Today is our 2,666th day in Iraq and our 3,194th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start as we always do, with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4411
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4272
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3950
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3552
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 183
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,152
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 744
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through:$ 1, 013, 807, 950, 000 .00
Seeing that we've just celebrated our nation's birthday, I'll try to start off with a couple of "good" news stories, inasmuch as war stories can be "good".
First, there's the story of a family that is celebrating the graduation of their son from the United States Military Academy at West Point. That's noteworthy in itself, as West Point isn't the easiest school to get into...but what makes it truly newsworthy is that he's the fifth generation to graduate from the Academy...in an unbroken line stretching back to 1891.
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, June 29, 2010 – Service before self is expected in the military, but one family has taken that concept to new heights.
Army 2nd Lt. Mark Armstrong Jr. graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., marking the fifth consecutive generation of his family to do so
"I wanted to serve my country, develop my leadership skills and get a world-class education," Armstrong said. "At West Point, I was able to do that and much, much more."
Armstrong has some big shoes to fill. His father, Army Col. Mark Armstrong Sr., serves on active duty as the U.S. Army North Region 9 defense coordinating officer in Oakland, Calif., near his birthplace of Palo Alto, where generations of his family have lived and served.
The senior Armstrong, a 1981 West Point graduate, proudly administered the military oath of office to his son.
"I was thrilled to be able to commission my own son into the Army," the colonel said, fully aware that his son may soon be deployed in harm's way in Afghanistan or Iraq. "West Point has prepared him well to be a leader of character in today's complex, volatile, uncertain and multi-national combat environments."
The senior Armstrong grew up in the San Francisco Bay area into a family that already was rich in military family tradition. His father, Army Lt. Col. John L. Armstrong, was a 1946 graduate of West Point. A Pearl Harbor survivor and veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, John died in 2004 and never got to see his grandson in uniform as a cadet.
"We are all so proud of Mark Jr.," said Kathryn Halsey Armstrong, John's widow, who still lives in Palo Alto. "His grandfather would have been so proud of him, too. He's a fine young man, and carrying on a wonderful tradition of service to our nation as part of the 'Long Gray Line.’”
Both of Mark Jr.'s great-grandfathers attended West Point as well. Army Col. John D. Armstrong, also of Palo Alto, was a 1919 graduate. A Pearl Harbor survivor, he served as commander of the 92nd Infantry Division’s 365th Infantry Regiment during World War II’s Italian campaign.
The other great-grandfather, Army Maj. Gen. Milton B. Halsey, was a 1917 graduate who joined the search for Pancho Villa in the Desert Southwest immediately after graduation. He later served with Gens. George Patton and Douglas MacArthur and commanded the 97th Infantry Division in World War II when it liberated Czechoslovakia.
Halsey then moved to the Pacific theater as commanding general of the Yokohama Command and chief of staff of 9th Corps during the occupation of Japan. He later served as chief of staff of 8th Army, overseeing operations in both Japan and Korea.
However, the rich family tradition began more than a century ago in 1891 when Mark Jr.'s great-great grandfather, Army Col. Frank Spear Armstrong, graduated from West Point - starting the chain that hasn't been broken since.
Changing gears somewhat...I'm sure everyone is familiar with the Congressional Medal of Honor
? It is our nation's highest military award, and as the description notes,
It is bestowed on members of the United States armed forces who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States." Because of these conditions, it is often awarded posthumously.
A few have been awarded during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all posthumously. But there was news last week that there is a living candidate for the award.
This brave soldier would be the first living recipient (if approved) since the Vietnam War.
A soldier who served in Afghanistan could be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
News outlets in and around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have reported that Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, who is from that area, is believed to be the soldier being considered for the nation’s highest valor award. Giunta is currently stationed in Vicenza, Italy.
The recommendation has been sent from the Defense Department to the White House, according to an Army source, who confirmed that Giunta is likely the nominee.
The Washington Post was the first to report the nomination, but did not reveal the soldier’s name.
A source close to the nomination said the soldier fought through a barrage of fire to repel enemy fighters in a fierce battle in late 2007 in Afghanistan’s treacherous Korengal Valley. His actions saved the lives of several other soldiers.
The White House and the Army refused to comment on the nomination. Efforts to reach Giunta and his family were unsuccessful.
The AP reported officials are concerned that early disclosure could be seen as pressuring President Barack Obama to approve the medal, creating a potentially embarrassing situation if the award is not approved.
If approved, the award would be just the seventh Medal of Honor since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All six prior awards were posthumous, including four for acts of heroism in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
Earning the Medal of Honor is rare air indeed, and for those that don't live to tell the tale, there's always resting among our honored dead at Arlington as a way for the nation to say "thank you". But longtime followers of this space know that Arlington National Cemetery isn't all it's cracked up to be, thanks to the mismanagement and gross incompetence that has been going on for the last few years. There's another story out that broke just before the Fourth....that "choice" areas of the cemetery have been saved for the high-ranking or the well-connected. Of course, it's illegal.
Officials at Arlington National Cemetery have been quietly reserving particularly desirable parts of the burial grounds for VIPs. This violates Army regulations and federal law, which bar special burial arrangements for the powerful and well-connected and require that service members be buried in the next available plot at Arlington, regardless of rank or other factors.
This means that despite the rules, an influential general might get buried in a shady grove on a hill overlooking Washington in a plot that is easily accessible to visiting family, while a lowly private ends up in some back corner of the cemetery’s sprawling grounds.
Officials familiar with Arlington operations detailed the practice for Salon and, in response to questions, Army officials have now confirmed it. When asked on Tuesday if this seemed to violate the law, Army spokesman Gary Tallman responded, "Yes, it would."
This revelation represents a new front in the broadening scandal at Arlington and comes on the eve of a House Armed Services Committee hearing about the matter set for Wednesday. Already, the Army has confirmed hundreds of potential burial errors after examining only a small fraction of the 330,000 graves at the cemetery. The Army also says that the cemetery has funneled millions to contractors close to top managers there, but got little or nothing in return.
All of these revelations came in response to a year-long investigation by Salon that first exposed the fiascoes.
As the scandal unfolded more publicly this month, the Army stripped cemetery Superintendent John Metzler Jr. of his authority and created a new post to oversee operations there: the Army Cemeteries executive director, now filled by Kathryn Condon, a former special assistant to the undersecretary of the Army.
Army officials confirm that in her new post, Condon has reviewed cemetery burial paperwork. That review "raised questions as to whether Mr. Metzler pre-assigned grave sites," according to Tallman, the spokesman.
Condon confronted Metzler. "Mr. Metzler stated he had identified sections (for the burial of certain people) but did not assign specific grave sites," according to Tallman.
The cemetery is cut up into dozens of so-called sections. This is an odd defense from Metzler since reserving sections would still violate the law.
Since 1962, service members are supposed to be buried in the next available grave, regardless of their post in life. "The next available grave ... is assigned for the interment or inurnment," according to cemetery rules. "Assignment of graves ... are without regard to military rank, race, color, creed, or gender of the qualifying service member."
Despite those rules, the practice of quietly reserving sweet spots for VIPs has been going on for years, if not decades, Army officials now say.
So, as we head back to our work week, try to remember the sacrifices of those that made it possible for us to get here. (And did we all reread the Declaration Sunday? The Boston Globe always runs it as the only 'editorial' piece every 4th...I hope your local rag does, too.)