Thursday, January 31, 2008

City Calls Marines “Unwelcome Intruders”

The City of Berkeley, California has passed two resolutions attacking the United States Marine Corps, calling the Marines, “uninvited and unwelcome intruders in the city.”

Read more here

Contact the City of Berkeley elected officials here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's Life Like for a U.S. Marine? - With Bloopers

This is a really cute video made by a Marine stationed in Okinawa. He's included his bloopers in this one. I'll post the rest of his videos over the next few days.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fresh feet land on yellow footprints: Receiving gives recruits first taste of Marine recruit training

Staff Sgt. Antonio Soto, a senior drill instructor for Receiving, shouts at Rct. Anabel Santos, a new recruit, for not following instructions Dec. 4 at Receiving. Receiving is the first time many recruits are ever yelled at and forced to follow orders.

Dec. 10, 2007; Submitted on: 01/28/2008 05:02:31 PM ; Story ID#: 200812817231
By Lance Cpl. Jon Holmes, MCRD Parris Island

MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (Dec. 10, 2007) -- The clock strikes midnight. The evening silence is shattered by a drill instructor's welcome.

"You have arrived on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island," a drill instructor shouts. "You have taken the first step in becoming a United States Marine."

The recruits quickly run to the legendary yellow footprints.

They don't look like Marines, they don't sound like Marines, but that will all change soon.

Sgt. Trinity Nelson, a senior drill instructor with Receiving, gives them their first taste of recruit training.

"Look forward, feet at a 45-degree angle, thumbs along your trouser seams," Nelson shouts to them. "This is the only position you will be in when addressing a Marine, sailor or civilian during your stay on Parris Island."

Nelson isn't joking, but one recruit makes the mistake of laughing.

"Shut up," she shouts. "You think this is a game?"

Nelson orders the recruits to line up and center on her silver doors, males on the right, females on the left.

The doors read, "Through these portals pass prospects for America's finest fighting force."

"You will only pass through these doors once," Nelson tells them. "Now get in and place your right hip against my desk."

The laughing recruit wasn't laughing anymore. She was shaking.

"Give me your last name, initials and the last four of your social," Nelson ordered.


"Well," Nelson asked.

Rct. Anabel Santos, the laughing recruit, was still silent.

"Anytime," Nelson continued.

"Santos," she said in a barely audible voice.

"Someone said whisper to me, huh," Nelson asked. "Shout!"

"Aye ma'am," Santos answered.

The volume still wasn't there, and several other drill instructors made their way to the quiet recruit.

"Shout recruit," said Staff Sgt. Antonio Soto, a senior drill instructor for Receiving. "Shout."

She broke. Within 30 minutes of her arrival on Parris Island, Santos was crying.

The remaining recruits weren't doing much better. They were twitching, twiddling their thumbs and fighting back tears.

However, their initial encounter was not nearly as emotionally challenging as their short, to-the-point phone call home.

Several recruits were crying before they even picked up the phone.

"This is Recruit Keith Paley, I have arrived safely on Parris Island," Paley said. "I will notify you of my new address by mail in seven to nine days, thank you for your support and goodbye for now."

Although Receiving is a psychological and emotional roller coaster ride, its purpose is much simpler - prepare the incoming recruits for training.

"We take care of their initial processing," Soto explained. "They get their medical and dental appointments, clothing and paperwork completed here."

The recruits are also given lessons on drill and common courtesy.

"We try to teach them the basic skills of drill, customs and courtesies," Nelson said. "But our main goal is processing them into training."

One of those image-altering steps of processing is the male recruits haircut.

Everyone of them were given a grade-A recruit training haircut. No hair, no high and tight, no medium regulation, it was all skin.

The recruits were one step closer to uniformity. All they had left were their civilian clothes, and that would soon be dealt with.

A single-file line formed, and the recruits were given their initial issue.

Their initial transformation was complete, but it wasn't pleasant. However, there was a helping hand to support them.

Navy Lt. Jay Kersten, the chaplain for 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, was there to support the incoming recruits.

"I come here to give them advice on how to deal with the emotional and psychological transitions they have to go through," Kersten said. "I think the hardest part for many of them is the initial intensity of the drill instructors. It's like they hit a wall."

Santos was one of the recruits who needed that support and got it even though she wasn't in Kersten's Battalion.

"I know the first two weeks are the hardest," Kersten said. "If the advice I give them helps them make it through those first two weeks, then my time here is worth it."

Many of them, like Pfc. Dustin Johnson, a Dec. 7 graduate from 3rd Recruit Training Battalion's Lima Company, do graduate, but still remember the impact of their receiving experience.

It's difficult," Johnson said. "You have to learn fast and move fast or get blasted."

Thousands of Marines like Johnson have stood on the yellow footprints and earned the title of Marine. Their first step to earning the title of Marine is Receiving.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

New Priority Flat Rate Box

Starting March 3rd, the USPS will offer a larger Priority Flat Rate box. It is 50% larger than the current boxes and will cost only $2.00 more when shipped to a military address.

The new Priority Mail Large Flat-Rate Box (12" x 12" x 5½") can be used for both domestic and international shipments. This extends the flat-rate price and ease-of-use benefits to international shippers. There is also a 5 percent online discount.

There will be a special version of the box for the military, with a $2 discount, if shipped to an Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office (APO/FPO) address.

Read more here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bill Would Clear Fallen Heroes' VA Debt

By Terry Howell / January 23, 2008

WASHINGTON -- A bill to block the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from collecting money from the families of fallen servicemembers was introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) this week.

"This bill is about honoring our fallen heroes by treating the families they left behind with dignity and by showing them we mean it when we tell them our nation is truly grateful," said Sen. Hutchison in her January 22, 2008, press release.

Take Action: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.

The Senator was alerted to this issue by the VA, which according to current law is required to contact the family for collection if a member of our Armed Forces is killed and owes the VA any outstanding indebtedness. Once a servicemember in these cases is killed, the VA must contact the families of the deceased and ask that they be reimbursed from the estate for that GI bill education payment. To date, the VA has sought to collect over $56,000 from 22 deceased soldiers.

Although the current law does allow the VA Secretary some discretion for waiving certain cases, the bill, dubbed the "Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act" would remove that discretion and forgive all debts that fall into this category.

The press release also points to cases in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa, Connecticut, Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, California, New York, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina and sites the following three Texas cases:

- A Soldier on his third tour in Iraq was killed by a sniper's bullet and owed the government $389 for an education overpayment. The family paid this debt in full because they believed it was the right thing to do.

- An Army Sergeant who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps before enlisting in the Army attended two different colleges with VA education benefits. After serving one tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was serving his second tour in Iraq when he was killed by a bomb explosion. He owed the VA $2,282 and was survived by a wife and four children. The family paid the debt because they, too, felt it was the right thing to do.

- A Marine reservist who received education assistance to attend Texas A&M University was killed in an explosion in Iraq. The VA informed his mother of his death with a collection letter that said he owed the VA $845, which must be collected from his estate.

The Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act would relieve grieving families and remove the requirement for the VA to seek collection of such debt. If passed, the law would be retroactive to September 11, 2001.

In an effort to fast track this legislation, Sen. Hutchison requested that the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders bypass the committee process and bring this legislation to the floor before another family suffers the indignity of the current law.

MV-22 ‘Osprey’ brings new capabilities to the sandbox

Mechanics from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 work on the rotor blades of the aircraft, Jan. 15. The Marines ensure the rotors are properly secured during a routine maintenance inspection. Since October 2007, the MV-22 has had an average readiness rate of 68%. The MV-22 has one of the highest rated comparative performance records for a new rotary wing/tilt-rotor aircraft in the history of Marine Corps aviation. The range and depth of aviation supply parts is the latent limitation for high availability rates.

Jan. 23, 2008; Submitted on: 01/23/2008 06:24:16 AM ; Story ID#: 200812362416
By - II MAW (FWD) PAO, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

AL ASAD, Iraq (Jan. 23, 2008) -- The Marines of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 arrived at Al Asad to support air operations in the Al Anbar province on Oct. 4, 2007.

The ‘Thunder Chickens' took over the entire range of combat medium lift assault support missions in support of Multi-National Forces – West from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 to include battlefield circulation, raid and Aeroscout operations, helicopter/tiltrotor governance,Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel alert and casualty evacuation alert, flying everywhere within MNF-West throughout the battlefield from Baghdad to Al Qaim providing an operational capability over distance and time that has effectively collapsed the battlespace. The squadron has completed more than 2,000 ASRs in the first 3 months of the deployment, keeping approximately 8,000 personnel off dangerous roadways and accruing approximately 2,000 flight hours. They have accomplished every mission and met every schedule while maintaining an average mission capable availability rate of 68.1%.

The New River based MV-22 squadron has experienced a higher operational tempo while deployed, with the squadron completing missions and accumulating flight hours at a sustained rate well in excess of anything they've done before.

