Iraq Prime Minister: U.S. Forces Have a Role and May Return

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, center, is seen with Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey, left, and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, right, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011. Biden arrived on a surprise visit to Iraq late Tuesday in a trip designed to chart a new relationship between the two countries after all American forces have left the country in just over a month. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

December 31, 2011 is the deadline for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq. But, that might not be a one-way road out of Baghdad.

The Iraqi Prime Minister has indicated he’s willing to have American troops return as trainers for the Iraqi forces.

The New York Times reports:

“No doubt, the U.S. forces have a role in providing training of Iraqi forces,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki after meeting Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is here to mark the withdrawal and to inaugurate a new phase in ties between the United States and Iraq.

Mr. Maliki insisted that Iraq could provide for its internal security. And he made much of Iraq’s desire to build a relationship with the United States as a sovereign country, dealing with Washington on the basis of national interest and “mutual respect.”

The Wall Street Journal reports:

U.S. and Iraqi leaders signaled Wednesday that the two governments are working toward an agreement to return some American forces to Iraq after completion of next month’s troop withdrawal to help train Iraqi units and maintain security gains.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said there is “no doubt the U.S. forces have a role in providing training of Iraqi forces.” Vice President Joe Biden, who arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday night.

Discussions continue between Iraq and the U.S. on security arrangements, including training, intelligence and counter-terrorism.

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U.S. Central Command on the Move, into New Headquarters

Major Gen. Karl Horst, CENTCOM chief of staff.

Twenty years ago, congress was ready to shut down MacDill Air Force Base. That was until the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) got a look at the top-secret work being done by U.S. Central Command at the Tampa base, according to Congressman C. W. “Bill” Young, (R) of Pinellas County.

“They moved our F-16s to Luke Air Force Base, and they set up the process to close MacDill,” Young said.

But instead of cutting the ribbon on a new condominium or commercial center, Young and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D) of Tampa were at MacDill Monday to dedicate the new 266,000 square foot CENTCOM headquarters. It’s building is proof, Young said, that MacDill is no longer in danger of being closed down.

The new, 266,000 square-foot CENTCOM headquarters.

The joint command, overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has a staff of 2,000 who were previously housed in dozens of trailers, annexes and disconnected buildings. Coordinating that widely dispersed staff is the job of Major General Karl Horst, chief of staff at Central Command.

“When you live in a trailer park and you are sharing a cubicle with four other people, it doesn’t do a lot for morale when you know how important CENTCOM is and all of the missions you have,” Horst said. “So, I would tell you that this is a building that aligns quality of life commensurate with the level of U.S. Central Command has.”

The CENTCOM logo adorns a large carpet in the lobby of the new building that cost $75 million.

The new CENTCOM headquarters is a workplace to be proud of, Horst said. He said one quarter of it,  the entire second floor, is dedicated just to computer servers and switching units for their global communications network. It’s 13 feet above sea level to protect from hurricanes.

The building cost $75 million, but by the time parking and other finishing touches are included the price tag will be closer to $83 million.

CENTCOM Commander Names Pakistan Incident Investigator

Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis has appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark from the Air Force Special Operations Command headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to investigate the Nov. 26 deaths of Pakistani soldiers during an engagement near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Clark has been asked to produce his  initial report on the incident by Dec. 23 and may ask for administrative support and help from other experts.

“This is a Centcom-led investigation with full NATO cooperation and you will include NATO representation in your investigation team,” Mattis said in an appointment letter sent to Clark Monday according to a report by Cheryl Pellerin of the American Forces Press Service.

The investigation will focus on the facts of the incident, determine which U.S., ISAF, Afghan and Pakistan units were involved and if they crossed the border and under what conditions.

Additionally, Clark is to recommend improvements for near-border operations.

Military Testing for Traumatic Brain Injuries Questioned

Dr. Alex Dromerick co-directs the Brain Research Center at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Here he observes Stephen Jones, a policeman who was involved in a motorcycle accident. Photo by Becky Lettenberger/NPR

A joint investigation by ProPublica and National Public Radio has revealed problems with mandated military testing for traumatic brain injury – one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Propublica:

In 2007, with roadside bombs exploding across Iraq, Congress moved to improve care for soldiers who had suffered one of the war’s signature wounds, traumatic brain injury.

Lawmakers passed a measure requiring the military to test soldiers’ brain function before they deployed and again when they returned. The test was supposed to ensure that soldiers received proper treatment.

Instead, an investigation by ProPublica and NPR has found, the testing program has failed to deliver on its promise, offering soldiers the appearance of help, but not the reality.

Racing to satisfy Congress’ mandate, the military chose a test that wasn’t actually proven to detect TBI: the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metric, or ANAM.

Four years later, more than a million troops have taken the test at a cost of more than $42 million to taxpayers, yet the military still has no reliable way to catch brain injuries. When such injuries are left undetected, it can delay healing and put soldiers at risk for further mental damage.

