Martin C. Evans

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

2003 Sachem North Grad Killed in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Jason A. Santora, of Massapequa Park, killed in a firefight in Afghanistan.

An Army Ranger from Long Island became the latest U.S. fatality in the war in Afghanistan Friday, according to the Department of Defense.

Sgt. Jason A. Santora, 25, of Massapequa Park, was killed April 23 from combat wounds sustained in Afghanistan’s Logar Province, a mountainous tribal region just south of Kabul that the U.S. has hoped to stabilize by building schools, health clinics, roads and other infrastructure.

Also killed in the incident was Sgt. Ronald Alan Kubik, 22, of Brielle, N.J.,

Santora, who served with the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based at Fort Benning, Ga., grew in Farmingville and was a 2003 graduate of Sachem North High School.

His father, Gary Santora, 52, of Medford, told Newsday’s Laura Rivera that he was watching the news on TV early Friday when he saw a ticker item on the deaths of two troops and five militants in Afghanistan. “I didn’t think twice of it,” he said. “As long as I don’t have any knocks at the door, I know he’s OK. And that morning, I got that knock.

“They start off with, ‘We regret to inform you,’ ” he said of the visit by the uniformed military. “Once they said that, I knew that he wasn’t just hurt. They don’t come to the door if your son’s hurt.”

He was on his fourth tour of duty since he joined the Army in March 2006, according to the Columbus, Ga. Ledger-Inquirer. Santora had served as a mortar platoon ammunition bearer and as a rifle team leader during his time in the military.

Santora’s family said he was so committed to his comrades in arms that he declined to return to Long Island this month after his grandmother died.

“He said, ‘If I leave now, it’s going to be difficult for my team, and I can’t leave them,’ ” his mother, Theresa Santora, 49, of Massapequa Park, said. “I knew he made up his mind to be an Army Ranger. I wasn’t happy about it. If I could’ve talked him out of it, I would have, but he loved what he did.”

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Missing Records Risks ID Theft For NY Reservists

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm

The Army is warning about 12,000 military and civilian personnel once associated with a reserve command based at Fort Totten that they should check their credit records, after discovering that it cannot locate files containing information that could make them vulnerable to identity theft.

The records cover reservists from Long Island, New York City and upstate who were assigned to the 77th Regional Readiness Command and its subordinate units from 2001 until the unit was absorbed by the 99th Regional Support Command in 2008.

“Our greatest challenge will be to find people who have moved on and are no longer associated with” the reserve unit, said Army spokesman William Roberts, who said the Army is sending letters and e-mails to the last known addresses of personnel associated with the 77th RRC.

Roberts said the e-mailings have been limited to 1,000 per day because of a limitation on the e-mail system being used, meaning the notification process could take two weeks.

The files were were discovered missing when the new command asked for an accounting of the old unit’s records. They could have been burned, shredded or stolen.

The e-mail sent to area reservists warned of “a possible loss of confidential or Personally Identifiable Information.”
“Since the whereabouts of these files are presently unknown, the possibility exists that Soldiers’ and civilian employees’ information may have been compromised,” it said.
The e-mail warned recipients to “check credit bureau reports and be aware of the possibilities of identity theft.” Current or former Army personnel wanting more information were directed to call 609-562-7430 or email RSC099_PAOPII@usar.army.mil.

One of several area reserve units that fell under the 77th RRC is the 800th Military Police Brigade, based in Uniondale. A personnel officer there said it has about 300 reservists from Long Island and New York City, including Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Roberts said there have been no known instances of identity theft based on the lost records thus far.

But several local soldiers have expressed alarm, including Byung Sa, a reservist and president of Stony Brook University’s Veterans Student Organization, who was notified Wednesday.

“This is disappointing but not too surprising,” he said. “I just don’t know what to expect.”
“To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t stored in a basement somewhere and they just haven’t found them,” he said. “Hopefully nothing bad comes out of this and this is just some silly mistake.”

