Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War.

Mosul, Iraq 2004 -2005
Busa and I on FOB Marez 2004-2005

The "Deuce" in the many news publications
I found this in Esquire and the sentiment he talks about are grounded in truth. The feelings of exhilaration when creeping through the streets at night prior to a raid can't be explained. I too miss it......

By Brian Mockenhaupt
A few months ago, I found a Web site loaded with pictures and videos from Iraq, the sort that usually aren't seen on the news. I watched insurgent snipers shoot American soldiers and car bombs disintegrate markets, accompanied by tinny music and loud, rhythmic chanting, the soundtrack of the propaganda campaigns. Video cameras focused on empty stretches of road, building anticipation. Humvees rolled into view and the explosions brought mushroom clouds of dirt and smoke and chunks of metal spinning through the air. Other videos and pictures showed insurgents shot dead while planting roadside bombs or killed in firefights and the remains of suicide bombers, people how they're not meant to be seen, no longer whole. The images sickened me, but their familiarity pulled me in, giving comfort, and I couldn't stop. I clicked through more frames, hungry for it. This must be what a shot of dope feels like after a long stretch of sobriety. Soothing and nauseating and colored by everything that has come before. My body tingled and my stomach ached, hollow. I stood on weak legs and walked into the kitchen to make dinner. I sliced half an onion before putting the knife down and watching slight tremors run through my hand. The shakiness lingered. I drank a beer. And as I leaned against this kitchen counter, in this house, in America, my life felt very foreign.
I've been home from Iraq for more than a year, long enough for my time there to become a memory best forgotten for those who worried every day that I was gone. I could see their relief when I returned. Life could continue, with futures not so uncertain. But in quiet moments, their relief brought me guilt. Maybe they assume I was as overjoyed to be home as they were to have me home. Maybe they assume if I could do it over, I never would have gone. And maybe I wouldn't have. But I miss Iraq. I miss the war. I miss war. And I have a very hard time understanding why.
I'm glad to be home, to have put away my uniforms, to wake up next to my wife each morning. I worry about my friends who are in Iraq now, and I wish they weren't. Often I hated being there, when the frustrations and lack of control over my life were complete and mind-bending. I questioned my role in the occupation and whether good could come of it. I wondered if it was worth dying or killing for. The suffering and ugliness I saw disgusted me. But war twists and shifts the landmarks by which we navigate our lives, casting light on darkened areas that for many people remain forever unexplored. And once those darkened spaces are lit, they become part of us. At a party several years ago, long before the Army, I listened to a friend who had served several years in the Marines tell a woman that if she carried a pistol for a day, just tucked in her waistband and out of sight, she would feel different. She would see the world differently, for better or worse. Guns empower. She disagreed and he shrugged. No use arguing the point; he was just offering a little piece of truth. He was right, of course. And that's just the beginning.
I've spent hours taking in the world through a rifle scope, watching life unfold. Women hanging laundry on a rooftop. Men haggling over a hindquarter of lamb in the market. Children walking to school. I've watched this and hoped that someday I would see that my presence had made their lives better, a redemption of sorts. But I also peered through the scope waiting for someone to do something wrong, so I could shoot him. When you pick up a weapon with the intent of killing, you step onto a very strange and serious playing field. Every morning someone wakes wanting to kill you. When you walk down the street, they are waiting, and you want to kill them, too. That's not bloodthirsty; that's just the trade you've learned. And as an American soldier, you have a very impressive toolbox. You can fire your rifle or lob a grenade, and if that's not enough, call in the tanks, or helicopters, or jets. The insurgents have their skill sets, too, turning mornings at the market into chaos, crowds into scattered flesh, Humvees into charred scrap. You're all part of the terrible magic show, both powerful and helpless.
That men are drawn to war is no surprise. How old are boys before they turn a finger and thumb into a pistol? Long before they love girls, they love war, at least everything they imagine war to be: guns and explosions and manliness and courage. When my neighbors and I played war as kids, there was no fear or sorrow or cowardice. Death was temporary, usually as fast as you could count to sixty and jump back into the game. We didn't know yet about the darkness. And young men are just slightly older versions of those boys, still loving the unknown, perhaps pumped up on dreams of duty and heroism and the intoxicating power of weapons. In time, war dispels many such notions, and more than a few men find that being freed from society's professed revulsion to killing is really no freedom at all, but a lonely burden. Yet even at its lowest points, war is like nothing else. Our culture craves experience, and that is war's strong suit. War peels back the skin, and you live with a layer of nerves exposed, overdosing on your surroundings, when everything seems all wrong and just right, in a way that makes perfect sense. And then you almost die but don't, and are born again, stoned on life and mocking death. The explosions and gunfire fry your nerves, but you want to hear them all the same. Something's going down.
For those who know, this is the open secret: War is exciting. Sometimes I was in awe of this, and sometimes I felt low and mean for loving it, but I loved it still. Even in its quiet moments, war is brighter, louder, brasher, more fun, more tragic, more wasteful. More. More of everything. And even then I knew I would someday miss it, this life so strange. Today the war has distilled to moments and feelings, and somewhere in these memories is the reason for the wistfulness.
On one mission we slip away from our trucks and into the night. I lead the patrol through the darkness, along canals and fields and into the town, down narrow, hard-packed dirt streets. Everyone has gone to bed, or is at least inside. We peer through gates and over walls into courtyards and into homes. In a few rooms TVs flicker. A woman washes dishes in a tub. Dogs bark several streets away. No one knows we are in the street, creeping. We stop at intersections, peek around corners, training guns on parked cars, balconies, and storefronts. All empty. We move on. From a small shop up ahead, we hear men's voices and laughter. Maybe they used to sit outside at night, but now they are indoors, where it's safe. Safer. The sheet-metal door opens and a man steps out, cigarette and lighter in hand. He still wears a smile, takes in the cool night air, and then nearly falls backward through the doorway in a panic. I'm a few feet from him now and his eyes are wide. I mutter a greeting and we walk on, back into the darkness.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/ESQ0307ESSAY#ixzz1l3Hj7D2C

In Afghan war, rate of post-injury survival rises

Army Spec. Bryce MacBride, wounded in Afghanistan in late 2010, waits in the hallway of a hospital at Bagram Airfield. (Linda Davidson — The Washington Post)
There has probably never been a war in which there has been as much on-the-job improvement in the care of the wounded than there has been in the United States’ war in Afghanistan. Of course, at 10 years and counting, there has been a lot of time for practice.
That truth is evident in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, “Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians.” It sketches out the remarkable ability of military physicians and nurses to save the lives of grievously wounded troops.
Last year, 415 American men and women died in Afghanistan, while 5,159 were wounded and survived.
That ratio — 12.4 survivors for every fatality — marked a record high over the past decade. In fact, the ratio has been growing almost every year since 2001.
In 2007, the first year in which battlefield deaths in Afghanistan surpassed 100, there were only 6.4 survivors for every fatality. The ratio dipped slightly in 2008 but has increased ever since.
How much better are doctors, nurses, medics, corpsmen and technicians in this war than in previous ones?
That’s hard to answer with precision. Comparisons are tricky because the quality of medical care isn’t all that changes between conflicts. Indeed, the nature and hazards of combat can evolve during the course of a war.
For example, a study of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the second half of 2006 found that 76 percent of fatalities were caused by explosions. Earlier in the wars (2003-04), that “mechanism of injury” was responsible for 56 percent of deaths.
In previous wars, blast injuries accounted for less than 10 percent of battle injuries.
That said, there is plenty of evidence that troops wounded today have a far better chance of survival than ever before.
In 2006, approximately 9.8 percent of wounded service members died either on the battlefield or after leaving it in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Vietnam War, that figure, the “case fatality rate,” was 16 percent. During World War II, it was 19 percent.
These days, if you make it to a hospital alive, your chances of surviving are extremely good.
During the first eight years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 4.6 percent of troops who got to the trauma bay of a hospital eventually died. (During the 2007 “surge” in Iraq, that number was 3.2 percent ). Furthermore, the number has stayed low even as the severity of injuries has worsened.
Many factors have produced this story of survival.
They include consistent use of body armor; fire-retardant uniforms; the timely application of tourniquets (every service member carries two); battlefield bandages loaded with clot-forming powder; the use of whole blood (or its equivalent in components) in resuscitating patients; less use of IV fluids on the battlefield and in helicopter evacuation; a strategy of many short operations (“damage-control surgery”) in treating victims of poly-trauma; the placement of neurosurgeons in forward hospitals; and the improvement that comes with experience and multiple deployments.
“None of these kids would have survived in the civilian world,” Col. Jay Johannigman, an Air Force surgeon, said in late 2010 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after a weekly meeting in which doctors review what has happened to critically injured troops after they return to the United States.
“And we never would have saved them five years ago.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Plan would help military families take leave

The best medicine for recovery is having loved ones around. I remember after coming back from Iraq in 2005 I was moved to Boise to serve in an ROTC billet. With no friends, family or any aquantences I found it the hardest transition I had ever had to do and very nearly fell into depression. This would really help Soldiers and their families and also allow family memebrs to be there without the reprecussions of losing their jobs.

