Afghanistan: U.S. Strategy Hit with Two Setbacks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP) Date not available.

KABUL, Afghanistan – The American campaign in Afghanistan suffered a double blow Thursday: The Taliban broke off talks with the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians according to Associated Press reporters Deb Riechmann and Amir Shah.

The moves represent new challenges to America’s strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the U.S. exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it’s unclear that there has been any progress since January.

Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the U.S. toward an earlier drawdown.

You can read the full article HERE.

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Adm. Mike Mullen Speaks Out as He Bids Farewell to Forces

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen is sworn in as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and takes the oath of office from Marine Gen. Peter Pace during an Armed Forces Hail and Farewell ceremony at Ft. Myer, Va., Oct. 1. (Defense Department photo/Cherie A. Thurlby)

This is the final day of service for Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adm. Mullen also spoke with National Public Radio as he headed into retirement. In his interview with Steve Inskeep, Mullen reinforced his earlier assertion that Pakistan is backing a terrorist network – the Haqqanis.

“On the Pakistani side of the border. And I am losing American soldiers. The Haqqanis are killing American soldiers. And from that perspective, I think it’s got to be addressed, which is the reason I spoke to it.”

A full copy of Adm. Mullen’s NPR transcript is available HERE.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen receives a tour of Forward Operating Base Assassin in Iraq by Col.Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Oct. 5, 2007. Mullen is on his first tour of the central command area of operations to visit with the leadership and service members assigned to the region. DOD photo by U.S. Navy .

Below is Adm. Mike Mullen’s parting message to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

To the men, women and families of the armed forces of the United States:

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as your Chairman for the last four years. Everywhere Deborah and I went to see you and your families we walked away humbled by the magnitude of the responsibility you have volunteered to carry and strengthened by the willingness and dignity with which you carry it.

From my first day on the job, I pledged to ensure you had the right strategy, leadership and resources to accomplish your missions. I believe we worked hard to get that right. But you are the ones who turned back the tide of violence in Iraq, made huge strides towards a more secure Afghanistan and defended our Nation’s interests around the globe. Even with all the demands we’ve placed on you, you still look for ways to do even more to help those in need.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the burdens placed on you and your families. Your sacrifices will be forever fixed in my heart, and I am eternally grateful for your service.

Following the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Today, I could use those very words to describe our thoughts of you. We are deeply honored to have served for and with you. May God bless you and your families always.

The Department of Defense has set up a web page bidding “Farewell to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen. It includes a chart showing his travel as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2011 alone, Mullen traveled to 22 countries and was gone 57 days.

Former College Student, Now Army Wife After 9/11: I Get It …

The Dorr family when Jackie's husband returned from his fourth deployment in their five years of marriage.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago I was standing in my dorm room at the University of Florida, getting ready for my first class of the day, with the Today Show on in the background. I watched in disbelief as the first plane flew into the first tower. Like many Americans my first reaction was to pick up the phone and call someone, I called my mom. She was equally as shocked. Then there it was, a second plane. It’s a day my children will learn about in history class years from now, much like Pearl Harbor Day, yet they will never grasp the immense devastation this nation felt.

My father was still active duty at the time, and my family lived on Keesler AFB, a mere six hour drive from UF. My brother was still in high school, and he described that September day to me once I came back for a visit. School buses were stopped at the gates in backed up traffic, students were being checked for ID cards. Armed airmen patrolled the neighborhood by foot, etc.

Knowing that war was inevitable, I had made a decision that I wouldn’t ever marry anyone in the military. The future was uncertain, but one thing I think most people knew was that this wouldn’t be a quick fight, it would last a while.

My husband enlisted into the delayed entry program in 2002, a few years before we met. So here I am in a life I swore I wouldn’t live, raising children with a soldier, realizing that it is mission first. Being around the military changes your perspective on things, and last night couldn’t make that more clear.

Last night was date night, so Brian took me to the movies. I got dressed up, as did he and we made our way to the now outrageously overpriced movie theater. We had already decided weeks ago that we wanted to see “warrior”.