Slain Sag Harbor Marine Featured in Corps Graphic Novel

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Early last year, a pair of Marines slain in Iraq – including Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, of Sag Harbor – were posthumously awarded the Navy’s highest award at a ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Quantico, Va.

The Marine Corps only combat artist was in attendance, and the bravery demonstrated by the two at the hour of their death moved him.

So when the art director for the Marine Corps’ in-house magazine asked the artist, Sgt. Kristopher Battles, whether the two warriors would make a good subject for Marines Magazine’s new graphic novel section aimed at younger enlistees and potential recruits, Battles said yes.

“Danger came quickly and they responded without hesitation,” Battles said. “That’s very inspiring, and that’s what I’m trying to get across to young Marines and to American culture as well.”

Haerter, 19, a 2006 graduate of Sag Harbor’s Pearson High School, had been guarding the entrance of a U.S. Marine encampment in Ramadi with Cpl. Jonathan Yale, of Burkeville, Va. two years ago when a suicide bomber driving a dump truck sped toward them. Though they halted the truck with gunfire, the driver detonated a powerful bomb, killing both of them. Their action is credited with saving the lives of 50 U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Battles said the panels – to be distributed on-line and on posters within the next few weeks, followed by print publication in July – will depict that last six to seven minutes of the lives of Haerter and Yale. The two men had met only moments before their shoulder-to-shoulder death.

“I’m trying to convey the real heroism, not just mythical, Superman kind of heroism, but normal people in extraordinary circumstances, where heroism comes out of them,” said Battles, 41, of Fredericksburg, Va.

Newsday ran a copy of the cartoon panel in its Sunday, April 25th newspaper.

Haerter’s father, Chris Haerter, said he was pleased.

“It’s a great honor for Jordan that they chose to depict his heroic act,” Chris Haerter said. “I remember as a kid seeing things like this in Boys Life.”

The illustrations, done in water color and gouache, depict the guard gate where the attack occurred. Haerter and Yale introduce themselves to each other, are startled by the approaching truck, then open fire forcing it to swerve away. The final panel depicts the medal ceremony at Quantaco, and features portraits of Haerter and Yale being saluted by fellow Marines.

The Marines began using combat artists in 1942, as a way of keeping the public informed about the corps wartime exploits. After being deactivated, the combat art program had a rebirth during the Vietnam War.

The graphic novel section was added to the quarterly magazine for the first time in its last edition, said the magazine’s art director, Sgt. Paul Kane. Kane said the Marines distribute about 80,000 print copies in recruiting stations and military installations

Spann Watson, Tuskegee Airman, Dead at 93

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Spann Watson August 14, 1916 - April 15, 2010

Services  for Spann Watson, who helped break the color bar in the military as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, then used his position as an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration to agitate for integration among commercial airline crews, are being planned for this week on Long Island, and later at Arlington, Va.

Watson, an affable but determined man who lived in Westbury, NY, died April 15 of complications of pneumonia at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. He was 93.

“He was unwavering in discipline and unwavering in love,” the youngest of his five children, Weyman Watson, of South Orange N.J., told Newsday. “You got both, whether you wanted it or not.”

A South Carolina native, whose family moved to New Jersey after a neighbor was lynched when he was 10, Watson’s path to a military cockpit was a difficult one.

He had earned a pilots license in the late 1930s while studying mechanical engineering at Howard University. That meant with war raging in Europe, he was one of only a few thousand Americans who knew how to fly.

But in 1940 an Army recruiter at Long Island’s Mitchel Field rejected him, saying, correctly, that the Army didn’t allow black pilots.

In a Newsday interview on his 90th birthday, Watson said he got back into his mother’s Buick Special and drove to his New Jersey home with the radio dialed to “The Make Believe Ballroom,” a popular dance music program.

“I cursed all the way to the Triborough Bridge, listening to Benny Goodman do ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ ” said Watson, who still had the Army’s rejection letter. “And I promised I would never give up.”

Things turned in his favor the next year, when pressure by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People forced the War Department to set up an Army program that opened pilot training to black men.

