Today is our 4,216th 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: 2,196
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,081
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through:$ 1, 445, 834, 675, 000 .00
It's been an interesting week around here, that's for sure. As a friend of mine commented, this is zero degrees of separation...everybody in this city knows somebody that ran, worked, or was there. No exceptions. My friend from Scouts, a Mr. Mark Fisette, is also a Guardsman and was there at the scene.
But he wasn't the only member of the military present that day. There's a significant portion of runners at the marathon that do their bit for various charities, including a Massachusetts Transport Company. They were doing something called a "Ruck March" for their charity....their marathon ended the instant the bombs went off.
First Sgt. Bernard Madore spent most of the Boston Marathon doing what first sergeants do: keeping his men on track, joking around, playfully shouting at the other runners to “get up the hill!”
The fun came to an abrupt end the afternoon of April 15, when two explosive devices went off near the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 180. That’s when Madore’s training kicked in.
“I started looking up and around as soon as it went off to see where’s it going?” Madore told Army Times. “And then there was a secondary bomb, so we paused to look around, because you don’t know if somebody’s going to start shooting or what.”
Madore and several other soldiers from the Massachusetts National Guard’s 1,060th Transportation Company had ruck-marched the 26.2-mile race to raise money for the nonprofit Military Friends Foundation. They were waiting in a medical tent for the last members of their group to catch up when the first blast went off around the corner.
The men rushed toward the scene and immediately began helping first-responders tear down a barricade that separated spectators from the marathon route. When the uninjured were freed, it was on to the next step.
“A medical assistant yelled at me, ‘Hey, Army guy! Go do triage!’ ” Madore recalled.
While others searched out clean rags and water to tend wounds, Madore picked up an unsoiled baby blanket lying on the ground, then moved to help a woman whose burning clothes were being removed to save her skin. He covered her up and put a tourniquet around her ankle as she held her husband’s hand.
Once the woman was taken away, an emergency worker handed Madore a 3-year-old boy with a compound fracture and asked him to make sure the child stayed near his mother, who was on the ground receiving medical attention.
After he’d helped patch up a few victims, Madore regrouped with his men to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for.
“It was elbows-to-elbows, policemen, firemen, first responders, those medical people,” Madore said. “It was amazing how many people just ran in to help that aren’t Army trained.”
Dozens of local guardsmen and Army employees from the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., ran in the race, but also downtown that day were more than 400 soldiers from the Massachusetts Guard’s 747th Military Police Company, who shifted from security personnel to first-responders in a matter of seconds.
“The Boston Marathon is one event that we proudly serve each year in concert with local, state and federal agencies,” 79th Troop Command commander Lt. Col. Mark Merlino said in a statement the morning of the race. “Our guardsmen really seem to enjoy interacting with crowds of people who come to enjoy the marathon.”
We'll shift gears dramatically, but perhaps not so much. Many things happen on Patriot's Day. Passing almost un-noticed this year was the 71st anniversary of the Doolittle Raid
. I"m sure I don't need to recount the story. Last week, 3 of the last 4 living members of the crew met for what was billed as the last time
in Destin, Florida...not very far from Eglin AFB where they learned how to get their B-25s off a carrier lo, those many years ago. I've been to Dayton and have seen The Goblets
with my own eyes. Being a WWII geek myself, and my area of expertise is the Pacific...it was a very humbling experience.
DESTIN, Fla. — Retired Col. Dick Cole poked his head out of the window of the B-25 Mitchell, its massive propellers spinning and diesel engine sputtering. It had been 71 years since he flew in the same type of plane for the Doolittle Raiders’ bombing mission to Japan that ultimately set into motion the strategic moves that ended with Japan’s naval defeat at Midway.
Now 97, Cole showed he still has the right stuff as he took the controls of the B-25.
“It’s the same as it was then,” he said. “All I did was prove how rusty I am.”
The flight in the B-25 was part of the final Doolittle Raiders reunion April 17-21 at Fort Walton Beach, not far from the Eglin Field airstrip where crews trained to get the lumbering Mitchell off the ground in 500 feet to mimic their takeoff on an aircraft carrier.
Larry Kelley, who owns the vintage B-25 aircraft that Cole flew April 17, choked up when trying to explain what it meant to him to meet Cole and the other raiders over the past several years.
“Here are some of the most famous aviators that came out of World War II, and they’ve never put a nickel in their pocket for notoriety,” he said.
Instead, any money from book signings and appearances has always gone to the James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund for aviation students.
Kelley said sitting beside Cole while Cole took the controls of the B-25 and landed the aircraft was a highlight of his life as a World War II and aviation buff.
“Oh yeah, he did most of the flying today. He did the landing. He’s dead on. I kept looking over the altimeter. I told him to hold 1,500 feet and I kept looking at the altimeter and it was dead on, not 1,499 feet, not 1,501 feet. He had the altimeter pegged at 1,500 feet,” he said.
The surviving Doolittle Raiders have held reunions to carry on the legacy of the mission. At every gathering, there is a case with 80 silver goblets inscribed with each raider’s name. Only four remain upright; the rest are inverted for those who died in the raid or since. The surviving raiders offer a toast in remembrance to those who “gave their all in success of our mission, and to those who have joined them since.”
The four who remain are: Cole; former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 91, a Silver Star recipient; retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor; and retired Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93. Hite did not travel to the reunion.
The importance of the reunion being the final one is “overblown,” Cole said, “but apparently the public likes it so we have to live with it.”
A private gathering will be held this year, where the final four will sip from a bottle of Hennessy cognac from 1896, the year mission commander James Doolittle was born, and toast one last time to all of those who made the mission.
Finally this morning....the needs of our modern military doesn't change from week to week, and the VA is finally trying to tackle their enormous claims background.
I hope it is not cosmetic, but from the story it sounds like they might finally have some people with different ideas around, and they're not afraid to try them. (Process Improvement, as we call it in the industry.) I've done this myself - we have a mantra that if we have an idea, it doesn't hurt to try it for 21 business days to see if it works. (There's a reason for that figure, but I won't get into it today.) If it fails...at least we tried, and we can go right back to what we used to do. In any case...I hope it all works out.
The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to quickly eliminate its backlog of older disability claims by assigning provisional ratings that take shortcuts in the normal approval process.
About 250,000 claims pending for more than a year will be handled in this unprecedented fashion under a plan announced April 19 by VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey that could put money in the pockets of veterans within months.
In the short term, Hickey said, the current average processing time for claims, 286 days, may rise, but she predicted a dramatic drop in the pile of about 804,000 pending disability compensation claims. About 570,000 pending claims are older than VA’s 125-day goal, but only about 250,000 are older than a year or more, VA spokesman Josh Taylor said.
Giving top priority to the oldest claims means newer claims will take longer to process, but Hickey said priority will be given to new claims from Medal of Honor recipients; former prisoners of war; terminally ill vets; troops separating through a “wounded warrior” program; and anyone filing a fully developed claim with help from a veterans service organization.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, said VA’s idea “sounds promising” but it remains to be seen if it is “good policy rather than just good PR.”
“VA has a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t use this program as an excuse for letting average claims processing times continue their steady ascent indefinitely,” Miller said, noting he does not like the idea of shifting resources from processing new claims “just to clear out old ones.”
While there are concerns about the process, particularly the accuracy of hastily assigned disability ratings, the move was praised by lawmakers who have pressed VA on its claims backlog.
So, we have some varied things to ponder today. But given the way the week was...it's good to get a little bit of normalcy back.