Today is our 4,223rd 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: 2,200
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,081
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 435, 280, 650, 000 .00
Let's talk about buildings and machinery today. We very much focus on the human elements of war, but war doesn't happen without infrastructure. Usually, it's something that happens in the background and off everyone's radar screens....that is, until it becomes hazardous to our troops and our allies.
We'll begin overseas in Afghanistan. A country that has been devastated by over 30 years of war would necessarily be in need of much rebuilding. It's an opportunity for the country to become one of the most up-to-date and modern ones in the world. (See post-war Japan and Germany for additional examples.) Unfortunately, Afghanistan is so corrupt and overrun with opportunits, as well as having a complete lack of regulations or inspectors, that the buildings themselves have become a hazard. To the point where a Federal agency has called much of the new construction "A fire hazard."
A federal watchdog has urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop building structures for the Afghan Army that “pose a serious fire and safety risk.”
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, faulted the Army Corps in an April 4 letter for using foam insulation and thermal-barrier systems that don’t comply with international building standards.
“We are alerting you to our concern over this serious fire and life safety risk,” Sopko wrote.
He urged the Corps to reconsider its decision to proceed with construction while posting warning signs and having a “fire-watch during rest hours.”
Three of the so-called K-Span structures caught fire during construction last year, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, Sopko said.
In southern Afghanistan, 704 of the 1,002 K-Span structures under construction use non-compliant foam insulation and barrier systems, he said.
The Army Corps, in a March 10 “decision paper,” acknowledged the fire risk while citing concerns about delays and additional cost if the non-compliant materials had to be removed.
The Army Corps didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment. The K-Span structures, which are designed to be rust- and weather-resistant, replaced concrete and masonry structures for the Afghan Army beginning in 2010, according to Sopko’s letter.
Sopko said he is opening an investigation of the matter.
But the news about buildings isn't all bad. I live in an area of the country where old buildings are literally on every streetcorner. I've been in one of the oldest houses in the country here in the North End (circa 1680) and a good number of the larger homes around here date to colonial times. With careful maintenance, a home should theoretically last forever. Which is why in the "Good News" category, we have some Spanish-American war era buildings being rebuilt for homeless vets.
FORT SNELLING, Minn. — After decades of neglect, five brick buildings at Fort Snelling that saw service from the Spanish-American War through World War II will be renovated into apartments for homeless veterans and their families.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans call for creating 58 affordable apartments, the Star Tribune reported Sunday. Construction is expected to start this summer and finish by summer 2014.
The Fort Snelling plan is part of a larger effort by the VA to end veteran homelessness and reduce its inventory of vacant and underused properties. The VA plans to provide more than 3,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for veterans at 25 VA Medical Center campuses nationwide, and another 1,000 units are pending or underway.
The structures on what’s known as Fort Snelling’s Upper Post include cavernous Building 210, the old quartermaster stables, where horses for cavalry officers were kept. They also include Building 211, with its high beams and wide doors, where grease-stained GIs toiled fixing tanks during World War II.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said Andrew Michaelson, project manager for the nonprofit that will run the development. “To put homeless vets in a place like this, with its military history, it’s a hand-in-glove fit.”
The $15 million project will cover 6 acres west of Highway 55 adjacent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The land and buildings won’t be sold but will be managed by St. Paul-based CommonBond. Three-quarters of the cost will be paid for from private investments leveraged through housing and historic tax credits.
Veterans with anything other than dishonorable discharges will be able to apply for housing. The buildings won’t be homeless shelters, but permanent housing. Multibedroom units are expected to appeal to veterans with families and the growing number of female homeless veterans with children.
Speaking of Germany, you probably never even heard about this story. 68 years ago this week, Berlin was ringed by more than a million Soviet soldiers and thousands of T-34 tanks. About 155 kilometers away, a similar number of American and British forces stood on the West bank of the Elbe river. Berlin fell, and the war came to an end...except neither side ever withdrew their tanks or personnel and we had been facing each other across the frontier for decades.
In March of this year, the last 22 M-1 Abrams tanks left Germany for good. Believe it or not, their is no US armor on German Soil
as of this writing.
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. Army’s 69-year history of basing main battle tanks on German soil quietly ended last month when 22 Abrams tanks, a main feature of armored combat units throughout the Cold War, embarked for the U.S.
The departure of the last M-1 Abrams tanks coincides with the inactivation of two of the Army’s Germany-based heavy brigades. Last year, the 170th Infantry out of Baumholder disbanded. And the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade at Grafenwöhr is in the process of doing the same.
On March 18, the remaining tanks were loaded up at the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s railhead in Kaiserslautern where they then made the journey to the shipping port in Bremerhaven, Germany. There they boarded a ship bound for South Carolina.
The tanks belonged to the 172nd along with a mix that were leftover from other units, according to the 21st TSC.
“It is an honor to be one of the soldiers escorting the last battle tanks out of Germany,” said Sgt. Jeremy Jordan of the 529th Military Police Company, in an Army story about the journey. “As these tanks sail back to the U.S., we are closing a chapter in history.”
From World War II on through the Cold War, tanker units were a heavy presence in Germany. At its peak, Germany was home to 20 NATO armored divisions, or about 6,000 tanks, according to the 21st TSC.
“There is no [U.S.] tank on German soil. It’s a historic moment,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Marotto, 21st TSC spokesman.
So using Germany as a model...expect to see "Ask a Vet" in this space until 2070.