Watson was in the fourth class of cadets in the program based at Tuskegee Army Air Field – only a dozen other Tuskegee pilots had their wings before his cadet class graduated in July, 1942 – and he went on to fly combat missions over North Africa and Europe.

While at Tuskegee, he met Edna Webster, a civilian employee at the airfield, and they were married on Dec. 17, 1943.

Watson often said it was an administrative snafu that led to his early return to the United States, setting in motion his role as an organizer of the Tuskegee Airmen. With his wartime service in Europe over, Watson helped to train other black Army pilots at Tuskegee and at Walterboro, S.C.

Doing so, he became familiar with almost all of the roughly 1,000 pilots who graduated from the Tuskegee program – highly trained fliers who after the war were barred by racial discrimination from getting jobs in the commercial airline industry.

On April 6, 1945, 10 years before Rosa Parks sparked the Birmingham bus boycott, Watson was one of 58 black pilots voluntarily arrested for entering a “whites only” officers club at an Army base in Indiana. The incident, known as the Freeman Field Mutiny is credited with hastening the end of segregation in the military.

Watson said when he retired from the military in 1965 to become an affirmative action specialist for the FAA, he made the integration of commercial cockpits a priority.

In the past two decades he crisscrossed the country for speaking engagements and air-show visits to bring the all-black flight program – which had been virtually ignored by history – into the American consciousness. In 1997, Congress honored graduates of the Tuskegee program with the Congressional Gold Medal – the nation’s highest civilian award.

For his 90th birthday celebration, several black airline employees traveled from as far away as Denver to attend, saying without his advocacy, their careers might never have gotten off the ground.

Watson, who at 92 traveled to Washington to attend an inaugural ball hosted by President Barack Obama, said his helping pave the way for others was among his life’s most satisfying accomplishments.

“I’ve done so much I’m proud of,” Watson said. “That’s the real reward.”

In addition to his wife and son, Watson is survived by another son, Spann Marlowe Watson, of Silver Spring, Md., and daughters Cynthia Hopson, of Bratenahl, Ohio and Dianne Capers, of Hempstead. Another son, Capt. Orrin Watson, an Air Force flier, died in 1981.

A burial is being planned for Arlington National Cemetery following a funeral at the adjacent Old Post Chapel, in Virginia, but no date has been set. Viewings this week will be held on Long Island at Donohue-Cecere Funeral Home, 290 Post Ave., Westbury. Times are 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, and 2-4 p.m Wednesday. A brief ceremony will be held 7-9 p.m. Wednesday.

Juror Denies Impropriety in Trial of Long Island Soldier

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

A juror who served in the manslaughter court martial of Pvt. Justin Boyle, testifying at an investigation hearing today at Ft. Bragg, denied telling a sergeant that juror impropriety led to Boyle’s conviction last October.

Sgt. 1st Class David Weiss said at the hearing that the juror, Maj. William C. Davis, approached him at the Ft. Bragg Post Exchange about two weeks after the trial.

Weiss said Davis apologized for Boyle’s conviction, and that Davis said some members of the jury had come into the trial believing Boyle was guilty.

Davis testified today that he did speak with Wiess, but said he made no mention of any impropriety. All nine jurors testified at the hearing that they did nothing wrong.

Boyle’s mother, Fran Boyle, who attended today’s hearing, said she did not believe Davis’ testimony.

“I know I am biased,  but when you think about the testimony SFC Weiss had nothing to lose and MAJ Davis had everything to lose,” Fran Boyle told Newsday.

Boyle, a decorated former sergeant from Long Island’s Rocky Point who has served three tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, is seeking a new trial.

Boyle’s lawyer, Daniel Conway, asked Thursday for a mistrial based on Weiss’s testimony, according to The Fayette Observer. He also asked for a mistrial because five of the nine jury members were from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, where one of the prosecutors is the legal adviser.

Boyle was convicted in October of choking to death PFC Luke Brown, of Fredericksburg, Va. during a July, 2008 struggle.

