Martin C. Evans

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Army hero, or gun-toting felon: redemption through service?

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2009 at 10:43 am

Should we think of Specialist Osvaldo Hernandez as a gun-toting felon, or as a guy whose “exemplary” service of country has earned him a second chance?

That will be the question New York City police officials will grapple with in the likely event that Hernandez comes calling for a job when his upcoming second combat tour is done.

Specialist Osvaldo Hernandez

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The Queens native and former paratooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will serve his second tour in Afghanistan when he ships there next month with the Connecticut National Guard.

But he has expressed a desire to become a New York cop once his military service is ended.

That could be a problem.

Hernandez, 27, was sentenced to a year in jail after police found a semiautomatic pistol in his car in 2002, when he was 20. He said then that he needed the pistol for protection in his rough neighborhood where he lived then. He was released on good behavior after 8 months, and joined the Army.

Last June, he scored well on the NYPD recruitment exam. “All I ask is you give me the opportunity to serve New York City, the way I served in the United States Army, I served my country with honor, dignity and respect,” he told ABC News.

Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson pardoned Hernandez, after an Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, assured Paterson that Hernandez is “an exemplary soldier.”

But it remains to be seen whether Hernandez’ military service will fully redeem him in the eyes of New York police officials.

Previously, they have said city rules bar them from hiring a felon no matter how completely they have turned their life around.

Cong. Israel backs McChrystal, but not Karsai

In War in Afghanistan on December 28, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Corruption riddles government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai

Long Island Congressman Steve Israel expressed a deep lack of confidence with Hamid Karzai after meeting with the Afghan president Monday, the first day of a two-day fact-finding tour of Afghanistan.

But Israel said his confidence in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was boosted by an hour-long meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces there.

“My faith and comfort level in the Karzai government has precipitously declined since I had an hour and a half meeting with him,” Israel said. “I don’t think he understands the importance of corruption… or the urgency of the need to train Afghani soldiers and police.”

“He didn’t inspire any sense of confidence that he understand the magnitude of the problem or is able to do anything about it,” Israel said. “He essentially blames the media. He seems to think the perception is worse than the reality.”

Israel’s visit, his fourth to the embattled country, is his first since President Barack Obama began putting his own stamp on the 8-year Afghanistan war this year by replacing the U.S. commander there and ordering an anti-insurgency troop surge.

Israel, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, is leading an 8-member congressional delegation to Afghanistan. Congress will soon begin grappling with new legislation that will govern spending for military action in Afghnanistan – spending that was running at about $3.6 billion per month before the surge began.

The visit comes amid concerns regarding the legitimacy and effectiveness of a Karzai government that has been riddled with corruption and which has been largely unable to extend government rule beyond the country’s capital.

Karzai prevailed in a runoff election this fall, after international observers said his success in an earlier round of balloting was the result of massive fraud.

Members of Karzai’s own family have been implicated in high-level drug dealing, in a country in which drug sales are a principal source of revenue for the insurgency.  An anti-drug mission in Afghanistan took the life of Staff Sergeant Keith Bishop, a Green Beret from Medford, who was killed in an Oct. 26 helicopter crash.

Israel said he shared with Karzai an article that appeared earlier this year in Long Island’s  Newsday reporting on corruption in Karzai’s administration, and said he worries that parliamentary elections coming this spring will represent a new opportunity for fraud.

“I told him ‘this is what my constituents are reading’,” Israel said.

“I’m concerned the American people are going to have a hard time continuing to devote dollars and soldiers to a country that will have had two flawed elections in the span of a few months,” Israel said.

“Pregnant? Drop and gimmie twenty!”

In Women on December 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Maj. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III says soldiers who become pregnant or get another soldier pregnant harm unit cohesion

“Soldier, you will not become pregnant! IS THAT CLEAR!”

In so many words, that was a direct order issued last month to his troops by Major Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III, who commands soldiers in northern Iraq.

Cucolo, reviving questions over what role women should play in the U.S. military, ordered that female soldiers who became pregnant, and male soldiers who helped get them there, could be subject court martial and jail time.

