Today is our 4,587th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualties from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,314
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,119
We find this morning's Cost of War passing through: $ 1, 530, 013, 800, 000 .00
Last week, we spent some time looking at aviation, and I promised more hard-hitting stories this week. Now is the time.
Let's think about something Dr. Maddow said years ago..."The war in Iraq won't truly be over until the last, tortured veteran dies screaming in his sleep perhaps 70 years from now." While you would normally associate that saying with PTSD, TBI, or a whole host of other injuries and experiences, I'll start with a story about sexual abuse.
These soldiers are no less casualties of war than those who were shot.
The war veteran wakes up at 11 a.m. and spends the afternoon alone studying, and so it is not until early evening, during her shift at the restaurant where she works as a waitress, that the first lie of the day is required.
"Everything okay?" a colleague asks.
"It's fine," she says, and the lying is underway.
Lie after lie: This has been her life since coming home last year from Afghanistan — the daily maintenance of a thousand little fictions to keep everyone from finding out what happened over there.
The 27-year-old Navy veteran, who wants to be identified by only her middle name, Diana, lies to people from her unit, saying she came home early because she had a lump in her breast.
She lies to her parents, her friends and her boyfriend, who knows some of the story but not all of it.
She lies because she thinks she has to, because of the legal document she signed during her fourth month at Bagram air base, after she sneaked over to the hospital and asked to see the person who handles sexual assaults, after a nurse took Polaroid photos of bruises on her neck and scratches on her back, collected swabs and hair samples and put them in a brown paper bag.
After that, she was handed Defense Department Form 2910 and told she had two choices for reporting rape.
She could file an unrestricted report, in which both she and the alleged offender, who Diana said was her boss, would be named and that would launch an investigation.
Or she could file what is called a restricted report to preserve her anonymity. No names. No investigation, either. No one would know except doctors and a few specified others who did not include family, friends or colleagues. The evidence would be destroyed after one year.
As Diana understood it in the moment, it was a promise that the U.S. military was making to her and she was making to the U.S. military: This will be our secret.
The problem of sexual assault in the military is well known. What is less well understood is the extent to which the Pentagon has officially embraced secrecy and anonymity as a means of dealing with the problem, which has been especially rampant during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A recent Department of Veterans Affairs survey found that one in four women deployed to those wars said they experienced sexual assault, defined as any unwanted contact from groping to rape.
Regrettably, many of our troops are no longer able to deal with the repercussions of combat. While strides have been made, the suicide rate among veterans remains unacceptably high
. And like most statistics, every time somebody reviews the numbers, they seem to get revised. Unfortunately, always up.
TAMPA, Fla. — Commandos are taking their own lives at a record pace, said Adm. William McRaven, commander U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Repeating a concern he first raised to Congress in February, McRaven told a symposium in Tampa on Thursday that helping commandos and their families is “my No. 1 priority.”
“The last two years have been the highest rate of suicides we have had in the special operations community, and this year I am afraid we are on the path to break that,” McRaven said during his keynote speech to the GEOINT 2013* Symposium at the Tampa Convention Center.
“And although suicides alone are not an indication of the health of the force, they are a component I have to look at. There is a lot of angst. There is a lot of pressure out there. My soldiers have been fighting for 12 to 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat. And anybody who has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It’s that simple.”
Just how much is yet to be known, McRaven said.
“I don’t think we know what effects are going to happen,” he said. “I don’t think that will begin to manifest itself for another year or so, maybe two, three years.
McRaven did not say how many commandos have committed suicide nor did he provide that information during his February testimony to Congress. His press office did not have those figures then or Thursday.
There are about 60,000 commandos, with a presence in more than 80 countries.
“I know a couple of my friends in the community who have committed suicide in the past year,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Compton, 30, assigned to Marine Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune. “It is a systematic plague going on.”
Under McRaven’s Preservation of the Force and Family program, SOCOM “is responding with a holistic approach that takes into account every factor that might contribute to this challenge” including “the psychological, social, spiritual, and physical factors that are known to contribute to suicide,” said spokesman Ken McGraw.
Among other initiatives, the command created a suicide prevention working group in 2012, said McGraw and followed that up with a Suicide Prevention Task Force in January.
The task force “is comprised of subject matter experts, clergy, behavioral health professionals, service members who have experienced suicidal ideations, spouses of service members who have committed suicide and other personnel that are closely linked to this challenge,” said McGraw. They are also looking at Pentagon, VA and civilian programs like peer-to-peer counseling and mentoring solutions, said McGraw.
For the close-knit commando community used to operating in small groups, “peer education and counseling is key in suicide prevention, coupled with access to confidential, efficient, short-term interventions by trusted clinical entities,” said Carrie Elk, the founder of the Elk Institute for Psychological Health & Performance in Tampa and a therapist who works frequently with operators in crisis around the country.
McRaven said the treatment of troops and veterans has changed for the positive since 1977 when he joined the Navy. But it’s still not enough.
Finally this morning, we'll throw in a "soft"story. Let's take a look at China. Right now, they're acting like a superpower that's awash in cash, and they're buying and building anything their little hearts desire.
One would suppose it's because they want to be a "player" on the global stage, but in looking at the last half of the 20th century and seeing two superpowers collapse because of excessive spending...."Those who ignore the past".
QINGDAO, CHINA — China’s navy commissioned 17 new warships last year, the most of any nation. In a little more than a decade, it’s expected to have three aircraft carriers, giving it more clout than ever in a region of contested seas and festering territorial disputes.
Those numbers testify to huge increases in defense spending that have endowed China with the largest military budget behind the United States and fueled an increasingly large and sophisticated defense industry. While Beijing still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending boom is attracting new scrutiny at a time of severe cuts in U.S. defense budgets that have some questioning Washington’s commitments to its Asian allies, including some who have lingering disputes with China.
Beijing’s newfound military clout is one of many issues confronting President Barack Obama as he visits the region this week. Washington is faced with the daunting task of fulfilling its treaty obligations to allies such as Japan and the Philippines, while also maintaining cordial relation with key economic partner and rising regional power China.
China’s boosted defense spending this year grew 12.2 percent to $132 billion, continuing more than two decades of nearly unbroken double-digit percentage increases that have afforded Beijing the means to potentially alter the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. Outside observers put China’s actual defense spending significantly higher, although estimates vary widely.
Increases in spending signal “strength and resolve to China’s neighbors,” requiring other countries to pay close attention to where Beijing is assigning its resources, said China defense expert Abraham Denmark, vice president for political and security affairs at the U.S-based National Bureau of Asian Research.
At the same time, the U.S. military is seeking to redirect resources to the Asia-Pacific as it draws down its defense commitment in Afghanistan, although officers warn that budget cuts could potentially threaten plans to base 60 percent of U.S. naval assets to the region. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert recently warned that U.S. capabilities to project power “would not stay ahead” of those of potential adversaries, given the fiscal restraints.
While it may not even happen in our lifetimes, China's military will eventually spend the country into bankruptcy...and one can only ponder what nation will next step into the void.