Today is our 4,265th 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: 2,233
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,095
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 446, 795, 250, 000 .00
I've got a mixed bag today. We'll start with the economy; it seems like there's a wee bit of good news on the veteran's hiring front - for perhaps the first time since I've been tracking this, the "post 9-11" vet unemployment rate is actually lower than the national unemployment rate.
While neither number is that great, perhaps this is a sign that we're slowly waking up and are giving our returning soldiers their due.
For Post-9/11 veterans, the job market appears to be improving as the unemployment rate for May fell to 7.3 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
One year ago, the unemployment rate for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans was 12.3 percent. In April, the jobless rate for Post-9/11 veterans was 7.5 percent.
The national unemployment rate for May was 7.6 percent, unchanged from April, as the economy grew about 175,000 jobs, according to the employment report. There are about 11.8 million people who are unemployed and about 155.7 million with jobs, according to the report.
Overall, veterans continue to do better than non-veterans, although the 6.6 percent jobless rate for veterans of all generations is higher than the 6.2 percent rate reported in April.
The May jobless rate for male veterans was 6.7 percent for men and 6 percent for women. he jobless rate for Post-9/11 male veterans was 7.8 percent while the rate for women was 4.9 percent. Small sample sizes for women in the survey could be responsible for the lower rate.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment rates were lower in 276 of 372 metropolitan areas in April, a sign of widespread improvement. Unemployment rates were higher in 78 areas and unchanged in 18, the report say. The city with the highest unemployment rate was Yuma, Ariz., with 30.3 percent.
Speaking of the economy, here's something curious. Remember when the United States used to have a shoe industry? For some of us, that's still within living memory. A city near me (Lynn, MA) was once the shoe capitol of the United States, but that's far in the past now. The military was once the largest purchaser of domestic-made footwear, but over time that's eroded. Like everything else, Uncle Sam has outsourced their combat boots. But a new proposal from the 2 senators from Maine would force those that receive "vouchers" for footwear to purchase only American-made items. It's maybe Pork-y, as New Balance of Maine would likely be the sole beneficiary, but nevertheless it might help a little.
Athletic shoe vouchers for Army, Navy and Air Force recruits could be used to purchase only American-made footwear under a bill introduced Thursday by two senators from Maine.
They argue it would not only help domestic manufacturers such as New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., a Boston-based company with offices and plants in Maine, but it might also save money.
The footwear battle, which has gone on for years, involves a decision made in 2002 to provide vouchers to new service members to purchase athletic shoes rather than provide military-issued shoes. Comfort, safety and varying tastes were cited as reasons for the change.
About $15 million is spent each year on the vouchers.
Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King Jr., an Independent, introduced S 1051, which would require the military to either directly buy domestic shoes or restrict the vouchers to be good only for U.S.-made shoes — complying with a 1941 law, the Berry Act, which requires preference be given to American manufacturers for clothing on any contract valued at $150,000 or more.
The bill includes one exception: Foreign-made shoes could be purchased for valid medical reasons.
In a statement included in the Congressional Record as she introduced the bill, Collins said the Defense Department is spending 100 times the minimum contract value required to buy from U.S. producers. “It is time for DoD to treat athletic footwear like every other uniform item, including boots, and buy them from American manufacturers,” she said.
Military officials have defended letting new service members pick their own shoes for comfort and safety, but Collins said the military buys domestically made boots and other uniform shoes “with no adverse effect upon recruits.”
Collins and King will try to get their restriction added to the 2014 defense authorization bill when the Senate Armed Services Committee begins writing that measure in mid-June. King is a member of the committee.
But then again, baby steps in the right direction aren't of much help when the train is rolling backwards down the tracks anyway. Despite some high-profile items, much of the sequester is rolling along almost completely unnoticed by the masses. An awful lot of folks have been furloughed, and the Navy at least, is discovering that maybe some of those guys are actually important.
Believe it or not, there's been some outreach to try to get some of them to re-enlist, but like everything else, there's a catch. This would be for a short-term contract, and for many hundreds of sailors that are within a few years of their 20 needed for full benefits, this isn't sitting well.
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — One month after being cast out of the Navy because his career field was overmanned, the Recruit Training Command called Robert Van back with a plea — come back, we don’t have enough sailors like you.
But there was a catch — Van’s contract would only be guaranteed for two years, which would leave him looking for another job about three years short of his 20-year retirement eligibility.
Van was one of nearly 3,000 sailors laid off, or in Navy parlance, “involuntarily separated,” as a result of the former Enlisted Retention Board’s mandate to thin the ranks in 31 overmanned job fields by September 2012.
Yet, less than a year later, the Navy found itself thousands of sailors below its congressionally mandated strength, so it boosted recruiting by 6,000 sailors per year and shelled out incentive pay to make up in an attempt to make up for the shortage, especially in undermanned sea rates.
The seemingly contradictory actions left former sailors — and at least one congressman — to question whether the service made a mistake in cutting so many experienced sailors in the first place.
Perhaps in an effort to right the ship, so to speak, the Navy is now offering some sailors a chance to put the uniform back on.
What it isn’t doing, however, is offering sailors like Van — who by service evaluation standards was among the best at what he did — a chance to come back on a permanent basis.
Finally this morning...a bonus story. This has nothing to do with veterans, except perhaps fleetingly, but being the WWII aviation geek, I can't resist. The hull of perhaps the only remaining intact Do-17 has been recovered from the Channel
and is headed for the restorer's shop. (Surely to static display, but imagine if she could ever take to the sky!)