Today is our 2,568th day in Iraq and our 3,096th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do, with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4385
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4246
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3922
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3526
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 157
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,029
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 673
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 977, 068, 900, 000 . 00
I've got two contrasting stories for you this morning. We'll start locally...with a company called Florence Electric, in Taunton, MA. One of the things a Reservist is supposed to count on is getting his job back once his service is done. Every now and again, though....somebody comes along and tries to circumvent the law.
The most important thing you can do when you come back from war — and Chris Thornton has done it three times — is hug your kids, kiss your wife, and go back to work.
“What you want, more than anything,’’ Chris Thornton says, “is that sense of normalcy. Everything back to what it was before you left.’’
He is a chief petty officer in the Navy reserves and last spring he finished a yearlong deployment to Iraq. In civilian life, he was a foreman for Florence Electric in Taunton, and he was just happy to go back to work and start to feel normal again.
But three weeks into his old life, Joe Pereira, one of the supervisors at Florence Electric, called him into the office.
“There had been a lot of cutbacks, and I figured Joe was going to say I had to take a hit, a 10 percent pay cut or something like that,’’ Thornton said.
If only. Joe Pereira said they were letting him go.
“You kind of lost your spot,’’ Thornton says Pereira told him.
Chris Thornton walked out of that office, wondering how he was going to take care of his wife and three kids, and knowing in his heart that he’d been wronged. He knew there were five guys still working who had less time with the company, and that if he had lost his spot, he lost it serving his country.
Chris Thornton fought in the first war in Iraq, Operation Desert Storm. A lot of guys who fought then came back and found their jobs had been given away. In response, Congress passed a law that says employers have to rehire returning vets who give up their jobs to serve and can’t lay them off for at least a year, except for cause.
Chris Thornton remembered that a guy in his unit from Hingham named Keith Jermyn had been laid off from his electrician’s job in 2006 after they got back from Iraq. Jermyn had called his state representative, Garrett Bradley, who in civilian life is a lawyer.
Bradley had gone to bat for Jermyn and got him his back pay and his job back. So Jermyn called Bradley again, asking him to help his buddy Chris Thornton, and Bradley quickly agreed. Bradley figured it would just take a few letters, reminding Thornton’s boss of the law that protects returning veterans.
Instead, Bradley got an indignant response from the law firm of Nixon Peabody, saying, in effect, bring it on.
“The law is pretty clear on this,’’ Bradley said.
But the law is, like war, a murky thing, and people see what they see or what they want to see.
Eli Florence, the president of the electrical company that bears his name, doesn’t appreciate being called names, especially if that name is anti-veteran. He proudly displays a certificate from the Department of Defense that his company got for holding jobs for returning veterans — the very thing Chris Thornton says they didn’t do for him.
Eli Florence was offended when he was accused of breaking the law created to protect returning veterans.
“It is very insulting,’’ Eli Florence says. “They know how we feel about the military. This is a slap in the face.’’
Joe Pereira says he never said anything about Chris Thornton losing his spot.
“Those words were never said by me,’’ Pereira says.
Eli Florence says they had cause the lay off Chris Thornton. The cause was a lousy economy. He says 25 percent of people in the electrical business are out of work.
Eli Florence says his company has sent gift baskets to Iraq, sent money to the families of employees serving overseas. He says they bent over backward for Thornton.
“We were already in the process of laying people off when Chris came back,’’ he said. “He was the last journeyman to be laid off. We ran out of options. His perception is different. Maybe if I was in his position, I’d see it his way.’’
Chris Thornton is looking for the wages he lost. We’re talking maybe 50 grand. There is a good chance Eli Florence will spend that much, maybe even more, defending himself.
“I hate paying lawyers,’’ said Eli Florence.
“He hates paying lawyers,’’ said Eli Florence’s lawyer, David Rosenthal.
So, why not take the money he’s paying lawyers and pay Chris Thornton instead?
But then on the other hand, there's thousands of folks out there that go above and beyond in order to take care of our returning vets. I've just learned of an organization that uses the peace of fishing to help our vets cope with what they've been through. It's called Project Healing Waters
, and at least one of my co-workers at ol' LL Bean is heavily involved in the local branch in Massachusetts.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, INC. (PHWFF) was founded in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), with the help of local Trout Unlimited (TU) and Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF) volunteers. Our mission: Assist in the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active duty military personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.
PHWFF provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, and fly tying instruction for wounded personnel, ranging from beginners to those with prior fly fishing experience, who are adapting their skills to their new abilities. While initially focused on military personnel in the Washington, DC area, PHWFF has expanded and is offering its services to active military personnel and veterans in military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the nation. Currently, over 70 such programs have been established in the U.S. and Canada.
Since its inception, PHWFF has been helping disabled active duty personnel and veterans to overcome the obstacles associated with their military service-related disabilities. The relearning of the fine motor skills required in fly fishing and fly tying has proven to be particularly effective in the overall rehabilitation of the disabled.
While PHWFF emphasizes the skills of fly fishing and fly tying to help the patients regain the use of their damaged bodies, perhaps the greatest benefit is in their realization that a more normal life is possible. Fly fishing can be a lifelong re-creation, both physically and emotionally.
PHWFF partners directly with fly fishing oriented organizations such as the FFF and TU. Within local clubs and chapters, volunteers, working with hospital staff, donate their time to teach the various skills involved in the sport of fly fishing to Project participants. PHWFF, a 501©(3) non-profit charity incorporated in the State of Maryland, is dependent on tax-deductible financial donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, training, equipment, transportation, and related outing needs of the participants. PHWFF strives to effectively serve its deserving participants, who have made great sacrifices in the service of our Nation.
So...two organizations, two very different reactions to returning vets. Say, I wonder which one is run by Republicans?