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Author: TriSec    Date: 05/12/2015 10:09:20

Good Morning.

Today is our 327th back in Iraq.

There have been no new casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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

$ 1, 625, 681, 550, 000 .00

I read a curious thing yesterday. The United States Coast Guard is soon to end its mission in Afghanistan and head for home. Now, I don't know about you, but I am a geography geek....so I'm pretty sure Afghanistan is completely landlocked. As it turns out, small teams of Coasties have been inspecting all military cargo bound for the US for more than a decade. I guess technically they are guarding the coast, but I find this more indicative of how the war has become all-encompassing among our military forces.

PORTSMOUTH -- After more than a decade on the ground in the Middle East, the Coast Guard is pulling out of Afghanistan -- a small but symbolic change as the U.S. continues to scale back military operations there.

Since 2003, the service branch known for patrolling U.S. harbors and coasts has been sending small teams to landlocked bases in the deserts and mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan, where they inspected and certified military cargo being shipped back to the U.S.

Six months after the end of combat operations in Afghanistan -- with far fewer troops on the ground, and far less equipment being shipped back -- those services are no longer needed.

The last Coast Guard Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment, or RAID team, will return to Portsmouth today.

"RAID has been our most forward deployed unit during the wars, and now after 12 years, that mission is coming to an end," said Capt. Scott McKinley, head of the Coast Guard's Patrol Forces Southwest Asia Branch, based in Portsmouth. "A couple months ago, it became apparent to the Army we were no longer needed."

The 15-member RAID team deployed to Kuwait nine months ago and spent most of that time traveling to forward operating bases throughout Afghanistan to assist Army units preparing to leave. The team is scheduled to touch down at Norfolk International Airport this morning then head to the Coast Guard station in Portsmouth for a formal debriefing.

But that's shipments coming back home. I've run across another story that indicates that maybe the Coasties should have been inspecting something else. War is a messy business, and that includes things like finance, contracting, and fraud, too. While we generally knew civilian contractors were all out trying to make a fast buck, it turns out that some unscrupulous soldiers were doing that on the side while at war.

U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau sat at the center of a complex trucking network in Forward Operating Base Fenty near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that distributed daily tens of thousands of gallons of what troops called “liquid gold”: the refined petroleum that fueled the international coalition’s vehicles, planes, and generators.

A prominent sign in the base read: “The Army Won’t Go If The Fuel Don’t Flow.” But Charboneau, 31, a mother of two from Washington state, felt alienated after a supervisor’s harsh rebuke. Her work was a dreary routine of recording fuel deliveries in a computer and escorting trucks past a gate. But it was soon to take a dark turn into high-value crime.

She began an affair with a civilian, Jonathan Hightower, who worked for a Pentagon contractor that distributed fuel from Fenty, and one day in March 2010 he told her about “this thing going on” at other U.S. military bases around Afghanistan, she recalled in a recent telephone interview.

Troops were selling the U.S. military’s fuel to Afghan locals on the side, and pocketing the proceeds. When Hightower suggested they start doing the same, Charboneau said, she agreed.

In so doing, Charboneau contributed to thefts by U.S. military personnel of at least $15 million worth of fuel since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And eventually she became one of at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract-rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a comprehensive tally of court records by the Center for Public Integrity.

Many of these crimes grew out of shortcomings in the military’s management of the deployments that experts say are still present: a heavy dependence on cash transactions, a hasty award process for high-value contracts, loose and harried oversight within the ranks, and a regional culture of corruption that proved seductive to the Americans troops transplanted there.

Charboneau, whose Facebook posts reveal a bright-eyed woman with a shoulder tattoo and a huge grin, snuggling with pets and celebrating the 2015 New Year with her children in Seattle Seahawks jerseys, now sits in Carswell federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, serving a seven-year sentence for her crime.

Additional crimes by military personnel are still under investigation, and some court records remain partly under seal. The magnitude of additional losses from fraud, waste, and abuse by contractors, civilians, and allied foreign troops in Afghanistan has never been tallied, but officials probing such crimes say the total is in the billions of dollars. And those who investigate and prosecute military wrongdoing say the convictions so far constitute a small portion of the crimes they think were committed by U.S. military personnel in the two countries.

We'll shift gears to the home front...and here's a story that I actually have some first-hand experience in. More than two decades ago now, I went to Northeastern University on a certificate program to become an Emergency Medical Technician. (Circa 1993). In my class was a returning veteran from the first go-round in Iraq and Kuwait. He had been a medic while in-service, and was going for his civilian certification. As it turns out, even though he was at war and worked on persons with injuries we could only imagine...none of his military certifications crossed over to the post-war world. In essence, his experience counted for nothing because he didn't have the right piece of paper. The situation has never been remedied...and medics returning from Iraq and Afghanistan now are experiencing the same roadblocks.

NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. -- In four deployments as an Army combat medic to some of the most dangerous corners of Iraq and Afghanistan, Joe Carney had seen the worst of war -- bullet wounds, severed limbs, shrapnel. He saved lives amid bombs and gunfire, his emergency room often a patch of dirt in the desert or a rocky mountainside. None of that mattered when he left the Army three years ago.

"I think the services should do a better job because at the end of the day, your last day in the Army, the last day in the Navy, you're out, no one cares about you," he said. "What I tell people who are planning to get out is, you have to have a plan."

Like many medics and Navy corpsmen, the U.S. military's front-line medical professionals, Carney's skills translated to almost nothing in the civilian world.

He grew up watching "M.A.S.H." and "ER" with his parents and was drawn to emergency medical work as a young boy. That led him to join the Army at 19 and serve as a combat medic for 10 years. Nearly half of that time was spent deployed in war zones.

But despite his extensive training, he lacked state licensing certificates and he struggled to find a job at his skill level. He settled on a job as an emergency room technician, where he was allowed to do little beyond administer oxygen and take blood pressure readings.

"It was a good reality check," he said. "You know you're not in the military no more. The hard part was standing back when you've got these trauma situations."

It's a common story with medics and corpsmen, who have long had difficulty finding civilian medical work that matches their training.

"It is an asset that's being wasted because they're highly skilled in what they do," said Dr. Michael Bellino, an emergency physician who mentors Carney at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago, Ill. "I'd trust him with taking care of my family."

Carney, 32, doesn't have to stand back anymore. For the past two years, he has been working in a fledgling program that offers medics and corpsmen appropriate health care employment and at the same time, builds up the ranks at the Department of Veterans Affairs -- which is struggling mightily to keep up with demand. He and about 45 other veterans are working as Intermediate Care Technicians, a role invented for the VA program. Carney is also in a pilot program to prepare ICTs to become physician's assistants, a more advanced, higher-paying job.

I know of a program where civilians becoming paramedics spend hundreds of dollars to work in NYC for two weeks - this gives them exposure to the kind of trauma that military medics see every day. There really is a lack of common sense regarding these things, isn't there?

31 comments (Latest Comment: 05/12/2015 21:21:33 by BobR)
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