Combat Call Center

Sunset on FOB Ramrod, Afghanistan

The Combat Call Center (1-877-WAR-VETS) is a confidential hotline staffed by combat Veterans from all eras and spouses of Vets. The call center is for Veterans and their families—offering you someone you can connect with that might have had a similar experience as you. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day and is free.
This is a blessing to help those vets in need.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ending Nightmares Caused By PTSD

Ending Nightmares Caused By PTSD

Amy Standen
January 16, 2012, 12:01 AM

Everyone has nightmares sometimes. But for people with PTSD, it's different.
Sam Brace doesn't want to talk about what he saw when he was a soldier in Iraq eight years ago. In fact, it's something he's actively trying not to dwell on. But what he can't control are his dreams.
They're almost always about the same explosion. "When I was overseas, we'd hit an IED," Brace says. "When I have a nightmare, normally it's something related to that."
Healthy dreams seem kind of random, according to Steven Woodward, a psychologist with the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Menlo Park, Calif. "They're wacky," he says. "They associate lots of things that are not normally associated."
PTSD dreams are the same real-life event played over and over again like a broken record. "Replicative nightmares of traumatic events ... repeat for years," Woodward says. "Sometimes 20 years."

Scientists wanted to find out the reason why people with PTSD can't sleep and dream normally. One theory comes from Matthew Walker, a psychology researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. His particular interest lies in rapid eye movement, or REM. It's the time during sleep when a lot of dreaming occurs.
It's also a time when the chemistry of the brain actually changes. Levels of norepinephrine — a kind of adrenaline — drop out completely. REM sleep is the only time of day when this happens. That struck Walker as a mystery. "Why would rapid eye movement sleep suppress this neurochemical?" he asks. "Is there any function to that?"
Walker found that in healthy people, REM sleep is kind of like therapy. It's an adrenaline-free environment where the brain can process its memories while sort of stripping off their sharp, emotional edges. "You come back the next day, and it doesn't trigger that same visceral reaction that you had at the time of learning."
Emotions are useful, he says. They show us what really matters to us. "But I don't think it's adaptive to hold onto that emotional blanket around those memories forever," he says. "They've done their job at the time of learning, then it's time to hold on to the information of that memory, but let go of the emotion."
Walker's theory suggests that in people with PTSD, REM sleep is broken. The adrenaline doesn't go away like it's supposed to. The brain can't process tough memories, so it just cycles through them, again and again.
So, what if you could make the adrenaline just go away? Enter prazosin.
Pfizer Inc. introduced the drug under the brand name Minipress in the 1970s to treat high blood pressure. Dr. Murray Raskind, a VA psychiatrist in Seattle, says the drug, now generic, can cost anywhere between 5 and 15 cents. And, actually, it's not terribly effective as a blood pressure medication, he says.
But what prazosin does do is make people less sensitive to adrenaline. About a decade ago, Raskind starting giving prazosin to some of his PTSD patients, including one Vietnam War veteran.
"He had this recurrent nightmare of being trapped by the Vietcong forces in a landing zone and having his best friend killed in front of his eyes by a mortar round," Raskind says.
After a few weeks of treatment with prazosin, the veteran came in for a follow-up appointment. Raskind says the veteran told him that he wasn't sure the medication was working. He was still having the same dream over and over — just about something else. He told Raskind that in the new dream he was in his fifth grade classroom and there was a test. If he didn't pass the test, he wasn't going to be promoted to the next grade. But he never even got the assignment.
"I said, 'That's my nightmare!' " Raskind says.
Indeed, the veteran's new dream was the stress dream of a healthy brain trying to work things out, Raskind says.
This year, the VA is expected to finish up its trial for prazosin. It's already prescribing the drug to about 15 percent of its PTSD patients. Raskind, of course, would like to see that number rise.
"To us, it's a simple thing that works," he says.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Strykers: Did attitude lead to Afghan killings?

Another instance when the leaders are held responsible for the action (or in actions) of its subordinates. I worked with 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry and had better leaders and a better time than I did with my own unit 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry. Don't always judge a unit by the poor decisions of some of its Soldiers.

Strykers: Did attitude lead to Afghan killings?

CRAIG WHITLOCK; The Washington Post

Published: 10/14/1012:05 am | Updated: 10/14/10 6:49 am

When a Stryker brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord arrived in Afghanistan last year, its leader, Col. Harry Tunnell, openly sneered at the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy. The old-school commander barred his officers from even mentioning the term and told shocked U.S. and NATO officials that he was uninterested in winning the trust of the Afghan people.

Instead, he said, his soldiers from the 5th (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division would simply hunt and kill as many Taliban fighters as possible, as dictated by the brigade’s motto, “Strike and Destroy.”
What resulted was a year of tough fighting in territory fiercely defended by the Taliban. The brigade also carried home a dark legacy that threatens to overshadow its hard-won victories and sacrifices on the battlefield. In some of the gravest war-crime charges to arise from the Afghan conflict, five soldiers have been accused of killing unarmed Afghan men, apparently for sport, and desecrating their corpses.

Seven other platoon members have been charged with other crimes, including smoking hashish – which some soldiers said happened on a near-daily basis – and assaulting an informant.
As sordid accounts of the platoon’s activities continue to emerge, critics inside and outside the Army are questioning whether the brigade’s get-tough strategy, which emphasized enemy kills over civilian relations, could have influenced the behavior of the accused.

Questions also persist about why the 5th Brigade’s chain of command did not intervene earlier, given that soldiers from the platoon are charged with crimes alleged to have taken place over a roughly six-month period, beginning in November 2009.
Interviews and records obtained by The Washington Post indicate that commanders received multiple warnings of trouble brewing in the 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment.

Some soldiers have since told investigators that their company commander became furious after learning that the platoon had killed a second unarmed Afghan in January. But rather than referring the incident up the chain of command, he demanded that soldiers find evidence that would allow the Army to justify the shooting.
In March, the platoon’s first lieutenant and sergeant were removed from their posts because their soldiers had been caught shooting at dogs, according to Army investigative records. In contrast, no disciplinary action was taken after platoon members shot and killed four Afghan men, who were allegedly unarmed, in as many incidents. (Three of those shootings are now the focus of murder investigations.)

“It’s obvious that willful blinders came into play, because this unit clearly was stepping in it,” said Eric Montalvo, an attorney for one of the soldiers charged with murder.
Tunnell, the brigade commander, is not implicated in the shootings. There has been no indication that he was aware that soldiers were allegedly killing for sport until special agents from the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command opened an investigation in May.

According to brigade members, however, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of the self-described “kill team,” was assigned to Tunnell’s personal security detail from July until November 2009, right before the first of the atrocities was allegedly carried out.
Gibbs, 25, was reassigned to 3rd Platoon for reasons that remain unclear. Army officials declined to say why he was transferred, citing the criminal investigation.

Within days of the transfer, other soldiers have said in statements to investigators, Gibbs confided to his new platoon mates that he had gotten away with “stuff”during his previous deployments. They also said he talked about how easy it would be to stage the killings of innocent Afghans. Investigators are now examining Gibbs’ involvement in the killing of an Iraqi family in 2004.
Through a spokeswoman at Fort Knox, Ky., where he now works for the U.S. Army Accessions Command, Tunnell acknowledged that Gibbs served on his security detail “for a brief time,” but declined to answer other written questions for this article.