But Cucolo’s directive was overturned this week by Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, after Cucolo’s directive drew sharp criticism from female advocates. Odierno  drafted new policy that will go into effect Jan. 1, which made no mention of pregnancy.

Cucolo, who commands the Multinational Division North, in Iraq, had said the prohibition against pregnancy was essential to protect combat units from losing soldiers during deployments. Because Defense Department rules prevent pregnant soldiers from serving in a combat theater, women known to be pregnant while in Iraq or Afghanistan are required to leave their combat unit and redeploy to their home duty station.

Under Cucolo’s directive, which was first reported by Stars and Stripes, even married couples could have faced discipline for conceiving a child.

“I believe there should be professional consequences for making a choice like that,” Cucolo said before his order was overturned, according to the Armed Forces Press Service.

His directive exposes a longstanding tension over what role if any women should have in the military. While some say women play an invaluable role in today’s modern military, others say maintaining discipline and operational readiness in a poly-gender military is problematic.

But Cucolo’s order last month incurred the wrath of several women’s groups, including the National Organization of Women. Four women in the U.S. Senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, wrote to the general asking him to rescind the order.

“We can think of no greater deterrent to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child,” the senators wrote.

Former Soviet troops comment on U.S. gamble in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Afghan rebels atop a downed Soviet helicopter in 1979. The Soviets won most of the battles but lost the war, and some Russian veterans wonder if the U.S. is pursuing a similar fate.

Russia is not the first place Americans think to turn for advice, particularly on military diplomacy.

But the former empire is experiencing some of the things America will be confronting following its invasion of Afghanistan, including millions of soldiers who have returned from multiple deployments, and a treasury depleted by a war that dragged on for ten years.

A recent news article, and a book published this year provide an insight into the views of Soviet troops who fought there during the Soviet Union’s ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Many of the former troops said America’s attempt to pacify Afghanistan reminds them of their own frustrating experience there.

Tom Lasseter, of the McClatchy news service, wrote an article published yesterday in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan is also the subject of “The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan” , a book written by National Public Radio’s former Moscow correspondent Zac Marconi.

Many former Soviet troops told Lasseter they remember winning the majority of the battles to an enemy that would melt into the population and reform to fight again and again.

“Nothing was achieved while I was there…. they fired at us, we fired at them,” said Alexander Tsalko, who commanded a helicopter unit in Kandahar in 1982 and 1983.

Tsalko now works with an organization that helps Russian veterans of its Afghanistan campaign.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 after a puppet government it installed there was threatened with collapse.

But despite its overwhelming military advantage in terms of money, weaponry, and training, the Soviets left Afghanistan 10 years later, never able to impose its will. Its treasury depleted and its army worn down, the Soviet empire collapsed two years later, in 1991.

Christmas, 1944

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 at 12:24 am

Christmas, 1944 was a hard season that brought success for GIs in WWII. Here, troops with the 101st Airborne Division march through Bastogne.

Ex-GIs who are now in their 80s and 90s sure have things to be thankful for this Christmas season. For one, they are pretty thankful that it is not 65 years ago.

They spent Christmas 1944 fighting awful battles, like The Bulge, in Belgium, or just encamped in rotten places like along the border with Germany.

“What’s Merry about all this, you ask?” General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division that year, wrote in his Christmas message to his troops. “We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home.”

Jack Del Monte, of Oceanside NY, was a 23-year-old corporal with the 191st Tank Battalion that Christmas. Temperatures in the Rhine River valley where his unit found itself then were so low that icicles would hang from the ceiling of his tank near where he slept inside.

Members of his unit were always looking for places where they could get in from the cold and the flying lead.

“We spent that Christmas Day in the cellar of a farmhouse,” said Del Monte, 88. “We found beer and wine in the cellar, so we had something to drink. But as Christmases go, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

But Christmas brought quite a gift to U.S. troops that year.

The U.S. 4th Armored Division broke through German lines that Dec. 26, rescuing U.S. troops who were surrounded but still holding the critical French town of Bastogne. It was a key element to victory at the Battle of the Bulge.

S. Korea remembers “The Forgotten War”

In Korean War on December 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm

The sacrifices of Korean War soldiers were largely forgotten by history. This grim photo is attributed to a Sgt. Turnbull, of the Signal Corps.

