Today is our 3,037th day in Iraq, and our 3,565th 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): 4472
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4333
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3613
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 244
Since Operation New Dawn: 44
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,657
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 921
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,487
Journalists - Iraq : 348
Academics Killed - Iraq: 448
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 219, 624, 000, 000 .00
I do want you to keep that number in mind today, as the histrionics continue over the debt-ceiling debate.
I've got a bit of a mish-mosh of stories today. A couple of them have a clear thread, but I think I'll just go ahead and do a compilation of sorts. We'll start at a neglected veteran's cemetery. Not Arlington, but someplace further afield. 9 years ago now, we visited the Manila American Cemetery
, not far from Ambassador's Row in Metro Manila. It's a tidy, well-kept space with over 17,000 American war dead from the Pacific Theater. The story came out this past weekend that not far away, at Clark Airbase, another cemetery remains forgotton, abandoned, and half-buried by ash from Mt. Pinatubo.
CLARK, Philippines — Walking along the rows of tombstones here offers a glimpse of the wars America has fought and the men and women who waged them.
But most of the grave markers have been half-buried for 20 years, and there is little hope that the volcanic ash obscuring names, dates and epitaphs will be cleared any time soon.
Clark Veterans Cemetery was consigned to oblivion in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo's gigantic eruption forced the U.S. to abandon the sprawling air base surrounding it.
Retired U.S. soldiers, Marines and sailors volunteer to keep watch, relying on donations to try to maintain the grounds, but they lament that they're short on funds to fix things, and that Washington is unwilling to help.
"It's the veterans' cemetery that America forgot," Vietnam War veteran and ex-Navy officer Robert Chesko said.
Workers at the cemetery north of Manila recently dug to fully expose a gravestone for an Army sergeant who died in World War II in the Philippines.
They discovered his wife's name engraved under his and a long-hidden tribute: "Daughter, sister, wife and mother of veterans."
It's impossible to say what else remains hidden at the 17-acre (seven-hectare) cemetery.
It holds the remains of 8,600 people, including 2,200 American veterans and nearly 700 allied Philippine Scouts who saw battle in conflicts from the early 1900s to the resistance against brutal Japanese occupation troops in WWII.
Clark's dead also include military dependents, civilians who worked for the U.S. wartime government and at least 2,139 mostly unidentified soldiers whose marble tombstones are labeled "Unknown."
Speaking of Arlington, while I don't have any updates on the goings-on at our most well-known military cemetery, I have just learned of a volunteer group in the area. Their sole mission is to ensure that no veteran is buried alone. While we all picture the ceremony with soldiers, rifles, solemn faces, and hushed mourners...the reality is that often a soldier is buried with little fanfare and not much more than an honour guard and a bugler. Bloggers in proximity to Virginia might just want to check them out.
A cool breeze swept through Arlington National Cemetery on a warm June morning as a horse-drawn carriage embarked on a solemn procession for the final salute to Navy Captain Joseph Millerick and his wife, Juanita.
Gathered around the gravesite were loved ones and several-dozen sailors dressed in sparkling white uniforms.
Paula McKinley was also there, and while she is not related to Capt. Millerick or his wife, she considers herself family.
She is an Arlington Lady, a member of an all-volunteer organization of women who ensure that every service at Arlington is attended.
“The purpose of the Arlington Lady is to make sure that no soldier, airman, Coast Guardsman, or sailor is buried alone,” says Ms. McKinley, chairman of the Navy Arlington Ladies. “I represent the Navy family.”
The first Arlington Ladies were organized in 1948. Then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, were walking through Arlington during lunch and noticed that some memorial services had no loved ones present. Moved with sadness, Mrs. Vandenberg began to attend services herself and organized her friends to join her.
In 1973, an Army group was formed, followed by counterparts in the Navy in 1985 and the Coast Guard in 2006. Today, there are nearly 170 Arlington Ladies, with the Marine Corps being the only branch without them.
Each branch conducts its own ceremonies a bit differently at the cemetery, located just outside Washington D.C. in Arlington, Va., McKinley says. But the Ladies have a basic responsibility at every service.
Each Lady wears respectful, muted civilian attire and is escorted by the Honor Guard for Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard ceremonies, and the Navy Ceremonial Guard for Navy ceremonies, to the gravesite, where she stands solemnly during the procession and ceremony.
Immediately after the flag is presented to the next-of-kin, McKinley says, the Lady presents the official condolence card from the head of each service, along with a handwritten note.
During the brief interaction, she also offers gratitude on behalf of the branch for the family’s sacrifice, as well as for their support of the deceased and for the opportunity to pay tribute at the gravesite.
Finally this morning...of course the budget and debt ceiling debate is going to affect our veterans.
You think the Republicans wouldn't mess with this most sacred trust?
Two cuts in military retired pay are under discussion as part of negotiations between Congress and the White House over the size of the U.S. national debt, but getting an agreement is proving difficult.
One cut is small, involving how annual cost-of-living adjustments are calculated. It could apply to military and federal civilian retirees, disabled veterans and survivors. The net effect would be annual adjustments that average one-quarter of a percentage point below what they would be under the current formula.
The second retired-pay option involves a complete overhaul of the benefit, replacing the 20-year model, which pays immediate benefits, with a new plan that could provide some retirement benefits for as few as five years of service — with the actual payments not starting until at least age 60 for any service members who do not retire on a full military disability.
As it stands, this proposal would apply only to future troops, not current retirees or anyone already in uniform.
The talks come as the U.S. has run out of borrowing power after reaching its current $14.3 trillion debt limit. The Treasury Department has warned the U.S. will run out of cash reserves to pay bills Aug. 2, which has become the deadline for reaching an agreement.
The proposed change to the annual cost-of-living adjustment in retired pay would save $24 billion over 10 years, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The change, which would apply to military and federal civilian retired pay, and veterans disability and survivor benefits, would stop linking annual COLAs for benefits and retired pay to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners. It would be linked instead to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.
The estimated net result of the change would be annual COLAs averaging 0.25 percentage points less than they otherwise would.
If adopted, the change from CPI-W to CPI-U would apply to all future adjustments, even for current retirees, and could take effect as early as Dec. 1.
The last two years have seen no cost-of-living increase in retired pay because of flat consumer prices. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks prices, is reporting a 3.6 percent overall increase in the CPI-U over the past 12 months.
The CPI-W has increased 4.1 percent over the same period, half a percentage point more.
The second change, a complete overhaul of military retired pay and an end to the 20-year system, would pay immediate annuities only to those who receive military medical retirement. For everyone else, retired pay would not begin until age 60 — or possibly older.
It's one of those weeks where I have a mountain of stuff....but we'll leave it at that today.