When asked in July about the killings, he told The Seattle Times that the fact that his brigade had opened the investigation by itself was “a good comment on how the system is supposed to work.”
In February 2009, while the brigade was undergoing mission rehearsal exercises in California, evaluators warned Tunnell that his open disdain for counterinsurgency would cause troubles in Afghanistan, but the brigade commander ignored them, said Richard Demaree, a retired lieutenant colonel who served as a battalion commander for the 5th Stryker Brigade.

“Everybody was astonished he has this war-fighting philosophy toward Iraq or Afghanistan that was totally out of sync with the Army,” Demaree said.
Tunnell, who served in Iraq and was badly wounded there, was a devotee of counter-guerrilla strategy, which places more emphasis on raids and other aggressive tactics but had been rejected as a doctrine by the Army in the aftermath of the Iraq insurgency. According to Demaree, Tunnell barred his soldiers from using the term COIN, shorthand for counterinsurgency.

Demaree, who says he was later forced to relinquish his battalion command because of personal conflicts with Tunnell, said many officers worried that Tunnell’s contempt for counterinsurgency would interfere with their mission in Afghanistan. “I believed it would put soldiers’ lives unnecessarily at risk,”he said.
Tunnell’s mindset also alarmed NATO and U.S. officials shortly after the 5th Brigade arrived in Kandahar, according to a State Department official who was present in Kandahar. At the time, military and civilian leaders in NATO’s Regional Command South had embraced counterinsurgency.

“We all said, ‘This is going to be a disaster. This is the exact opposite of what we need,’ “ said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because agency rules forbid him from giving unauthorized interviews.
U.S., Dutch and Canadian officials asked Army Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the then-deputy commander of Regional Command South, to intervene with Tunnell. Nicholson agreed to talk to the brigade commander, but the chat had little effect, the State Department official said. Nicholson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

“Tunnell was just apparently totally unimpressed by what he was told,” the official said. “He spoke to us and said, ‘Some of you might think I’m here to play this COIN game and just pussyfoot with the enemy. But that’s not what I’m doing.’”
Tunnell’s Strike and Destroy approach contrasted with official guidelines issued by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, which read:“Protecting people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”

As the 5th Brigade began sustaining heavy casualties, however, some officers and enlisted soldiers openly grumbled that Tunnell’s strategy was backfiring.
On Jan. 28, members of the 3rd platoon fatally shot an Afghan man along Highway 1 in Kandahar. Some soldiers said they thought the man could have been a suicide bomber. He was unarmed.

When Capt. Matthew Quiggle, the platoon’s company commander, heard of the incident, he turned “furious,” according to one soldier, Cpl. Emmitt Quintal, who later gave a statement to Army investigators. The platoon had shot and killed another unarmed Afghan man two weeks earlier, so Quiggle told the soldiers “they needed to search until they found something” that would justify the shooting, according to the statement. Quiggle did not respond to a request for comment submitted through the Army.
In response, Gibbs and other members of the unit planted a magazine from a contraband AK-47 rifle next to the corpse “to give the appearance the Afghan was an insurgent,” according to an Army investigator’s report. The shooting was subsequently ruled justified and no one was disciplined.

Members of the platoon would kill two more unarmed Afghans, according to charging documents.
Army criminal investigators learned about the killings in May as they were scrutinizing hashish use in the 3rd Platoon. In June, they charged Gibbs and four other soldiers with murder.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Army Times: Stryker soldiers say commanders failed them

This article came out while I was deployed to Afghanistan (A Co 1-17th, 5th BDE, 2ID) and seemed to be the initial article that would begin the down spiral of a great unit. This article defiantly displays what happens when the command does  not care about its Soldiers or subordinate leaders. This depoyment and this unit was the deciding factor for me to retire when I did. I will begin to post many of the other articles that transpired from this one. Unfortunalty, some great leaders like Capt. Kussulke became the casualty of bad leadership and knee jerk reactions.

