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Ask a Vet - Christmas 2014
Author: TriSec    Date: 12/23/2014 11:21:27

Good Morning.

Today is our 4,825th day in Afghanistan, and our 187th day back in Iraq.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,356
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
There have been 3 casualties in Iraq.

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:
$ 1, 590, 279, 750, 000 .00

Let's head straight to Iraq this morning. For not having boots on the ground, we've got an awful lot of boots on the ground. Of course, it's just "advisors and support", but just be being there they become a target. It hasn't happened yet, but I'd imagine we'll be shooting again soon enough.

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of American troops are now in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province helping the Iraqi military take on the Islamic State, Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said.

Currently, about 350 U.S. troops are stationed at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar. The force is composed of advisers and support personnel who are assisting the Iraqi army, as well as a security contingent tasked with providing force protection.

The troops on the ground are helping the 7th Iraqi Division with developing security strategies, mission planning, information sharing, and coordinating close air support operations.

Servicemembers in Anbar are not fighting alongside Iraqi forces or standing near the front lines calling in airstrikes, officials said.

These people “are not accompanying Iraqi forces into combat,” said Col. Ed Thomas, the chief spokesman for Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

President Barack Obama has ruled out sending American ground troops back into combat in Iraq, and has limited the military mission to training and equipping Iraqi troops fighting the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, there were media reports that American troops in Anbar had been in a direct fight with militants near Al Asad. Multiple U.S. defense officials said those reports were false.

Last month, military officials revealed that about 50 American special operators had deployed to Al Asad, some 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, in order to lay the groundwork for a new training effort. U.S. troops in Iraq had previously been confined to facilities near Baghdad and Irbil.

The number of advisers in Anbar has increased significantly since then, Thomas said. He did not say how many of the 350 troops now in Anbar are preparing for the training mission, which will take place at four training sites throughout Iraq.

The formal training effort isn’t expected to start until early next year, officials said.

“We are still in the process of flowing in additional troops in the overall effort to Build Partner Capacity, which will enable Iraqi forces by providing training and expertise in military capabilities such as mission command, intelligence, maneuver, and sustainment and medical support,” Joint Staff spokeswoman Army Capt. Catalina Rosales said in an email to Stars and Stripes.

There are currently about 1,700 American troops in Iraq. That number is expected to increase to around 3,000 in the coming months.

We'll next take a leap into Cost-of-War land. There's some stories circulating around about the ongoing battle over funding the aging and perhaps obsolescent A-10 "Thunderbolt". I've posted many stories here about the F-35 and all those teething problems. But there's another aircraft out there that is a money pit. This one is the yet-to-fly KC-46 tanker aircraft, which is pitched as a replacement for the very old, but absolutely reliable KC-135. The new aircraft is based on the tried and true 767 platform, which of course is a modern 30 years old. Some of you may recall the controversy a few years ago during the contract competition - Senator Angry Grandpa had a hand in awarding the contract to Airbus, which was later voided and steered to Boeing after some corruption was discovered.

SEATTLE (Tribune Content Agency) — Boeing engineers and mechanics are scrambling to meet an already stretched out schedule and get the 767-based platform for the Air Force’s new KC-46 refueling tanker into the air by year end, with an internal flight target of Dec. 27.

That’s six months later than projected at the beginning of this year.

And the cost of the effort is mounting steeply for Boeing, which is responsible for cost overruns in this initial development phase above a contract ceiling of $4.9 billion.

The government’s latest projection for the cost of tanker development has ballooned to $1.5 billion above that contract ceiling, Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, who heads the Air Force tanker program, said Monday.

The Air Force’s previous estimate had been for a $1 billion overrun.

Richardson said in an interview that the new estimate is based on Boeing’s performance on the work completed thus far, and factors in manufacturing delays because of wiring issues this year as well as potential risks ahead, including possible surprises once flight tests begin.

Two Boeing insiders with knowledge of the program said the tanker team in Everett, Wash., is working feverishly to resolve remaining systems problems and is under orders to prep the first plane “with the minimum capability to make it fly.”

Richardson indicated the Air Force’s priorities are much the same.

“At this point we need Boeing to get Number One in the air,” he said.

The flight from Paine Field, a public airport outside Everett, is the first public milestone for the program, which is set to earn Boeing $51 billion for delivering a total of 179 tankers to the Air Force.

The plane’s take-off will mark the beginning of flight tests that will eventually involve four test aircraft.

The first plane is not outfitted with the military systems that would make it a tanker, such as the air-to-air refueling boom.

It’s just the basic airplane platform: a modified commercial 767 with a 787-style cockpit, a strengthened airframe, four extra fuel tanks in the cargo bay, and the plumbing and wiring to support the tanker mission.