His sentence stripped Boyle of his sergeant’s rank and imposed a two-year jail sentence, to be followed by a bad conduct discharge.

During his trial, defense lawyers had argued that Boyle was only trying to subdue the soldier, who was violently intoxicated and had refused to return to base after a night of heavy drinking at a bar near Ft. Bragg.

A judge is expected to rule next week on whether to grant a retrial.

U.S. Abandons Afghan Valley Where MOH Awardee Died

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

US troops were never able to win sympathy of residents of the Korengal Valley, who favored the Taliban. Photo: Life Magazine.

The decision to close the only U.S. outpost in the Afghan valley where Medal of Honor awardee Lt. Michael P. Murphy died in a hail of gunfire five years ago has the backing of Murphy’s father.

Meanwhile, a Bronx soldier who spent a year trying to secure the valley said though he understands the decision, he is frustrated by it.

“Michael’s service in that particular area was part of a larger strategic plan of targeting individuals for capture or removal, and not for taking land and holding it,” said Lt. Murphy’s father, Daniel Murphy, of Wading River. “I don’t think Michael’s mission was in any sense to pacify the Korengal Valley.”

Lt. Murphy was leading a four-member team of Navy commandos on a clandestine mission to interdict a high level Taliban leader when his team was ambushed in June, 2005. Murphy and two of his subordinates were chased down a mountainside and killed.

Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of joint forces in Afghanistan, announced today that the last U.S. troops have been pulled from the hotly-contested Korengal Valley.

The valley, a sparsley-populated six-mile slit in the towering Hindu Kush mountains, has served as a conduit for insurgents moving back and forth between Afghanistan and western Pakistan’s lawless frontier.

U.S. troops established the Korengal Outpost several months after Murphy’s death. But despite years of often intense fighting to oust insurgents from the area, the Taliban remains popular among residents in the insular, tradition-bound valley, where tribal loyalties trump  allegiance to Kabul.

Army Spc. Rob Soto, 20, said although he was proud to have served in the valley from July 2008 to July 2009, he never felt U.S. troops gained the loyalty of locals there.

Soto, of Bravo Co.  1Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, said eight members of his company were killed during his time there, including four from his platoon. One of them, Pfc. Richard A. DeWater, 21, of Topeka, Kansas, had been walking 10 feet  from Soto when he was killed by an IED last April 15th.

“I’m a bit frustrated, but I do understand the overall decision,”  Soto said by telephone from where he is currently stationed in Haiti. “Growing up in the Bronx, I knew people who joined gangs for money to support their family. I feel it was the same way with the people in the valley.”

The withdrawal follows a strategy shift announced last year by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who said American troops had been spread too thin. He said America could not win there unless it could demonstrate an ability to keep civilians safe.

In the release, Col. Randy George said: “The area was once very operationally important, but appropriate to the new strategy, we are focusing our efforts on population centers. We’re still able to conduct operations there even without a base, like we do in other remote valleys.”

Murphy, a Purple Heart recipient in Vietnam, said the shift seems reasonable.

“Personally, I have a lot of confidence in General McChrystal and General Petraeus, whom I’ve both met, and the strategy they have adopted in Afghanitstan,” Murphy said. “My reaction to this decision is a non-reaction.”

Grim Video Shows Civilian Deaths By U.S. Hand

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm

A leaked 2007 video showing a Reuters journalist and his driver being shot dead by an Army helicopter crew in Baghdad has lit up the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is taking issue with the outcry, saying the video’s images may not convey the full story.

“Combat operations are complex and any attempt to summarize them risks taking things out of context,” said Maj. John Redfield, a spokesman for the United States Central Command. “It doesn’t show the entire picture of everything that happened.”

The Web site Wikileaks.com released what it describes as an 18-minute video shot from an Apache helicopter gun site. Redfield said the video, which shows more than a dozen men killed in a hail of 30mm cannon fire, appears to be authentic.