“The area of operations has, in a number of ways, highlighted the performance of the aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Paul Rock, VMM-263’s commanding officer. “Our area of operations is large and the aircraft's speed and range has been much-appreciated by many of the folks the squadron has supported. In addition, the precision navigation and situational awareness systems in the aircraft have enhanced our ability to perform such tasks as desert landings in brownout conditions.”

In brownout conditions, the MV-22’s unique hover coupled capability significantly increases the safety of troops in the execution of combat missions enabling the Ground Combat Element to be safely and precisely inserted on the desired combat coordinates. No other helicopter or aircraft in the inventory has this unique operational capability and safety enhancement. It reduces and mitigates risk while significantly increasing both Ground Combat Element and aircraft survivability.

Cpl. Bob Cowan, a crew chief with VMM-263, believes the aircraft has performed better than expected. The normal wear and tear of the desert hasn’t been as harsh on the bird as was originally expected.

“The aircraft has performed better than expected,” said Cpl. Daniel Stratman, a ‘263 crew chief. “We haven’t had to replace any major parts like prop boxes or anything; the main problem out here is getting the parts for this aircraft. We can fix just about anything, the only thing that slows us down is getting the parts.”

As a new aircraft, the supporting logistics system is new and this deployment provides valuable maintenance and logistics lessons learned that will enhance support of the aircraft in the future.

The squadron, which was the Marine Corps’ first Tiltrotor squadron, has been training for this deployment since they stood up in March of 2006. Aside from the normal pre-deployment and Desert Talon training, the unit has completed two deployment-for-training operations to practice landings in brown out conditions and they also completed training with infantry Marines practicing inserting troops during raids and other ground operations.

“We had some snags at the beginning, but we’ve learned from our mistakes,” said Cowan, a Cookeville, Tenn. native. “We’ve done the training back in the rear, but performing the missions out here is different, so we’ve ironed out the wrinkles.”

The Marines of the squadron have kept their heads held high throughout the deployment and have done well at keeping the ‘Osprey’ mission ready.

“Our Marines are doing great; it’s incredible to watch them work,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert VanOostrom, the unit’s sergeant major. “The weather is getting worse everyday … but they have to ensure a certain amount of aircraft are prepared to fly every day. The amount of time and energy they put in every day to make sure the aircraft fly, is incredible.”

Almost every service member has heard of the new aircraft, but most Marines haven’t even seen the aircraft fly, not to mention fly in it. Now, many service members are getting their first flight in the Corps’ faster, farther traveling and heavier lifting aircraft.

“In North Carolina you see the ‘Osprey’ flying every single day and it’s just another aviation platform. ,” said VanOostrom. “It’s ironic to see the individual Marine who gets on the airplane for the first time and sees what it can do and says ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’”

The ‘Thunder Chickens’ have transitioned from a trained squadron to an experienced combat squadron that has completed every tasking and succeeded in maintaining the deployed operations tempo. VMM-263 has flown 5 Aeroscout missions, 1 raid, more than 1400 combat sorties and maintained an average mission capable readiness rate of 68.1% during their current deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08.

Lap Blankets

As some of you may know, in addition to being involved with Lubbock Marine Parents I am also a Soldiers' Angel. The Houston area angels need our help.

The Houston Soldiers' Angels VA Team is collecting Lap Afghans. They are trying to collect 533 so that each bed in the Houston VA will have one. The blankets need to be 36 x 48, but they can be any color. They would appreciate it if you would attach a note or card to the blanket so the Veteran will know who made their wonderful afghans.

If you or your group would like to help them in this effort please contact the Kimberly Hightower, Soldiers' Angels Contact Angel for the Houston VA at .

Please help us help our Veterans know they are appreciated.

Cross-posted at Soldiers' Angels Texas

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wounded Marines Focus on Film Careers

Chelsea J. Carter - Associated Press January 22, 2008

SAN DIEGO - Joshua Frey looked through the view finder of his camera in a studio production lot, focusing on a group of helmets atop wooden stakes.

They reminded the former U.S. Marine of the memorials to fallen comrades he had seen before he was shot and hit by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq, which left him with partial use of his left arm, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder that still haunts his nights.

Frey, like many disabled veterans, has struggled to find a career, to rebuild a life.

Now, more than two years after being wounded in Fallujah, Frey has enrolled in the Wounded Marine Career Foundation program, which aims to help wounded and disabled Marines and Navy corpsmen land jobs in the film industry.

The photos in the studio lot were part assignment, part therapy for Frey. Perhaps, he says, his attempt to use a camera is a new beginning, a path to a new career.

"There's so much riding on this, it has just got to work," Frey says.

With more than 29,000 troops wounded in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, job training for the disabled is a priority for the military.

But unlike many training centers, the foundation's new film boot camp aims to do more than provide skills that help the disabled find a career in film, video, sound design, graphics and photojournalism.

It also aims to let the wounded tell their own stories, says co-founder Kev Lombard, a documentary filmmaker and two-time Emmy-winning director of photography for the children's television show "Reading Rainbow."

Lombard came up with the idea for the foundation's Wounded Marine Training Center for Careers in Media program after being asked by a friend in the military nearly two years ago to document the stories of wounded veterans at military hospitals.

"It wasn't our story to tell. It was theirs," he said. "So I said how about we teach them to tell their own story."

In addition to veterans whose war injuries forced them to retire, the Marine Corps is allowing active duty wounded Marines to enroll.

Lombard and his wife, Judith Paixao, use private and corporate donations and federal grants to operate the program, which costs $2 million (euro1.36 million) for each 10-week session. They plan two sessions a year.

"This isn't about turning out the next Steven Spielberg," Lombard said. "It's about turning out a camera operator, a grip, a boom operator. These are good jobs with good pay."

Amy Lemisch of the California Film Commission says the boot camp appears to be offering nuts-and-bolts skills that are often missing from college film schools.

"It's almost like an apprenticeship," she said.

While jobs in the film industry are highly competitive, Lemisch said the students could find jobs if they develop the right skills.

The program's camouflage-painted building on a studio production lot in San Diego has a Marine Corps atmosphere. Posters from "The Sands of Iwo Jima" and "The Flying Leathernecks" adorn the walls, and the 20 students are broken up into five-member squads.

Paixao says Marines and Navy corpsmen are well-suited for film work because of their discipline and teamwork.

However, many of the wounded and disabled have been removed from military life for some time. As a result, the program emphasizes Marine Corps discipline, says photography student and former Gunnery Sgt. Nick Popaditch.

He has taken on the role of the program's gunnery sergeant, so to speak - briefing students on the day's events and helping new arrivals to San Diego navigate the city.

Popaditch gained widespread attention as the "Cigar Marine" during the fall of Baghdad when a photographer for The Associated Press captured him smiling and smoking a cigar. A year later, he was severely wounded in Fallujah by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade that hit him in the face, damaging one eye and causing him to lose the other.

Many students have severe wounds that require modification of film equipment. Barry Green, an Emmy-award winning producer, worked with Popaditch to figure out how best to use video and still cameras with his injured eye.

"I'm feeling more comfortable with it," Popaditch said hours later, looking through the camera's eye piece.

Across the room, former Gunnery Sgt. Tai Cleveland, 42, worked on loading editing software onto his laptop computer.

It's the first step in what Cleveland hopes will be a new career. He uses a wheelchair since a 2003 training accident in Kuwait caused back and brain injuries, and supports his family on his disability check.

Cleveland dreams of one day building a production studio in his home in Manassas, Virginia, and he and his wife, Robin, have begun putting together a business plan.

"It's a way for me to take back as head of the household with a career that I can do from a wheelchair," he says during the lunch break.

Standing in the cluttered studio lot, instructor Levie Isaacks works with Frey, 31, to complete the day's assignment: shooting a series of five photos that set a scene.

Frey focuses on the helmets, which sit near a box of blank ammunition. For a moment he considers taking pictures. But then he decides against it, saying later that the scene didn't look real.

Isaacks knows a bit what Frey has faced in war, having suffered post-traumatic stress himself as a Vietnam War veteran.

Isaacks has taken the road from combat veteran to Emmy Award-winning directory of photography, whose credits include Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" and the recent film "Grace," starring Elizabeth Shue.

"You look through that lens and the world is focused," Isaacks says.

