Today is our 4,188th 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: 2,178
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,080
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 436, 581, 600, 000 .00
I've got an awful lot of things saved up all of a sudden. I'm tempted to do a news dump, but maybe not. Let's start with honor first. While nobody goes into the military expecting a reward, there is a certain valor that manifests itself among combat troops. The military does recognize this, and there's a long chain of awards starting with the Bronze Star, and culminating with the Congressional Medal of Honor. A new medal has been added to that list, but not without controversy.
It's an award for our drone and remote warriors...not that they don't fight with valor, but it's the placement of this award in the heirarchy that has many upset. Nobody is shooting at a drone pilot safe behind the front lines, but the award is ranked higher than the Bronze star with Valor.
New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has halted production of a new controversial medal intended to honor drone pilots pending a review of its official rank above some combat valor medals in the military’s “order of precedence.”
The decision in February to create the new Distinguished Warfare Medal — a gold medallion with prominent blue stripes, according to its current design — has drawn criticism from veterans’ groups and lawmakers on Capitol Hill because the medal will be formally placed above the Bronze Star, which is awarded with a “V” valor device for heroic conduct in combat.
Many veterans have derisively referred to it as the “Nintendo medal” and believe that any medal awarded for actions under fire should rank above one that requires no physical danger or personal risk.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the new medal reflects 21st-century technology and the changing nature of warfare that allows troops to have a direct impact on the battlefield despite being thousands of miles away. Troops involved in cyber warfare also may be eligible for the medal.
Yet Hagel, a combat veteran who earned two Purple Hearts for injuries he sustained as a sergeant in Vietnam, wants to revisit the medal’s official placement, which dictates where troops wear their medals on military uniforms.
Like all devices of honor and recognition, care will need to be taken to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands or being counterfeited. I"ve written about this before; those who represent themselves with these devices without actually earning them are a special kind of low. But every now and again...one of them gets caught.
During the past decade, some 4,000 men have been exposed while posing as combat warriors to fool women, scam federal benefits and reap undeserved praise. But the latest fake veteran to be uncloaked and convicted will carry an unofficial military rank to prison: “Captain Obvious.”
Pinellas Country Sheriff's Office
Danny Crane, 32, earned that colorful moniker from the man — an actual wounded veteran — who used his two basement computers and a loose, national network of fellow amateur sleuths to unravel Crane’s lies and ultimately hand him to federal prosecutors. Crane, who lived in the Tampa area, was sentenced March 14 to one year and one day in federal prison.
“His uniform was all wrong. The discharge papers he posted online were wrong. His mannerisms were wrong. The only thing he had right were his tattoos. He was Captain Obvious,” said retired Army Staff Sgt. Fred Campbell, one of 10 veterans who operate a virtual detective agency called Guardian of Valor.
“For four months, I was eating, sleeping and crapping Danny Russell Crane. My wife was getting sick of hearing about it,” said Campbell, who lives in Tennessee and has paralysis on one side, sustained as a result of his military service. He is not paid for his online investigation work. “Most of these guys do it for the hero worship. They see the accolades veterans get. So they just wake up one morning and say, ‘Hey, I was a member of the Black Sheep Squadron!’”
Crane, who served less than three months in the Army — never in combat — conned the Department of Veterans Affairs out of $7,000 by claiming he was half blind, had once been shot in the back, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had 24 metal plates inserted in his face. In public, he routinely wore two Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal — none of them earned. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said Crane concocted the persona of “the most decorated man in Florida.”
Speaking of low, you should maybe be familiar with the saying "Thou Shalt Not Steal"? In any case, whenever there's war, there is also opportunity for fraud, extortion, and outright theft. Sometimes it's little things, but ocassionally it's a huge amount of stuff. We've already lost enough treasure over the past decade without the help of the soldiers wearing our own uniforms, but for some that doesn't seem to matter.
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A third soldier has been charged in connection to a 2009 scheme to embezzle more than a million dollars from Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Jason Begany was charged last month with converting property of another while being an employee of the United States and aiding and abetting in the same.
He was scheduled to be arraigned today in Raleigh.
Begany, Sgt. Edwin Vando and Sgt. Juan Lamboy Rivera are charged with embezzling nearly $1.3 million while deployed to Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan as part of the 82nd Finance Battalion
Vando and Rivera pleaded guilty in April 2011 and promised to testify against a third soldier who had not been indicted at that time. That soldier was Begany, according to court documents who identify him as the former noncommissioned officer in charge of the Camp Eggers finance office.
According to court documents, the soldiers worked with an Afghan interpreter to use their positions in the finance office to trick an Afghan company into paying them $1,297,050.31.
According to prosecutor Banu Rangarajan, the owner of Abdul Wasi Faquiri Co. Ltd. was tricked into wiring money to an Afghan bank after raising questions about whether he had been overpaid. The company provides military apparel and equipment for the Afghan national army and Afghan National Police, according to court documents.
An investigation by the finance office revealed the company had not been overpaid, but the unnamed coconspirator lied in a meeting with the company owner and arranged to have the money wired to a local bank, Rangarajan said.
An Afghan interpreter who worked in the finance office, identified only as "R.J." in court papers, withdrew $400,000 and carried it onto Camp Eggers in a backpack where it was split between the conspirators.
The crime, which occured in 2009, was investigated by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Finally this morning, a little note about the budget. With the sequester, many things are going to start to be cut as we head into April. But there is one office that should probably stay open. After all, they've saved taxpayers $4.2 billion in contracts.
But this is what happens when you cut budgets with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. Oh, well.
WASHINGTON — The Defense Contract Audit Agency, an obscure federal entity in Hazelwood, Mo., helped save taxpayers $4.2 billion last year by putting sharp pencils to Pentagon contracts.
Nonetheless, auditors have been told to expect furloughs next month, a directive that is not going over well.
“To send us home when you’ve got a budget crisis, you’re not really thinking with your brain,” said Gary Rennard, an auditor with the agency for 30 years and a local leader in his American Federation of Government Employees.
Details are still in flux as to how $85 billion in forced sequester will be apportioned in coming months, but one constant remains: furloughs for federal employees.
The Greater St. Louis Federal Executive Board counts 37,000 federal workers at 88 offices in eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. Civilian defense workers could be hit the hardest: Among the region’s top employers are Scott Air Force Base, with 13,000 people, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, with about 5,000.
The Veterans Affairs Department, another big employer, is largely exempt from the cuts. The Social Security Administration told employees in a memo Thursday that it hoped to make other cuts “and that the possibility of furloughs remains uncertain at this time.”
A week into the sequester, many agencies have yet to spell out how long furloughs will last and when they’ll be imposed.
For instance, Housing and Urban Development employees were told to expect up to seven days of furloughs, a local employee said. The Environmental Protection Agency has suggested four furlough days before June 1 and as many 13 through September. A formal notice from the Justice Department said up to 14 days of furloughs could begin next month.
At Scott Air Force Base, some 4,500 civilian defense worker are looking at 22 days over a period of six months starting in mid-April — in effect a 20 percent pay cut.
Federal employees interviewed at a half-dozen federal agencies say lingering uncertainty is compounding a sense of being singled out. Some workers also say they’re weary of being cast as coddled and overpaid.
“There’s this whole mentality that comes across that we deserve this, we brought this on,” said Sandra Halama, a top-level manager at Scott.
“We’re definitely not slackers. I’ve listened to so much of that for 32 years that a lot of times, I don’t even want to tell people what I do.”
I've got much more, but I think we'll stop here for the moment.