The main character is a Marine, and we find out later in the movie he deserted his unit in Iraq after being the only survivor of a friendly fire attack. The actual movie was naturally more drawn out and much more dramatic than that tiny snippet but that part resonated in my head. When you hear deserter you get mad, one thinks of a coward, traitor…. Right?

Paisley Dorr holding her and her sister's Daddy Dolls as she waits for her Daddy to come home March 2011.

I felt for him, on the drive home Brian and I discussed it, we understood it, did we think it was okay? No, of course not, but we got it. It reminded me on some level of a time when Brian was heading back after his R & R and there was a soldier who was catching a flight, but was meant to catch one on the previous day. I struck up conversation with him, while we stood in line at security. His family clung to him, much like I was clinging to Brian. I asked why he had missed his flight the day before, and he began to tell me how it was intentional.

He had contemplated deserting, never returning, it was his fourth deployment and he was tired. His sense kicked in, realizing the punishment wouldn’t get him what he wanted either, which was to be with his family, watch his children grow, be with his wife day in and day out. I find myself wondering what happened to him, and remember the feeling of shock at the time as I heard his story, but now….. I get it.

Someday children will read about all of this in history books, much like I read about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. However, history books can never capture the human life experience that is living it. A history book won’t make someone say “I get it…’

How the 9/11 Attacks Changed U.S. Central Command

U.S. Central Command's older headquarters building at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL. Photo courtesy of U.S. military website.

This Friday, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa will hold a small 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony. U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander U.S. Central Command, will give brief remarks to honor those lost on that day, first responders, emergency workers and service members who have served since 9-11 and continue to fight in the war against terrorism.

Recently, I talked with a member of CENTCOM about the changes he’s seen since the terrorism attacks 10 years ago.

The day of the Sept. 11 attacks,  Army Col. Jack Dees was with a small CENTCOM delegation in Cairo.

Dees is now a civilian and Deputy Chief with the Security Cooperation Division at CENTCOM. He talked with me about the big changes he’s witnessed at the joint command which is responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He starts with what the headquarters in Tampa was like when he got back from Egypt a few days after the attacks.

JACK DEES: Chaos, it was just chaos. I mean (when) I’d left it was the quietest place on the planet. Getting through the gate was a nightmare. It was just a real mess and people were working 24 hours shifts and everybody was trying to scramble to figure out what was going to happen because nobody really knew where this was going, how it was going to unfold. We just knew we were at war. (It was) a scene of enormous energy, but a nervous anticipation about what was going to happen over the next few months.

BOB: Describe what the essence was like when you see your country under attack and you’re a half-a-world away.

JD: I can distinctly remember from that drive from Dover – I kept thinking: Is America changed? I was really nervous to see what people were going to be like. I kind of had the view that people might be hunkered down and everybody be so afraid. But, I got back and I was – in a way I was kind of grateful to see – you know I mean – life had gone on. I mean things were changed but people were still doing what they normally did.

I have to tell you a funny story. The sergeant who was driving with us, she got pulled over outside Fayetteville, NC for doing like 86 in a 70 mile-an-hour zone. A North Carolina state trooper he came up to us and said, “License and registration.” And I leaned over and I said, “Look officer, I’m military, a colonel in the Army, you’ve got a commander in the Navy,  and an NCO. We’re all trying to get back to base, MacDill Air Force Base. I apologize, I won’t let this happen again. I take responsibility.” He said a few words and he said, “Okay, we’ll let this go. Just do me one favor, go kick some butt.” It isn’t exactly the words he used, and ah he said “just go kick some butt for me.” I guess he’d just gotten out of the 82nd Airborne Division.

BOB: What about CENTCOM itself? When did the realization hit that CENTCOM is going to change and never be the same that this is going to end up at your doorstep?

