Today is our 3,838th 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: 1,930
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 103
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through:$ 1, 320, 726, 900, 000 .00
You probably missed it over Easter weekend, but a story broke last week just before the news dump that should come as no surprise. Sodium Dichromate
is a form of salt that is used in the tanning of animal hides. You may or may not remember the movie "A Civil Action" about what happened around Woburn, MA regarding exposure to this chemical. Some troops in Iraq were exposed to this chemical back around 2003.
It should come as no surprise that KBR was involved, and they likely covered it up for the intervening 9 years.
A military contractor knew an Iraqi water treatment plant's lax environmental standards let a toxic chemical contaminate the area, but never disclosed it to Oregon National Guard soldiers who were sickened, the soldiers said in a complaint filed Wednesday.
The complaint in U.S. District Court in Oregon alleges Kellogg, Brown and Root knew about the presence of sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant months before the date they originally gave in testimony and depositions.
A message left Wednesday for KBR Inc. was not immediately returned.
Sodium dichromate is an anticorrosive compound that can cause skin and breathing problems and cancer.
The soldiers, suffering from myriad respiratory problems, migraines and lung issues, sued KBR in June 2009.
The company acknowledged the presence of sodium dichromate in July 2003; a former employee later revealed an email to his managers that showed the company knew of the chemical in June 2003.
But the report uncovered by the soldiers' attorneys points to KBR knowing about the presence of sodium dichromate in January 2003.
The soldiers say they only learned of the alleged misrepresentation in late February, after a Department of Defense inspector general investigation directed them to a 2002 KBR assessment of the plant.
Attorneys for the soldiers called the company's earlier explanation "deliberate, calculated concealment," according to the complaint. Guard soldiers from Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia who provided security at the Qarmat Ali water plant are involved in suits against KBR.
The U.S. Defense Department's inspector general issued a report in late September that faults KBR for failing to comply with safety and health standards at the plant and not acting as quickly as it could have to protect soldiers and civilians from exposure. Nearly 1,000 Army soldiers and civilian employees being exposed to sodium dichromate over five months.
The motion issued Wednesday asks U.S. District Judge Paul Papak to either award the plaintiffs a yet-to-be-determined amount of money or, failing that, force KBR to identify everyone who knew of the assessment, allow lawyers to depose them and -- if the case goes to trial -- inform a jury of KBR's failure to produce the assessment.
The soldiers' attorneys were able to take a deposition from John Weatherly, the lead contractor liaison with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the KBR 2002 assessment in hand.
"How clear is it they knew, at the latest, January 2003?" one of the plaintiffs' attorneys asked Weatherly.
"From the dates on the documents," he said, "it should be obvious."
If you have followed TRMS, you know about the grassroots effort to have parades across the United States to welcome home returning soldiers from Iraq. The City of Houston, TX had their parade this past weekend.
While it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, it should be tempered with the knowledge that there are still troops that haven't gone very far; they're in neighboring Kuwait
and probably will be for some time. Those troops are coming home at a mere trickle compared to troops leaving Iraq last year.
ROCK FALLS, Ill. — For the families of the soldiers based in this rural town in north central Illinois, the war in Iraq came to a close Thursday.
That is when police cars, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, led a convoy of soldiers from the Illinois National Guard's 1644th Transportation Company down a narrow street lined with American flags and "welcome home" banners to the armory.
It had made little difference to the families and friends waiting inside that the fighting in Iraq had ended in December or that thousands of other troops had made it home in time for Christmas. The 167 members of the 1644th had to stay behind in Kuwait, tending to the aftermath of a war that lasted nearly nine years.
"I didn't sleep at all last night," said Maria Norwood, 40, of Chicago Heights, as she waited for her 22-year-old son, Spec. Michael Brooks, to arrive.
When her son was away, Norwood said, they talked on the telephone two or three times a week, and each time, they ended the conversations the same way.
"I would tell him, 'I love you and be safe.' And he would say, 'I love you and I will,'" she said. "Those were our special words to each other because I always worried that I might not see him again."
The brief homecoming ceremony Thursday marked the end of Illinois' role in the Iraq War. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 25,600 troops from Illinois have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 20,000 of them from the Illinois National Guard.
