Phoenix First to End Homelessness Among Veterans

Homeless_Programs[1]There are no more homeless veterans in Phoenix, AZ according to a report in the New York Times. The city has become the first to identify and find housing for its veterans who have a history of living on the street.

In 2011, by a city count, there were 222 chronically homeless veterans here, a vulnerable, hard-to-reach population of mostly middle-age men, virtually all battling some type of physical or mental ailment along with substance abuse. Federal and city officials acknowledged that was not an exact number, but it is widely regarded as the best measure of the veteran population.

Last month, the last 41 members of that group were placed in temporary housing. Shane Groen, a director at the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, one of the city’s partners in the program, said the goal was to have them all in permanent housing by Feb. 14.

The report also said that the mayor of Salt Lake City announced that all their chronically homeless veterans had been placed in homes. Both cities are using the approach of “Housing First” so their situations can be stabilized and then treatment made available for addiction or mental illness. The report also noted that the retention rate nationally is 85 percent for homeless veterans staying in their permanent housing but that rises to 94 percent in Phoenix.

You can read more about the Phoenix effort to end homelessness among veterans here and find information the VA national homelessness program here.

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St. Pete’s Army Spc. Brittany Gordon Killed by Suicide Bomb

Senior Airman Devon Garner-Klingbeil stands near transfer cases containing the remains of Army Spc. Brittany B. Gordon, left case, and Army Sgt. Robert J. Billings, right case, early Monday at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Associated Press photo.

The  hidden bomb that killed St. Petersburg’s Army Spc. Brittany Gordon on Saturday is being linked to the revenge killing of a 9-year-old Afghan child according to the New York Times.

In a tragic coda to Saturday’s story, the suicide bomber’s 9-year-old brother was killed in revenge by the brother of a victim, said Shamsullah, a Maruf local, who commands a guardpost.
“The 9-year-old boy was killed in front of his mother and father,” said Shamsull. “The parents didn’t know their son Abdul Wali was going to commit suicide.”

The Department of Defense described released a statement Monday that Gordon, the daughter of St. Peterburg’s assistant police chief,  was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED). But the IED was carried by a suicide bomber Cong. Bill Young told the Tampa Bay Times.

“It is not one that was planted as a mine. The person was wearing a suicide vest. This is also considered an IED,” said Young, who chairs the House defense appropriations subcommittee.

It was an inside job.

The American coalition including Gordon was delivering new furniture to an Afghan intelligence office in the Maruf district. The suicide bomber, dressed in an Afghan intelligence uniform, detonated the explosive vest  hidden under his uniform and killed two Americans and four Afghans according to the New York Times.

The Gordon family was present at Dover Air Base when the remains of Spc. Gordon arrived.

Army Capt.: Afghanistan Shooting Suspect Has Saved Lives

In this Aug. 23, 2011 Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System photo, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, right, participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. Five days after an attack on Afghan villagers killed 16 civilians, a senior U.S. official identified the shooter in that attack as Bales. The man at left is unidentified. (AP Photo/DVIDS, Spc. Ryan Hallock)

SEATTLE (AP) — A former platoon leader for the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians says the allegations are “100 percent out of character” for the man, whom he described as a model soldier who saved other soldiers’ lives.

Army Capt. Chris Alexander, 32, said Robert Bales worked as a stock trader before the Sept. 11 attacks motivated him to enlist in the Army.

“I’ve always admired him for that — he had a good thing going, and he dropped it to serve his country,” Alexander said Saturday in a phone interview.

Bales enlisted about two months after 9/11 and had served with the 3rd Stryker Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord since Sept 11, 2002.

He became a staff sergeant in April 2008, following his second deployment in Iraq. He went to Iraq one more time before his fourth deployment, to Afghanistan.

You can read more of the AP article HERE.

Suspect’s Wife Kept a Blog

The New York Times reports that a blog kept by Bale’s wife detailed her disappointment when he didn’t get a promotion and her loneliness when he was away on deployment:

Karilyn Bales — the wife of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing16 Afghan villagers last week — relayed the simple anguish of life as a military spouse, tending to a home with two young children, with a husband summoned for repeated deployments.

“Bob left for Iraq this morning,” she wrote in her family blog on Aug. 9, 2009. “Quincy slept in our bed last night.”

Though much of the family’s online presence appears to have been removed in recent days, the fragments that remain capture the daily travails typical of any family with a loved one stationed abroad.

Bales Arrives at Leavenworth

Bloomberg News reports that the U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the suspect in the killings of at least 16 Afghan civilians, arrived yesterday (Friday) at the U.S. military’s prison in Kansas, the Army said. After being held in Afghanistan and then Kuwait, Bales was flown to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he will be placed in special housing in his own cell, according to an e-mailed Army statement.

Soldier Accused of Afghanistan Killings “Just Snapped”

Attorney John Henry Browne is representing the U.S. soldier linked to the killing of 16 Afghan civilians in the Panjwai district of Kandahar. The unidentified U.S. soldier may not be charged by U.S. authorities for weeks. ANTHONY BOLANTE/REUTERS

Authorities have not released the name of the U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, yet details about the soldier are beginning to trickle out. The most recent news, the soldier is expected to be returned to the United States as early as Friday.