JD: That was clear the next day, I wasn’t here, when people spent three hours getting through the gate. I mean there was – as I understood it – people came into work at 7 and got on the base about 10 o’clock because of increased security. Immediately that was recognizable. And within just a handful of days, all sorts of people started showing up here to help us out because it was obvious that Afghanistan being the center of what was happening – Afghanistan being part of the CENTCOM area of responsibility – it was obvious that we were going to be the central part of all of this.

And of course the headquarters was manned for peacetime, really. We had a small military effort ongoing – you recall the “no fly zone” in Iraq. But, we weren’t on a wartime footing at all. Within about a week, people started flowing in here from everywhere Department of Defense planners, logisticians, intell analysts, as we began to plan for what would be the first bombs dropped in Afghanistan Oct. 7th.

BOB: You remember that day?

JD: I do remember that day. I was here. We watched it on TV.

BOB: Did you feel like that’s when you all started to “kick butt?”

JD: The first bomb didn’t drop without a lot of work that went on before that. And my friends who were doing the planning business were working 20 hours a day and they did that for months on end until probably January or February, March of 2002.

BOB: How has CENTCOM changed?

JD: CENTCOM is nothing like it was before. There’s no comparison today to what it was in those days. The headquarters is huge, much, much, much bigger than it was before. Getting in the gate – you know we just drove through the gate in those days you just had a pass on your car and they waved you through. Today, it’s ID checks and the security is significantly more so.

There’s a lot more civilians at the headquarters. The headquarters those days were largely military. There was probably 20-30 civilians is all that worked in the headquarters and today it’s a much bigger headquarters in that way largely because of continuity, for continuity’s sake and ensuring people kind of understood what happened before. Our facilities have improved. You see we’ve got the new buildings up there. We had to – to accommodate the increased personnel.

An important point to make, most people that are here have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people have done their combat tours over there and then a lot of us have lost friends or know someone who has been lost in combat operations. You know and that always weighs on the back of everybody’s mind. I didn’t know anybody personally, but I’ve had three close friends who have lost sons in Iraq and another real close friend of mine whose son was badly injured in Afghanistan, a couple of people I knew that were badly wounded in Iraq. It’s something always in the back of our minds.

BOB: That obviously changes people. You see your friends change. How have you changed from 9/11?

JD: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I hadn’t even thought about that. I don’t think I’ve changed. The nation has changed, obviously, mostly for good. We’ll never be the same and neither will the military. That’s another piece of this too, the military has changed so much. The Army I grew up in was really a peacetime Army. We had our combat operations, the first war in Iraq, Grenada, but we’ve been at war – the military’s been at war – 10 years now.

And, you don’t run into a soldier who hasn’t been in a combat zone. You don’t run into anybody who hasn’t been under fire. These young guys that I see today, these majors that work for me out there today, a whole different breed of people than it was than we had in the Army when I was a major – a completely different world, a completely different military.

What Should Civilians Say to Combat Veterans?

Army Staff Sgt. Adam A. Wontrop, a member of the 744th Ordnance Company’s explosive ordnance disposal team from Clarksville, Tenn., tries to uncover some of a command wire located by soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson / Army

“Thank you for your service” is a phrase commonly heard by many in the military. Yet, some combat veterans are uncomfortable when that gratitude is expressed – unless they perceive it as genuine. Here’s an explanation that I found on Military.com.

By McLean Bennett – Knight Ridder/Tribune

Lucas Johnson doesn’t want well-wishers thanking him for his military service in Afghanistan. The reason is that most people simply can’t understand what he’s been through in that war-torn, destitute land halfway around the world from Wisconsin.

But on a dreary, cloudy Friday morning at downtown Eau Claire’s Phoenix Park — just three days after he returned from a deployment with the U.S. Army’s bomb squad — someone approached Johnson with what he felt was a genuine thank-you.

“Thank you for protecting our country,” said a diminutive Flint Parisi, a 5-year-old kindergartner from Altoona. The two shook hands, and the battle-tested soldier showed Flint his Army helmet, which dwarfed the youngster’s small head.