Retired Air Force general brings fight to ALS

By Jill Coley - The (Charleston) Post and CourierPosted : Tuesday Jan 22, 2008 9:57:21 EST

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Four-and-a-half years have passed since Tom Mikolajcik was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Seventy percent of people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis die within five years. Time is not on his side.
Now, Mikolajcik must make decisions about how he will face the last stages of the disease before he loses the ability to do so.
The degenerative disease, which is known for killing New York Yankees first baseman Gehrig, strikes about 15 Americans daily, shutting down nerve cells responsible for movement. Limbs weaken and atrophy before paralysis spreads to the trunk of the body. Eventually, speaking, breathing and eating are affected.
Patients must decide if they want to go on a ventilator and feeding tube to hold off the inevitable a little longer.
“Today, my decision is, I will put in a feeding tube even before I need it,” Mikolajcik said. “Today, my feeling is, I want to go on a ventilator as long as I can communicate with family and friends.”
The retired Air Force general and former commander of Charleston Air Force Base is taking charge of these critical decisions by participating in a medical study testing diaphragm-pacing stimulators in ALS patients. Located below the lungs, the diaphragm is the large muscle used for respiration.
The pacing device stimulates the diaphragm with surgically implanted electrodes to maintain muscle mass. The stimulator, already used in people with spinal cord injuries, might delay the need for a ventilator by more than a year.
During the surgery, a feeding tube also will be inserted, although Mikolajcik does not yet need one. “The sooner you have the procedure, the better,” he said.
Dr. Raymond Onders, director of minimally invasive surgery at the Medical University Hospital’s Case Medical Center in Cleveland, pioneered the technology and the procedure. The late actor Christopher Reeve, who suffered from a spinal cord injury, was Onders’ second patient to receive a stimulator.
ALS is a fatal disease, but theoretically, people could live indefinitely with a tracheotomy and ventilator. But most don’t want to do that, Onders said.
Doctors can predict when ALS patients will die based on their rate of decline in respiratory function.
To measure the success of the stimulator, Onders looks for decreases in that rate.
“It’s not a cure,” he said.
Mikolajcik was successfully fitted with a stimulator last week in Cleveland. He is part of a 100-person trial in six U.S. sites. Onders previously completed a safety trial implanting the device in 16 ALS patients whose decline in breathing function slowed, delaying the need for a ventilator by more than a year.
“I want to be able to listen, watch and absorb my children and grandchildren as they grow and change,” Mikolajcik said. The mind and senses remain unaffected by the disease. But as time passes and the body shuts down, the ability to communicate diminishes.
Toward the end of the disease, some people use their eyes, looking right or left to signal “yes” or “no.” In preparation for the time he will become speechless, Mikolajcik recorded himself singing “A Bushel and A Peck” to be played when his grandchildren are placed in his lap.
In August 2003, the retired general went to the doctor with a minor complaint: He was feeling tired and not hitting his golf balls as far, he said. The doctor noticed a slight twitching in Mikolajcik’s chest called fasciculation.
The doctor told him the best-case scenario was a benign tic, and the worst case was ALS. Mikolajcik went home and Googled ALS.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” he said. The muscles in his arms shut down first, then his legs. He can move his left thumb and index finger, and if he concentrates and is well rested, he can move his left wrist and ankles. Little is known about ALS, which was discovered in 1869.
“In 70 years, there’s only one questionable drug that may extend life by three years,” Mikolajcik said. “In 70 years. Give me a break.”
For unknown reasons, veterans have a 60 percent higher chance of developing ALS. That high rate is why Mikolajcik said he feels strongly that the government has a higher responsibility to advance ALS research.
He has visited Congress three times to push for ALS research and testified before a congressional committee in July. Legislation to establish an ALS database that will warehouse information on the disease for scientists and patients has passed the House and is awaiting consideration by the Senate.
“I am blessed that I’m a Type-A personality,” Mikolajcik said. “What about those who take no for an answer?”

Monday, January 21, 2008

Lawmaker Marine prepares for Iraq duty

SETH PERLMAN / ASSOCIATED PRESS Illinois Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, admires a farewell greeting during a Republican County fundraising dinner in Jacksonville, Ill. Watson is going off to war. The 42-year-old spent his last week in Illinois by taking care of the last minute details before his deployment to Iraq.

By Nguyen Huy Vu - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jan 21, 2008 7:53:14 EST

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. — Jim Watson is going to war, and that means taking care of details familiar to any Marine: updating his will, packing his duffel bags, saying goodbye.

Then there are a few unusual chores, like figuring out how to raise campaign money while in Iraq and arranging for other lawmakers to watch over his legislative district while he’s away.

Watson is a staff sergeant in the Marine Reserves, but he’s also a Republican member of the state House, representing a swath of farmland and small towns in central Illinois.

He leaves Sunday to train in Camp Pendleton, Calif. When he arrives in Iraq a few weeks later, Watson will become one of just 23 state legislators deployed overseas by the military over the past four years, according to a survey done last summer for the National Network of Legislators in the Military.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates Watson will be one of five state legislators currently deployed in Iraq.

Watson, 42, expects to be shipped to Al-Anbar, Iraq, and spend nine months working with local leaders to strengthen their government.

He’ll miss his son’s 14th birthday and his youngest daughter’s tumbling meets. He’ll also miss the spring legislative session, leaving his district without a vote in the House, a situation that irritates some constituents.

“I hope that people in the district look at that and say, ‘That’s a sacrifice we can live with so that he can do what he’s doing,’” he said. “If that’s not the case, then I am not the right guy. This is important to me, and I hope that is important to them.”

Watson already has served overseas once.

He started his military career in 1985 with the Marine Corps. He returned to active duty in 1990 and served in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for seven months with a combat engineering unit as part of Operation Desert Storm.

Watson started thinking about re-enlisting in 2005. His pangs to return to active duty grew as he watched his old unit being sent to Iraq three times. Two of them died.

“You get into this because you have a sense of duty, and just because you take the uniform off doesn’t mean that sense of duty is put in the closet with it. It’s still there,” Watson said. “And so when these things flare up you find yourself saying, ‘I should be there, I can help.”’

Last summer, he signed up for the reserves again, joining a civil affairs unit that could use his experience in government.

He got word around Christmas that he was being shipped to Iraq.

Watson spent the last few weeks raising money, voting on legislation and trying to make time for his family. “It’s complicated to put it all together, but it’s coming together,” he said.

More than 200 supporters packed a banquet room Monday night to wish Watson luck during an annual political fundraiser that doubled as a farewell party. They lined up to shake his hand and promise to take his son hunting or invite his youngest daughter to sleepovers.

The next day it was back to business. Watson wants to make sure his district isn’t forgotten by state officials while he’s gone. He plans to keep in touch through e-mail, and other representatives from both parties have promised to visit the district.

Watson caught heat from a few constituents and local papers because he can’t vote while serving in Iraq. He understands the concern, and it’s one reason he delayed re-enlisting. But he doesn’t consider it a crisis that the district will be without a vote for 270 days. If he served any longer, Pentagon policy would require him to give up his political office.

Watson sits with advisers over pork loin and cornbread as they try to tie up loose ends. Have they thought of everything? Are the office hours covered? Do we have the right reps? Is the right staff in place?

Next, they head over to his campaign headquarters a few yards away and discuss how to stay visible through blogging, e-mails and video teleconferencing. The group then tosses ideas around about moneymaking strategies.

Watson listens intently and struggles to swallow a few yawns.

An hour later he picks up his youngest daughter. Recently divorced, Watson usually gets the kids once a week but he has the entire week with them before he ships off.

The hardest part was telling the kids. Katie, 16, Jacob, 13, and Lexie, 9, gathered around at Watson’s Jacksonville duplex when he told them the news. Katie and Lexie had the toughest time. They couldn’t stop crying.

Jacob sat quietly. He began to ask questions. If you have to go, where will you be? How long are you going to be there? What kind of gun are going to carry?

Jacob said he is disappointed that his dad has to go.

“I really don’t have a choice, I have to accept it because he’s already going and you can’t turn back,” Jacob says.

His children were the main reason it took so long to commit to the service.

“There’s nobody that can replace your parents,” Watson says. “Missing some games, missing tumbling meets, missing a swim meet, not being able to help them on a test, not being there to help out their mother. She’s got to carry this load and that’s tough.”

While Watson helps Jacob study for a Spanish test, there is a knock at the door. It’s a stranger. The man introduces himself and, out of the blue, offers to help any way he can while Watson is away.

Watson thanks the man. Then he simply grins.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Military: 75% of Baghdad areas now secure

By Jim Michaels - USA Today
Posted : Friday Jan 18, 2008 9:38:59 EST

About 75 percent of Baghdad's neighborhoods are now secure, a dramatic increase from 8 percent a year ago, when President Bush ordered more troops to the capital, U.S. military figures show.

The military classifies 356 of Baghdad's 474 neighborhoods in the "control" or "retain" category of its four-tier security rating system, meaning enemy activity in those areas has been mostly eliminated and normal economic activity is resuming.

The data given by the military to USA Today provide one of the clearest snapshots yet of how security has improved in Baghdad since roughly 30,000 additional American troops arrived in Iraq last year.

U.S. commanders caution that the gains are still fragile, but at the moment U.S. and Iraqi forces "basically own the streets," said Army Col. Ricky Gibbs, a brigade commander in southern Baghdad.

