Today is our 4,258th 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: 2,229
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,091
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $1, 444, 914, 400, 000 .00
We've got a mixed bag this morning...and yet, there's a certain "sameness" to these stories - things we've been following for months and years. Some things never change, but this time it's an unfortunate reflection of the current leadership situation, I would think.
Somewhat unusually, we'll start on a sports field today. Like every other University in these United States, the United States Military Academy at West Point fields sports teams in the major collegiate sports. I've been there - Michie Stadium is of course named after a graduate (KIA), and the setting is astonishing. (Hudson Valley - tip o' the pin!) But I digress. It's just come out that another one of the teams has been completely disbanded
over some inappropriate emails.
WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. Military Academy’s rugby team, which West Point officials announced last week had been disbanded for inappropriate emails, will have to prove they’ve learned a lesson about respect before they can take the field again.
It’s not a given that the team reunites in the coming school year, a West Point spokesman said.
“It not on a time line,” said Lt. Col. Webster Wright. “It’s conditions-based. So when the leadership feels they have met those conditions, the team will be reinstated.”
An investigation that wrapped up in May found that emails that circulated among the 60 team members contained material that Wright said was, among other things, lewd, inappropriate and mocking both of team members and nonmembers.
“There were pictures of the team members, and within those pictures there were perhaps other cadets,” he said. “So part of it was making fun of the cadets in the pictures, an part of it was derogatory comments to others in the pictures.”
The emails contained no inappropriate pictures of female cadets, he said, and the incident was not linked to another West Point scandal last month, when a sergeant was charged with secretly videotaping female students in shower and bathroom facilities.
Although not all cadets were equally active in producing or circulating the offending emails, all had the a responsibility to report them, Wright said.
I've been pondering this recently....Scouts, of course, is no guarantee of a decent human being, but I've sent a handful of my alumni to the service academies. It's a virtual requirement that male applicants be Eagle Scouts, and currently about 16% of the student body of all the Academies is Eagles. At what point does the military culture override what should have been 'ordinary' civilians with no propensity for sexual assault and turn them into misogynists?
Staying with the theme, with the increase of reporting in the media about sexual assault throughout the military, some long-suffering victims are starting to speak up. But it's more than just reporting the assault - in addition to male-dominated culture that enables some to get away with these crimes, it also fuels a retaliation mentality
that often instills a fear of retribution and indeed, reporting the incident in the first place.
SAN DIEGO -- Stacey Thompson had just been stationed at Marine base in Japan when she said her sergeant laced her drinks with drugs, raped her in his barracks and then dumped her onto a street outside a nightclub at 4 a.m.
The 19-year-old lance corporal was not afraid to speak up.
She reported it to her superiors but little happened. She said she discovered her perpetrator was allowed to leave the Marine Corps and she found herself, instead, at the center of a separate investigation for drug use stemming from that night. A year later, she was kicked out with an other-than-honorable discharge - one step below honorable discharge - which means she lost her benefits.
Now, 14 years later, she has decided to speak out again, emboldened by the mounting pressure on the Pentagon to resolve its growing sexual assault epidemic.
She went public with her story Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. She is among the scores of service members who have lived in silence for decades and are now stepping forward to fight for an overhaul of the military's justice system and demand their own cases be re-examined.
"To see that what happened to me 14 years ago is still continuing to happen now, for me that was a big reason why I felt the need to come forward," she said. "I can finally say I have the strength."
Retaliation is part of a military-wide pattern that has prevented countless cases from being reported and investigated, exacerbating the epidemic, according to victims' advocates. A Pentagon report released earlier this month found 62 percent of sexual assault victims in the military who reported being attacked say they faced some kind of retaliation afterward.
"It's an ongoing problem that is not getting better, it's getting worse, as the latest statistics out of the Pentagon show," said Brian Purschia, spokesman for Protect Our Defenders, which has been helping Thompson. "Unfortunately commanders are conflicted: When a sexual assault occurs on their watch, it reflects poorly on them and that's why it's shoved under the rug. The perpetrators frequently out rank the victims, which is also why there is this bias. They're going to trust people they've known - not an 18 or 19-year-old just new to the service."