Several military related blogs, including VeteransToday.com, have been strongly critical of the shootings. And a spokesperson for the Committee to Protect Journalists said the organization planned to ask the Pentagon to reopen an investigation into the incident.

“News flash: picking up wounded bodies is not a hostile act,” wrote a self-described Black Hawk pilot and Iraq veteran on the blog “Wings over Iraq.”

The video, apparently taken as the flight crew monitored a group of insurgents on the ground, shows the gunner focusing on a journalist among them who was carrying a camera, then opening fire on the crowd. Later, as rescuers who arrive in a van try to pull a gravely-wounded Reuters employee inside, the gunner fires on the rescuers, wounding two children inside the van.

The Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, for which the helicopters flew, issued a July 20, 2007 report on the incident.

The report concluded that the crew, which was escorting a U.S. ground patrol, fired after seeing an individual near the Reuters journalist crouching to fire a rocket propelled grenade toward U.S. troops.

“There was neither reason nor probability to assume that neutral media personnel were embedded with enemy forces,” the report stated.

But reaction to the video has been sharp, with many objecting to  seemingly flippant comments made by the helicopter crew during and after the shootings.

“This highly disturbing video appears to show that after the initial attack, US troops opened fire on people seeking to assist a wounded man, injuring two children, and killing several more people,” Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

Is Hannity vets fundraising tainted?

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Sean Hannity accused of promoting dubious vets fundraising

A veterans organization and a Washington-based watchdog group have accused Fox television pundit Sean Hannity of soliciting donations intended to help families of dead soldiers for an organization they say spends relatively little on charity.

The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Hannity makes on-air solicitations for Virginia-based Freedom Alliance by saying 100 percent of monies raised go directly to the charity’s scholarship fund.

Sloan said the appeal is misleading because it does not acknowledge overhead costs that an independent organization says eats up almost one in two dollars donated.

“They are preying on the generosity of Americans who want to help the chldren of war veteran when the money is going to huge administrative costs and not to helping veterans and their families,” said Center executive director Melanie Sloan.

A Fox spokesperson declined to make Hannity available, and said she would have no comment.

Alan Moore, a spokesman for Freedom Alliance, e-mailed a response calling the accusations “false and malicious”. The letter said 79 percent of its spending in 2008 was on “program activities,” and only 21 percent on management.

Moore said Hannity is a volunteer for the organization. The response said Hannity “has been a selfless patriot in his effort to raise funds for the education of children of armed services personnel.”

The American Institute of Philanthropy, which rates charity organizations, disputed the 79 percent figure as misleading.

Institute president David Borochoff said its analysis of Freedom Alliance shows it spent 54 percent of its budget on charity programs and 46 percent on overhead, and attributed the higher “program activities” figure Freedom Alliance provided to accounting rules that allow organizations to count some fundraising costs as program spending.

“We think 60 percent should be a bare minimum,” said Borochoff, who said most well-run charities put 70 percent or more of donations directly into programs.

Borochoff said the Institute currently gives Freedom Alliance a C-minus rating. It had a D rating last year, and an F the year before, Borochoff said.

The chairman of VoteVets.org, a veterans organization that supports Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for political office, said he is concerned that Freedom Alliance’s fundraising practices will undermine other fundraising drives for veterans.

“Most of the money is going to administration, consulting fees, money that was intended to go to the children of dead service members,” said VetsVote.org chairman Jon Soltz. “My concern is that people won’t know who to trust.”

One way Freedom Alliance raises money is through music concerts produced by a marketing company headed by Duane Ward. Ward also heads Premier Speakers Bureau, which represents Hannity and fellow Fox commentator Oliver North, Freedom Alliance’s founder and honorary chairman.

Sloan said only a portion of the money raised by the concerts is forwarded to Freedom Alliance.

Sloan said Hannity has promoted the concerts on his show, saying “Every penny, 100 percent of the donations are applied to the Freedom Alliance scholarship fund.”

“To have Sean Hannity fronting it and saying 100 percent of the money goes to veterans is unethical,” Sloan said.