The fight to control Baghdad is the centerpiece of the counterinsurgency strategy launched a year ago by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The plan, popularly known as the "surge," seeks to reduce sectarian and other violence by moving troops off large bases and into dangerous neighborhoods to protect civilians.

The 310 neighborhoods in the "control" category are secure but depend on U.S. and Iraqi military forces to maintain the peace. The 46 areas in the "retain" category have reached a level where Iraqi police and security forces can maintain order, a more permanent fix. The remaining areas have fewer security forces based there, though they are not necessarily violent.

In February 2007, when additional U.S. forces began arriving, only 37 Baghdad neighborhoods were in the "control" and "retain" categories.

The drop in violence in Baghdad and elsewhere helped avert a religious civil war, said retired Marine Col. Thomas Hammes, an author.

Risks remain. Iraq's government has been slow to restore basic services such as electricity and water in some areas.

"In areas that are in 'control' status, the complaint is not security," Gibbs said. "The complaint is essential services."

The military is wary of handing over security responsibility too quickly to Iraqi forces.

"There are concerns we'll pull out of here too fast just because we have such great gains," Gibbs said by phone from Iraq.

The Iraqi government has also failed to take full advantage of the improved security by passing major laws, such as a plan to share oil revenues, that could ease tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Meanwhile, U.S. troop levels are scheduled to start coming down again by the middle of this year. Although weakened and pushed out of Iraq's major cities, al-Qaida remains focused on trying to dominate the capital, said Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq.

"Their long-term sights are still set on Baghdad," he said.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Meeting Tonight!

Please join us for our meeting tonight at 7:00PM at Daybreak Coffee on 19th and Quaker. You are all welcome to attend.

America's Marines

This is the extended version of the new Marine Corps ad that aired during last night's American Idol. It's beautiful!

Check out more videos and "why we serve" stories at

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Report: Blue Angels pilot became disoriented

This is something I had been wondering about so I was glad to see this follow up story.

Davis died after failing to tense abs to counter G-forces
By Chris Amos - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jan 15, 2008 8:07:13 EST

A crash that killed a Blue Angels pilot during an air show April 21 was caused by a Navy pilot making a sharper-than-normal turn to catch up with his five squadron mates and then failing to take steps to prevent blood from rushing from his brain during the maneuver, according to a report released Monday.

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis, flying in his seventh Blue Angels show, was attempting to rejoin a formation at the end of a Blue Angels performance when he crashed his F/A-18 into a wooded residential area about three miles west of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

Those forces caused by the maneuver — 6.7 Gs — were within the range expected for that maneuver, but their quick onset left Davis temporarily disoriented.

Navy officials say the squadron’s culture of perfection contributed to the crash.

“The culture of the Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron is that they constantly strive to perform a perfect show, every show,” the investigating officer, Lt. Col. Javier Ball, wrote in his report. “I believe that Lieutenant Commander Davis was simply trying to meet this standard, just as he would have at any other show.”

Investigators say Davis compounded his error by failing to flex his abdominal and leg muscles to keep blood from rushing away from his brain, as all tactical aviators are trained to do, investigators said. Failing to do so can lead to loss of consciousness, also known as blacking out, or loss of space and time perception, which they believe Davis experienced, known as a “grayout.”

Investigators say they believe Davis never lost consciousness because he maintained control of the Hornet’s control stick until impact, attempting to right the aircraft until it struck the ground at nearly 350 miles per hour.

Davis was found at the end of a debris field that extended several hundred feet. Rescue workers arrived within four minutes and attempted to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene minutes later.

Witnesses said metal and plastic wreckage — some of it on fire — hit homes in a residential area about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head. Eight people on the ground suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Davis, 32, of Pittsfield, Mass., had been an F/A-18 pilot since 1999 and had logged more than 1,900 hours in the Hornet, including deployments aboard the carriers Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy and extended operations in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He worked as a Navy adversary pilot before joining the Blue Angels in September 2005.

Capt. Jack Hanzlik, spokesman for the chief of navy personnel, said he had performed more than 100 training flights with the Blue Angels — including the exact maneuver that led to the crash.

The Blue Angels were grounded for nearly a month while investigators studied the crash.

Before Davis’ death, the most recent Blue Angels fatal crash was in 1999, when a pilot and crew member died while practicing for air shows at a base in Georgia. An investigation determined that the pilot likely developed tunnel vision because a recent rib injury kept him from flexing his abdominal muscles.

After the 1999 crash, the Navy’s air training chief ordered the Blue Angels to consider wearing G-suits, which automatically inflate around a pilot’s legs and lower torso to prevent blackouts during tight maneuvering. Most tactical pilots wear them, but the Blue Angels do not because their sudden inflation could cause a pilot to accidentally bump the control stick — a potentially deadly move when flying inches from other planes during training and performances.

Since the 1999 crash, the Blue Angels pilots have received a series of waivers that allow them to fly without G-suits. Those waivers, investigators recommend, should continue.

Hanzlik said investigators recommended a number of steps be taken to prevent a similar accident in the future.

Those recommendations included ordering Blue Angels pilots to complete mandatory weight training — after studies found that 10 to 12 weeks of training focused on muscles used during “anti-G straining maneuvers” can lead to a 50 percent decrease in blackouts — and yearly centrifuge training geared to the unique stresses Blue Angels pilots endure. They also proposed developing a G-suit that could inflate without risk of bumping the control stick and looked at relaxing time standards for certain parts of the show to take some pressure off pilots.

But the best way to prevent these accidents, Hanzlik said, is to properly use the straining maneuvers.

“If you don’t properly perform this procedure, it can lead to a fatal impact,” he said.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Angry Woman

Letter from one "Angry Woman" I don't know who wrote it but they should have signed it. Some powerful words. This woman should run for president.

Written by a housewife from New Jersey and sounds like it! This is one ticked off lady.

"Are we fighting a war on terror or aren't we? Was it or was it not started by Islamic people who brought it to our shores on September 11, 2001?

We re people from all over the world, mostly Americans, not brutally murdered that day, in downtown Manhattan , across the Potomac from our nation's capitol and in a field in Pennsylvania ?

Did nearly three thousand men, women and children die a horrible, burning or crushing death that day, or didn't they?

And I'm supposed to care that a copy of the Koran was "desecrated" when an overworked American soldier kicked it or got it wet?..Well, I don't. I don't care at all.

I'l l start caring when Osama bin Laden turns himself in and repents for incinerating all those innocent people on 9/11.

I'll care about the Koran when the fanatics in the Middle East start caring about the Holy Bible, the mere possession of which is a crime in Saudi Arabia

I'll care when these thugs tell the world they are sorry for hacking off Nick Berg's head while Berg screamed through his gurgling slashed throat.

I'll care when the cowardly so-called "insurgents" in Iraq come outand fight like men instead of disrespecting their own religion by hiding in mosques.

I'll care when the mindless zealots who blow themselves up in search of nirvana care about the innocent children within range of their suicide bombs.

I'll care when the American media stops pretending that their First Amendment liberties are somehow derived from international law instead of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.

In the meantime, when I hear a story about a brave marine roughing up an Iraqi terrorist to obtain information, know this: I don't care.

When I see a fuzzy photo of a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners who have been humiliated in what amounts to a college-hazing incident, rest assured: I don't care.

When I see a wounded terrorist get shot in the head when he is told not to move because he might be booby-trapped, you can take it to the bank: I don't care.

When I hear that a prisoner, who was issued a Koran and a prayer mat, and fed"special" food that is paid for by my tax dollars, is complaining that his holy book is being "mishandled," you can absolutely believe in your heart of hearts: I don't care.

And oh, by the way, I've noticed that sometimes it's spelled "Koran" and other times "Quran." Well, Jimmy Crack Corn and-you guessed it-Idon't care !!

If you agree with this viewpoint, pass this on to all your E-mail friends. Sooner or later, it'll get to the people responsible for this ridiculous behavior!

If you don't agree, then by all means hit the delete button. Should you choose the latter, then please don't complain when more atrocities committed by radical Muslims happen here in our great Country! And may I add:

"Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem" -- Ronald Reagan

I have another quote that I would like to add AND......I hope you forward all this.

"If we ever forget that we're One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under." Also by.. Ronald Reagan

One last thought for the day:

In case we find ourselves starting to believe all the Anti-American sentiment and negativity, we should remember England's Prime Minister Tony Blair's words during a recent interview. When asked byone of his Parliament members why he believes so much in America , he said: "A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in.. And how many want out."

Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: 1. Jesus Christ 2. The American G. I.

One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Title It!

Be sure to head over to Gunz Up and play the Title It! game. This time it's a picture that I submitted that my oldest son took in Iraq.

Everyone is invited, encouraged and ramrod-ed into playing if at all possible.

Deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2008 at 8:00 PM CST

ONE Title submission only.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Toughest Fight in Anbar Province | By Christian Lowe | January 11, 2008

KARMAH, Iraq - It's a new kind of fight these Marines weren't exactly counting on. And it might be the toughest one they've had to endure in this war-ravaged country.
After preparing to confront one of the most deadly insurgencies America has ever faced, and steeped in the legend of Marine aggressiveness in the counterterrorist fight, the leathernecks of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines are fighting a pitched battle against boredom.

With violence across the province dropping precipitously over most of the past year, Marines who were girding for a brawl on this latest rotation have had to dial back their warrior ways for a softer approach.

Though their thoughts are tinged with disappointment, many are nevertheless practical about the new reality.

"There's not much going on this time around," said Cpl. Ken Dickerson, 1st squad leader with Lima Company, 3/3's 3rd Platoon. "But at least we're not losing anybody."

The two years preceding this Hawaii-based battalion's August deployment were some of the most violent for U.S. forces in its nearly five year occupation of Iraq. But since the surge of 30,000 troops launched in early 2007, violent incidents in Anbar have dropped to levels unthinkable just a year ago.

According to officials with II Marine Expeditionary Force, there were about 170 "significant events" in Fallujah, about five miles from here, during the first week of January 2007. That includes firefights, IED attacks, mine explosions and roadside bombs that were discovered, but that did not detonate.

By the last week of December, the number of "sigevents," as they're called here, in Fallujah dropped to less than 20.

In Ramadi, the capitol of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province and a troubled hot spot for years, incidents dropped from 198 in one week of February 2007, to three by the last week of the year.

II MEF officials attribute this massive shift to a population fed up with al Qaeda in Iraq's terrorist tactics and rejuvenated tribal governance that cast its lot with American efforts to bolster the national government.

Whatever the reason for the reduction in violence, Marines in the field have switched from rifles to paint brushes and from bullets to handshakes.

For some of leathernecks here on their first deployment, it's a bit of a let-down. One Marine in 3rd platoon who's a veteran of the fierce Fallujah fight in November of 2004 said it's been tough to keep his Marines motivated after regaling them with stories of that epic battle. They came here to fight, he said, and instead they're patrolling streets teeming with people, devoid of enemy activity.

In fact, Lima Company hasn't fired a single shot in anger since early October, its commander, Capt. Quintin Jones, said.

And that's just fine with him. As local police take greater control of their towns and local citizens help keep al Qaeda malcontents from detonating bombs in their markets, the Marines here are left with little to do but reconstruction and institution building - an overall mission that has one every Marine can appreciate.

"It might be a little boring here now," said Lance Cpl. Parker Winnett, a radio operator with 3rd Platoon's 1st squad. "But at least I'll come home alive."

Friday, January 11, 2008

America's Marines at the Grand Canyon

Protecting troops in ‘bonus limbo’

By Tom Philpott, Special to Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pentagon officials and congressional staffs are working together to try to ensure that thousands of bonus-qualified recruits, and thousands of careerists ready to re-enlist, aren’t harmed financially by the current suspension of bonuses and incentive pays.

Bonuses and many special pays stopped Jan. 1 because President Bush vetoed the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill. He refused to sign HR 1585 because of a provision that could expose assets of the fledgling Iraqi government to U.S. lawsuits from victims of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Until the $696 billion defense policy bill is revised, passed and signed, or Congress clears separate legislation restoring bonus and pay authorities, the services must operate without key force-management tools, including all enlistment, re-enlistment and retention bonuses being paid to fill critical skills.

Capitol Hill staffers and Defense officials have been brainstorming how to rewrite the delayed Defense bill to be certain it fully protects recruits and servicemembers from unintended consequences of the bonus limbo. They want to make sure, for example, that suspended bonuses and special pays are made retroactive to Jan. 1 for everyone, whether infantrymen and health care professionals or aviators and nuclear-trained officers.

Defense officials also are pressing Congress to protect tax breaks for servicemembers who might be unable to re-enlist before returning this month from Iraq and Afghanistan. Special language could be necessary to allow war-zone tax exemptions to apply to bonus contracts whose signing must be delayed.

This will be a concern, for example, for re-enlistment-eligible soldiers in two Army Brigade Combat Teams — the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division.

“The language we’re working on with the Congress would protect those situations so there would be no disadvantage accruing to anyone,” said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of Defense for military personnel policy.

With no authorization bill, the military’s pay raise appearing in mid-January checks will be 3 percent, not 3.5 percent as passed by Congress. Standing law allows raises to match wage growth in the private sector, which is the lower figure. Congress had for a 3.5 percent hike to continue to close a perceived pay gap.

When revising the Defense bill, lawmakers are expected to make the larger raise retroactive to Jan. 1. But for it to show up in end-of-month paychecks, the revised bill would have to be signed by January 22.

For most members facing re-enlistment decisions, suspension of bonus authority isn’t a big deal. The services are offering service extensions of a month or two until bonuses are available again. The Army, which in wartime is paying bonuses to 82 percent of soldiers who re-enlist, intends to keep all bonus levels unchanged for several months.

The services were alerted to the veto two days after Christmas. For the Army at least, that was enough in time to advise soldiers with expiring contracts to re-enlist before Jan. 1 to ensure a bonus. This led to a surge of 1,500 re-enlistments in the last days of December.

The effect of bonus suspensions on recruiting is a bigger worry, Carr said. The Army gives bonuses to 68 percent of its recruits. But this month, any bonus agreement that a recruit signs includes an addendum warning that a bonus will only paid if Congress authorizes payment retroactive to Jan. 1. The same document also advises recruits that their own contractual obligation to serve is “valid and enforceable” regardless of whether a bonus is paid.

“It’s legally necessary to say that,” Carr said. “But we all believe the Congress will ultimately give us those authorities and, if they follow history, will give them in a way that the person is not affected by the delay.”

Army officials said using the addendum had not discouraged recruits from enlisting through the first week of January. Carr worries that it could happen. Unlike current servicemembers who have seen these delayed budget drills before, he said, recruits have no basis in experience to be confident Congress will restore promised bonuses back to January.

“Therefore it might cause them to be reluctant to [enlist on] a soft guarantee about a future incentive,” Carr said.

He noted that January is the biggest month for recruiting outside of summer with the Army alone hoping to ship roughly 7,500 recruits. The Navy and Air Force also will need to offer recruit bonuses on certain critical skills, and therefore are selectively attaching the addendum to some contracts.

The Marine Corps doesn’t need the addendum. Its contract, said Carr, already gives recruits some options if the bonus they are signing up for isn’t authorized. A recruit at that point can choose to stay in without a bonus, reduce the length of their contract or simply end their tour in the Corps.

If the other services begin to see a chilling effect on recruiting from the conditional bonus language being used, Carr said, the department is preparing a more reassuring contract addendum that, like the Marine contract, would offer recruits options if Congress fails to approve their bonus.

To comment, e-mail, write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111 or visit:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

3,000 Marines could be headed to Afghanistan

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 10, 2008 8:10:52 EST

The Pentagon has received a U.S. Central Command request to send roughly 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan to bolster the combat troop-strapped NATO force and counter a possible spring offensive by Taliban insurgents.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has expressed concern that six years of progress in Afghanistan could be reversed if NATO efforts falter, is expected to begin considering the request beginning Friday. He is not, however, expected to make a snap decision, according to press secretary Geoff Morrell.

“It is highly unlikely that he will approve this on the spot,” Morrell said Wednesday evening. “He has more thinking to do on this matter. It’s a serious commitment of additional troops. And he wants to discuss it with some additional people.”

The NATO International Security Assistance Force, now roughly 41,700 troops — 14,000 of them U.S. — bolsters efforts by the Afghan army and police forces to provide security and stability in war-torn country so its young government can rebuild and become more economically secure. A parallel effort by the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force 82 — 12,000 U.S. and 1,200 other coalition troops — focuses on defeating anti-government extremists.

If Gates decides to approve the new request, the troops — a Marine Air-Ground Task Force and a battalion that would focus on the training of Afghan army and police units — would be in place by April and spend seven months operating in southern Afghanistan, the area most vexed by Taliban attacks. It would be a “one-time-only” deployment and the troops, who would be assigned to Regional Command South, would not be replaced by additional U.S. forces, Morrell said.

RC South, headquartered in Kandahar, is currently commanded by the United Kingdom.

Sources said the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit — scheduled to deploy in mid-February — went into high gear this week, laying plans for an accelerated deployment schedule that could have the unit departing for Afghanistan on Feb. 1 and staying out past its traditional 180-day rotation. However, unit officials would not confirm that the group is planning to leave early.

“We do not have a deployment order,” or a warning order, said Capt. Kelly Frushour, spokeswoman for the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit.

The 24th MEU is planning to deploy with the Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group. Cmdr. Herman Phillips, 2nd Fleet public affairs officer, said he knew of no changes to the Nassau ESG deployment schedule.

