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Author: TriSec    Date: 01/13/2015 11:11:54

Good Morning.

Today is our 208th day back in Iraq.

There have been no new American casualties in our ongoing wars.

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1,595, 590, 800, 000 .00

There's a lot going on with ties back to Iraq, so we'll dive right in. We'll start locally, here at the USMA at West Point. You may have heard about this one, as an Iraq veteran has made some waves recently by stating that disability pay might actually be holding some veterans back. Maybe, possibly, a tiny subset of veterans....but really?

COLORADO SPRINGS — Nearly 200 sick and wounded soldiers in a gym at Fort Carson last month listened silently as Lt. Col. Daniel Gade offered a surprising warning: The disability checks designed to help troops like them after they leave the service might actually be harmful.

As he paced back and forth in front of the soldiers, some of them leaning on crutches, Colonel Gade said that too many veterans become financially dependent on those monthly checks, choose not to find jobs and lose the sense of identity and self-worth that can come from work.

“People who stay home because they are getting paid enough to get by on disability are worse off,” he said. “They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to live alone. You’ve seen these guys. And the system is driving you to become one of them, if you are not careful.”

It was a message that many veterans find offensive and misguided. But Colonel Gade is not your typical messenger. He is a combat veteran who lost a leg while serving as a tank company commander in Iraq in 2005.

Today he is a professor of public policy at the United States Military Academy at West Point, but he spends much of his spare time publishing essays and traveling the country pushing the idea that the Department of Veterans Affairs should move away from paying veterans for their wounds and instead create incentives for them to find work or create businesses.

“It’s a difficult issue to broach. People immediately think you are trying to shortchange veterans,” he said in an interview. “But I’m in a position to do it because I have skin in the game, literally.”

Much like debate over Social Security, discussion of disability compensation is the third rail of veterans politics. It is a program with broad public support that has defied efforts at change even as it has consumed a growing portion of the $151 billion Veterans Affairs budget.

Since 2001, the number of veterans getting monthly checks for service-related disabilities, ranging from bad knees to catastrophic injuries, increased by 55 percent, and the overall cost of compensation nearly tripled, to $59 billion.

Despite the rising cost, revamping the program remains unpopular with both parties in Congress as well as with the country’s major veterans organizations, many of which employ large numbers of people to help veterans apply for benefits. Officials with those groups say the idea that disability compensation discourages work is unfair to veterans and potentially dangerous to a system that has helped many cope with the ravages of war.

“No one wants to be disabled; they want to work,” said Garry Augustine, the Washington director for Disabled American Veterans. Mr. Augustine was wounded by a land mine in Vietnam and lost the use of his left hand and foot. “I’m a perfect example,” he said. “I came back severely injured, couldn’t walk. I needed compensation because I couldn’t work. I went to school on the V.A., got job training through the V.A., and worked my way off disability. The V.A. gave me my life back.”

Some veterans’ advocates say that Colonel Gade is siding with fiscal conservatives who want to reduce federal spending, even if it comes at a cost to wounded veterans.

“It’s unclear what their end state is,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the chief executive and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Mr. Rieckhoff said his organization would support testing alternative strategies to disability compensation. But, he added, “The larger problem right now is not that too many people are getting paid. The larger problem is not enough people getting care and support.”

But now, it seems the likelihood is we'll be creating more disabled veterans. For not having boots on the ground, there's an awful lot of boots on the ground in Iraq. And they're finding things left behind the last time there were boots on the ground in Iraq. It wasn't that long ago, but it already seems like history, even as we enter the Mobius loop again.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The calendar on the wall reads November 2011.

On the ground is a half-filled can of Copenhagen smokeless tobacco. Scattered here and there are bottles of Gatorade, cans of Rip It energy drinks, poker chips, Monopoly money and razor blades.

Stenciled on a wall is a punchy soldier’s slogan: “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat.” Taped on another is a note of encouragement from a Boy Scout troop back home: “You are our hero and your commitment to freedom is honorable.”

There is even a jar of salsa still in the fridge.

