Veterans Jobs Package Passes Senate, Now in the House

Image courtesy of the Bay Pines VA website.

Almost a quarter million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are out of work. A Senate bill passed just in time for Veterans Day would provide tax breaks of up to $9,600 to private employers who hire them.It’s now up to the House.

Scott Horsley, White House correspondent for National Public Radio, writes that the tax credits are the first sliver of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package to actually win bipartisan approval in the Senate. Obama says service members who fought for their country shouldn’t have to fight for jobs when they come home.

Employment chances for returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan also was the topic of a conversation between Veteran Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki and Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.

Returning Florida National Guardsmen have an unemployment rate among recently returned soldiers of more like 16 percent, according to the Florida Army National Guard. And wounded veterans have a nationwide unemployment rate over 40 percent according to a Florida Sun Sentinel article which also finds veterans skeptical that the Veterans Jobs Package will help.

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Brig. Gen. Brown: The Plan Is Zero US Forces in Iraq by 2012

The silhouettes of Soldiers from the Florida Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment, stand out against the open hangar door of the Aviation Support Facility in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 29, 2011. More then 240 Soldiers from the unit deployed in support of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa.

More than 300 Florida National Guard aviators kissed their families goodbye earlier this week — then left for training — to be followed by a year deployment in support of missions in Iraq.

Brig. Gen. C.Q. Brown

You might be thinking:  weren’t US forces supposed to be heading in the other direction — away from Iraq — by the end of the year? That drawdown is true — of US ground troops.  But, Air Force missions will likely increase for tactical airlifts, surveillance, and reconnaissance according to Air Force Maj. Gen. Russell Handy – commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force and director of the Air Component Coordination Element in Iraq.

Brigadier General C. Q. Brown is the Deputy Director of Operations at U.S. Central Command which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He briefed me last week at the CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base on what to expect in the coming months. Here’s a transcript of our discussion.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: What can we expect in the coming months as the U.S. military transitions out of Iraq?

BRIG. GEN. C.Q. BROWN: We had 165,000 troops in Iraq roughly about a year ago we started Operation New Dawn. With that transition, we’re now down to about under 50,000 and going to zero in accordance with that security agreement and that will be done by the end of December.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: Zero, but those are combat troops, what about training troops?

CQB:  It’ll go to zero, but all that right now as you’re probably aware in the press the Iraqi government has come to the U.S. government and started those negotiations. And so, we’re going to zero in accordance to the security agreement because that’s what’s in place right now. I can’t really speak to what will happen after that.

BOB: You’re planning for zero, but you’re also aware of negotiations that are going on to possibly keep a force behind?

CQB: That’s really up to the government of Iraq and the U.S. government to determine what that will be.

BOB: Tactically how do you plan for something zero or 10,000 20,000?

CQB: I’d say we in the military are good at planning. That’s part of our goal is to be able to respond and so we will spend a period of time taking a look at getting ourselves to zero. For any military operation, we have to plan for any type of contingency. Our plan right now is zero, but we’ll continue to plan in case something changes depending on the outcome of the negotiations.

BOB: Step me through the transition. What will Iraq look like after Dec. 31st?

CQB: Part of this whole transition is to provide a long-term relationship with Iraq between the U.S. government and the government of Iraq. And the other piece of the transition that goes from kind of a military led U.S. Forces Iraq to a State Department led relationship. It’s a – kind of a whole government approach. So, it’s not just looking at security – security is an important part of that – but you also look at education, commerce, infra-structure and that’s where the Dept. of State and its expertise and other parts of the government come into play.

BOB: Without U.S. Troops there though, theoretically, who protects the State Department?

CQB: With the State Department, they have their own security apparatus to support them, but you also look at the great work that’s been done within Iraqi security force. It’s no small number when you take a look at it. There’s over 300,000 police, over 190,000 in the army, about 5,000 in the navy and air force.

BOB: You’re Air Force. Give me scenario – how many air force bases are there still under U.S. command in Iraq?

CQB: Let me talk just talk in general about bases in general. Right now there’s about 50 locations in Iraq where we have bases. We’ve gone from about 500 a couple of years ago down to about 50 a big transition in that regard.

BOB: Should the number come down to zero, there’s a huge concern about the north number one with the Kurds, but also too issues with Iran. What kind of tactical response – if we’re down to zero – are we prepared to go back in or are they capable?

CQB: We have worked really hard with the Iraqis and very closely with the Iraqis to build up their own security internally to the country. And so, I do believe they have the capability and we will continue that long-term relationship to provide them really – it’s what they request.