“There’s nothing planned right now,” he said.

Morrell said no units have been identified, but that they would not be drawn from neighboring Iraq. Late last year, Gates rejected a Marine Corps proposal to move Marine units from Iraq’s Anbar province to Afghanistan. The security situation in Anbar, while much improved over the past year, “remains tenuous,” Morrell said.

Gates has repeatedly complained that other NATO countries have not contributed enough combat forces and other capabilities, particularly helicopters capable of high-altitude operations, to the coalition effort. Gates has said ISAF is short about 3,500 trainers and to meet every command requirement, a total of 7,500 additional troops would be needed.

But Gates softened his tone during his December meetings with NATO defense ministers in Scotland, saying the U.S., recognizing “political realities” faced by some European governments regarding involvement in Afghanistan, would stop “hammering” its allies to contribute more and instead take a more creative approach toward resolving the shortfalls — such getting allies to contribute more funds for items such as helicopter overhaul.

“As a result, we will likely have to bear more of the combat shortfall,” Morrell said.

Violence increased markedly over the past 18 months in Afghanistan, particularly in the south — the result, U.S. officials say, of renewed Taliban assaults. But the new proposal is not a reaction to that increase but rather, Morrell said, “more a move in anticipation of what we expect to be another attempt at a Taliban spring offensive.” The idea is to get the Marines in place “to prevent, as we did last spring, another attempt by the Taliban to come back.”

The Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until late-2001, when a coalition of U.S. and Afghan warlord-led forces drove them from power. Pockets of Taliban insurgents have remained in Afghanistan ever since, some crossing into eastern Afghanistan from tribal areas in neighboring Pakistan to spring attacks on civilians and coalition forces.


Staff writers Andrew Scutro and Trista Talton contributed to this report.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Presidential candidates take a stand on military issues

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stars and Stripes surveyed the 2008 presidential candidates about their positions on issues important to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Click here to compare their answers side by side.

WASHINGTON — If elected president, Barack Obama would boost foreign language and nation-building training for all troops, John Edwards would create a deployable reserve corps of civilian experts, and Fred Thompson would boost the Army to 775,000 soldiers.

Those ideas are just a few presidential candidates shared with Stars and Stripes on how to improve military readiness and servicemembers’ quality of life.

In a questionnaire sent to the major campaigns last month, five candidates responded to issues of military operations in Iraq, homosexuals in the military, postcombat health care and ways to better help families of deployed troops.

While all expressed an admiration for servicemembers and their efforts, Democratic and Republican candidates offered drastically different views of how to proceed with operations overseas, and how best to prepare the services for the future.

Republicans Thompson and John McCain both echoed President Bush’s assertions that great strides have been made in Iraq in recent months, and opposed any plans calling for withdrawal timelines or a hasty pullout from the country.

But Democrats Obama, Edwards and Bill Richardson all called for the immediate withdrawal of significant U.S. forces from the country, with Richardson proposing all troops be removed as soon as possible because “there can be no political solution while our military remains there.”

All of the respondents except Thompson believe more resources need to be committed to Afghanistan. McCain said he believes NATO should send more troops there, while Edwards would boost U.S. Special Forces in the country.

Obama said he would send “at least an additional two brigades of rested American troops” there, while Richardson proposed deploying 20,000 more troops for border patrol and securing the country’s southern provinces.

Both Thompson and McCain oppose moves which would allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military and allowing overseas military facilities to perform abortions. Richardson, Obama, and Edwards all oppose the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and would make abortions available to overseas troops and dependents.

The candidates all agreed on the importance of military family quality of life in recruiting.

McCain said competitive pay and benefits packages are the best tool to help those families, while Richardson singled out proposals to give deployed parents more legal protections in custody cases and increased funds for marriage counseling.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Top 10 things Marines can look for in 2008

By Kimberly Johnson - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Jan 6, 2008 9:01:18 EST

For the Corps, 2008 will be the Year of More.

More Marines. More training. More money.

After a year that saw plenty of changes — from a crackdown on tattoos to special-operations Marines deploying for the first time since, arguably, the Marine Raider Battalions of old — the promise of even more changes means more to look forward to and more to consider.

Whether it’s units coming home or units going over, new gear or new rules, there’s something for everyone in ’08. Keep reading for your preview of the Top 10 things to come.

1. 202,000 Marines
The Corps will continue its drive toward an end strength of 202,000 Marines by 2011, aiming to add about 5,000 to the roll in 2008. That increase will help feed the creation of new units, including a new infantry battalion in the coming year, according to the Corps’ outline for the plus-up.

It’s a plan that will eventually help Marines extend time at home between deployments, said Commandant Gen. James Conway. Currently, infantry Marines spend about seven months stateside for every seven months deployed, he said. He wants to see that average shift to 14 months at home for every seven months deployed.

“You can look forward to the continued growth of the Corps with highly qualified young Americans who meet Marine Corps standards and who want to be Marines,” Conway said during a Dec. 17 interview in his Pentagon office. “As we continue to do that, I think you can look toward a better deployment-to-dwell percentage. That’s why we’re growing the force.”

2. More money
Furthering the goal of growing the force is the Corps’ plan to hold tight to the leathernecks it has, which translates into cash for Marines willing to re-sign on the dotted line.

While Corps officials keep details for 2008 close to their vests, sources said new cash incentives are on the horizon, including possible bonuses for company-grade officers extending their commitment, and sign-on bonuses for college graduates who complete The Basic School. There’s even talk of the Corps rogering up to pay off its new officers’ student loans.

The Army has a $35,000 cash incentive for its infantry captains to stay put for three more years, which has many questioning whether the Corps will do the same.

“We’re conscious of that,” Conway said. “We hope we never get to that situation.

“We don’t pay a lot of bonuses for people to join, and I don’t think we’re going to change that,” he said. “When it comes to re-enlistment bonuses, we’ll match anybody. When we find a good Marine, we want to hang onto him or her, and we’re going to pay what we think we need to when it comes to retention.”

Marines of all ranks were due to receive a 3.5 percent pay raise effective Jan. 1, but that may be held up due to a White House threat to veto the defense authorization bill. They’re guaranteed 3 percent Jan. 1; the extra half point will come later and be retroactive to Jan. 1. The bill also extends Temporary Lodging Expense payments from the current 20-day cap to 60 days in certain unusual circumstances.

Military bonus and special pay incentive programs that were set to expire Dec. 31 will be extended through Dec. 31, 2008. Congress also authorized a ten-fold increase in hardship-duty pay for the services — from a cap of $150 per month to a maximum of $1,500 per month — but left it to the services to decide how much of that would be paid.

Also set to rise is the Basic Allowance for Housing for homes off-base, which increased by an average of 7.3 percent as of Jan. 1, a rate more than twice last year’s average increase of 3.5 percent. That translates into about an $80 monthly increase for an average E-8 family with dependents, defense officials estimate.

3. Fitness and appearance
The Corps intends to take its body-composition standards up a notch by doing away with the association — and thus the underlying reward system — of the physical fitness test to the body-composition calculation. This means that a first-class PFT score won’t gain you wiggle room on your body-composition assessments.

The Corps is also launching the Marine Appearance Program, meant to ensure Marines look the part. That means leathernecks aged 17 to 26 carrying more than 18 percent body fat can expect a lot of attention from their command in the coming year.

Along with new body composition and appearance standards comes a combat fitness test aimed at measuring a Marine’s battlefield ability through drills such as grenade throws, dynamic entry, casualty carry, maneuver under fires and ammo resupply.

The CFT will be administered the same day as the PFT and is expected to be phased in by June.

4. Deployments
Speaking of summer fun, deployable Marines also can expect to freshen up their Anbar suntan in the coming year. Despite dauntless attempts by Conway, war planners have said no — for now — to the idea of taking Marines out of Iraq and putting them back into Afghanistan.

Even though Marine units will continue to deploy to Iraq for the foreseeable future, Conway continues to look for ways to draw down his forces, even if it’s piecemeal, in order to offer relief for those constantly away from home.

“Where we can help ourselves with some of those low-density, high-demand units, we’d like to do that,” Conway said. “Can we send detachments as opposed to entire squadrons? Can we send a fewer number of people that can still give us the capacity we need, but do it for less numbers of people so we could do something about the deployment-to-dwell [ratio]?

“It’s probably the one objective that we haven’t made tick marks of progress along the line since last year, but therefore it’s really uppermost in our mind,” he added.

Any hope the Corps had to improve the operational tempo in Iraq during 2007 was dashed in the spring, when war planners ordered a surge of forces, which included a Marine expeditionary unit and infantry battalions, as well as supporting units.

