We'll head to Iraq to start this morning. By now you've heard about the latest casualty - the first one on the ground since November of 2011. Since we don't have "boots on the ground" there officially, one wonders how Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler
will be counted in the final tally.
BAGHDAD -- The first American soldier to die in combat against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in Iraq has been identified as Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, coalition officials said Friday.
Army Col. Steve Warren told The Associated Press that Wheeler, 39, was killed a day earlier when he and dozens of U.S. special operations troops and Iraqi forces participated in a daring raid in northern Iraq, freeing approximately 70 Iraqi prisoners from captivity.
The Department of Defense said Wheeler died from wounds caused by small-arms fire during the operation. A native of Roland, Oklahoma, Wheeler is the first American to die in combat since the U.S. launched Operation Inherent Resolve, its campaign against ISIS, last year. His identity was initially withheld pending notification of relatives.
In a statement, the Army said that Wheeler was assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He graduated in 1994 from Muldrow High School in Muldrow, Oklahoma.
"This is someone who saw the team that he was advising and assisting coming under attack, and he rushed to help them and made it possible for them to be effective, and in doing that lost his own life," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Pentagon news conference Friday afternoon.
Carter portrayed Wheeler as a hero and said he would be present when Wheeler's body is returned to the U.S. on Saturday.
"As the compound was being stormed, the plan was not for the U.S. ... forces to enter the compound or be involved in the firefight," Carter said. "However, when a firefight ensued, this American did what I'm very proud that Americans do in that situation, and he ran to the sound of the guns and he stood up. All the indications are that it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made the mission a success."
"That is an inherent risk that we ask people to assume," Carter added. "Again, it wasn't part of the plan, but it was something that he did, and I'm immensely proud that he did that."
It's unfortunate, but Master Sergeant Wheeler seems to be an increasingly rare statistic these days - an actual combat death. If you've kept up with our friends at IAVA, you know that returning soldiers face ongoing hardships when they return to these United States. Many of them simply can't cope - to the tune of 22 veteran suicides per day. One unit in Indiana has been hit particularly hard
since they returned from Afghanistan in 2008.
April James spent hours at Justin's grave.
In Iraq, the two National Guard soldiers needed each other to survive. That continued, in a different way, after they came home. Overwhelmed and grieving, they leaned on each other.
But it wasn't enough.
In November 2013 Sgt. Justin Williams killed himself. He was 25.
On a warm spring day 18 months later, April spent a laughter-filled evening with friends, then curled up with her three dogs to watch TV. Around 3 a.m., she walked to her backyard with a pistol and shot herself.
With that, Sgt. April Lynn James, 32, became the fourth Evansville veteran from the Indiana Army National Guard's 163rd unit to commit suicide since returning from their 2008 tour in Iraq.
Ronald Zeller was the first. He died on March 18, 2011. Then William Waller, July 5, 2013; Justin Williams, Nov. 3, 2013; and April James on May 24, 2015.
"They were all the same," said Justin's father, John Williams. "All of them. Why? Why is there four from one platoon?"
To the families, the suicides seemed to come with little warning. Now they see there were subtle signs all along. (continued)
But of course, more medical and psychological support might help in these instances. Unfortunately, you also know the sorry state of our VA hospital system. So of course Congress is doing what it does best - issuing subpoenas
. Never mind actually doing something about it.
Congress has issued subpoenas to five Veterans Affairs Department employees after they failed to show up and testify before a House panel on Wednesday in connection with a damning inspector general report alleging misuse of authority and a VA relocation program.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said he asked on Oct. 1 that the five -- former Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, Diana Rubens, director of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Regional Office, Kimberley Graves, director of the St. Paul, Minnesota Regional Office, Antione Waller, director of the Baltimore Maryland Regional Office and Robert McKenrick, director of the Los Angeles Regional Office -- to testify on the IG allegations.
"As you can see, their seats are empty and apparently they will not appear at today's hearing," Miller said.
The hearing stems from a VA IG report that concluded Rubens and Graves used their positions to push the former Philadelphia and St. Paul regional directors out of their jobs so they could fill them. The report also found they improperly benefited from a relocation assistance program that provided them hundreds of thousands of dollars to move to their new locations.
Rubens had been a deputy under secretary for field operations until she took over as director for Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Philadelphia in June 2014. Graves, formerly director of the Veterans Benefits Administration's Eastern Area Office (now called the North Atlantic District) took over as director of the St. Paul, Minnesota, position in October 2014.
Acting VA Inspector General Linda Halliday told lawmakers Wednesday that the Justice Department is currently reviewing the IG's findings, which it forwarded to the department for possible criminal charges.
McKenrick, who was transferred from Philadelphia to the Los Angeles regional office, told the IG he was told to take the LA position or lose his job. Waller reluctantly left as director of the St. Paul regional office for the Baltimore position after Graves' subordinate told him his name had already been given to VA Secretary Bob McDonald for the job and he was expected to take it.
Acting VA Inspector General Linda Halliday told lawmakers that VBA used reassignments through its job change and relocation assistance programs as a way to increase senior executive salary pay during a time when SES salaries were frozen and bonuses halted.
Of course, that's not the only problem facing the military. Congress only kicked the budget problems down the road a bit, and this will have to be checked again before the end of the session in December. The Army, ever pragmatic, is putting together a list of programs that could be scaled back or cut entirely
- rather than letting Congress decide what to do with their budget axes.
Rather than cut programs, Army officials have developed a priority list to identify which programs can be safely downsized or cut at the base level -- and which cannot.
The list, known within Army Installation Management Command as the "bin chart," prioritizes programs into three categories.
"High priority" includes programs that the Army is legally mandated to provide, such as the Army Substance Abuse Program and the Exceptional Family Member Program or programs. "Moderate priority" includes programs like Army Family Team Building classes and the Strong Bonds marriage retreat program that could be downsized or eliminated with only a moderate impact on soldiers and families.
Downsizing programs on the "low priority" list would result in the least soldier and family impact, Army officials said Wednesday at the Annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C. Programs on that list include Army base golf courses, bowling alley facilities, arts and crafts and the local installation's support of the spouse scholarship program, My Career Advancement Accounts.
Officials finalized the three tiered system in 2014 after then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno asked the command to identify family programs that can be cut, they said. Rather than make cuts across the board, they instead suggested that base commanders be given the freedom to use the priority list to choose how to flex available funding depending on local installation need.
"Instead of making a list where we were going to cut any particular program area [we] came to the consensus that how we would divide these programs is based on risk to readiness," said Dee Geise, head of the soldier family readiness division at the command. "This provides levers to be able to operate within these program areas and the budget on the local level."
But the list system could be used by Army senior leaders to determine which programs to cut outright should the sweeping, congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration continue, she said.
"The senior leaders may have to make a decision that this is something we may stop doing because there's only so much money," Geise said
And we'll finish with today's Cost of War
, so we can see where all that money is really going...and we find that passing through: $ 1, 647, 771, 825, 000 .00