It may be known as the “forgotten war,” but South Koreans are helping to mark next year’s 60th anniversary of the Korean War by helping U.S. veterans who fought there to visit the once-embattled peninsula.

The South Korean government is planning to expand a 34-year-old program that subsidizes the cost for Korean War vets who want to return to the country were 36,940 U.S. troops were killed in an intense, 3-year conflict.

Jack Mitchell, 80, of Hampton Bays, says vets should take up the offer like he did.

Starting in June, the program will pay for hotels, meals and in-country travel, plus a portion of the round-trip airfare to South Korea for veterans and a travel companion, according to tour organizers.

That would represent an increase in the cost covered by the South Korean government, which since 1975 paid the in-country costs of the estimated 20,000 Korean War vets who returned under the program, but required traveling vets and their companion to pay the entire airfare.

Mitchell traveled to South Korea with the program this past summer, and says it made him proud of his wartime service.

“Seeing the country, which has been an absolute shambles in 1953, left me feeling that if I had done nothing else in my life, I could feel proud of what I had done then,” said Mitchell, a retired vice president of marketing at Nabisco.

“In the minds of the American public and even a lot of the men who served with me, the war was not won,” said Mitchell, who had been an infantryman during the twar. “But my visit totally disabused me of that.”

Last year, veterans  paid about $2,000 in total costs for a six-day trip, said Warren Wiedhahn, of Military Historical Tours, a Virginia-based company that helps arrange travel for the program.

Wiedhahn, a retired Marine colonel who founded the company, said the cost will be less this year because the Korean government has promised to pay a yet to be determined portion of the cost of air tickets.

Interested veterans may call 800 722-9501, or 703 590-1296. They may also go to the Korean War Veterans Association website, or to www.miltours.com.

The Korean War – which served as a capitalist-communist proxy war pitting the United States against China and the Soviet Union – began when troops from North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. A jittery peace has existed since a July 27, 1953 armistice, though North Korea restored a technical state of war earlier this year by withdrawing from the armistice.

Replacement medal granted to VFW commander who donated his to slain vet

In Awards on December 18, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Ssg. Keith R. Bishop, killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash, was denied the Purple Heart.

A VFW post commander who donated his Purple Heart medal so that a Green Beret killed in Afghanistan would not have to be buried without one will get his replaced, thanks to Suffolk County N.Y. Executive Steve Levy.

Army officials had decided against awarding the Purple Heart to Staff Sergeant Keith Bishop, of Medford N.Y., saying the helicopter crash that killed him Oct. 26 was not due to enemy action – a requirement for the medal.

Bruce Brenner, Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1469, in Huntington N.Y., heard of the disappointment the ruling caused Bishop’s family as they were making funeral plans, and offered to give them the Purple Heart he earned in Vietnam.

Bishop’s family buried him with the medal pinned to his chest.

“My mother was really agitated by the technicality of the matter,” said Bishop’s brother, Stephen Bishop, of Middle Island, NY. “This was a kind act.”

Bishop was killed when the helicopter in which he was riding crashed during a drug interdiction mission in western Afghanistan. He was buried Nov. 9 at Calverton National Cemetery.

Levy plans to give Brenner a replacement medal at a ceremony Monday at the County Executive’s offices in Hauppauge.

Stephen Bishop said Brenner’s generosity was particularly comforting because it allowed his family to include the medal in the burial.

“This means more to us coming from Bruce than it would coming from the Army,” Bishop said.

Brenner earned the Purple Heart in 1970,  when he was hit by shrapnel near the Cambodian border.

“I just thought about the family, the mother,” Brenner said. “It was a pleasure for me to do it. It was a gift from one soldier to another.

America’s sacrifice-free wars

In Deployments on December 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Soldiers at basic training

A former Army Ranger who taught at West Point says Americans talk a good game about supporting the war, but shamefully are willing to allow a tiny few to bear war’s burdens.

“The lie is that the U.S. armed forces have sufficient men and women to do their job, that morale is high, and burdens and pains negligible,” wrote Adrian Lewis, now a professor of history at the University of Kansas, in the current issue of Military Review.

