Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Here is the wire story...
WASHINGTON — In the chaos of an early morning assault on a remote U.S. outpost in eastern Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Erich Phillips' M4 carbine quit firing as militant forces surrounded the base. The machine gun he grabbed after tossing the rifle aside didn't work either.
When the battle in the small village of Wanat ended, nine U.S. soldiers lay dead and 27 more were wounded. A detailed study of the attack by a military historian found that weapons failed repeatedly at a "critical moment" during the firefight on July 13, 2008, putting the outnumbered American troops at risk of being overrun by nearly 200 insurgents.
Which raises the question: Eight years into the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, do U.S. armed forces have the best guns money can buy?
Despite the military's insistence that they do, a small but vocal number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq has complained that the standard-issue M4 rifles need too much maintenance and jam at the worst possible times.
A week ago, eight U.S. troops were killed at a base near Kamdesh, a town near Wanat. There's no immediate evidence of weapons failures at Kamdesh, but the circumstances were eerily similar to the Wanat battle: insurgents stormed an isolated stronghold manned by American forces stretched thin by the demands of war.
Army Col. Wayne Shanks, a military spokesman in Afghanistan, said a review of the battle at Kamdesh is under way. "It is too early to make any assumptions regarding what did or didn't work correctly," he said.
Complaints about the weapons the troops carry, especially the M4, aren't new. Army officials say that when properly cleaned and maintained, the M4 is a quality weapon that can pump out more than 3,000 rounds before any failures occur.
The M4 is a shorter, lighter version of the M16, which made its debut during the Vietnam war. Roughly 500,000 M4s are in service, making it the rifle troops on the front lines trust with their lives.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a leading critic of the M4, said Thursday the Army needs to move quickly to acquire a combat rifle suited for the extreme conditions U.S. troops are fighting in.
U.S. special operations forces, with their own acquisition budget and the latitude to buy gear the other military branches can't, already are replacing their M4s with a new rifle.
"The M4 has served us well but it's not as good as it needs to be," Coburn said.
Battlefield surveys show that nearly 90 percent of soldiers are satisfied with their M4s, according to Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, head of the Army office that buys soldier gear. Still, the rifle is continually being improved to make it even more reliable and lethal.
Fuller said he's received no official reports of flawed weapons performance at Wanat. "Until it showed up in the news, I was surprised to hear about all this," he said.
The study by Douglas Cubbison of the Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., hasn't been publicly released. Copies of the study have been leaked to news organizations and are circulating on the Internet.
Cubbison's study is based on an earlier Army investigation and interviews with soldiers who survived the attack at Wanat. He describes a well-coordinated attack by a highly skilled enemy that unleashed a withering barrage with AK-47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
The soldiers said their weapons were meticulously cared for and routinely inspected by commanders. But still the weapons had breakdowns, especially when the rifles were on full automatic, which allows hundreds of bullets to be fired a minute.
The platoon-sized unit of U.S. soldiers and about two dozen Afghan troops was shooting back with such intensity the barrels on their weapons turned white hot. The high rate of fire appears to have put a number of weapons out of commission, even though the guns are tested and built to operate in extreme conditions.
Cpl. Jonathan Ayers and Spc. Chris McKaig were firing their M4s from a position the soldiers called the "Crow's Nest." The pair would pop up together from cover, fire half a dozen rounds and then drop back down.
On one of these trips up, Ayers was killed instantly by an enemy round. McKaig soon had problems with his M4, which carries a 30-round magazine.
"My weapon was overheating," McKaig said, according to Cubbison's report. "I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn't charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down."
The soldiers also had trouble with their M249 machine guns, a larger weapon than the M4 that can shoot up to 750 rounds per minute.
Cpl. Jason Bogar fired approximately 600 rounds from his M-249 before the weapon overheated and jammed the weapon.
Bogar was killed during the firefight, but no one saw how he died, according to the report.
Friday, October 9, 2009
House passes H.R. 1016 by a vote of 419-1
WASHINGTON (Oct. 8, 2009) - The American Legion's National Commander, Clarence Hill, has praised the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009. This measure would provide the Department of Veterans Affairs with advance appropriations each fiscal year to begin on October 1, whether the rest of the annual Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations have been signed into law or not. "This action is unprecedented at this funding level," said Hill. "Although The American Legion deeply appreciated the significant increases in VA's overall appropriations in recent years, not knowing when the funds would arrive made managing the VA health care system a major challenge." The goal of advance appropriations is to make sure VA medical care funding is timely, predictable, and sufficient. "It will still require a great deal of work on our part to make sure the annual appropriations will be sufficient," Hill said. "As Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom continue, this nation has a moral, ethical and legal obligation to care for the men and women placed in harm's way, but we cannot meet these new health care challenges by asking veterans of previous conflicts to move aside in order to provide timely healthcare access to the newest generation of wartime veterans."
