Today is our 3,796th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,906
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 999
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 306, 838, 800, 000 .00
We'll start this morning in Iraq. Most of the troops are now home, although we remain in nearby Kuwait and there remains a small garrison at the US Embassy. Although not as widely-known as the thousands still missing from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, a lone soldier remained missing in Iraq. Until this past weekend, that is.
BAGHDAD — The U.S military announced Sunday that it has recovered the remains of the last American service member who was unaccounted for in Iraq, an Army interpreter seized by gunmen after sneaking off base to visit his Iraqi wife in Baghdad during the height of the insurgency.
The remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie, who was 41 when militiamen seized him on Oct. 23, 2006, were positively identified at the military’s mortuary in Dover, Del., the Army said in a statement released Sunday. Army officials said they had no further details about the circumstances surrounding his death or the discovery of his remains.
Altaie’s brother, Hathal Altaie, told The Associated Press the military officer who visited the family’s home to inform them about the remains said they are still in Dover, but that he didn’t know the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death.
“We have no information right now, not even how the body looks like or when they’re going to release him,” Hathal Altaie said by phone from Ann Arbor, Mich., where the family settled after leaving Iraq for the U.S. when his brother was still a teenager.
Their uncle, Entifadh Qanbar, said he was told by the Army major who informed the family in Ann Arbor that the remains were received at Dover on Feb. 22.
“I asked if it was an accident or if he was killed, and he said they didn’t know, that they are investigating,” Qanbar said by phone from Beirut, where he lives. “He said he had the same questions that I have.”
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad did not respond to a request for comment late Sunday.
The succesful recovery of Ssgt. Altaie throws the spotlight on a little-known military group; the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command. Usually operating deep down under the radar, these soldiers continue the search for those GIs that never came home. While the story is mostly about recovering WWII remains
, nevertheless it's a worthwhile read to learn about these dedicated soldiers.
Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii (CNN) -- There is a skull here, hundreds of fragments of bones there. Table after table is lined with human remains. One holds a near-complete skeleton, another has hundreds of tiny pieces of bone that could come from many different people. Together, it tells the story of life and death in the military.
At the world's largest skeletal identification laboratory more than 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists of Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command are working to put names to the remains.
Based at Hickam Air Force Base -- site of the Pearl Harbor attack -- in Honolulu, Hawaii, JPAC is made up of all branches of the U.S. military and civilian scientists, united in the goal of bringing back all 84,000 U.S. service members who went missing during war or military action.
The unit researches old war records and combs battle sites and aircraft crash sites in some of the most remote locations around the world.
Any recovered remains are brought back to JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory.
The mission is to bring answers to families who may have been waiting 60 years or more to hear anything about a loved one.
They call it the most honorable mission in the military.
"I've been all over the world from Korea to South Africa, East Asia to South America and then, of course, in Iraq and my job is to defeat the enemy. I am proud of that," says Lt. Col. Raul Gonzalez, who works at JPAC managing 18 teams who search for remains.
"This job, though, has been one of the more healing jobs in a sense that instead of doing what I am normally planning on doing and training to do, I'm bringing people back together, bringing families back together, bringing closure and it is truly, deep down inside, one of the most rewarding experiences."
Dr. Robert Mann, a forensic anthropologist at CIL and head of the forensic science academy there. "The task is daunting. It's incredibly complicated. It goes to the peaks of the Himalayas, it goes to the jungles of Southeast Asia. It goes to the oceans of the Pacific. So from the highest point to the lowest point on the earth, we're looking for missing Americans."
The mission can start in many different ways, possibly a tip from a veteran who remembers where he lost a fellow soldier during a hectic battle, or even from someone finding remains while digging in their yard.
Most of the time, investigations begin with a researcher or historian who searches military records known as Individual Deceased Personnel Files.
The files include information about where a service member was lost and how that person may have died. It's the researcher's role to figure out if there is enough evidence to search a site.
"We'll look at all the evidence and say is it going to be worth it to actually go to the site?" explains historian Andrew Speelhoffer. "And if it is, the next time we're in that country, we'll put that on the list. And we'll go to the site and we'll locate and question any witnesses."
"I think one of the most interesting parts of my job is just learning these cases individually," Speelhoffer says. "I think one of the things about World War II is just the size of it, just the numbers you're talking about. We're missing upwards of 74,000 Americans.
"When you're dealing with those kinds of numbers, it's really interesting to look at these cases on an individual basis and learn little bits, little tidbits of information about these guys. You know, where they were from, what particular mission they were on, that kind of thing."
Speaking of old records, I'll have to make one of those jarring transitions that we often have to do here at Ask a Vet. Overturning DADT was a long and painful affair, and like most government actions, there's a mountain of paperwork as a result of the ordeal. The debate continues, and to paraphrase Rep. Barney Frank; "The only people affected by DADT getting overturned were these folks that lived next door to a gay soldier - he went to Iraq and they had to watch his cat." Nevertheless, the battle continues to "take America back [to 1850]". A conservative group has filed a lawsuit to obtain the DADT survey results
on the grounds that they were somehow fraudulent.
A conservative Christian advocacy group and the leading opponent of integrating gays into the military have joined forces to sue the Navy to obtain records they believe will show that the Pentagon intentionally deceived Congress by distorting the findings of an internal study.
The study played a role in the decision to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay military service, which ended last year.
While the Pentagon conducted the survey, the groups are targeting the Navy because they say the Navy, along with the Pentagon, has not produced any documents related to consideration of the potential impact of the repeal despite the groups’ “numerous” Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents, the groups claim, will help determine the extent to which the Navy “engaged in a campaign of deception” — as suggested, they say, by a Pentagon agency’s investigative report.
The lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center, filed on behalf of the Center for Military Readiness, centers on an April Department of Defense Inspector General investigation into a leak of the report to The Washington Post. The Post ran a Nov. 11, 2010, story centered on a key finding: that roughly 70 percent of respondents to the Pentagon’s survey of troops said the repeal’s effect would be positive, mixed or nonexistent.
The groups say the survey “suggested a distorted Pentagon study of homosexuals in the military was produced and leaked solely to persuade Congress to lift the ban.” They counter the Post’s number by citing another finding in the report: that “nearly 60 percent” of those in ground combat units said that repeal would harm combat effectiveness.
“The Navy is aware of the allegations,” said Lt. Matt Allen, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon. “But because this involves pending litigation, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss at this time.”
What goes unsaid is that the Pentagon released the entire report, survey results and appendices to the public on Nov. 30, 2010. The House and Senate passed repeal bills the following month; the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy fell off the books Sept. 20.
With everything else going on in the world, it seems to me that the election this fall is shaping up over social issues. Again. As if that will help the economy and our standing in the world.