The runup to first flight hasn’t gone smoothly.

After the airframes for all four test aircraft were completed this year, Boeing had to repeatedly remove and reinstall complex wiring systems in the first airplane.

Richardson said the wiring had to be redesigned because the various redundant wire bundles that independently control critical systems were not sufficiently separated.

Once that was corrected, he said, Boeing had to further adjust the design so that the wires would still physically fit into the various bends and crevices in the airframe.

The painstaking unwiring and then rewiring of the first airplane delayed this initial flight by months, and added an extra $425 million in unplanned expenses to the cost overrun that Boeing must swallow.

In another story this Christmas week, we'll take a look at just one ship in the US Navy. Back about June, a sailor committed suicide on board, and months of investigation have revealed a "toxic" atmosphere that was probably a significant contributing factor. Oh yes, and the sailor was a young lady on the USS Misogyny.

A young boatswain's mate committed suicide on the destroyer James E. Williams in June and a subsequent investigation has found the ship's skipper, the former executive officer and the command master chief responsible for a toxic command climate that contributed to the tragedy.

When investigators started digging into the suicide, they found a ship with a rogue chiefs mess led by a junior command master chief with an alcohol problem, and a CO and XO either oblivious or unwilling to reign in the mess, according to a newly released report obtained by Navy Times.

The 313-page report found the James E. Williams' top enlisted, CMC Travis Biswell, failed to control a chief's mess that fostered a "culture of retribution" where sailors were afraid to report to their senior leaders for fear of their chiefs. Furthermore, the report found neither the CO, Cmdr. Curtis Calloway, nor the XO, Cmdr. Ed Handley, did enough to address the poor atmosphere on board.

Calloway's failure to hold chief petty officers accountable, concluded Carrier Strike Group 12 boss, Rear Adm. Andrew Lewis, "enabled a culture that empowered CPOs to target, belittle and bully junior Sailors."

Lewis concluded that Calloway failed to identify or correct the problems.

"Cmdr. Calloway was either willfully blind to the problems on board his ship or he was in an extremely negligent state of denial," Lewis wrote in a Sept. 26 endorsement. "He owned the culture that, I believe, contributed to the suicide of [the boatswain's mate]."

Handley had turned over as XO three weeks before the suicide and was off the ship at leadership school, but was cited by Lewis for the breakdown of command programs, which failed to adequately support the sailor when she was in crisis.

The investigation into the climate on board began in June, a month into their deployment, after Boatswain's Mate Seaman Yeshabel Villot-Carrasco ingested a lethal dose of the over-the-counter sleep aid Unisom.

Villot-Carrasco took the sleeping pills after being written up for talking to another sailor as she was standing aft lookout, the report said, noting that there were rumors the married E-3 was carrying on an affair with the other sailor.

The report said she was confronted by a superior and counseled for failing to keep a proper watch, but indicated that the counseling likely took place because of the rumors about the affair. Afterward Villot-Carrasco filed an equal opportunity complaint alleging she was being singled out because of her gender since no one else had been counseled for talking on watch.

After she filed the EO report, her superior told her she was being written up and would face ​non-judicial punishment, an action the report found to be a clear case of reprisal.

Calloway, Handley and Biswell did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Monday.

Finally this morning, it can't all be gloom and doom two days before Christmas. News out of Boston indicates that John "Wacko" Hurley has relented and will allow a gay veteran's group to march in next spring's Saint Patrick's Day parade in South Boston.

BOSTON — The organizers of Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day parade voted to allow a group representing gay veterans to march next year, a dramatic turnaround for an organization that has long resisted the inclusion of gays.

The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1995 upholding their right to ban gay groups from the annual parade that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, voted 5-4 Monday to allow the group OutVets to march in the parade scheduled for March 15. They will be allowed to carry a blue banner with five white stars representing the branches of the military, and six vertical rainbow stripes.

OutVets represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans.

Bryan Bishop, OutVets founder and U.S. Air Force veteran, called the decision "awesome."

"I think it's very significant," said Bishop, who works as chief of staff in Boston's Veterans Services department. "Ensuring that there is 100 percent inclusivity is important."

The group has about 50 to 60 members, but has no political or social agenda, he said.

OutVets is being allowed to march because of their military service, not sexual orientation, said veterans' council Commander Brian Mahoney.

"This conforms to the tenets of the parade," Mahoney said. "The parade is devoted to honoring the service of veterans. It's is our aim to honor that service and the history of the Irish Catholics in Boston. Anything that detracts from that is verboten."

The parade organizers have long resisted the inclusion of gay groups, saying the parade is meant to honor veterans and Irish-American heritage, not promote any political or social agenda.


36 comments (Latest Comment: 12/24/2014 04:55:41 by Will in Chicago)
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