Stryker soldiers say commanders failed them

By Sean D. Naylor - Staff writer

Posted : Monday Dec 21, 2009 12:42:57 EST

ARGHANDAB RIVER VALLEY, Afghanistan — The view west from the roof of the Arghandab district center at sunset in mid-autumn is breathtaking, the remaining leaves turning the valley into a sea of green and gold.
But the beauty deceives.
Beneath the branches, the Arghandab’s signature pomegranates lie in rotting piles and the orchards are strewn with booby traps ready to sever a limb or take a life. Gunfire and explosions echo from end to end of the valley’s lush “green zone.” Once known as the breadbasket of Afghanistan, the Arghandab has become a killing field.
Battle has been joined in the valley because of its proximity to Kandahar city, a rich prize two miles to the east across a razor-backed ridgeline. Until this summer, insurgent control of the valley was unchallenged. Then 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, moved in, and the fight was on.
The vicious struggle in and around the Arghandab since the battalion’s arrival has killed 21 1/17 soldiers and more than 50 insurgents, led to a popular company commander’s controversial replacement and raised questions about the best role for Stryker units in Afghanistan.
It has also caused the soldiers at the tip of the spear that the United States hurled into the Arghandab to accuse their battalion and brigade commanders of not following the guidance of senior coalition commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to adopt a “population-centric” counterinsurgency approach. And now, reeling from the deaths of their comrades and the removal of their company commander, the troops have been ordered out of the Arghandab, a move they say feels like a defeat.
It was July when 1/17 deployed to Afghanistan, and August when the battalion moved into the Arghandab. Within 48 hours, they were in combat with some of the 200 to 300 insurgents in the “green zone” — a 14-mile-by-four-mile patchwork of small fields, orchards and vineyards. The dense foliage and high mud walls offered insurgents ample hiding places for the booby traps the military refers to as improvised explosive devices.
The first 1/17 soldier to die was Spc. Troy Tom, killed Aug. 18 by an IED. The casualties mounted steeply thereafter, climaxing Oct. 27 when seven soldiers and an interpreter died when their Stryker was destroyed by the force of an estimated 1,500 pounds of homemade explosive buried in the banks of the Arghandab River. By early December, the battalion had lost 21 men.
In late November, brigade commander Col. Harry Tunnell decided a change had to be made. He replaced Capt. Joel Kassulke, the commander of 1/17’s Charlie Company, which had taken 12 of the casualties.
But Kassulke’s former soldiers say that not only was he not to blame for the casualties, the 1/17’s problems started much, much earlier.
Mismatched training
The battalion had spent much of the previous two years training for combat, but preparing for the wrong theater — until February, when it got orders for Afghanistan, 1/17 was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
However, 1/17 soldiers said their training, which had been focused on highly “kinetic” urban warfare drills such as room clearing, did not change much to accommodate the change in mission. “The COIN-intensive fight here … isn’t so much what we trained on,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Turnblom, Charlie Company’s fire support officer.
“We trained [in] urban fighting in Iraq and then they give us Afghanistan,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Hughes, Weapons Squad leader in 1st Platoon, Charlie Company. “The principles are the same but the details are day-and-night different, and we’ve learned that the hard way over the last almost five months.”
In response to e-mailed questions from Army Times to Tunnell, Maj. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for Regional Command-South, said the Stryker brigade “showed a great understanding of what it would take to operate in a COIN environment by the training they conducted before arrival in Afghanistan.”
Kassulke also defended the pre-deployment training in e-mailed answers to Army Times’ questions, saying it was “as realistic” as could be achieved. “[I]t is hard to say that the training didn’t prepare us,” he said. “We have done a lot of kinetic, enemy-focused missions and the soldiers were definitely trained to do that.”
The 1/17’s soldiers said their train-up was also marked by an absence of good intelligence on what they would be facing in the Arghandab. In their zeal to give their men some insight into their future area of operations, noncommissioned officers such as Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Sanders, 1st Squad leader in Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon, resorted to printing out information on the Arghandab region from the Long War Journal, a respected non-Defense Department Web site, and posting it on bulletin boards.
“We made our own little S-2 because we weren’t getting anything from the S-2 [intelligence directorate],” Sanders said.
Nasty surprises
When 1/17 got to the Arghandab, the insurgents were lying in wait in the green zone, armed with homemade bombs similar to those that have killed thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This came as a shock to 1/17 commander Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann, who hadn’t anticipated being drawn into a fight in such constrictive terrain, where the troops learned quickly that they needed to dismount from their Strykers and patrol on foot.
“What we didn’t understand is really where the enemy was making his push against Kandahar city,” he said. “We did expect more of an open desert fight.”
The IEDs also came as a huge surprise to Neumann and most of his soldiers, who said they’d been told to expect that the major threat would come from direct fire. This, despite the fact that during the first six months of 2009, as the brigade was training up, more than twice as many U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan died from IED strikes than were killed in gunfights.
As the casualties from IEDs began to rise, so did the troops’ anger with what they viewed as their leaders’ failure to prepare them for the threat.
“The extent of the IED threat was a surprise to us all,” Kassulke said. “The enemy we faced in the Arghandab adapted to our TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures] faster and more effectively than anyone expected.”
RC-South spokesman DeSantis said that 1/17 had conducted “extensive leader training” and “comprehensive” lane training on IEDs before deployment. Once the extent of the threat became clear after arriving in Afghanistan, the brigade pursued innovative training and “intelligence employment” to counter it, he said.
As a result, the brigade has not lost a soldier in more than a month, while the percentage of IEDs that are found and cleared rather than struck has improved from 41 percent in August to 63 percent so far in December, he said.
Failing on the big picture
In command briefings and interviews, 5/2 Stryker Brigade leaders are keen to give the impression that the unit has fully embraced the tenets of counterinsurgency doctrine. There is much discussion of the governance, reconstruction and development fusion cell headed by Lt. Col. Patrick Gaydon, the brigade special troops battalion commander.
“We think that mission is so important that we devoted his battalion staff to be the fusion cell leads,” Tunnell said. “He and his kids have done a superb job,” leading to the creation of a database of village elders, government leaders and similar figures, he said.
But lower down the rank structure, 1/17 soldiers said that a major factor behind the battalion’s difficulties in the Arghandab was the failure of their battalion and brigade commanders to adhere to McChrystal’s published counterinsurgency guidance, which states up front: “Protecting the people is the mission. The conflict will not be won by destroying the enemy.”
Soldiers in 1/17 say that while the battalion’s junior leaders have embraced these principles, Neumann and Tunnell — whose brigade’s motto is “Strike — Destroy” — have not. “There’s definitely a disconnect between the platoon and company level and the battalion and brigade level,” said a Charlie Company soldier in a leadership position, who requested he remain anonymous.
“McChrystal’s guidance is very clear on its population focus,” said another junior leader.
But 1/17 soldiers thought that focus was missing from their operations. “When we first started operations, we were told we were going to stay enemy-focused,” said Capt. Jon Burton, an assistant fire support officer who is also 1/17’s civil-military and information operations officer co-located with Charlie Company. “That came from brigade.”
“That has absolutely been the message that’s been delivered from higher,” agreed Turnblom, the Charlie Company fire support officer.
When the brigade deployed to Afghanistan, Tunnell announced his intention to pursue a “counter-guerrilla” campaign. Most observers perceived a conflict between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s population-centric counterinsurgency campaign.
But Tunnell said that his approach was drawn straight from Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations (last updated in 1986), and that it was complementary to, not competitive with counterinsurgency. However, he added, the “counter-guerrilla” concept “is misunderstood. ... That’s why we don’t use the term anymore.”
Brenda Donnell, spokeswoman for the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., said FM 90-8 had been superseded by FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. “It’s not supposed to be used anymore,” she said of the counter-guerrilla manual.
Tunnell, who was badly wounded as a battalion commander in Iraq in 2003, was adamant that the situation in the Arghandab lent itself to the counter-guerrilla approach.
“Here in the green zone ... they’re hard-core guerrillas,” Tunnell said. “They form and they operate in teams and squads, and they mass into platoons very quickly. So I think you can’t ignore that. We haven’t seen any $10-a-day Taliban here.”
He outlined how he intended his approach to work. “[W]hen it comes to the enemy, you have leadership, supply chains and formations. And you’ve really got to tackle all three of those,” Tunnell said. “I was wounded as a battalion commander and they had a perfectly capable battalion commander in to replace me very quickly; our supply lines were interdicted with ambushes and they never stopped us from getting any resources, but when you degrade a formation substantially, that will stop operations. And then if you degrade formations, supply chains and leadership near simultaneously, you’ll cause the enemy in the area to collapse, and that is what we’re trying to do here.”
Asked if this was an enemy-centric approach, Tunnell replied: “The enemy informs how you gain access to the population. You cannot ignore it. We were taking horrible casualties trying to gain access to the population, and we knew that we needed to get to the population, and so if we didn’t conduct the types of operations that we’re conducting throughout the brigade’s area ... we wouldn’t be able to get to the population. So you can’t separate the two.”
Tunnell’s counter-guerrilla vision has driven his brigade’s missions, particularly in 1/17’s area of operations. “We definitely haven’t been COIN-focused in the Arghandab, we’ve been counter-guerrilla focused,” Burton said.
The perceived disconnect between Tunnell’s approach and McChrystal’s guidance has led to intense frustration in Charlie Company. One young soldier said all the squad leaders in his platoon “have done COIN fights before, and they’re pissed that we’re not doing COIN properly.”
Clearing operations
What has particularly angered soldiers here is the series of brigade-level clearing operations through the Arghandab ordered by Tunnell to cement his troops’ hold over the Arghandab and particularly the green zone, where the bulk of the population live, according to Tunnell.
“That’s one of the challenges of a population-centric strategy: you have to go to where the population is,” he said.
One operation, Opportunity Hold, at the end of August, “was a unique opportunity to mass resources and go right to the hold” phase of counterinsurgency doctrine’s “clear, hold and build” model, Tunnell said. “So we did that and seized initial key terrain, mainly on the periphery.”