BOB: Describe to me then the impact where we had the 90 deaths (of Iraqis) in one day – 48 coordinated attacks. What does that tell you as a military member?

CQB: Well, it does tell me that there’s still a threat there and there’s concern for security. But, if you look historically over time particularly over the past five or six years, we’ve seen the number of violent attacks actually go down. To me, that tells me there’s progress. Are we completely out of the woods where you can go and walk and it will be zero? That’s not the case.

BOB: Is there concern that there could be civil war?

CQB: I’d be probably speaking out of turn to kind of characterize civil war. But I do – actually – the way I would describe it is there’s great progress in Iraq and I think the Iraqis, our service members that have served can be very proud of their accomplishments to get us to that vision of that long-term relationship and a stable and sovereign Iraq.

BOB: Will it look like a Korea? Will it look like Germany? Will it look like Italy – you were – the U.S. still has bases in Italy.

CQB: I don’t know how will play out and it’s really – the real decision on that will be left to Iraq to help determine that.

BOB: What is the drop-dead date that the military would have to know there maybe has been a request by Iraq to keep troops – so that you don’t have to then end up bringing people back in?

CQB: There’s not a publicized drop-dead date – sooner rather than later is better for us because it just makes it easier, just like you described.

Some 2,500 Guardsmen Home by Christmas

Posting an article from the Florida National Guard which is celebrating tonight as the first wave of soldiers returns to the U.S. from its largest deployment since WWII. More than 2,500 soldiers are scheduled to come home before Christmas. The 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) is based in Pinellas Park, FL.

A Soldier from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team gets a hug from a family member after a welcome home ceremony at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. (Nov. 28, 2010) – The first group of Soldiers from the
Florida National Guard’s largest overseas deployment arrived in the U.S. this
morning, marking the beginning of the end for a nearly year-long mission in
Southwest Asia.

As temperatures dipped into the 30s more than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) landed by plane at Hunter Army Airfield
near Savannah, Ga., and were taken to nearby Fort Stewart for a “welcome home
ceremony.” The Soldiers were the first group to return home from the 53rd
Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s mission supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom
and New Dawn.

A young family member awaits the arrival of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at Fort Stewart, Ga., Nov. 28, 2010. Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa

This first group was composed of Inactive Ready Reserve Soldiers, Guardsmen heading to various military schools and members of the 53rd IBCT serving as an “advance party” for the remainder of the nearly 2,500 Soldiers still in
Kuwait. The rest of the 53rd are scheduled to return in groups beginning in
early December, and all members of the 53rd are expected in the U.S. before
Christmas. After a brief demobilization period at Fort Stewart, the groups of
Soldiers will be released home to Florida.

“It’s great to be home,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Miner with 2nd Battalion, 124th
Infantry Regiment, shortly after he stepped off the airplane into the frosty
Georgia morning air. “I think the Brigade did a tremendous job, and we had a
lot of support from the citizens of Florida.”

More than 150 Soldiers from the 53rd returned home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Miner, who is also a commissioner from St. Johns County in Northeast Florida,
noted that the return also marked his one-year wedding anniversary and he was
looking forward to seeing his wife Cheryl later in the morning. A few hours
later the couple was reunited on the parade field at Fort Stewart.

“It’s lucky that he’s getting back today,” Cheryl Miner said, noting their
anniversary. “(The deployment) actually went by pretty fast.”

Deployed since January 2010, more than 150 soldiers are the first from the 53rd to return home to the U.S. following a nearly year-long deployment to Southwest Asia. Photo by Debra Cox

Staff Sgt. Joseph Rappel, a resident of Titusville, Fla., who also served
with the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, said it felt “wonderful” to
be back in the U.S. before Christmas.

“I look forward to seeing my wife and kids, and I know they’re looking
forward to seeing me,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Mark Miner from the Florida Army National Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team greets his wife Cheryl after a welcome home ceremony. Photo by Debra Cox

The 53rd IBCT – which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, Fla. – is made up of
Soldiers from around Florida, and includes large contingents based in Miami,
Orlando, Panama City and Lakeland. The Soldiers left Florida in January 2010,
and conducted pre-mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas, before departing
for Southwest Asia in early March 2010. One of the most high-profile missions
the unit performed during the deployment was escorting convoys of U.S. forces
leaving Iraq as part of the scheduled drawdown of troops and equipment in the
country.

The mobilization and deployment of the 53rd was historic in that it was the
largest single-unit mobilization for the Florida National Guard since World
War II.

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