Today is our 3,156th day in Iraq, and our 3,684th 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): 4481
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4342
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3622
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 253
Since Operation New Dawn: 53
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,831
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 962
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,487
Journalists - Iraq : 348
Academics Killed - Iraq: 448
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 274, 870, 400, 000.00
As we head into Veteran's day this week, I have a mountain of stories, so I'm just going to list away. We'll start with an update from Arlington:
ARLINGTON, Va. — A painstaking review of nearly 260,000 grave markers at Arlington National Cemetery has so far revealed no further evidence of misplaced or misidentified gravesites like the ones that led the Army to oust the cemetery’s top management last year, cemetery officials said in a briefing Friday.
Still, the cemetery has found tens of thousands of lesser discrepancies between the information on headstones and supporting paperwork, requiring review by a team of research analysts and, in some cases, replacement of headstones to fix the error.
The cemetery provided the briefing to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who chairs a subcommittee that has investigated what McCaskill and others have called widespread mismanagement at the cemetery. An Army inspector general’s report last year revealed that more than 200 gravesites were potentially mislabeled or misplaced inside the cemetery. Subsequent investigation determined those were largely paperwork errors as opposed to having actual bodies in the wrong place.
McCaskill said Friday that she is encouraged by the thoroughness of the Army’s fact-checking process, in which members of the Army’s Old Guard — its official ceremonial unit — were sent to the cemetery over the summer to photograph every marker at the cemetery with iPhones, and build an electronic database to replace what had largely been a system of paper records.
“Most important, I know going forward that we’re not going to have this problem again” because of the systems being put in place at the cemetery by its new leadership team, said McCaskill, who had been one of the cemetery’s most outspoken critics.
Perhaps we can finally start to put the scandal behind us and let Arlington go back to being the hallowed ground it was intended to be.
Heading overseas, we'll check in on Iraq and the progress towards coming home. While many of us have fought the political battles to get the troops home, surprisingly enough, families of those that fought the actual
battles are far more ambivalent about the troops leaving...especially Gold-Star families.
Almost all American troops are supposed to leave Iraq by the end of December. President Barack Obama said so on Oct. 21.
More than six years before the announcement, Army Pfc. Robert Swaney called his aunt, Angie Denes. He had been living with her in West Jefferson when he enlisted. He was "Robbie" to her.
Swaney was calling from Iraq. He had killed a person for the first time, and that had upset him. He was starting to wonder what he was doing there. He felt "forsaken," Denes remembered, as if he and his fellow soldiers had been put in a terrible position and then forgotten.
"Do you think it's going to make a difference?" he asked his aunt about the war in Iraq in 2005.
Swaney, 21, was killed the week after that phone call, on July 30, 2005, when his vehicle rolled over a bomb in Baghdad.
Even now, Denes doesn't have a clear answer to her nephew's question. She feels lied to about weapons of mass destruction. But she does think that the international democratic uprisings over the past year came, in part, because of the United States' example in Iraq.
All these years later, is leaving Iraq the right thing?
"I don't know," she said last week. But she still cries when she talks about Robbie.
The Democrats and the Republicans, the political scientists and the media commentators have all had their say about the withdrawal. But the families who have made the greatest investments in Iraq -- those families who have lost loved ones -- have their own opinions.
Of course, "coming home" is a relative term. It's starting to look like several thousand troops are only "leaving Iraq" and will not be making the journey
back to these shores.
WASHINGTON — Although all but a small number of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, they won’t all be home for the holidays as President Obama promised last month.
The Pentagon is poised to move at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision expected soon by Pentagon and Kuwaiti leaders, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The move is part of a still-developing Pentagon strategy that ends the Iraq War but positions a strong U.S. force just across the border in Kuwait and across the region to reinforce the U.S.’s commitment to the Middle East and prevent a power vacuum when the tens of thousands of U.S. forces who have served in Iraq are gone.
According to officials, the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, which is currently in Iraq, will be shifted to Kuwait, where troops will be close enough to serve as a quick-reaction force if needed in Iraq or any of the nearby countries. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been finalized by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The plan to beef up U.S. presence in Kuwait also must be approved by the Kuwaiti leaders, although most officials do not believe that will be a problem. The U.S. has had a substantial presence in Kuwait for years, even before the start of the Iraq War.
The last paragraph is key, however. Since I bookmarked the initial story, Kuwait has come out and pretty much said, "not this time"....so maybe all the troops will be coming home after all.
Changing gears to the home front, there's an interesting study out that suggests that military couples tend to stay married, and the divorce rate isn't any different than the civilian rate, despite ten years of ongoing war. But then again, military couples get paid more and get better benefits.
Something that hasn't happened on the same-sex front, I might add.
Ten years of war and extreme stress on servicemembers and their families haven't made the military's divorce rate any higher than that of civilians, according to a new report. And the likely reason, the lead researcher says, is the pay and benefits the military offers to married couples.
"Our speculation is that civilians don't get paid extra if they're married, but [servicemembers do]," Benjamin Karney, the study's lead researcher, told Military.com. "The fact that the military pays people to stay married [likely] keeps them married. There's really something going on there, it seems."
The perks of marriage in the military don't stop at the extra pay and housing allowance, Karney noted. Among other benefits, military families also receive subsidized childcare, free counseling and marriage support, free or greatly reduced healthcare, and employment help for spouses.
Karney said the findings could be seen as a lesson for civilian society. If the military can make marriage work over years of war-related stress, he said, the rest of American culture should be able to follow suit.
"We know that the military is under stress and the stress is pretty bad -- but there are other things that matter, too ... which is the support that people have available to them," he said. "The lesson here is that when you help people out and make their lives better, they have better marriages."
The new study, performed by the RAND Corp., is the first of its kind. Unlike previous studies, it compared DoD personnel information from 1998 to 2005 with population data from the Census Bureau. The study broke out and examined divorce rates among male servicemembers and civilians based on race, age and pay to assess how divorce affects different populations within the military.
The results almost universally showed a higher rate of marriage in the military versus civilians, but the same or slightly lower rates of divorce among all military populations.
In 2010, the overall military divorce rate hovered at about 3.6 percent. A comparable civilian rate is not available because of the way that data is tracked year over year.
And finally today....since it is Veteran's Day this Friday, I think we should pause for a minute and honour an actual veteran.