Today is our 3,845th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning like we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,936
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,023
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 323, 043, 525, 000 .00
So the war continues unabated in Afghanistan. Only...it's the war on drugs.
I must admit to a certain ambivalence about the entire affair. It's been over ten years now, but this seems to be a sort of "mission creep" that is far above and beyond what our original intent was.
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Marines are running heliborne operations and other raids this spring to stem the flow of stored poppy out of the country ahead of the next harvest, said the two-star general overseeing ground operations here.
The interdiction has taken place in several districts of Helmand province, where about 17,000 Marines are deployed. The poppy — used to make heroin and other narcotics — has been confiscated after it leaves the hands of regular farmers, so as not to affect their day-to-day lives.
“Right now, it’s just before the harvest, so whatever they buried and kept from last year has to be moved now [before] the next harvest comes,” said Maj. Gen. David H. Berger, commander of Task Force Leatherneck and 1st Marine Division (Forward). “It’s like corn or wheat or anything else. Opium stores for a very long time under the ground. Every year, it seems to be they have to move that stuff now, before the next harvest comes in.”
Berger’s comments came in an April 6 interview in his office, as Marine Corps Times prepared to embed with two infantry units in northern Helmand.
Poppy — distinctive because of its large white or pink flowers — will be harvested in coming weeks.
The Afghan government sporadically eradicates the opium-producing plant, but it is still widely considered the cash crop across the region.
Marines do not participate in destroying poppy because it would alienate local civilians, but they have sought to confiscate it before it’s smuggled out of the country. The drug trade is widely believed to finance the insurgency.
Smuggling and drug trading used to occur widely at bazaars and on major roads, but with an increase in coalition and Afghan forces in the region, it has become more difficult, Berger said.
One alternative smugglers have tried is “mobile bazaars,” the general said. They typically include coordinated gatherings in sparsely populated places, with drugs and cash exchanged within an hour or two.
Marine battalions in central Helmand have actively fought to stifle mobile smuggling, Berger said. In Marjah district, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., has had a standing request for helicopters and a heliborne raid force for more than a month.
“They have a very good system, intelligencewise, and they’ll have a very good idea of where one could happen,” Berger said. “So, you’ll have people geared up and ready to go. When the mobile bazaar happens, they’ll either hit the bazaar, or not hit the bazaar and be watching.”
Nevertheless, no matter what the mission, I would hope that our soldiers are serving nobly and well. Speaking of which, there's a number of awards and other recognitions that servicemembers can earn through their actions or deeds. While most of us are familiar with at least the Medal of Honor, there's many more out there.
Recently, two USAF Tech Sergeants were awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. Almost immediately, a backlash started online because some out there think the awards are for combat only. But from our friends at Wikipedia:
The Bronze Star Medal (BSM, or BSV with valor device) is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. As a medal it is awarded for merit, and with the "V" for valor device it is awarded for heroism. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth highest military award (including both combat and non-combat awards) in the order of precedence of U.S. military decorations.
I believe I failed to mention that one of the recipients is female, while the other is a black female. You can do the math from here.
Within the span of a week, two female airmen who were awarded the Bronze Star have been targeted by cyber bullies who claim they do not deserve their awards, generating a wider discussion of who should be eligible for the Bronze Star Medal and whether the Air Force issues too many of the medals.
The controversy began in late March after the Air Force posted a story online about Tech. Sgt. Christina Gamez, a financial analyst with the 802nd Comptroller Squadron who received the Bronze Star on March 14 at Joint Base San Antonio.
“Gamez distinguished herself by meritorious achievement as the [noncommissioned officer] in charge during a 365-day deployment, January 2011 to January 2012,” the story said. “While in Afghanistan, she accurately executed operational funds across eight remote bases, providing commanders with flexibility in support of counterinsurgency efforts. Gamez trained 68 operational fund teams, reviewed 34 projects and funded 280 joint acquisition board packages enabling critical base sustainment.”
The story drew 70 online comments between March 26 and March 29, mostly from people who were livid because they said Gamez did not deserve to be recognized for doing her job.
“My brother in the army was awarded the bronze star with valor,” one person wrote. “If I showed him this I bet he’d give it back. I’m sad to be an airman right now.”
Some of the comments got nasty, accusing the Air Force of giving Gamez the award out of favoritism or because she is “a female or minority.”
Others said Gamez did not deserve the Bronze Star because the award should recognize combat actions.
“If you really want a Bronze Star, go earn one the proper way on the battlefield fighting the enemy not handling finances and reports,” one person wrote. “I can only hope that she will take a trip up to Arlington and think long and hard [and] leave the medal there where it belongs and never wearing it because she realized it was not earned.”
Then on April 2, the Air Force posted a story about Tech. Sgt. Sharma Haynes of the 7th Comptroller Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, who was awarded the Bronze Star for her meritorious service in Afghanistan.
“She fought through long days and expended every ounce of her expertise to develop the financial processes for the command,” Air Force Capt. Anthony George, who nominated Haynes for a command award, said in the story. “She sought no personal benefit from her hard work, but she knew that she could improve the situation for special operations troops and the Afghan local police they partner with.”
The story also drew stinging comments from people who said she didn’t deserve her Bronze Star.
“Unbelievable,” one person wrote. “Another person gets a BSM [Bronze Star Medal] for doing their job and never leaving the wire. The AF has seriously lost its focus on decorations and good people that probably deserve them aren’t getting them.”
Others opined that troops who actually deserve awards such as the Bronze Star are not getting them.
“To all those who have gone outside the wire and are going outside the wire wearing 70lbs of gear and return with no more than a thanks for doing your job, I’m sorry you have to see people get BSM that don’t deserve them,” one commenter wrote.
It does seem to me that from reading the description of the award, there's a clear distinction between meritorious action and valorous action, which are two different things. What do you think?