Sustain Hold was aimed at getting 1/17 deeper into the green zone and establishing platoon-level patrol bases, he said.
The most recent operation, Focus Hold, which began in late November, focused on the green zone’s southeastern section. “It’s really one of the final approaches to Kandahar city,” Tunnell said, adding that Focus Hold’s operational goal was “to dislocate the enemy so they don’t want to continue operations.”
But while the logic behind the operations is clear to Tunnell, it is less so at the company level.
”We have done absolutely nothing as a company to improve the quality of life for the average Afghan living in the central Arghandab Valley,” Sanders said. “What we’re doing is not working, and we need to go on a different tack.” Asked what that tack should be, Sanders replied: “Basic counter-insurgency — give them a better option than Islamic extremism.”
That is the prevalent view in Charlie Company.
“The ‘clear, hold, build’ thing that we’re supposed to be doing ... we’re not doing that,” Hughes said. “If any commander in this brigade goes to sleep at night thinking after we’ve walked through that orchard over there that it’s clear, he’s a f------ idiot.”
Hughes added a comment that could have been taken straight from McChrystal’s guidance: “The non-kinetic side of the house is what wins counterinsurgency, not attrition.”
Frustration has bred a cynical humor at the Joint District Coordination Center where Charlie Company has made its home. A quote posted on the wall of the company’s command post and attributed to the first sergeant, Charles Burrow, reads: “Apparently COIN stands for Clearing Operations in November.” Burrow declined to be interviewed for this story.
Trying to do both
Among the young leaders who chafed against the “counter-guerrilla” approach was then-Charlie Company commander Kassulke, described by a subordinates as “a really smart, really knowledgeable guy” who “was the company commander that everybody in the battalion wanted to work for.”
“He made no dice about the fact that he was openly trying to conduct a more counterinsurgency fight,” Turnblom said, adding that Kassulke was trying to nest population-focused missions inside the enemy-focused operations imposed by Neumann and Tunnell.
“We were working to bring some security to the region, and that meant that we went to the areas where the enemy was,” Kassulke said in an e-mail. “We still did all we could to effectively engage the population before, during and after all of our operations.”
But soldiers who worked closely with Kassulke said he harbored deep misgivings about the enemy-centric focus of the missions he was ordered to conduct. Those doubts, along with his determination to do what he thought was right, brought him into conflict with his battalion and brigade commanders, his soldiers said.
In one instance, the point of friction was a quote from McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance posted on the wall of Kassulke’s command post. It read: “Sporadically moving into an area for a few hours or even a few days solely to search for the enemy and then leave does little good, and may do much harm. The local insurgents hide in plain sight and the people remain ambivalent. Once we depart, the militants re-emerge and life under insurgent control resumes.”
In the context of Charlie Company’s experience, the McChrystal quote seemed right on point. But when Neumann saw the quote during a visit to the JDCC, he told the battalion operations officer to direct Kassulke to take it down.
”I had them take it down to not get ahead of ourselves,” Neumann said in an e-mail to Army Times.
“The quote was deliberately put up to make a point, probably one I was out of my lane to make,” said Kassulke. “I knew that the quote would be a point of contention when I put it up.”
Kassulke said the incident was “not even a big deal at all,” but to his soldiers, the fact that their battalion commander was ordering the removal of a quote from McChrystal emphasizing the population-centric approach to counterinsurgency summed up the apparent disconnect between the company-grade leadership and their higher chain of command.
 ‘Backbone’ of Charlie Company
In early November, Tunnell visited the JDCC. According to soldiers who were there, he asked Kassulke if he had any concerns about the upcoming Focus Hold operation. According to Turnblom, Kassulke “expressed reservations about the idea of undertaking another brigade-level offensive operation.”
A few days later, Tunnell announced that he would be replacing Kassulke early as commander of Charlie Company.
The replacement was not a formal relief. Kassulke and the incoming commander, Capt. Max Hanlin, conducted a regular change-of-command ceremony Nov. 24 at 1/17’s headquarters at Forward Operating Base Frontenac, 364 days after Kassulke took command. A standard company command lasts two years. But Tunnell’s removal of the popular and charismatic Kassulke stunned Charlie Company.
“His guys absolutely loved and respected him,” Burton said. “He just exemplified everything a leader should be and for him to be removed, it just never made sense to me, and kind of made me question leadership in general and how the Army perceives leadership.”
“The glue that was holding the company together was Captain Kassulke,” said Spc. Nicholas White, a machine gunner in 4th Platoon’s second squad, who was not alone in describing Kassulke as “the backbone” of Charlie Company.
None of the Charlie Company soldiers interviewed said Kassulke was at fault for the heavy casualties his unit had suffered.
“I certainly don’t think the company-level leadership could have done anything differently” that would have prevented the casualties, Turnblom said.
 Neumann said if it had been up to him, he would not have replaced Kassulke, but the decision was Tunnell’s. “His main point to me was [that he was] worried both about the company and about the man,” Neumann said. “Either one can hit a breaking point.”
But Kassulke’s troops didn’t see any strain affecting him. “I saw him every day,” said Staff Sgt. David Myers, also of 4th Platoon’s second squad. “He never once lost focus. He was on top of his game.”
Tunnell said that the casualties suffered by Charlie Company influenced his decision to replace Kassulke “a month or two” earlier than planned. “It was going to happen in the December/January time frame anyway,” he said.
But the soldiers were unanimous in their view that Tunnell was making Kassulke a scapegoat for the battalion’s high casualty rate. “He [Kassulke] didn’t do anything wrong, but he was thrown under the bus,” said one leader in Charlie Company. “He’s the last guy that should’ve lost his job.”
Some in Charlie Company thought Tunnell’s replacement of Kassulke so soon after the captain had told the colonel of his concerns over Focus Hold was no coincidence.
“It’s probably bad juju for an O-3 to tell an O-6, ‘Hey, you’re not doing what the four-star wants you to do,’ ” said a soldier.
But Tunnell denied this through DeSantis, who said Tunnell had visited and spoken with Kassulke at the JDCC prior to Focus Hold as part of a routine process of gathering “input” from subordinate leaders prior to a major operation. “[I]t did not have any bearing on his assignment within the brigade,” DeSantis said.
Kassulke, who was moved to a brigade staff position in Zabul province, likewise played down the conversation’s significance. “As far as I am concerned, this was a normal conversation about operations, and ... he was genuinely interested in hearing my opinions as one of the company commanders who would be participating,” he said.
Army Times asked Tunnell via e-mail to respond to Charlie Company soldiers’ comments about his removal of Kassulke. In response, DeSantis e-mailed that “other than change of command ceremonies ... details about the assignment of officers [are] not released.”
Kassulke declined to detail the conversations he had with Tunnell regarding the switch. “The change of command was a surprise to me, but the brigade commander had a plan and this was part of it,” Kassulke said.
The impact on the company of Kassulke’s reassignment was exacerbated by Tunnell’s decision to pull the unit back to Frontenac for two weeks, coinciding with the memorial ceremony for two of the company’s soldiers killed in a Nov. 5 IED strike and the change of command. The move to Frontenac kept the company out of the fight “when we needed to get back on the horse,” Hughes said.
Change of mission
But the final blow to the company’s morale was still to come: the new RC-South commander British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter chose to pull Charlie Company and the rest of 1/17 out of the Arghandab permanently and replace them with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade.
Carter had a new mission for Tunnell’s brigade: ensuring freedom of movement along the major highways in his area of operations. The mission was a vital one for which the Strykers were uniquely suited, the British general said in an interview with Army Times.
Restoring security to Afghanistan’s major highways is a necessary and important step in boosting southern Afghanistan’s economy and restoring governance to the region, Carter said.
After analyzing the forces at his disposal, Carter concluded that the Stryker brigade was the best fit for the freedom-of-movement mission, in part because of its high-tech command-and-control gear. “In terms of an organization that can bring freedom of movement as an effect to me, there is no better capability than the Stryker brigade.”
Soldiers in both Bravo and Charlie companies said the order to pull out felt like “a defeat.” For Charlie Company, with the heavy toll it has taken, the move is particularly painful. Soldiers feel they are leaving the Arghandab without being given the chance to achieve success in the mission for which their comrades died. “I’ve lost 14 friends since I’ve gotten out here,” said White. “Now what have they died for?”
Several junior leaders in the battalion said the change of mission was a reflection of their chain of command’s failure to embrace population-centric counterinsurgency.
“I know exactly what my soldiers feel,” Hughes said. “This is hallowed ground to them. ... They want to do good things here. They were fully committed and mentally and physically prepared to fight for the rest of the year to make our guys not die in vain.” Hughes said that at every battalion formation, 1/17 soldiers had to recite the Army’s Warrior Ethos, which includes the line, “I will never accept defeat.”
“Us leaving here, I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a defeat,” he said.
Carter disagreed, saying the 1/17 soldiers “created the conditions to hand over the Arghandab in much better condition than it was two months ago, to another unit, thus releasing [the 1/17] to go on to what is a much higher priority task, and a task which is much better suited for [the 1/17’s] capability.
“They’ve been pulled out because they are the right capability to go on to what is the most important task in my judgment in Regional Command-South at the moment,” he said.
Carter dismissed the fears of some Stryker brigade soldiers that they would be little more than “traffic cops.”
“[T]his task is not simply a task of driving up and down a strip of highway,” Carter said. “In order to secure freedom of movement you have to secure the ground — a tactical bound — to the left and to the right of the highway, and in some places that could be as much as three or four kilometers; in others, it’ll be right up adjacent to it.
“Therefore, this organization has probably got the largest area of operations in the whole of Afghanistan, and that is quite a commitment to give it. ... And on that basis, my sense is that [the 1/17] has got the opportunity during the course of the last seven or eight months of its deployment here to make a significant impact upon the campaign.”
Neumann said it was important for his soldiers to retain a professional outlook. “The challenge for us is to be emotional about our losses, not emotional about our mission,” Neumann said. Hanlin, the new Charlie Company commander, echoed his boss. “We follow orders,” he said.
 Most soldiers seemed determined to put aside their disappointment to focus on their new task.”
“We’re going to do the best job we can no matter what mission we’re given,” Hughes said. “We don’t quit.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Army advises court-martial in soldier suicide