As the 1644th returned, another 145 soldiers from Chicago and other armories across the state were either preparing to leave for Afghanistan or were already there, a reminder to the families in Rock Falls that the threat of another deployment always hovers.
But this was not a day to think about what could happen in the future. It was a day for crying tears of joy, reuniting with families and spending time with young children, some of whom were born while the soldiers were away.
"It feels very surreal for us right now," Capt. Michael Barton, the company commander, told the crowd on behalf of the troops. "Today, it's about giving out high-fives, handshakes and hugs."
The Illinois soldiers were among 20,000 troops who remained in Kuwait after the war as part of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, which was responsible for shipping equipment used in Iraq back to the United States or to Afghanistan. In the waning days of the war, the 1644th hauled more than 35,000 tons of cargo and transported more than 7,500 pieces of equipment from Iraq to the base in Arifjan, Kuwait.
But those troops coming home are still facing an uncertain future. While things are better, the economy is still struggling, and we've reported previously here about how the unemployment rate among veterans is 3-5 points higher than the national average. Nevertheless, troops coming home are doing what they have to, even if the transition from driving tanks to driving pizzas
is a jarring one.
April 5 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Army Private Brandon Click was driving a 68-ton Abrams tank in Iraq on March 25, 2008, when a roadside bomb melted his eyelashes and peppered the left side of his body with shrapnel.
Now back home in the Cincinnati suburbs, the 26-year-old Army veteran says he's been delivering Papa John's pizza at night in his 2002 Pontiac Sunfire for a little more than $31,000 a year to help support his infant son while he searches for a job.
"It gets the bills paid, but barely," said Click, who crossed the Ohio River to Kentucky last week for a job fair intended to help returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
As tens of thousands of young veterans come home from the wars, many are struggling to find work with civilian employers who don't recognize their skills, haven't shared their experiences and aren't sure what to make of them. The result is that unemployment for veterans, particularly those ages 18 to 24, has been rising even as the national jobless rate declines.
"Unemployment is our No. 1 issue," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a New York-based advocacy group, in an interview. "Unemployment is not down, it's up. And it's a serious problem."
While the military offers all departing service members transition assistance to help them prepare for civilian jobs, the unemployment rate for veterans who've served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.5 percent in 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among non-veterans, 8.7 percent were jobless last year, down from 9.4 percent in 2010.
The gap may widen as the U.S. economy recovers. Tens of thousands more troops will be coming home over the next two years from Afghanistan, where the U.S. plans to withdraw most combat forces by the end of 2014. At the same time, the Pentagon intends to reduce the U.S. military by 123,900 troops, or 5.5 percent, by fiscal 2017 to meet budget-cutting goals.
The unemployment burden tends to fall harder on enlisted veterans, especially those who lack technological skills. Most military officers have college degrees and are better equipped to make the transition to civilian careers. Younger veterans who left high school, with or without diplomas, to bear the brunt of combat in infantry or armor units often return to the civilian workforce with no readily marketable skills, according to veterans advocates such as Rieckhoff, who also served as an Army lieutenant in Iraq.
Click, who was honorably discharged according to the Army, spent the past two years delivering pizza as he hunted in vain for more rewarding work to help support the baby he fathered with a girlfriend.
"I've looked at other things," Click said as he waited to talk to recruiters at the job fair in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. "I can't find nothing. I don't even know what a resume looks like. I don't know what's supposed to be on it."
The job fair paid off anyway for Click, who said he's taking a job starting April 16 working in a call center for a unit of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp, which pledged to double its hiring of veterans this year from more than 200 in 2011.
Emily King, a Herndon, Virginia-based consultant who specializes in recruiting and training veterans for civilian jobs, said many other veterans aren't as fortunate.
"These people are out in the market without a clue," King said. "They either never get an interview, or they get an interview and they don't know how to tell the story of their experience."
It's very easy to pay lip service to the veterans; our politicians excel at that. But as they come home, the real work should
begin to get them back to being productive members of society. But look at the candidates - does any of them have a coherent veteran's policy?