Friday, February 27, 2009

Cheers to the 31 percenters

In a CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted last week, 67 percent of respondents said coverage of the return of remains should be allowed and 31 percent said it should not.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Yet another decision families will have to make

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon will lift its ban on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
Military vehicles carry coffins containing U.S. troops in this photo the Pentagon released in 2005.

But the families of the victims will have the final say on whether to allow the coverage, he said.

President Obama asked Gates to review the policy, and Gates said he decided after consulting with the armed services and groups representing military families to apply the same policy that is used at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I have decided that the decision regarding media coverage of the dignified transfer process at Dover should be made by those most directly affected -- the families," he said at a news conference.

U.S. to End Ban on Media Coverage of Returning Military Coffins

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009; 2:12 PM

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced today that he is lifting a 1991 ban on news coverage of the return of the remains of fallen service members to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, although he will leave the decision about press coverage up to the family of the dead.

The controversial ban on photography and other media coverage of the solemn return of flag-draped coffins -- upheld by both Republican and Democratic administrations -- has generated lawsuits as well as conflicting emotions on the part of military familiies.

Gates said he is asking a group of advisers to come up with a plan on how to implement the new policy.

President George H.W. Bush's administration imposed the ban on media coverage of the arrival of fallen troops' remains at Dover Air Force Base during the Gulf War in February 1991. It came about after a controversy arose when Bush held a news conference at the same moment the first U.S. casualties were returning to Dover the day after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and three television networks carried the events live on split screen, with Bush appearing at one point to joke while on the opposite screen the solemn ceremony unfolded at the Delaware base.

The rest of the story can be read here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Open letter

Dear Secretary Gates,

I understand the Pentagon is reviewing its policy barring the media from covering the arrival of the military men and women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I recommend the policy remain the same for several reasons:

When the policy was first adopted, it was politicized. Opponents said that the military was hiding the true costs of the war. Those days are long behind us now. To the extent that someone wants to know, the true cost of the war is readily apparent albeit somewhat hard to find on a daily basis.

Should the policy change and the media be allowed to cover the arrivals, there will be a gush of images on the national news . . . for about three weeks. Producers and editors, after the initial surge in coverage, will decide that it is no longer news - just as the media has decided that there is not much worth covering in Iraq these days.

For those three weeks, the pressure on families to attend the arrival of their loved ones will be unbearable. Some family member will face the inevitable question: Why didn't you attend the arrival of your son or daughter? It's a question that no family member should have to face.

I say this having spent most of my life as a journalist promoting transparency and open access in government. I also say this as a parent whose son has done two tours in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne.

The policy is fine as is. Let's keep it that way.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Taking Chance, pt. 2

The original memo that is the basis of the HBO movie "Taking Chance" is posted here. It's long but worth the effort.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Taking Chance

Gayle caught this on HBO last night. She cried through the entire movie.

'Taking Chance' follows a fallen Marine's journey home

By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
There is a power and beauty to restraint that seldom finds its way onto TV.

A small, almost perfectly realized gem of a movie, Taking Chance is also precisely the kind of movie that TV should be making. Its story — a real-life example of the military's little-publicized policy of providing a uniformed escort for every fallen soldier — is too small for a wide-release feature film, even with star Kevin Bacon attached. And yet it's a story that should be seen in every American home, and one that, if you don't know it, will leave you wondering why you don't know it.

The man taking Chance home is Michael Strobl (Bacon), the Marine lieutenant colonel who co-wrote the film and wrote the journal on which it's based. A Desert Storm veteran turned stateside analyst, Strobl spends each night scrolling through the Iraq War casualty lists. He spots the name of Chance Phelps, 19, and even though he's considered too senior an officer to escort Chance's remains, he volunteers.

And so, as the body makes its way from Iraq to the Dover, Del., mortuary to Chance's tiny Wyoming hometown, we follow two journeys. One is that of a young man who died before his time; the other is of a middle-aged man seeking to honor the sacrifice of those he supervises while reconciling himself to his own service.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday news and notes

Posted by Picasa

Even the threat of a hard freeze last night did deter these azaleas from bursting into bloom this morning. Hard to believe it's February 21.