You can read the full ProPublica report HERE.

NPR reports that the National Hockey League may have a better solution when testing for brain injuries.

Another problem with the program is that top military officials did not choose a very good test, according to the Pentagon’s own medical advisers. They say the National Hockey League, whose players are constantly hitting the glass — and each other — has a better test to help spot brain injuries than does the U.S. military.

“We find that the testing program is very useful for our athletes,” says Ruben Echemendia, a chief neurologist for the NHL.

There are various computer brain tests on the market, just like there are different kits to test blood pressure, so to pick the best one, Echemendia assembled a Concussion Working Group with doctors, players’ representatives and others.

“All of the research in their tests, all of the peer-reviewed publications that they had, including the reliability and validity data with the tests, and it was fairly clear to us which program we wanted to use in our testing program,” he says.

ANAM was not that test. Instead, the NHL chose one called ImPact.

According to Echemendia, the test can pinpoint problems in thinking, concentrating or reacting in about 30 percent of the players who say, “No problem, I feel fine,” after slamming their heads.

You can read or listen to the entire NPR story HERE.

USS Enterprise Celebrates 50 Years of Service

USS Enterprise. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

A tribute video posted by the United States Navy to celebrate it’s prized aircraft carrier – the USS Enterprise (CVN 65)  50th year of commissioned service.

The Enterprise is the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier and the eighth U.S. vessel to be named Enterprise. The Enterprise commemorates a name that has been a continuing symbol of the struggle to retain American liberty, justice and freedom since the first days of the American Revolutionary War.

Some of the ship’s nicknames include: the Big ‘E’, the Lucky ‘E’, the ‘Grey Ghost’ and the ‘Galopping Ghost’.

How a Bomb Blast Injures the Brain – Understanding TBI

Kevin Kit Parker, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Applied Science and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is researching traumatic brain injury.Photograph by Jon Chase/Harvard News Office

Former Army Maj. Kevin Kit Parker, now a professor at Harvard, has published groundbreaking research describing how blasts injure the brain.

The Harvard News writes:

Parker and his team found that when the brain is subjected to a loud, explosive force, fragile tissue slams against the skull, resulting in a surge in blood pressure that stretches blood-vessel walls beyond their normal limit.

Parker said data collected directly on the battlefield can  be key to understanding even subtle traumatic brain injury.

Seth Robbins writes about Parker’s research in a recent Stars and Stripes story that the military is using several new technologies in Afghanistan to gather battlefield data:

  • Soldiers are being outfitted with high-tech gauges that can detect a blast’s severity and alert medics on site that a soldier has been exposed to shock waves.
  • Armored vehicles are equipped with sensors that connect to each vehicle’s “black box,” which measures and stores information on blasts.
  • Two advanced magnetic resonance imaging units have been sent to Afghanistan, marking the first time such sophisticated diagnostic machines have been used in a war zone. Until now, troops couldn’t get MRI scans of their brains before arriving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the main hub for servicemembers injured downrange.

A Science Magazine article gives a more detailed description of how a bomb blast injures brain cells. Parker built a blast simulator and studied the results on the brain neurons of a rat:

Through a microscope, the researchers saw that the “blast” caused swelling, breakage, and other signs of injuries to the neurons’ spindly axons and dendrites, which send and receive signals from other neurons. A series of biochemical experiments found that the mechanical force disrupted proteins called integrins that help anchor cells to the scaffold of protein that surrounds them.

You can read the full Science Magazine article HERE.

Stolen Military Medical Records Include Personal Data

Logo of TRICARE, the health care plan for the ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Washington Post reports theft of Social Security numbers, names, addresses, birth dates and lab test data from almost 5 million military beneficiaries with Tricare. Steve Vogel writes that Tricare informed beneficiaries  on its website and in a recent letter:

The letter that arrived Saturday at the home of Fred MacLean in Fayetteville, N.C., held alarming news: Computer backup tapes containing the retired Army chaplain’s personal information with the military’s Tricare health system had been stolen.

Over the next month, the letters will arrive at the 4.9 million Tricare military beneficiaries. It’s reportedly one of the largest health-data thefts ever made public. The data tapes were stolen in September from the car of a worker with Science Applications International Corp., a defense contractor for Tricare. The worker was transporting the back up data tapes to another federal facility.

Despite the data theft and the lack of encryption, SAIC and Tricare say the risk to beneficiaries is low. “The chance that your information could be obtained from these tapes is low since accessing, viewing and using the data requires specific hardware and software,” the SAIC letter states.

You can read the full Washington Post story HERE.

You can access the Tricare explanation of its data breach HERE.

SAIC has set up two call lines for Tricare beneficiaries with questions. The phones open Monday through Friday from 9am to 6pm eastern time. Tricare members can get help signing up for credit monitoring and verify the authenticity of the letter:

  • United States, call toll-free: (855) 366-0140
  • International, call collect at (952) 556-8312
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