So sad, there is never an excuse for this.

Army advises court-martial in soldier suicide

The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jan 23, 2012 10:28:43 EST

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. military hearing has recommended that an American soldier be court-martialed over abuse that led to a fellow infantryman's suicide in southern Afghanistan.
Spc. Ryan Offutt is one of eight soldiers charged in the death of 19-year-old Pvt. Danny Chen, who shot himself in a guard tower three months into his tour in Afghanistan.
Chen's relatives have said the New York City native was teased during training because he was Chinese-American and was subjected to brutal hazing in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military said Monday that an Army hearing has recommended Offutt face court-martial on 11 charges, including assault, negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment. The hearing ended Sunday.
The regional U.S. military commander will make a final decision on any court-martial.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Status of Veterans Unemployment - Important!!!

Watching Tom Tarantino talking about the unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan Vets and he is answering questions. If you have not seen this or did not watch it it is great. He makes a good poin especially in my field when he states that "no body talks better to a Vet than another Vet".

Tim Embree is Congressional Relations Officer at U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Status of Veterans Unemployment


Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member, and members of the subcommittee, on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s one hundred and eighty thousand members and supporters, I would like to thank you for allowing us to testify before your subcommittee. My name is Tim Embree and I served two tours in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps Reserves. The “Status of Veterans Employment” is a critical issue facing many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and IAVA welcomes the opportunity to discuss this issue at length with you.
Executive Summary:
America’s newest veterans face serious employment challenges. The process of returning to civilian life is complicated by the most severe economic recession in decades. Furthermore, many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, leaving the active-duty military, find civilian employers who do not understand the value of their skills and military experience. As a result, unemployment rates for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are staggering. Additionally, the National Guardsmen and Reservists who leave behind their civilian lives to serve alongside active-duty troops, are inadequately protected against job discrimination. The experience of previous generations of veterans who faced similar situations suggest that today’s veterans may continue to struggle for years to come.

IAVA recommends the following to combat veterans’ unemployment:
  • Fully restore funding to the ESGR, which provides critical USERRA protections for deploying Guard and Reservists. ESGR is slated to be cut 17% in FY 2011.
  • Grant Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to veterans who enroll in apprenticeships, On the Job Training, and vocational programs.
  • Allow service-disabled veterans the option to use their education benefits and voc-rehab services concurrently.
  • Extend the tax credit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which incentivizes hiring Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, beyond 2010.
  • Increase Department of Labor VETS budget by $7.3 million for FY 2011 to improve job placement programs.
  • Mandate public reporting of all VETS–100 forms (# of veterans hired by Federal contractors).
  • Create civil and criminal penalties for employers who knowingly violate USERRA protections.
  • Extend USERRA protections to National Guardsmen, Reservists, and servicemembers working in domestic response operations, such as hurricane or wildfire missions.
I. Status of Veterans Employment

“I have had to move my family 2-3 times in search for employment… I have had LOTS of difficulty finding employment” – IAVA Vet

Unemployment rates among new veterans have risen significantly in the last 2 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, the average unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was 10.2 percent. Unemployment rates from 2007 and 2008 were 6.1 percent and 7.3 percent respectively. The unemployment rate of Reserve and National Guardsmen, who often leave behind civilian jobs when they deploy, have more than quadrupled since 2007. They now rival that of veterans recently discharged from the military – 10.6 percent vs. 13.8 percent.

Disturbingly, the situation appears to be deteriorating further. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in March 2010, the unemployment rate of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was 14.7 percent. [i]
“All the jobs I found that would hire vets were security jobs
that pay $8 bucks an hour” –IAVA Vet

Finding a job for a returning veteran is hard, but finding quality employment is extremely difficult. Sixty-one percent of employers do not believe they have “a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer” [ii] and recently separated servicemembers with college degrees earn on average almost $10,000 less per year than their nonveteran counterparts. [iii] This wage gap could continue for decades; Vietnam veterans earned significantly less than their civilian peers till they were in their fifties.
IAVA is also concerned about the duration of new veterans’ unemployment. In 2009, 75,000 Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans suffered from long-term unemployment—15 weeks or more. This represents more than 45 percent of all unemployed new veterans in 2009.

“First interview question was ‘Are you going to be hired and then have to leave again?’” – IAVA vet

Employers are growing increasingly wary of hiring or reemploying National Guardsmen and Reservists because of their unprecedented mobilization rates. Tens of thousands of reservists returning from combat are not being promptly reemployed or when reemployed they are not receiving the pay, pensions, health care coverage, and other benefits they are entitled to. More than 40 percent of Guardsmen and Reservists lose income when they are mobilized. [iv] Self-employed reservists are suffering 55 percent earnings losses when they are activated.

II. Existing Programs
Federal veterans’ employment services can be categorized into one of three types of programs: job training, job placement and job protection. A proper balance of attention and resources must be dedicated to each category to ensure our nation’s veterans can successfully return to work.

A. Job Training Programs
GI Bill Benefits

“After approximately 30 interviews and temporary positions
I chose to attend school under the new GI Bill.” –IAVA Vet

The new GI Bill is the greatest investment in veterans and their families since World War II and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Veterans, facing tough economic times and high unemployment numbers, are flocking to universities across the nation, making themselves more marketable on the job front. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has enabled over 230,000 students to attend first-rate colleges and universities.

“This was a huge disappointment to me when I found out my schooling was not covered under the new GI Bill… I am a mechanic by vocation, there are no 4-year degree programs for people like me.” –IAVA Vet

Unfortunately, a significant number of veterans have been short-changed under the new GI Bill. Apprenticeships, On-the-Job-Training and vocational programs are excluded from the new GI Bill. IAVA believes the Post-9/11 GI Bill should be extended to veterans enrolled in these highly beneficial programs.

Non-degree granting schools, or vocational schools, are specifically excluded from the new GI Bill and no provision was made for Apprenticeship and On-the-Job-Training (OJT) programs. Both types of programs were covered under the old GI Bill. Oddly, a veteran can still use their new GI Bill to obtain a vocational certificate just not at a vocational school.
Veterans pursuing vocational training should not be penalized for going to a strictly vocational school. The WWII GI Bill sent over 8 million veterans to school. More than half of those veterans were not seeking a college degree; they participated in some type of vocational training program. Unfortunately, nearly 16,000 modern veterans pursuing vocational training will not be able to access the new GI Bill.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services (Voc-Rehab)
The Voc-Rehab program offers individual rehabilitation programs for disabled veterans with an emphasis on employment counseling and services, as well as assistance finding a job. For severely disabled veterans, unable to return to work, the program gives them the tools to live as independently as possible. Participants who complete the rehabilitation earn on average six times what they did before the program. [vi] Over 110,000 veterans participated in FY2009 [vii]; double the number of veterans who participated in FY2003.
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of veterans who enroll in Voc-Rehab successfully complete the program. [viii] And according to a 2004 VA Voc-Rehab Task Force, the type and timeliness of its employment services are “out of sync” with the 21st century labor market and attitudes towards persons with disabilities. [ix] For example, to use Voc-Rehab to pay for college, veterans must convince Voc-Rehab counselors that they are actually smart enough to succeed at the college of their choice. We have heard countless anecdotal stories where this process has pitted a disabled veteran against their counselor when the veteran wants to challenge themselves at a tougher school.

We believe that by breaking down the bureaucratic wall between the new GI Bill and vocational rehabilitation and by allowing service-disabled veterans the option to use their GI Bill benefits and vocational rehabilitation services concurrently, disabled veterans will have access to quality rehabilitative services without the hassle of proving their mental acuity.