In 1996, the VA health care system made a significant transition into the "best care anywhere" as cited by Phillip Longman in his book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours . "Clearly, every federal dollar invested in VA health care is providing the most cost-effective, quality health care in the nation," Hill said. "Many health care experts agree, the VA health care system is the role model for the rest of the health care industry." Advance appropriations will help allow VA health care professionals to achieve both short and long-range management decisions without wondering if "the check is in the mail."
Representative Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, offered the following statement on the occasion of the bill's passage: "Today, the House of Representatives took action to respond to years of chronic underfunding of VA medical care. Over the last 23 years, 20 VA budgets have been passed late - and our veterans pay the price with fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and more restricted access for the 6 million veterans using VA health care. Again this year, the VA is forced to rely on funding from a continuing resolution, even though the House acted in a timely fashion and passed the FY 2010 VA spending bill in July. Members of the Committee have worked closely with veteran service organizations to pass this landmark bill and guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality health care."
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Public Hearing about Proposed Construction of Affordable Housing for At-Risk & Formerly Homeless Veterans
Representatives from the VA Maryland Health Care System and the VA's Office of Asset Enterprise Management will provide an overview of the proposal to lease approximately 13.8 acres of unused land on the campus to a non-profit organization or private company for the development of affordable housing for at-risk and formerly homeless veterans.
Following the presentation, veterans and local community members will be invited to ask questions and provide comments about the proposed project.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
At Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., the Argonne Cross was erected to honor our fallen World War I soldiers. If you stand at the foot of that memorial, you cannot help but be moved by the sacrifices so many brave souls have made for our nation.
You will similarly feel deep admiration if you cast your eyes on row upon row of white crosses and Stars of David at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France. Both fulfill the central purpose of our war memorials: They cause us to reflect on the sacrifices of American patriots.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a case that will determine the fate of another moving monument to our fallen soldiers—a 75-year-old veterans' memorial located on public land in the vast Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif.
The Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial, a seven-foot metal cross, was erected in 1934 by World War I veterans to honor their fallen brethren. In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to have the memorial taken down. The reason? The ACLU claims that the mere presence of the cross within the 1.6 million acre national preserve runs afoul of the Constitution, because it is effectively a religious symbol.
Judge Robert J. Timlin of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California agreed with that claim, and ordered that the cross be covered up while the case was on appeal. So now a memorial dedicated to those who fought tyranny and oppression is hidden from view by a plywood box.
This case is part of a disturbing pattern. Like lawsuits seeking to stop the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited each morning in our public schools or to remove "In God We Trust" from our currency, the ACLU's argument in Salazar v. Buono is based on a misconception of the Constitution—that the government must be hostile to religion.
Far more is at stake than a single memorial. If the Supreme Court allows this cross to be destroyed, it could presage the destruction of thousands of similar memorials nationwide, inflicting sorrow on millions of Americans, especially veterans and their families.
The theory being advanced by the ACLU is that no religious symbol can be allowed on public land. That is a radical notion that is contrary to the text of the Constitution, to the original understanding of the Framers, and to how the Supreme Court has long interpreted the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of a religion.
The Constitution prohibits government from favoring one religion over another, but it does not compel hostility to faith. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in Marsh v. Chambers (1983) that it was constitutional to open a legislative session with a prayer. Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for the majority, explained:
"To invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, an 'establishment' of religion or a step toward establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country."
Likewise, in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) the Court observed that "[o]ur history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance."
The Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial, like other war memorials, reflects the respect and gratitude due our honored dead. The men and women who have died defending our country gave their last measure of devotion to preserve our right to free speech and religious expression. They deserve our honor and admiration—not a plywood box marring their memory.
War memorials embody the very best traditions of our nation. In 1787, the U.S. Constitution was written to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." With the case it will hear today, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to preserve this promise.
Messrs. Cruz and Shackelford represent the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the American Ex-Prisoners of War as amici curiae in Salazar v. Buono.