When the American troops left Iraq three years ago, they left behind a fragile country that collapsed into civil war. They also left behind the detritus of soldiers’ lives that, in the ensuing years, was left untouched, frozen in time.

Now that American forces, in much smaller numbers, are returning to help the Iraqis confront the extremists of the Islamic State, they have found themselves reoccupying some of their old places. And they are excavating what feels like a slowly decaying time capsule as they discover the things they left behind.

When the Americans left, they turned over their bases to the Iraqis. But here at Taji, aside from some buildings that were clearly ransacked and probably looted of anything valuable, many of the spaces, now covered in a thick coat of dust, were left alone.

One soldier said he found pinups from Maxim, a men’s magazine, still on the walls. And the last copies of Stars and Stripes, the armed forces newspaper, delivered just before the American departure, are still scattered about the floor of one of the bathrooms. The score from an NFL playoff game in 2011, now considered a classic upset, is painted across an awning: Saints 36, Seahawks 41.

At Taji, about 20 miles north of Baghdad and once home to a sprawling American air base, even the street signs the Americans posted are still up. Separating a patch of housing units from the cavernous aircraft hangars is the corner of Longhorn Avenue and 46th Street.

Laith al-Khadi works on the base at a convenience store stocked with the necessities of a soldier’s life: energy drinks, Cuban cigars, DVDs and many other things. He is happy to see the Americans back and, to accommodate them, is trying to find a stock of Copenhagen. “It’s good for us,” he said. “Sales are booming.”

So far, the Americans have taken up residence at two of their old hubs, here and at Al Asad Air Base in Anbar Province. The Army is here, and the Marines are in Anbar. It is a tiny footprint compared with the past — about 180 soldiers here, and an additional 200 or so military personnel in Anbar.

For weeks, before starting their training programs with new Iraqi recruits, Marines and soldiers have had to refurbish their areas of the bases, filling sandbags, fortifying perimeters and getting the electricity working.

One Marine major in Anbar, who has been in Iraq before and had just returned from Afghanistan in September when he was ordered back to Iraq, said it was “eerie” and “spooky” to return. Another said the place looked like “a train wreck.”

First Lt. Nolan Gore, a Marine from Texas who has been busy setting up the camp in Anbar, said that when he arrived, the place looked “apocalyptic.” Then he thought about it and said it actually looked “post-apocalyptic.”

Of course, somehow tying these two stories together is the cost of war. Go back up and look at the counter again, then read the next story. I can see us transferring over small arms, MRAPs, and other detritus of war that might actually be cheaper to 'abandon in place' instead of shipping back home, but combat tanks? These are currently worth about 8.8 million each, so think about that as you read this next story.

WASHINGTON — The United States provided the Iraqi armed forces with $300 million in donated military equipment in 2014, and over the next two months will deliver six more Abrams tanks and 50 up-armored Humvees at no cost to the Baghdad government, according to information provided by the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The deliveries come on the heels of the announcement that the US had donated 250 mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles to Iraqi and Kurdish forces since late December in a deal that also provided six months of US-provided maintenance for the hulking blast-resistant vehicles.

"The number one threat to the Iraqi security forces are roadside bombs and vehicle-borne bombs," US Ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones said in a Tuesday statement. "These MRAP vehicles provide increased ballistic and counter mine protection for Iraqi security forces."

Some of the equipment provided by Washington includes 12,000 sets of body armor, Kevlar helmets, medical kits, counter-IED equipment, vehicle maintenance and sustainment, and tank and helicopter maintenance training. Preparations are also being made to ship 10,000 M16 rifles to the Iraqi Army in the coming weeks.

The multinational coalition against the radical Islamic State has conducted more than 900 airstrikes against targets in Iraq since Aug. 8 at an average daily cost of over $8 million, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.

That would put the price tag at more than $1.2 billion as of Tuesday.

Finally, I will leave you with a wee bit of good news today. A rising tide still lifts all boats...even if Kongruss is running around cutting holes in the bottoms of them.

36 comments (Latest Comment: 01/14/2015 01:09:34 by Will in Chicago)
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