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Author: TriSec    Date: 10/30/2012 10:12:43

Good Morning.

Today is our 4,041st 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: 2,144
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,069

We find this morning's cost of war passing through:

$ 1, 387, 912, 100, 000 .00

With the storm bearing down on us, I've been a bit lax in my research and bookmarking the last few days. Nevertheless, I've got an archive full of things, so let's take a look.

We'll start at Arlington National Cemetery. Most of us saw these pictures from yesterday:


That is the "Old Guard", remaining on duty through the storm just like they have been every minute of every hour since 1948.

Honour and Duty are two concepts quite near and dear to me. Especially concerning our war dead. You may know that there aren't enough buglers to go around, and in recent years the Pentagon has sent an honour guard to many cemeteries with a "digital bugle" I myself am a member of Bugles Across America, although I have yet to take a mission. (Like most things, it's on the "after chemo" list, especially since my chops aren't in any shape to do it justice.)

But there's another shortage out there now, too. Of course it's money. There's word circulating through the military press that that the budget for military funerals has been cut nearly in half. After all the sacrifice we ask our soldiers to make while on duty and on the home front....for those that have earned the ultimate honour, it seems to me that the least we can do is give them a decent burial.

FORT GIBSON, Okla. — As Spc. Jason Shorter and his colleague make each of the 13 folds in the American flag and his fellow soldier plays taps, he knows the family of a deceased soldier or veteran is watching and listening.

Presenting that folded triangle of blue with white stars to the family to honor their loved one is one last show of appreciation for their service and sacrifice, one that family won’t forget.

“It’s a feeling that’s indescribable, that this family knows why I’m there and what we’re going to do,” said Shorter, coordinator for the Eastern Office of the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program. The job involves “a lot of honor and a lot of pride.”

Federal budget cuts are straining honor guard programs across the nation, reducing the number of full-time soldiers in Oklahoma who perform the service, coordinate the funeral details and maintain the skills of soldiers to the highest standards.

The Tulsa World reports funding for full-time soldiers to perform those services has been cut nearly in half in the last two years, while the number of services the Guard works has increased consistently, said Staff Sgt. Marvin Barbee, state coordinator for the Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Program.

With the start of the current federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, the Oklahoma National Guard’s budget for full-time staff to perform funeral details was about $287,000, Barbee said. The initial allocation in the last fiscal year was about $383,000, although an additional allocation in March added $169,000. In fiscal year 2010, the state was allocated nearly $550,000 for the function.

In the last fiscal year, the Oklahoma Army National Guard provided services for 1,464 funerals. In 2008, the Guard served at about 770 funerals, Barbee said.

While he could send more soldiers to services in the past, a typical funeral detail now consists of two soldiers, the minimum required to fold the flag and play taps.

“You can always do more; we just have to do the minimum,” Barbee said.

For a funeral with full honors, which includes a 21-gun salute and pallbearer service, the typical detail now would include nine soldiers, when 21 might have performed those duties in the past, Barbee said. Full honors are always used when a soldier is killed in action, Barbee said.

When the cuts for the current fiscal year went into effect, Barbee said his full-time staff was cut from 19 to six, with those soldiers who were cut moving to part time. There are 27 soldiers who are currently on part-time orders, he said.

And I think I'll stay with Arlington. Longtime readers of this column know about the years-long effort to straighten out all the issues that have been reported here previously. I will tip my hat to my Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). He's been one of the leaders on getting this cleaned up, and I've spoken to his office numerous times about this. As an active-duty Reservist, I'd have to say that our junior Senator is that rare Republican that actually does care about Veteran's issues. Now if the rest of his platform were as solid as this....but I digress.

In any case, Arlington has finally entered the 21st century by debuting an interactive digital map of all the gravesites. While it may seem like a routine thing, a titanic effort was required to track down and map all the graves....and during the course of the research, finding and correcting a number of missing or misplaced soldiers and headstones. It's a good thing; and if you have more than a passing interest, you can access the maps through the Arlington website here.

WASHINGTON — Arlington National Cemetery on Monday made available to the public a massive electronic database detailing the gravesites of the roughly 400,000 people buried there.

Cemetery officials built the database over the last two years to verify the accuracy of their records brought into question by reports of misidentified graves. Prior to 2010, the cemetery used paper records and maps to track who is buried where.

On Monday at the Association of the United States Army convention in Washington, the cemetery debuted an interactive map available through its website and through a free smartphone app. It uses geospatial technology to hone in on specific graves and can also be searched by name.

It can be accessed through the cemetery's website www.arlingtoncemetery.mil

When a name is called up, a viewer can see when the person was buried and the dates of their birth and death. Photos of the front and back of the headstone can also be viewed. Monuments and memorials that commemorate the service of specific military units are also included in the database.

The application also highlights some of the notable graves throughout the cemetery that are popular with the roughly 4 million visitors annually that the cemetery draws.

"This is a great day for veterans and our families," said Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army National Military Cemeteries, which includes Arlington.

Officials say the new app makes it easier for people walking the cemetery to locate a loved one's burial place. The app can be downloaded at the cemetery's visitor center.

The database has been the subject of a painstaking review and even now is not 100 percent complete. Katharine Kelley, the cemetery's director of accountability, said that about 99.4 percent of the nearly 260,000 gravesites, niches and markers have been verified.

And I think we'll leave it at that. Be careful out there today as you travel about - today is the day that any limbs weakened by the storm but not knocked down already may fall. And no driving through floodwaters, people!

110 comments (Latest Comment: 10/31/2012 03:13:48 by Will in Chicago)
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