Transition Assistance Program/ Disabled Transition Assistance Programs (TAP & DTAP)
Servicemembers approaching separation can take advantage of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides employment and training information as well as a variety of counseling programs. The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Labor partner to conduct the three-day workshops where servicemembers learn interview skills, tips for job searches, and how to prepare civilian resumes and cover letters. The program has shown some effectiveness; servicemembers who participate in TAP find their first post-military job three weeks faster, according to DOL. [x]

Regrettably, utilization of TAP is low. The Marine Corps is the only branch of service that requires its members to sign up for TAP briefings but attendance is still not mandatory. The DOD has established a goal of 85 percent participation across the services [xi], yet only 60-65 percent of all separating active-duty servicemembers attend the TAP employment seminars. [xii] In the National Guard and Reserves, the usage rates are even lower: only 30 percent of all separating Reservists or National Guardsmen attend some portion of TAP. [xiii] In addition, all aspects of TAP are not always available and the time constraints of troops’ demobilization process can also make attending a TAP session difficult, if it is available at all. [xiv] To encourage greater participation, the DOD launched TurboTap.org in 2007. The Defense Department website allows active-duty and reserve servicemembers access to transition resources on their own time, including information on military and VA benefits and employment assistance.

“Once I learned how to translate my skills into civilian-speak, I found I was in high demand and very competitive for several good positions.” –IAVA vet

While IAVA is happy to see that the President’s budget request for FY 2011 is asking for a 14% increase in funding for TAP trainings, we believe that we must modernize TAP and universally require the civilian employment training to ensure every separating veteran has the skills they need to secure meaningful employment. There is no commonly accepted translation of military certifications, training and experience to their civilian counterparts. For example, Navy Corpsmen and Army medics are performing difficult medical procedures under unimaginable conditions but they do not qualify for employment in a similar medical field once they transition to the civilian world. To improve the TAP courses a study should be commissioned that will report recommendations to Congress on the differences between DOD and civilian vocational certifications and licenses to ease the transition of certifications into the civilian world.

B. Job Placement

Tax Credits
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the “Stimulus bill,” authorized a two year tax credit for employers who hire unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans. This tax credit of up to $2,400 per unemployed veteran was created to incentivize employers to hire veterans who were taking the brunt of the unemployment blight.

“Many employers say they 'value Veterans', but sometimes it's just about the bottom line. Providing monetary or tax incentives may make employers think more about employing Veterans” – IAVA Vet

IAVA and many other veterans organizations lauded this tax credit when it passed. We believe that this tax credit should be extended indefinitely. Given the current state of the economy and the fact the other groups, such as ex-felons, are permanently eligible for the same tax credit it is the right thing to do.

“My employer knew nothing about tax benefit for hiring disabled vet
until after I was hired.” – IAVA Vet

The unemployed veteran tax credit is accompanied by a permanent tax credit for the hiring of disabled veterans, worth up to $4,800 per disabled veteran. However, the VA and the Department of Labor VETS program have done a poor job advertising either of these tax credits to potential employers and job seeking veterans. A tax credit designed to spur the hiring of veterans that no one knows about is ineffective and can lead to frustration and misunderstanding between veterans and the business community. IAVA believes that there needs to be a coordinated outreach effort by the VA and Department of Labor to educate employers and veterans about this helpful benefit.

Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Services
Low-income, homeless, or disabled veterans can turn to the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). The VETS program provides grants to state and local agencies to provide services, such as training, licensing and certification, one-on-one employment counseling, and support services. These programs helped over 850,000 veterans last year. [xv] Other grants fund representatives to work with employers and human resources personnel to increase employment opportunities for veterans.

“New York State has a good department of labor in helping vet's find jobs” –IAVA Vet

IAVA is concerned that while the President’s request for the VETS budget contains a modest increase in funding (2.4%), none of this increase will be spent on improving or expanding veterans job placement programs. We are also concerned that some VETS programs may not be correctly measuring or reporting their effectiveness as reported by the Government Accountability Office. [xvi] In some states, VETS programs are either understaffed or splitting their time between serving veterans and nonveterans. IAVA concurs with this committee’s minority views and believes the DOL VETS program should have their funding increased by an additional $7.3 million. [xvii] This funding would used to train veteran employment specialists and improve federal oversight of these programs.

Federal Hiring: Veterans Preference
The Federal Government hires three times the percentage of veterans as the private sector [xviii] and therefore plays a critical role in combating veterans’ unemployment. Last November President Obama issued an executive order outlining the Veterans Employment Initiative. [xix] This order required enhanced recruitment and promotion of employment opportunities for veteran within the Federal government and established a Council on Veterans Employment. The Federal government has already stood up a website, www.fedshirevets.gov and released a strategic plan to implement this goal of increasing the number of veterans working in the Federal government.

“I searched usajobs.gov, submitted applications but never heard from them. I guess there is a magic way to write your job description.” –IAVA Vet

IAVA is highly encouraged to see the speed and thoroughness of this Council in addressing these employment issues. We believe that their website is well organized and extremely helpful to job seeking veterans. However, it still lacks a clear explanation of what the 5 or 10 point veteran preference actually means in terms of the federal hiring process and the job bank is just a link to usajobs.gov. The Council’s strategic plan lays out a clear and ambitious set of goals and we believe that it will take both the Executive and Legislative branch working together to ensure that these goals are implemented all the way down to the GS-11 Human Resources Specialist responsible for hiring the veterans in each agency.

Federal Contracting

“I ended up getting a job with a company that is contracted out by the government and is unionized. So everyone is understandable and supports my actions with the military.” – IAVA Vet

The Federal Government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services, with purchases totaling over $425 billion each year. With this level of spending the Federal Government can leverage its purchasing power to require potential contractors to increase veterans hiring. Current federal law mandates federal contracts over $100,000 “take affirmative action to employ” veterans. [xxi] These contractors are required to publish job openings with the state job banks and to annually report the number of veterans they have retained by submitting a VETS-100 form to the Department of Labor. These contractors are also prohibited from discriminating against veterans.

Unfortunately, the data collected from VETS-100 forms is aggregated and only partially published in the DOL VETS annual report. IAVA believes that these forms should be publically reported, allowing interested parties to review whether contractors are actually following through on these contracting mandates. The hope is that the public disclosure of these forms will create a healthy competition between contractors on which contractor hired more veterans. IAVA would love to see Boeing and Lockheed Martin making these statistics part of their bids for the next big defense contract.

Failure to comply with established contracting requirements can lead to the suspension or disbarment of that contractor from receiving future contracts. IAVA believes violations of USERRA protections should also be included as grounds for suspension or disbarment.

Finally, IAVA was troubled to learn the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), authorizing up to $770 billion to bailout banks, exempted banks receiving federal bailouts from veterans hiring requirements, while protections for minorities, women and disabled individuals were still included. IAVA believes that TARP should be amended to force compliance with veterans’ preference rules and that all future stimulus programs should not overlook veterans hiring preferences.

Small Business Help
Many veterans have chosen self-employment over unemployment by starting their own small business ventures. Veterans represent 14.5% of small business owners nationally. [xxii] For reservist and veteran business owners looking for technical or financial assistance, support is available through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last year, the SBA assisted more than 180,000 veterans, reservists, active servicemembers and spouses through its entrepreneurial counseling and training services. [xxiii] The agency offers low-interest capital through the new Patriot Express Pilot Loan program. The SBA Office of Veterans Business Development also operates five veteran-specific business outreach centers and provides federal contracting assistance to veterans, although it has relatively limited resources to do so.
In addition, the SBA has teamed up with the VA and the International Franchise Association to create the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, which offers 30 percent off franchising fees for veterans.
Veterans can also turn to the VA’s Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) for assistance with starting or expanding their businesses. However, since this committee recently held a hearing on this particular issue we would like to associate our comments with the testimony of Joe Sharpe, from the American Legion when he concluded, “The implementation of CVE is small and does not necessarily provide the right assistance to veterans. The Vetbiz.gov website is not easily navigated and needs to become a more user-friendly website.”
“During my deployment I had to totally shutter the doors on my construction business. It put my family in a very difficult position” – IAVA Vet

IAVA believes that the VA must work to mitigate the effect of frequent and lengthy deployments by providing small businesses owners in the National Guard and Reserves with additional access to capital, insurance, and bonding via the VA’s Center for Veterans Enterprise. The Center for Veterans Enterprise should receive appropriate funding and resources to achieve this goal.