National Public Radio’s news blog, the Two-Way, offers these snippets:

— “When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” a “senior American official” tells The New York Times.

— The 38-year-old soldier’s Seattle-based defense attorney “says the possibility that his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by injuries and multiple combat deployments will be foremost among the issues his team will explore,” The Seattle Times writes.

— Attorney John Henry Browne, who has spoken to his client by telephone, also said the soldier (who has not been identified) had a day before seen a friend get a leg blown off near their base in southern Afghanistan, NPR’s Martin Kaste tells our Newscast Desk.

— And Browne said the soldier was unhappy about being deployed to a combat zone for the fourth time.

You can read more up-to-date details on the Afghanistan incident and other breaking news on NPR’s Two-Way.

Suspect Saw Fellow Solder’s Leg Blown Off

The day before the massacre of Afghan civilians, the suspected soldier reportedly witnessed his friend losing a leg according to an article in the Toronto Star.

Continue reading

Afghanistan: Panetta Visit Attacked, Marines Asked to Disarm

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta shakes hands with Afghan officials during his visit. Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Driving a stolen vehicle, an Afghan rammed through the fence and onto a runway ramp trying to reach Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The attack occurred as Panetta’s plane was arriving in Afghanistan at the British base adjoining Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province according to a report in the Washington Post.

Panetta was unharmed and carried on with his visit as planned, U.S. officials said.

The incident occurred as Panetta’s plane was arriving at Camp Bastion, a British base adjoining Camp Leatherneck, a major U.S. Marine base in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The Afghan man caught on fire by means that remain unclear, but his vehicle did not explode, and he was apprehended by security forces, officials said. A coalition service member was injured in the incident.

The New York Times is reporting that Panetta was never in danger, however, there were noted signs of nervousness during the Defense Secretary’s visit.

… Marines and other troops among the 200 people gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck to hear Mr. Panetta speak were abruptly asked by their commander to get up, place their weapons — M-16 and M-4 automatic rifles and 9-mm pistols — outside the tent and then return unarmed. The commander, Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, told reporters he was acting on orders from superiors.

“All I know is, I was told to get the weapons out,” he said. Asked why, he replied, “Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy; we just adjust.”

Typically, Afghan soldiers are not armed but U.S. troops keep their weapons when the Secretary of Defense visits. But the top commander in Helmand decided that no one would be armed when Panetta spoke to them. However, that decision apparently didn’t reach the Marines before they entered the tent.

16 Afghans Reportedly Stalked, Killed by U.S. Army Sergeant

Residents sat with the bodies of shooting victims in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan.(Mustafa Khan/European Pressphoto Agency)

The New York Times is reporting that a United States Army sergeant went door to door in a rural part of southern Afghanistan methodically killing 16 civilians among them nine children and three women.

Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. At the first, the man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.

A report in the Washington Post quotes Pentagon officials as saying that the attack is the act of one soldier who was from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. and assigned to a special operations team.

Villagers described cowering in fear as gunshots rang out as a soldier roamed from house to house firing on those inside. They said he entered three homes in all and set fire to some of the bodies. Eleven of the dead were from a single family, and nine of the victims were children.

U.S. officials said the shooter, identified as an Army staff sergeant, acted alone, leaving his base in southern Afghanistan and opening fire on sleeping families in two villages. Initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in. He was in custody at a NATO base in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta has issued a written apology and personally called Afghanistan President Karzai.

Koran Burning: How It Happened and Avoidable Errors

Pakistani students shout slogans during a protest rally against Quran burning in northwest Pakistan's Peshawar area on February 22, 2012. Ahmad Sidique, Xinhua-Zuma Press/MCT

With so many U.S. troops still serving in Afghanistan, it is important for everyone to understand the cultural differences between the two countries.

I had a WWII veteran ask me why U.S. Forces didn’t explain that in the U.S. burning is an accepted way of disposing of a damaged U.S. flag and it’s not a sign of disrespect.But that’s still an American tradition that is not acceptable for a damaged Koran.

Disposing of a Damaged Koran

The New York Times article, “Chain of Avoidable Errors Cited in Koran Burning,” describes two accepted ways to handle an old or damaged Koran:

  • Wrap it in a clean cloth and bury it in holy ground where people don’t walk.
  • Wrap it and place it in the sea or river or flowing water.

Steps that Led to the Burning

The Times article is worth a read to better understand the several decisions and events that led to the burning and the missed opportunities that could have stopped the event before it started.

  • Suspicion that detainees were passing notes, plotting by writing in the margins of library books.
  • Two Afghan-American interpreters given the task to sort out all library books with handwriting deemed a security risk.
  • 1,652 books are pulled, set aside including some Korans, religious texts
  • Deemed “sensitive” material, there’s too much to store, so, it’s decided to burn the material. But, established procedures including holding onto the materials for a while were not followed.
  • Afghan soldiers who saw the religious books piled in boxes notified their commander who went to his U.S. counterpart, but the truck had left for the incinerator before they could investigate.
  • An Afghan laborer at the incinerator saw the books as they were being loaded into the incinerator and sounded the alarm.

The Times reports that the Koran burning incident is being investigated by a joint commission of U.S. and Afghan military officers, a formal United States military inquiry and the Ulema Council, a group of Afghan religious leaders.

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