Thompson said military culture will not change until the system changes. She will speak Friday at a news conference in Los Angeles with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to show her support for her bipartisan bill that would put the cases in the hands of military trained prosecutors.
Service members now must report any crimes to the chain of command, even when their superiors have been involved.
"Too many survivors of military sexual assault are afraid to report these crimes because they fear retaliation, and they don't believe they will get justice," Boxer said. "They deserve a system that encourages victims to come forward knowing that the perpetrators will be brought to justice."
Thompson said she was not afraid to report the crime but paid heavily for doing so.
The investigator called her a liar, and military authorities checked her hands for needle pricks after accusing her of using drugs. She said she never used drugs. She was reassigned to another unit, removed from her job and told to report to an office, where she had nothing to do for months.
Then she was kicked out. She continues to suffer from her other-than-honorable discharge, which stripped her of her benefits and she believes has led to her missing out on Defense Department jobs.
"I felt the Marine Corps re-victimized me again after getting raped," said the 32-year-old mother of three.
Finally this morning, we'll shift gears to something a little more palatable. It's just been Memorial Day, and I'll bet every one of us can walk in any direction no more that five minutes and run across a marker, statuary, or memorial of some sort to our fallen servicemen. Take a look next time you pass by - what's the condition of that monument? Like everything else, it's part of the larger infrastructure of these United States, and they need to be maintained, too.
HONOLULU — On the shoreline of Hawaii’s most famous beach, a decaying structure attracts little attention from wandering tourists.
A few glance curiously at the crumbling Waikiki Natatorium, a salt water pool built in 1927 as a memorial to the 10,000 soldiers from Hawaii who served in World War I. But the monument’s walls are caked with salt and rust, and passers-by are quickly diverted by the lure of sand and waves.
The faded structure has been closed to the public for decades, the object of seemingly endless debate over whether it should be demolished or restored to its former glory. The latest plan is to replace it with a beach, more practical for the state’s lucrative tourism industry — and millions of dollars cheaper, according to state and local officials. They say a full restoration could cost nearly $70 million.
The corroding monument has challenged the community to maneuver a delicate question: How do we honor those who have served when memorials deteriorate and finances are tight?
Similar debates have been playing out across the country.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation waged a 2½-year fight to restore the aging Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., when some people proposed replacing it. Far less disagreement surrounded a decision to update the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco after a powerful earthquake in 1989.
In Greensboro, N.C., residents have been grappling with what to do with the city’s own decaying tribute to the soldiers of World War I.
The Greensboro World War Memorial Stadium hosted minor league baseball for decades and even served as a location for notable sports films such as “Leatherheads” and “Bull Durham.”
Yet, despite continued use by kids and college-level athletes, the structure is falling into disrepair.
The historic pebbled facade is falling off, and some of the bleachers are blocked off because of crumbling concrete, said David Wharton, a Greensboro resident who is fighting as a member of his neighborhood association to restore the structure.
It’s been a losing battle. The city rejected two referendums to fund renovations and chose to build a new stadium for minor league baseball instead of fixing up the old one.
As a classics professor at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Wharton has a soft spot for historic places. But he recognizes there are many other priorities competing for the millions of dollars it would take to restore the stadium.
A city group is exploring different ways to use the space, and preservation advocates hope the monument can be saved even if that means changing the stadium’s purpose.
For many residents, the structure’s architectural and historic significance pales in comparison to more immediate needs.
“The war was a long time ago,” Wharton said. “I don’t think it’s meaningful for most people.”
Sometimes, communities decide that memorials aren’t worth the price.
Right here in this city, there is a memorial fountain that has not worked in all the years that I have lived here. In recent times, the city has decided to "bury" it under a mountain of paving stones, allegedly for safekeeping until such time that repair costs can be included in the city budget, but I fear it will never see the light of day again.