However, progress on that front could appear in spring 2008 when the Corps’ surge forces begin to return home, Conway said. As the Corps returns to its normalized rotations in Iraq, it also will see the creation of battalions associated with end-strength growth. At least one infantry battalion — 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines — is slated to stand up in 2008, officials said last year. Added to that is the potential for a reduction in the force requirement in Iraq later in the year, Conway said.

“All of those things are somehow in work,” Conway said. “There is, I think, distinctly a light at the end of the tunnel.”

5. Revamping family services
Marine families have something to look forward to in the coming year, including more money, staff and expanded services from the Family Readiness Program.

“We realize that families are the most brittle part of this deployment equation,” Conway said. “We’re putting significant amounts of money, both Marine Corps money and Global War on Terrorism supplemental monies, toward family programs and enhancement of the bases that are family friendly.”

One key area destined for improvement is the Corps’ volunteer program, which Conway admits has been stretched thin over the course of five years of steady deployments.

“The volunteer program isn’t necessarily engineered to work against a long-term struggle, a long-term fight like we see ourselves in,” he said. “We’ve got to, I think, stop taking advantage of our volunteers and start employing some people to do some of those things that our volunteers have done time after time after time for us.”

The Corps also will look at improving day-care options and base amenities, such as bike paths, in an effort to keep families rooted, he said.

Playground equipment and improved fitness centers may be added to the smaller installations that have fewer amenities.

And new programs for Marines’ parents will be rolled out this year, part of an effort to expand the Family Readiness Program beyond spouses and children.

“We’d like to keep our families at the bases and installations when their Marines are gone,” Conway said. “Some choose to go home because there’s a more family friendly environment, but what our families find is that they share little in common with the people at home. They don’t understand the nature of deployments and the nature of the Marine way of life. If we can make it more hospitable for them to stay, I think that benefits everybody in the long term.”

6. Faster flights
If you’re deploying in the coming year, chances are you will fly on the MV-22 Osprey, which is going to make your flights a lot shorter.

Ospreys deployed in Iraq with Marine Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron 263 are transporting Marines and conducting combat missions, Conway said, adding that they eventually will replace the CH-46E and the medium-lift CH-53D. “They’re doing everything those airplanes do, except they’re doing it three times faster,” he said during a Dec. 5 press briefing at the Pentagon.

The Corps expects to receive 14 MV-22s in 2008 and is standing up an additional squadron — VMM-264 — at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., in October, said Maj. Eric Dent, a Marine Corps spokesman.

The year ahead also will see VMM-162 head to Iraq on its first combat deployment, once VMM-263 returns.

7. New gear
With another year comes cooler gear, literally. The Corps’ new closet of Flame Resistant Organizational Gear is going high-tech in 2008, with the introduction of new textile technology that will be anti-microbial and moisture wicking, said Austin Johnson, spokesman for Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. The new FROG fabric also will be more durable, have improved flame resistance and be used in two new pieces of outerwear, he said.

“More of this gear is on the way for when Marines deploy,” Johnson said. “On the way in early 2008 are flame-resistant fleece pullovers. A flame-resistant outer garment for cooler/cold weather is being worked on for later in 2008.”

The Corps’ FROG suit includes flame-resistant gloves, balaclavas, long-sleeve T-shirts and combat shirts and trousers.

8. More flattery
Several movies slated for release in the coming year will have that certain Marine spice, according to the Corps’ Motion Picture and Television Liaison office in Los Angeles.

“Taking Chance,” starring Kevin Bacon, and “Iron Man,” which has Marine characters, both come out in 2008.

But leathernecks can give a big sigh of relief that one upcoming movie won’t be based on the Corps, after all. “Major Movie Star,” starring Jessica Simpson, was initially penned as a comedy about a Hollywood actress who enlists in the Corps to show studio executives she is capable of taking on a military role. However, conflict arose around the movie’s romantic plotline between a drill instructor and a recruit, according to a Marine source. After the Corps said that story line was all wrong, Simpson suddenly became “Army Strong,” transforming into a soldier recruit instead.

While the Corps won’t be represented by Simpson, it will be representing during “American Idol.”

A slick new Corps commercial aimed at the people who influence potential recruits, such as parents and teachers, will debut in January during the popular reality show.

9. New barracks
New digs are on the way in 2008, as the Corps makes improved living spaces a priority, its top officer said.

The Corps needs to spend $2 billion between 2008 and 2011 for construction, planning, design, furnishings and equipment to revamp existing barracks or tear down old ones.

“Even if we weren’t growing the Corps, we would need new barracks,” Conway said. “We have really, I think, put ourselves against the firewall, in terms of quality of life for our single Marines and barracks life in general.”

Conway told Congress in March that much of the Corps’ barracks infrastructure was antiquated — 43 bachelor enlisted quarters were built between 1920 and 1940.

Recent estimates from Installation & Logistics at Marine Corps headquarters show that under a two-to-a-room standard, the Corps lacks 16,000 barracks spaces, in addition to another 12,000-space deficiency linked to the end-strength plus-up by 2011.

“We neglected our barracks for years for other operational requirements,” Conway said in the Dec. 5 interview.

According to Capt. Amy Malugani, a Corps spokeswoman, the Bush administration’s 2008 budget calls for funding barracks construction projects Corps-wide: six at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; three at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; two at Quantico; and one each at MCAS Yuma, Ariz.; Hawaii; New River; and Twentynine Palms, Calif. While the funding was put in place for 2008, construction might not begin until 2009, she said.

10. Clothing
Last, but certainly not least, Marines will see the long-awaited running suit, which everyone should have by next fall, Conway said.

The new green running suit sports material and design features that allow for moisture management, reflectivity, anti-microbial protection and breathability. Conway approved the final design in late 2007, and fielding will begin during 2008.

“This is not intended to replace the items already in the seabag, such as green-on-green shorts and sweats,” said Johnson, the SysCom spokesman.

In addition, thousands of the new desert combat jackets — a Gore-Tex jacket with a Polartec lining specially designed for conditions in Iraq — will be shipped to Marines in the coming year. Leathernecks will be able to wear the new jacket instead of their blouse, in some cases.


Staff writer Andrew Tilghman contributed to this story.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Moms in Service to Their Wounded

Though the above title is the original for the article, I would like to take a moment and also give equal recognition to wives. As you read on, it states that half of the family members aiding the wounded are wives. Although we see these heroes with different eyes, the love and commitment both mothers and wives have toward these brave warriors cannot be broken by anyone or anything.

Associated Press January 02, 2008
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Rose Lage swears it is true: Suddenly, in the midst of a fitful night of sleep last June, she knew that her son had been injured in Iraq.

"I heard my son's voice," she recalls. "It might sound weird, but I heard him holler 'Mama!'"

It turned out U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Lage was the only survivor of a blast that killed four others. He suffered third-degree burns to nearly half his body; part of his nose and ears were missing, and his face, scalp, arms and torso were seared. His left hand had to be amputated.

Rose Lage, 54, understood her son's life would change. But she did not understand how much her own quiet life - a life spent playing with grandkids, fishing and preparing for her husband's retirement - would change, as well.

She would exchange her two-story house in Atlanta for a hotel room on an Army post, watch her nest egg shrink and spend her days helping a 30-year-old son change bandages and wriggle into garments meant to reduce scarring.

The sacrifices of injured Soldiers, airmen and Marines are recognized with medals and commendations. But the mothers and wives who arrive here wide-eyed and afraid make their own sacrifices - abandoning jobs and homes and delaying retirement to help their wounded children reclaim their lives.

"The women here are the heroes, every bit the heroes as their Soldiers," said Judith Markelz, who runs a 4-year-old program to aid the families of injured Soldiers sent here for treatment. "These kids could not survive without their women."
The patients who arrive at Fort Sam Houston are among the worst wounded in war, suffering the kind of injuries that killed their predecessors in earlier conflicts.
So far, about 600 burn victims and 250 amputees have been sent here to recover at the Army's only burn center and at an amputee rehabilitation program set up since the start of the Iraq war. Their injuries will take multiple surgeries and months or years of recovery and rehabilitation.

When the injured arrive, fathers and siblings often come for the first surgeries. But the wives and mothers most often stay, Markelz said. They quit jobs, give up health insurance and abandon homes.

"None of us realized people were going to be here two years. That's not your normal hospital stay," Markelz said. "They didn't want to make San Antonio their home. Now, they can vote here."

Markelz, the wife of a retired army officer, was hired four years ago to start the Warrior and Family Support Center, a program that has grown from a few computers in converted conference rooms to a catchall program for families of the wounded.
The Army provides housing for families in a post hotel or at one of the Fisher Houses, family-style dorms with a living room, kitchen and dining room. But most arrive with few or no friends and with little understanding of what they or their wounded family member will face.

"They come in with their purses like this," said Markelz, hugging her chest. "They look like a deer in headlights."

The assistance center - which will move to a new 12,000-square-foot (110-square-meter) building next year - provides meals, a place for baffled family members to seek advice, rides to shopping, just about anything Markelz's staff can do to help.
Among the family members here for the long haul, about half are wives and half mothers.