We would be remiss to omit several other veterans’ jobs programs that exist such as www.vetsuccess.gov, www.warriorgateway.org and Helmets to Hardhats. The VA has extensively briefed IAVA on their new job search website for veterans and more specifically disabled veterans. We applaud the VA for reaching out to potential employers and recruiting them to participate. However, we believe that vetsuccess.gov should be integrated with www.fedshirevets.gov and expanded for all veterans creating a single jobs for veterans portal. Warrior Gateway was created by the Business Executives for National Security at the request of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to assist OIF and OEF veterans navigate the government agencies and non-profits serving veterans. Helmets to Hardhats is a Department of Defense funded initiative to place separating servicemembers in skilled labor positions and we have heard very good feedback from our members about this program.

C. Job Protections
Although National Guardsmen and Reservists are legally protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), many troops still experience employment discrimination because of their military service.
“I can offer no quotes, smoking guns, or neon signs stating that ‘reservists’ need not apply, but I have heard the tone of an interviewer become cold the instant the ‘reserves’ comes up in the conversation.” – IAVA Vet
Among National Guardsmen and Reservists who have served since September 11, 2001, “Nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment;” [xxiv] “More than 22,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits;” [xxv] “Nearly 20,000 saw their pensions cut;” [xxvi] and “Nearly 11,000 didn’t get their health insurance back.” [xxvii]

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is the single best resource for educating employers and veterans on USERRA rights and for resolving USERRA issues quickly and informally. However, the President’s budget request for FY 2011 plans to slash the ESGR budget by nearly 17%, this will effectively cripple this great asset. These cuts could not have come at a worse time with the rising number of USERRA violations and the fact that of the tens of thousands of reserve component troops who have suffered this discrimination, approximately three-quarters of them do not seek assistance.32
A common reason veterans are not seeking help is the lack of familiarity with USERRA protections and obligations. Twenty-eight percent of reservists report not receiving information on USERRA/reemployment rights during activation or deactivation.33 More than a third of employers surveyed by Military.com were unaware that USERRA regulations required them to give a returning veteran the same or an equivalent job.34 IAVA believes that the ESGR must be fully funded, not cut by 17% in FY 2011. We also believe that DOD should implement an extensive notification program for servicemembers’ employers specifically informing them of their USERRA obligations.
“Even though I was hired back right away I lost 3 years of raises and my company doesn’t trust me because they are scared I will be deployed again” – IAVA Vet

We believe that USERRA must be modernized and strengthened to handle the historic levels of deployments of the National Guard and Reserves. We believe this can be done by:
  • Creating civil and criminal penalties for employers who knowingly violate USERRA protections.;
  • Granting servicemembers their day in court, as intended by the original USERRA statute by making USERRA complaints exempt from predispute binding arbitration agreements;
  • Preventing employers from firing an employee while a USERRA claim is being processed, by requiring courts hearing USERRA complaints to utilize their full range of legal powers, including injunctions when appropriate; and
  • Protect Reservists and Guardsmen from termination, loss of seniority and loss of sick and vacation time from their civilian jobs while they receive DOD medical treatment for injuries the servicemember sustained in the uniformed services.
USERRA compliance is also not uniform across the board. Some federal and state employees do not enjoy the same level of protection under USERRA as employees in the private sector. Astonishingly, National Guardsmen and Reservists serving in domestic disaster response situations are not eligible for USERRA protections at all. IAVA recommends extending USERRA protections to National Guardsmen, Reservists, and to servicemembers working in domestic response operations such as hurricane or wildfire missions and holding federal and state governments to the same standards of USERRA compliance as private sector employers.

Department of Labor VETS
Mobilizations have put a strain on businesses, and especially small businesses, that employ reservists.52 Employers often struggle to maintain their workforce and keep their businesses afloat while their reservist employees are called up for multiple tours, often with little notice and without a clearly-defined length of absence. For some businesses, the cost to train their replacements can be steep. According to Dave Miller, vice president of a national trucking firm with approximately 50 employees deployed, the company is spending up to $100,000 to train each replacement.53
IAVA recommends offering tax credits for employers who, when their reserve component employees are called to active-duty for over 90 days, continue to support their employees by paying the difference between the servicemembers’ civilian salary and their military wages. Furthermore, tax credits should be provided to businesses that provide additional training for returning Reservists and National Guard members to bring them up to same level of training as their non-veteran peers.

[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Situation Summary: March 2010,” April 2, 2010, Table A-5: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.
[ii] Military.com, “Military.com Study Reveals Profound Disconnect between Employers and Transitioning Military Personnel,” November 5, 2007: http://www.military.com/aboutus/twocolumn/0,15929,PRarticle110507,00.html.
[iii] Abt. Associates, Inc. “Employment Histories Report, Final Compilation Report,” March 24, 2008: http://www1.va.gov/vetdata/docs/Employment_History_080324.pdf.
[iv] “41 percent of drilling unit members reported income loss [when mobilized for a contingency operation].” GAO-03-573T, “Military Personnel: Preliminary Observations Related to Income, Benefits, and Employer Support for Reservists During Mobilization.” March 19, 2003: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03549t.pdf.
[v] Spring 2010 GI Bill Benefit Processing, http://gibill.va.gov/spring2010.htm
[vi] Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Policy and Planning, “Women Veterans: Past, Present and Future,” September 2007, p. 19-20: http://www1.va.gov/womenvet/docs/WomenVet_History.pdf.
[vii] Department of Veterans Affairs, Annual Benefits Report FY 2009, (Page 67), http://www.vba.va.gov/REPORTS/abr/2009_abr.pdf
[viii] “Despite the tens of thousands of VR&E program participants in a given year, the number of veterans rehabilitated by obtaining a job or achieving independent living goals averages only about 10,000 a year.”VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Task Force, “Report to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs: The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program for the 21st Century Veteran,” 2004, p. 4: http://www1.va.gov/op3/docs/VRE_Report.pdf.
[ix] Ibid., at 5.
[x] Gerry Gilmore, “Pentagon Improves Services for Transitioning Servicemembers, Families,” American Forces Press Service, May 19, 2008: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=49927.
[xi] Joseph C. Sharpe, Jr., Deputy Director of the American Legion National Economic Commission, Testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, “U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/U.S. Department of Defense Cooperation in Reintegration of National Guard and Reserve,” June 24, 2008: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/Testimony.aspx?TID=32446&Newsid=260&N....
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Women Veterans in Transition Pilot Research Study by Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, “Building Strong Programs and Policies to Support Women Veterans,” p. 2: http://www.bpwusa.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=5383.
[xiv] Department of Labor, “Employment Situation of Veterans: 2007,” April 10, 2008, p. 3: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf.
[xv] U.S. Department of Labor, “Budget in Brief FY 2011”, page 76, http://www.dol.gov/dol/budget/2011/PDF/bib.pdf
[xvi] GAO-07-594, “Veterans’ Employment and Training Service: Labor Could Improve Information on Reemployment Services, Outcomes, and Program Impact,” May 2007: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07594.pdf.
[xvii] House of Veterans Affairs Committee Minority, Views and Estimates for FY 2011, page 9, http://republicans.veterans.house.gov/documents/FY2011RepublicanVandE.pdf
[xviii] Office of Personal Management, “The Governmentwide Veterans’ Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan for FY 2010-FY2012,” page 2, http://www.fedshirevets.gov/pdf/Vets_Initiative_Strategic_Plan.pdf
[xix] Executive Order, President Obama, November 9th, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-veterans-empl...
[xx] http://www.sba.gov/contractingopportunities/index.html
[xxi] 38 U.S.C. 4212
[xxii] Characteristics of Veteran Business Owners and Veteran-owned Businesses Chapter 5 of The Small Business Economy for Data Year 2006, A Report to the President, http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/sbe_07_ch5.pdf
[xxiii] Small Business Administration, FY 2009 Performance Report, page 66, http://www.sba.gov/idc/groups/public/documents/sba_homepage/fy_2011_cbj_...
[xxiv] United States Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, “Kennedy Holds Hearing on Veterans’ Employment Issues,” November 8, 2007: http://help.senate.gov/Maj_press/2007_11_08_b.pdf.
[xxv] Ibid.
[xxvi] Ibid.
[xxvii] Ibid.