Today is our 3,929th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualties from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,038
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,043
During the course of all the events of the last two weeks, you'll notice that top number has crept through 2,000. Completely unnoticed and unreported by anyone, I might add.
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through:$ 1, 350, 872, 375, 000. 00
I've got a mish-mosh of things to catch up on this week. A while back now, the US ended the ban on women serving aboard nuclear submarines. This was one of the last holdouts of sexual segregation in the military. Naturally, there was some trepidation, but like most other things that have changed, once the initial shock wore off, it was really no big deal.
NAVAL BASE KITSAP-BANGOR, Wash. — Six months after the Navy ended its ban on having women on subs, some of the first female submariners say they’re fitting right in.
Since reporting to their boats in November, the 25 women who broke one of the Navy’s final gender barriers have gone on patrols and all indications are that they’ve been accepted among their crews, The Kitsap Sun newspaper in Washington state reports.
“The men adjusted to us being there, and we adjusted to them,” said Lt. j.g. Megan Bittner, of the submarine Ohio. “It was quick. There were no big problems. No stumbling blocks along the way. It was just learning as a junior officer how you fit on the boat.”
Bittner, 24, is one of 13 women assigned to two Trident submarines based at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor — the cruise-missile-carrying Ohio and the Maine, armed with nuclear warheads. Another dozen are in Kings Bay, Ga., with the Wyoming and Georgia.
“It is important we are talking about our experience, not so much to say look at us but to show this is not the big ordeal some people thought it was, that it hasn’t been the mistake some people projected it to be,” Bittner said.
The women graduated from the Naval Academy or ROTC programs in spring 2010, then spent six months in Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C.; six months at the Nuclear Power Training Unit, also in Charleston; and nine weeks at Submarine Officer Basic Course in Groton, Conn.
Lt. j.g. Amber Cowan, a main propulsion assistant, met the Maine in the Strait of Juan de Fuca a week after she arrived at Bangor.
“It’s definitely a different kind of atmosphere,” said Cowan, a University of Washington graduate from Colorado Springs, Colo. “You’re always working. You don’t see the sun every day. You’re adapting to a new routine, learning everything you need to know, getting to know everybody.”
Bittner, an electrical assistant from Chesapeake, Va., flew to Guam, where the Ohio was deployed, and patrolled for three months.
“I found it surprising the sheer amount of things we had to study,” said Bittner, a North Carolina State graduate. “It’s not just the engine room or ship control. You have to be a jack of all trades. I’ve never worked harder, slept less or learned more than my first deployment, but I never thought twice about it because everybody’s in the same position.”
This story also comes from a few weeks back now, so I don't have any further information on the legislation referenced therein. However, it's an issue that is near and dear to me; before my current issue, the last significant interaction with the medical community was during our fertility troubles. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has introduced a bill that will, in part, increase coverage for advanced reproductive therapies for returning soldiers, in particular women who have been wounded and may need the extra help. Apparently, these services have never been covered by Tricare or the VA.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will introduce legislation Tuesday to expand fertility coverage for female veterans and severely wounded service members, to include options such as surrogate pregnancies and advanced reproductive health services for those unable to bear children naturally.
The proposed Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012 is designed to strengthen Veterans Affairs Department programs for female veterans and severely injured veterans who want to start families, according to a release from Murray’s office.
The Defense Department and Tricare cover some fertility treatments for severely injured troops; the new legislation would expand VA services, including offering treatment to the spouses of qualifying wounded veterans.
The legislation would expand research into the long-term reproductive health care needs of veterans and create a pilot program to provide child care to veterans seeking counseling at VA’s 300 Vet Centers, which offer counseling services, outreach and referrals.
The bill also would direct VA to improve outreach to female veterans by allowing VA’s Women Veterans’ Call Center to take incoming calls.
Between 2001 and November 2011, 1,205 service members sustained one or more injuries to their genitourinary systems in combat. The average casualty age was 26 years old, according to the Joint Theater Trauma Registry.