“When a kid, a child, walks up to me and says, ‘Thank you for serving our country,’ I like that,” said Johnson, 25.

You can read the full article HERE.

My questions to all military members, veterans and their families:

  • How do you want civilians to acknowledge your service?
  • When is it appropriate to thank you and when is it not?
  • What is the most memorable exchange you’ve had with a stranger?
  • What comments have been hurtful or thoughtless?

My questions for civilians:

  • How do you greet members of the military who are strangers?
  • Do you avoid greeting military members because you don’t know what to say?
  • Describe your most memorable interaction with a military member.

Add  a comment below or send me a direct email at bobrien@wusf.org.

Holly Petraeus Touts Consumer Protection for Soldiers

Holly Petraeus, Assistant Director for Servicemember Affairs, speaks with servicemembers at Ft. Myer in Arlington, VA. Photo courtesy of the CFPB website.

Military servicemembers, veterans and their families are vulnerable to sometimes unscrupulous lenders for several reasons according to the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau website for servicemembers. Several reasons are cited:

  • Lenders are aware that military servicemembers are required to maintain good finances.
  • Lenders are confident they can collect because servicemembers are easy to find.
  • Lenders are attracted because military pay is a steady income that they can garnish.
  • Military families tend to be young and “first time decision makers” when it comes to big purchases.
Blake Farmer, a reporter with WLPN, caught up with Holly Petraeus, wife of the four star general and next CIA director, who now oversees  the CFPB office focused on service members. Petraeus has been visiting military installations and was at Fort Campbell Wednesday.

Petraeus said the number one cause for military security clearance being revoked is now financial problems.

Like many Army posts, just outside Fort Campbell are used car lots, payday lenders and signs advertising special deals for soldiers.

Holly Petraeus and a soldier. Photo by SSG Lorie Jewell, US Army.

Petraeus said a servicemember’s paycheck may not be big, but it comes every two weeks. Farmer reports that law enforcement officials say for-profit colleges are pushing soldiers into programs harder than ever and payday lenders have found ways around interest rate caps. To read Blake Farmer’s story on Holly Petraeus click HERE.

Money problems can also add to the stress already being felt by military families due to frequent moves and multiple deployments. But there are resources to help:

Petraeus and her team at Servicemember Affairs also are looking for military families to tell your story – good or bad – so that others may learn from the experience.


Almost Half of Student Veterans Have Considered Suicide

The following was published online by the American Psychological Association:

WASHINGTON (2011-8-4) – Nearly half of college students who are U.S. military veterans reported thinking of suicide and 20 percent said they had planned to kill themselves, rates significantly higher than among college students in general, according to a study presented at the American Psychological Association’s 119th Annual Convention.

“These alarming numbers underscore the urgent need for universities to be adequately staffed and prepared to assist and treat student veterans,” said M. David Rudd, PhD, of the University of Utah and lead author of the study entitled, “Student Veterans: A National Survey Exploring Psychological Symptoms and Suicide Risk.” Rudd presented the findings during a convention symposium focusing on unique challenges of suicide prevention in the military.

Researchers with the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah looked at survey results gathered in 2011 from 525 veterans — 415 males and 110 females, with an average age of 26. Ninety-eight percent had been deployed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and 58 percent to 60 percent reported they had experienced combat. The majority were Caucasian (77 percent), with the remainder African-American (7 percent), Hispanic (12 percent), Asian-American (3 percent) and Native American (1 percent). This ethnic background distribution is similar to that of all U.S veterans, according to the paper.

The findings were startling: 46 percent of respondents indicated suicidal thinking at some point during their lifetime; 20 percent reported suicidal thoughts with a plan; 10.4 percent reported thinking of suicide very often; 7.7 percent reported a suicide attempt; and 3.8 percent reported a suicide attempt was either likely or very likely.

You can read the entire article HERE.

If  you are combat veteran in crisis or have friends or family who are veterans talking about suicide, you can get immediate help 24 hours a day at the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255.

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