Today is our 3,831st day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from on ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,920
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1022
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 318, 408, 520, 000 .00
You may have missed it, but this past week was IAVA's annual "Storm the Hill" conference, where they spend days in Washington meeting with VA and elected officials to ensure that veteran's issues remain in the forefront. Seems like things went well.
Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, met with key Administration officials in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Twenty-three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who are participating in IAVA’s seventh annual nonpartisan “Storm The Hill” advocacy trip, discussed the challenges they face and action they would like to see from the White House to lower veteran unemployment and support career-ready education programs like the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
"After an incredibly impactful week Storming the Hill, IAVA was honored to meet with the President and First Lady’s advisors at the White House. The meeting was a critical opportunity for our vets to share their personal and powerful stories about coming home, and to reinforce the urgency of the veteran unemployment crisis. At the start of 2012, IAVA members are facing nearly 17% percent unemployment rate, significantly higher than the national average. IAVA told the White House today that there’s tremendous work ahead to ensure every vet comes home to a meaningful career and future—and that the President and First Lady’s support is absolutely critical in that effort,” said IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff.
“Last year, IAVA worked closely with the White House and leaders on both sides of the aisle to champion the Vow to Hire Heroes Act. The President quickly signed it into law, and showed our entire community that he’s in this fight with us. But the scope of the veteran unemployment crisis impacts every community nationwide—and the future of our entire country. We had a very productive conversation with Administration officials about concrete steps that the government, private sector and average Americans can take to support veteran hiring initiatives and career-ready education programs like the New GI Bill. In the coming months, we look forward to working with the President, Defense Secretary Panetta, VA Secretary Shinseki and the First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative to ensure all our troops and veterans have better access to tools and programs so they’re ready to continue leading in the workforce.”
Nevertheless, the biggest issue of all remains unresolved; you saw the counters at the top of the page for what still remains to be finished. Things have been so bad in Afghanistan in recent days that some on-base policies have changed.
Apparently, the Taleban are students of history and are borrowing some of Washington's tactics from Trenton.
WASHINGTON — U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have assigned “guardian angels” — troops that watch over their comrades even as they sleep — and have ordered a series of other increased security measures to protect troops against possible attacks by rogue Afghans.
The added protections are part of a directive issued in recent weeks by Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to guard against insider threats, according to a senior military official. And they come in the wake of a spike in attacks on U.S. and coalition forces by Afghans, including the point-blank shooting deaths of two U.S. advisers in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior.
Some of the changes have been subtle, others not so much.
In several Afghan ministries, Americans are now allowed to carry weapons. And they have been instructed to rearrange their office desks there to face the door, so they can see who is coming in, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal directive.
While Allen did not detail the new measures in a briefing earlier this week, he acknowledged that changes had been made.
“We have taken steps necessary on our side to protect ourselves with respect to, in fact, sleeping arrangements, internal defenses associated with those small bases in which we operate,” Allen said, adding that now someone is “always overwatching our forces.”
The security measures came after the U.S. military mistakenly burned Korans and other religious materials in February, triggering anti-American demonstrations and riots. And on Feb. 25, two U.S. military advisers were gunned down at their desks in one of the most heavily guarded ministry building in Kabul.
As a result of the shootings, more than 300 advisers were pulled out of the Afghan ministries. So far, several dozen have returned, but many will not go back until additional security measures are put in place by the Afghans. That would include better vetting procedures, background checks and physical security measures at the ministries. The military official also said some advisers may not return, since commanders have determined that some may no longer be needed in the jobs.
The military official said Allen issued the directive “to get every single troop in the war zone to read it and think” — and to emphasize that troops should be aware of their surroundings as they go about their jobs.
Of course, the real reason for the changes can be traced back to a specific incident; attacks and what is essentially retaliation have spiked since then. It's got at least one soldier being retrospective about the entire affair....and he's posted his opinion.
On March 22, a fellow soldier gave his life for a little boy on a dirt road in Afghanistan. He rescued him from the path of a 14-ton armored vehicle, sacrificing his own life in the process. There have been many acts of heroism and selflessness during the war in Afghanistan, but this most recent one stands out: not only because the life that was saved is so pure and blameless, but because this act contrasts so sharply with the murder of 17 sleeping children and adults by another fellow soldier earlier in the same month.
How do we reconcile the acts of our two comrades? On one hand, a protector of life and on the other a taker of life. Because of one we feel pride and a brotherhood of purpose. Because of the other we feel shame and revulsion. Yet they are both our comrades. We trained with them, ate with them, laughed with them and cried with them. What does this mean for us? Are we capable of doing what they did?
This week, many of the world’s Christians remember the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. In that story we can find some answers. As it has been for soldiers throughout history, 2,000 years ago it also fell to the Roman soldiers to leave their families to serve in a far-off land and do the will of their fellow citizens back home. They too were trained to fight and were armed with the finest weapons of their day. In the Gospel of Matthew we read that one of these soldiers, a Centurion, upon greeting Jesus, displayed a faith that the Nazarene called greater than any other he had encountered. And it was a Centurion who proclaimed Jesus at his crucifixion “the Son of God.”
Certainly these soldiers set an example that we can aspire to. But those who crucified Jesus were also soldiers. They not only carried out their orders for the crucifixion, but they took advantage of their position to abuse their prisoner; stripping him, spitting on him, and mocking him as they did so. They crucified him in a manner that was barbarous even by the standards of that time.
What did Jesus say about soldiers in his many sermons and teachings? Jesus criticized many groups in his lifetime, but he never once singled out soldiers. He did not blame the soldiers for what they did to him but, neither did he excuse them. Perhaps Jesus empathized with the nature of a soldier’s life: a readiness to lay down one’s life for another, a total submission to a higher authority and the reality that in many of their choices life and death hung in the balance.
As soldiers we must remain vigilant, not only against the enemy from without but against the enemy from within. We must look for the goodness that lives in all people and, when we fail to find it, ask for the wisdom to act properly. We must hold ourselves and our comrades to the highest standards even when all around us we encounter evil.
When a soldier makes the right choices, his deeds can be famous. When he makes the wrong choices, they are infamous. Each of us confronts these choices every day. In war, the choices and the results are magnified. The sins or virtues of a soldier are not easily hidden.
These used to be easy questions to answer....but ten years on, who knows anymore?