Military Review is published by the Combined Arms Center, a U.S. Army leadership training institute at Ft. Leavenworth, Ks.

“Constant deployments are wearing out Soldiers, Marines, and their families physically, psychologically and emotionally,” Lewis wrote. “….The only way to do this in the current political, social and economic climate is to reinstitute the draft.”

But Lewis’ solution appears to be a non-starter.

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the U.S. military. And even avowed fiscal watchdogs, including Republican hawks, have refused to support a tax to pay for the cost of the two ongoing wars. The U.S has already spent more than a trillion (a thousand billion) dollars on the two wars since president George W. Bush first sent troops to Afghanistan eight years ago.

With few Americans doing the fighting, and a tax-free war that hits no one’s pocketbook, Lewis argues, politicians can continue war spending and troop deployments without fear of anti-war resistance.

New GI Bill too much for VA to handle

In GI Bill on December 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Young Choi, a Navy veteran, enrolled at C.W. Post this August under the post-9/11 GI Bill. (Newsday photo)

The VA is choking on the post 9/11 GI Bill, forcing student veterans to cough up their own money to pay for studies.

Some 26,000 college-enrolled veterans who are owed GI Bill tuition, housing and book stipends for this semester still haven’t gotten their money, according to the chair of the congressional House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel.

Under the post-9/11 GI Bill signed into law in July by President Obama, veterans who served after Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible for VA tuition grants equal to the cost of the most expensive public college in a veteran’s home state. They also receive a monthly housing grant, plus money for books.

But the program, which kicked in Aug. 1, has badly overwhelmed VA administrators who already have boosted the number of claims processors.

As of Nov. 30, the VA had 62,735 claims pending, according to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for administration the education grant program.

VA officials in August were saying it took an average of 28 days for them to process claims. Now, the average is 47 days, with many taking much longer.

Congress members have said the backlog is particularly alarming – students were supposed to get their money before classes began – because this semester is ending and new claims covering next semester have begun pouring in.

The delay has been especially hard on students who depend on the grants to pay rents. Some have borrowed money or moved in with parents. Others have elected to defer their education and look for work instead – a daunting challenge given the current bleak economy.

Members of the congressional committee are urging the VA to devote more processing resources to speed claims. They are also pushing the VA to do a better job of informing veterans of education benefits to which they are entitled.

Women vets don’t get same welcome home

In Uncategorized, Women on December 15, 2009 at 12:16 am

Female GIs at Baghram Airbase, near the deadly Pakistan border. All of them are carrying rifles.

Women soldiers who return from combat aren’t treated with the same honor and respect as men are, even though women  serve as turret gunners, convoy drivers and other shot-at positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That has left many women returning from war zones feeling rejected and depressed once their battlefield service is up, according to an Associated Press article.

“People didn’t come up to us and thank us for our service in the same way,” Sgt. Kayla Williams, 34,  told the Associated Press.  “They didn’t give us free beers in bars in the same way when we first got back.”

Joanne Lombardi, of Miller Place, a volunteer who helps wounded veterans, said women soldiers are often overlooked because combat traditionally has been associated with men.

“I’ve made the same mistake myself,” Lombardi said. “You see a woman in a restaurant with a group of soldiers and assume she is a wife or a girlfriend — not a soldier herself.”

Some female veterans say even male colleagues with whom they built strong soldier-to-soldier relationships while deployed shun them once they come home, often because spouses or girlfriends are suspicious of their professional closeness.

Isolation from colleagues  leaves war veterans more vulnerable to post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxieties, say psychological social workers at the Rosen Family Wellness Center, a treatment center for returning soldiers.  Lack of recognition also denies female veterans the social networks men enjoy, making it harder for them to find jobs and transition back to civilian life.

Many female vets have said they have come to doubt the value of their own service, and have not sought veterans services as frequently as men.

“What worries me is that women themselves still don’t see themselves as veterans, so they don’t get the care they need for post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injury or even sexual assault, which obviously is more unique to women,” said Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee. “So we still have a long way to go.”

More than 185,000 women have been deployed since the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a Dec. 5 resolution in Congress honoring women in the military. In all, 350,000 women currently are serving in the military.