Murray, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will introduce the legislation tomorrow at 2:30 on Capitol Hill, prior to the screening of a new documentary “SERVICE: When Women Come Marching Home,” a film focusing on the challenges women face after serving in the U.S. military.
The screening is co-hosted by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Murray’s office did not provide an estimated cost of the proposed legislation.
Curious, of course. Given the GOP's longtime focus on military and families, I wonder why this legislation didn't come from an "R" pen? But I digress.
Switching to a local story, I posted this to facebook last week; you may have heard that a massive 20x30 foot US flag was stolen from a war memorial here in Swampscott, MA. (Yes, Flag. Stolen. I'll let you ponder that a minute.) In any case, it's been returned.
SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. - The massive American flag that was stolen over the Fourth of July from its pole on Monument Avenue has been recovered.
According to Wicked Local Swampscott, the flag was found folded on the steps of the First Church in Swampscott Congregational on Monument Avenue early Monday morning.
"From what I understand, when the church staff was opening up the front doors to the church from the inside this morning, the flag was folded right there on the steps," said Swampscott Town Administrator Tom Younger.
Town officials were happy to hear that the large 20-by-30-foot-flag, donated by the family of Jared Raymond who died in 2006, was returned.
"I am pleased it was recovered," Younger said. "But secondly, I'm also pleased at what I've noticed over the past few days. The outpouring of support from residents stepping up to the plate and willing to donate funds for a replacement flag was just amazing. It's wonderful how the people came together."
At this time it is unknown who returned the flag, whether there was any damage to it and if Swampscott Police will be pursuing any criminal charges.
We'll close today with an update to a long-running story here at AAV. While it's not about Arlington National Cemetery, there have been many other locations and incidents of roughly the same caliber with our veterans' remains. A local funeral home in Zephyrhills, FL has donated a casket to help make things right for one deceased WWII vet, some 8 years after his burial insult.
BUSHNELL, Fla. — This time, Lawrence Davis Jr. was not alone.
Lying in a blue casket on a sweltering July morning at the Florida National Cemetery, Davis, who served in World War II, was surrounded by strangers who consider him a family member.
It wasn't like that the last time.
In 2004, Davis, an 85-year-old with no known living relatives, was buried in the national cemetery, but not in a casket or urn.
Instead, he was buried in the same cardboard box used to deliver his body from the medical examiner's office where his remains went unclaimed.
Davis' burial condition recently was discovered during routine maintenance by cemetery workers. The resulting outrage reverberated all the way to Washington, where Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor, all of Florida, are among those who have introduced legislation to prevent another veteran from being buried under the same circumstances.
Gene Whitfield, owner of Whitfield Funeral Home in Zephyrhills, donated a casket for Davis.
"We felt like it was the right thing to do to offer a casket for this gentleman," said Whitfield after the service. "We have a lot of respect for our veterans, and so that was our role — just to do this small part to see that this day would come to pass."
Aside from politicians such as Nelson and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, another Floridian, the ceremony was attended by a couple dozen bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder. Also attending were the spouses and parents of fallen veterans whose loved ones, unlike Davis, were buried among family and friends.
After the short ceremony wrapped up, an honor guard folded the U.S. flag draping Davis' casket and handed it to Vilma Baragona, who along with her husband, Dominic, had been chosen to receive it only a short while before.
A little more than eight years ago, a military ceremony with full honors was held at Arlington National Cemetery for her son, Army Lt. Col. Dominic "Rocky" Baragona, 42, a battalion commander killed in a roadside accident in Safwan, Iraq, on May 19, 2003.
"I remember what it was like for my son," said Vilma Baragona, who lives in The Villages with her husband. "All veterans should have a fitting burial."
Baragona donated the flag to Florida National Cemetery, where it will be flown on special occasions such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day.
Nelson said legislation he and Rubio sponsored would ensure the Veterans Administration provides "a casket or an urn for any veteran that does not have family."
Because it is unknown how many other veterans were buried like Davis, the legislation would require the VA to "go back and check and re-check … to make sure this didn't happen again."