Markelz said it is especially hard on wives of guardsmen and reservists and on middle-aged mothers of Soldiers - women who had well-established civilian lives away from the typically nomadic life of active military families.

"They didn't sign up for that," she said.
Staff Sgt. Michael Lage had always been an independent kid. The youngest of three and the only boy, he was the first to leave home. He joined the Army at 18.
He served two full tours in Iraq, first in 2003 and again two years later.
Through both tours, his mother prayed and lit a yellow candle every day at a shrine fashioned from his photo, angel figurines and military mementos in front of her fireplace in Atlanta. She continued the ritual when he was deployed a third time in May.

But less than a month later, his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by a bomb in Baghdad. Lage was the only one who managed to crawl out or get blown free of the wreckage. He was on fire, still carrying his gun, witnesses later told his family.
Rose Lage and her husband, Larry, arrived in San Antonio to find Michael in intensive care in a medically induced coma. He was covered in bandages with tubes coming in and out of his body.

His mother recognized her son by his long dark eyelashes. But she wasn't allowed to touch him, couldn't embrace him the way she longed to.

"It took everything I had to be strong," she said, her voice breaking.
Now, six months have passed since she arrived in San Antonio with one large suitcase.
Her husband stayed as long as he could, but he had to return to work after the couple tapped their retirement savings for months.

Her two daughters, too, have come to help, but they have their own homes and young children to care for.

Rose has not gone anywhere.

Pieces of her wardrobe have arrived with family members as the seasons changed and as she lost weight from crisscrossing the post on foot. A few photos of grandchildren have gone up around the hotel room, along with American Indian charms meant to protect against nightmares.

Rose has cobbled together an unexpected life here, learning her way around town and building new routines and friendships.

Days of housekeeping and care for grandchildren have been replaced with new routines: the careful wrapping of gauze around reddened skin, vigilant adherence to medication regiments, the zipping and buttoning of Michael's clothes.

"We've given up a lot for him," Rose concedes, sitting in a hotel room where a giant flag signed by her son's unit hangs. "We'd give up a lot more for him."

Michael is grateful for his mother's help, but parents and adult children living together can get on each other's nerves. The close quarters and the stress chafe.

"I appreciate her being here, but living in a small hotel room with your mom tends to wear on you a bit," Michael says.

A career Soldier and divorced father of 8-year-old twins, he never dreamed he'd be living with or reliant on his mother at age 30. (His son and daughter live in Tennessee with their mother.)

Even as a child, he was never good at asking for help, Rose says.

"That's what annoys her most: I never ask for help," he says.

Rose struggles, too, because she knows he doesn't tell her everything. He holds back some of the emotional and mental struggles that come with such serious injuries and with the memories of friends lost at war.

"It's been very hard because I know he is frustrated because I'm a mom and I haven't been there. I guess he thinks I don't know what's going on," she says.

"They forget that you're a person. You have a life, that you have feelings."
The Lages both finally left San Antonio on Dec. 15 for a Christmas trip to see Michael's children and other family and friends.

But Michael must return in January to face a series of surgeries to reconstruct his elbow, and eventually his amputated arm and his nose and ears. It will probably take another year of treatment and rehabilitation.

That means Rose will be back, too.

"I will always be here for him no matter what. He can always depend on me. I will never leave him," she says, looking at Michael. "I'll be here for my other kids, too. That's what a mom's for. I would give up my life for him, and if I could give him my other hand, I would."

At that, Michael quickly brushes away a tear, and his mother adds one last thing: "He's my baby."

Friday, January 04, 2008

V-22 Osprey in Iraq

There has been so much negative talk about the Osprey in the past few years. Well, guess what? The first Marine Corps Osprey squadron to go to Iraq is kicking butt and I don't hear a peep about it. I've been looking for any news about them now that they are accomplishing their missions and there's next to nothing. Typical.

This little bit on Fox News is the only thing I found.
When we boarded the Osprey I sat down next to the colonel and got strapped in, but before we lifted off one of the crew members came up to me and told me to unbuckle and follow him towards the front. He showed me a jump seat attached to the open door of the cockpit, handed me a helmet and gave me a quick brief on how to strap myself in, then pointed me toward the front where I stepped in between the pilots. It had been a long few days, so I still didn't realize what was happening.

I said hello to the flight team and shook their hands and turned around to see the door closed behind me. That's when I realized I would have a front row seat for one of the coolest rides most people will never see.

The Osprey's dash has four big display screens, including color GPS maps and an infrared video display. I'm no pilot so I didn't recognize most of the other gauges, switches, readouts and gadgets, but suffice it to say there's a lot going on up there. I did manage to pick out the digital altimeter and speed in yellow lights and watched the numbers climb as we did, lifting off and heading almost immediately nose up into the clouds, angled steeply to roughly 10,000 feet at an air speed of 240 knots, 280 ground speed with the tail wind (more than 300 mph, according to the pilots). The Osprey can fly up to 25,000 feet but passengers would need oxygen. Instead, my crew rode with the others in back with the rear ramp open. The pilots warned me if people didn't hang on to their stuff it would fall out for sure.

When we leveled off I was able to talk to the guys over headsets about the differences between these 22s and the 53s they usually fly.

They raved about the Osprey's performance capabilities (I think the word "awesome" was used more than once) and said the cockpit gauges were comparable in some ways to a fighter jet. They were thrilled to fly them, they told me, they believed in the birds' future and weren't worried about the lack of a forward-facing weapon.

"That's being looked at now," the Major in charge of the helicopter-borne assault force told me on the ground. "But we have plenty of backup systems. When we go in, we go in strong," he said. They're using the Ospreys for missions involving reconnaissance, interdiction and disruption. "We're just beginning to explore what it can do."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

No Pendleton war deaths this holiday season

By William M. Welch - USA Today
Posted : Thursday Jan 3, 2008 6:55:06 EST

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — For almost two years, this Marine base in Southern California has had fighters fall every month in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fallen are remembered in memorial services here every time a unit returns from fighting abroad. But this holiday season, Camp Pendleton Marines were spared the ultimate sacrifice.

No Marines based here died in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan in November or December — the first time a month has gone by without a death since March 2006, according to the Defense Department casualty figures analyzed by USA Today.

“I look at it as good news,” says Staff Sgt. Johnathan Turner, 33, of Atlanta, a veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq. “It means things are getting better over there.”

Pendleton has suffered some of the military’s highest casualty figures in the Iraq war, and there hadn’t been consecutive death-free months for Pendleton’s troops since early 2004.

The decline in casualties is reflected as well in the experience of Marines based at Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, N.C., where December was the third consecutive month without an Iraq fatality, according to the figures.

October was the first death-free month for Lejeune Marines since June 2004.

The declines coincide with reports of progress in securing the country during the fifth year of the war in Iraq and follow the increase in troop levels, or “surge” as the Pentagon and Bush administration labeled it.

Marines say they see improvement in Iraq security.

“Every time I went, I’ve seen progress. ... It’s always changing,” said Sgt. Justin Imbeau, 23, of Tulsa, Okla., who has spent 28 months in Iraq over three deployments, including the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The news of a break in casualties was tempered by loss for some Marines as the war grinds on.

Sgt. Seth Martin, 24, who returned from Iraq in October, said Marines think about casualties in terms of the faces of friends and fellow fighters, not statistics.

“It’s not so much the numbers as who I know,” says Martin of Corcoran, Calif. “Late in August, a buddy of mine passed away, and another is still in the hospital. While you are there, it doesn’t really hit home until somebody you know gets hit.”

Progress hasn’t lessened the strain on families back home, these Marines say. They try not to dwell on the risks or casualties when they talk to loved ones.

“Nothing long and drawn out — just quick and to the point,” said Turner, describing conversations with family members. He also cited the death of close friends serving in Iraq.

Imbeau, Martin and Turner are part of the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion at Pendleton.

Imbeau took shrapnel from a 155mm artillery round while he was on foot patrol in Iraq. The incident left him with a broken jaw and nose and a perforated eardrum. He spent a month recovering and returned to his fighting position without leaving the country.

“Once it happens to you, you realize how quickly and easily it can happen,” Imbeau says of the injury. He has a wife and 6-year-old daughter.

He says he was most heartened by seeing Iraqis vote in elections — a scene that made him feel that he and his fellow Marines had made a difference in the lives of the local population. He says Marines don’t think about political debate at home over the war.

“I never have sat down and questioned why I’m there,” he said. “I never doubted why we are here. I saw my mission, went and done it, and when it’s over I come home.”

Pendleton has had 335 Marines die in Iraq since the war started, including 37 killed in 2007. That compares with 49 deaths in 2006; 39 deaths in 2005, 178 deaths in 2004, and 32 deaths in 2003, according to the Pentagon’s figures.