Free Flu Shots Available for Enrolled Veterans Date: Mon, 28 Sep 2009 17:23:19 -0400
Influenza is more than a bad cold; it is a serious disease. Thirty-sixthousand people die from the flu every year. Influenza can causepneumonia, and is especially dangerous for the elderly and people withchronic diseases. The VA recommends that all veterans aged 50 or over,and those with long term medical conditions or weakened immune systems,receive the flu vaccine annually. All of our primary care clinicsthroughout the VA Maryland Health Care System are currently providingfree flu shots. You do not need an appointment to receive a free flushot, just visit your local VA facility during the days/hours listed below. The flu shots are only available for veterans enrolled with theVA Maryland Health Care System.
Walk-In Flu Shot Clinics:
- Baltimore VA Primary Care Clinic, 10 N. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD:Monday - Friday from 8 am - 4 pm
- Baltimore VA Lobby Clinic, 10 N. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD: Monday- Friday from 8 am - 3 pm
- Perry Point VA Primary Care Clinic, Perry Point, MD: Monday - Friday from 8 am - 3:30 pm
- Glen Burnie VA Clinic, 808 Landmark Drive, Suite 128, Glen Burnie, MD:Monday - Friday 8am - Noon and 1 pm - 3 pm
- Fort Howard VA Clinic, 9600 North Point Road, Fort Howard, MD: Monday -Friday from 8 am - 3:30 pm
- Loch Raven VA Clinic, 3901 The Alameda, Baltimore, MD: Monday - Friday from 8:30 am - Noon and 1 pm - 3:30 pm
- Cambridge VA Clinic, 830 Chesapeake Drive, Cambridge, MD: Monday and Wednesday from Noon - 4 pm, and Friday 9 am - 3 pm
- Pocomoke VA Clinic, 101 Market Street, Pocomoke City, MD: Thursdays from 9 am - 3 pm
Drive-Thru Flu Shot Clinics:
- Perry Point VA Primary Care Clinic Parking Lot, Perry Point, MD: October 3, 2009, from 9 am - 1 pm
- Glen Burnie VA Clinic Parking Lot, 808 Landmark Drive, Suite 128, Glen Burnie, MD: October 3, 2009, from 9 am - 12 pm
- Loch Raven VA Clinic Parking Lot, 3901 The Alameda, Baltimore, MD: October 10, 2009, from 9 am - 12 pm
- Baltimore VA Medical Center Parking Garage, 10 N. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD: October 17, 2009, from 9 am - 1 pm
For general information about the Flu Shot Clinics, please call the FluVaccine Information Line at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7273. For medical advice, please call the Telephone Care Line 24 hours a day, seven days aweek, by dialing 1-800-865-2441.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Office of the Press Secretary
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano joined Colorado Governor Bill Ritter yesterday to unveil “Recognizing 8 Signs of Terrorism”—a video produced with DHS grant funding designed to educate Colorado citizens about the shared responsibility of recognizing signs of terrorist activity.
“The vigilance of individual citizens is critical to protecting our country from the threat of terrorism,” said Secretary Napolitano. “This video provides essential information on how to identify the warning signs and emphasizes the vital role of such assistance in state and local law enforcement’s counterterrorism efforts.”
“Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it's important to remember the United States is not immune from the atrocities of international terror attacks. Even in Colorado, we need to be prepared to prevent and respond to these types of horrific events,” said Governor Ritter. “Secretary Napolitano’s charge to empower the public with knowledge is a key component in creating prepared and vigilant communities across America. I encourage all Coloradans to see the video ‘Recognizing 8 Signs of Terrorism’ at the CELL because we all have the power to make a difference when we are prepared.”
Under the DHS State Homeland Security Grant Program, the Colorado Office of Homeland Security awarded $30,400 for the creation of the video, which was narrated by John Elway and Kim Christiansen and produced through a partnership between the Colorado Office of Homeland Security, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC) and the Center for Empowered Living & Learning (The CELL)—a non-profit institution dedicated to addressing the global threat of terrorism.
The announcement came during Secretary Napolitano’s trip to Denver, where she joined Governor Ritter on a tour of the CELL.
While in Denver, Secretary Napolitano also joined Attorney General Eric Holder, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske to participate in the National Association of Chiefs of Police Conference.
To view the video, visit www.thecell.org <http://www.thecell.org/> .