal with all kinds of unexpected cargo.

"That is why our job is never boring," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Braddick, ramp services specialist shift supervisor, who has seen Air Force jets transport dolphins and parts for the space shuttle. "We're always learning and training throughout our career field, because who knows what else we'll be loading?"

By Air Force Master Sgt. Veronica A. Aceveda and Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu
Special to American Forces Press Service

Air Force Master Sgt. Veronica A. Aceveda serves with the 512th Airlift Wing, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Shen-Chia Chu serves with the 436th Airlift Wing.

Division Command Change Marks Milestone for Returning Surge Force

Yesterday's (July 14, 2008) change-of-command ceremony at Fort Stewart, Ga., set against the backdrop of near-daily 3rd Infantry Division homecoming ceremonies, marked one of the last milestones for the surge force that's credited with helping to bring about a dramatic turnaround in Iraq.

Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch passed command of the "Rock of the Marne" division to Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo as his soldiers continued to return home from their third combat deployment to Iraq.

"It has been the greatest honor of my career to serve it with the 3rd Infantry Division," Lynch said, extending thanks to his troops, their families, and the local communities, retirees and veterans who support them.

"I refuse to say goodbye. I say farewell," Lynch said.

After two years leading the division, he will be promoted to lieutenant general later this week before taking command of the Army's 3rd Corps at Fort Hood, Texas.

"His efforts ensured that this division was ready to fight, and fight it did," Army Gen. Charles Campbell, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, said of Lynch during the ceremony. "You have been a great division commander, but far more importantly, you have commanded a great division. Congratulations on a remarkable performance and a remarkable division."

Cucolo, who served two previous tours with the 3rd Infantry Division, most recently as a brigade commander, said he relished returning to Fort Stewart. "It's good to be back home," he said as he accepted the division flag. "Today is a humbling dream come true."

The 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was the first unit to cross the Kuwait-Iraq border in March 2003. The division returned to Iraq two years later for its second deployment. This month, the last contingents of 2nd Brigade Combat Team troops are returning to Fort Stewart, wrapping up the division's most recent 15-month deployment.

The troops represent the last surge troops sent to Iraq to boost security in and around Baghdad to return home. The surge included five Army brigades, two Marine battalions and a Marine expeditionary unit.

More than 240 members of the brigade's advance team marched onto the post's Cottrell Field during a June 26 homecoming ceremony. Their fellow soldiers have followed in a steady stream of flights into Hunter Army Airfield, outside Savannah, Ga.

Yesterday's change of command took place as both Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield buzzed with homecoming ceremonies: One was scheduled today, three tomorrow, one July 17, two July 18, one July 20, three July 22, and two July 24. In addition, a July 20 homecoming ceremony is slated at Fort Drum, N.Y., home of the division's 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Stewart officials reported.

As the homecomings have continued, the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd BCT security detachment recently conducted the surge force's last operational mission, escorting members of an embedded provincial reconstruction team in Baghdad between two forward operating bases, officials said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Fort Stewart last month to thank recently returned 3rd Infantry Division troops personally for the huge difference they and their fellow surge troops made in Iraq. Mullen credited them with "changing the calculus in Iraq and giving us possibilities that a year ago we didn't have."

The chairman told the soldiers they accomplished "what many people didn't think possible" during their deployment: bringing down violence and giving hope to the Iraqi people.

Lynch noted that when his troops first arrived in Iraq, they were being attacked about 25 times a day. By the time the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters left Iraq, attacks were down to fewer than two a day, he said during a June 29 interview with local media.

During the division's deployment, total attacks decreased 89 percent, indirect-fire attacks stopped, small-arms attacks saw an 88 percent drop, and roadside bomb attacks dipped 79 percent, Lynch said.

Mullen told the soldiers the surge, part of a new strategy in Iraq, represented a dramatic shift in previous ways of doing business with a powerful impact. "You set the stage for potentially succeeding in Iraq, and up until that point, that certainly was in question," he said.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who the Senate confirmed last week to lead U.S. Central Command, has called for a pause before decisions are made about additional troop reductions in Iraq. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President Bush announced they will support Petraeus' request.

No further troop strength decisions are expected until mid-September at the earliest, after defense leaders review a post-surge assessment military commanders are preparing and make recommendations to the president.

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service