It's been pretty quiet in Ft. Bragg with the exception of the constant training that 2nd Brigade is undergoing. Everyone has been busy, which makes the countdown calendar go by a bit quicker.

The brigade surgeon says SGT Mark's leg issues may be lifelong and not to look for a civilian job that requires a lot of standing. I have read that as many as 250,000 soldiers and Marines are not deployable because of foot, leg, knee and hip issues.

There won't be much of an All-American week this year at Bragg since Division will be deployed to Afghanistan. The Division run with about 15,000 soldiers is the highlight and 82nd Airborne vets from around the country come for the activities. This happened in 2007 when the entire division was gone. 2nd Brigade will have its own version, I'm sure.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Who is war weary?

There have been a couple of interesting pieces floating around the Internet. You can see/read them over at Lolaberly

Or you can read Rebekah Sanderlin's post from Operation Marriage over at Anderson Cooper 360. It's called: "War weary - what are you complaining about."

There is an I-report over at CNN called "War Fatigue - Do youth care about Afghanistan?" While the story is revealing, the comments are reminiscent of something I grew up with in the late 60s and early 70s. There is some discussion of an anti-war protest in DC during Spring Break. In case you have forgotten, this is what it looked like then:

I don't really want to see this happen again.

Room with a view


For a city known for it's sweeping vistas, this was the hotel view I drew on my recent trip to Washington D.C. While I was sequestered to the room for long periods of time, needless to say the view was not a distraction.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Florida bound: News and notes

Meetings are over

I thought they went well, although I coughed and hacked my way all the way through the meetings. I love Washington and wished I could have spent some time museum hopping or paying respects at Arlington National Cemetery. Looks like I may be back in six weeks. Thanks to all for the tips about getting around the city. It was very helpful.

The Daytona factor

When SGT Mark headed back to Ft. Bragg, he wasn't worried about holiday traffic. After all, only federal employees and some public schools had the day off. For everyone else, it was just another day at work. However, he didn't count on the 180,000 people who attended the Daytona 500 needing to hit the road home Monday. Traffic was at a complete standstill in Georgia. At least we had an opportunity to talk via phone.

Another One Percenter

One of the attendees at today's meeting has two sons in the Army. Both have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was carrying an ACU bag given to him by one of his sons with a blue star pin on it. We had much to talk about it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Economic stimulus: news and notes

Old stomping grounds

I flew into DC Sunday in preparation for some meetings Monday and Tuesday. I had a little time on my hands, so I took the Metro over to Rosslyn. I was walking up Wilson Ave. when I crossed Fort Myer Ave. Memories. I looked to the left and could see the carillon in the distance. Fort Myer was my first duty post in 1972. I lived at South Post, which has longed been bulldozed. It is now hallowed ground as part of Arlington National Cemetery. I have a little time Monday and may take a tour of the grounds there. I haven't been there in 15 years.

Stimulating the economy

So here's how it goes to fly these days:

Because the meeting was spur of the moment, I got whacked with an $80 fee for not booking 14 days in advance. Like I can really control that.

It cost $17 to check a bag.

Two dollars for some water.

It costs $10 a day for the privilege of checking the Internet from my room.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th: News and notes

Battle of Olustee

This weekend marks the 33rd reenactment of the Battle of Olustee. It's a big event and draws up to 2,000 reenactors. For 12 of those 33 years, Mark and I, and later Jon (above in 2004) participated. And every year, I got shot and died. The kids, as drummers/runners, were much more nimble. This was our version of the Boy Scouts and it was great fun. The kids have long out grown it and, as result, so have I. The camping was the best part. I've been trying to find pictures of Mark in his first uniform, but have been unsuccessful so far. For more information about Olustee, click here.

Paratrooper in the vicinity

There is evidence that our paratrooper has arrived home for the weekend. There is a U-Haul trailer out front but no soldier. We suspect he is visiting friends.

Say what?

Mike has been listed as a co-author of an article submitted to a biology journal. The title:


Authors: Matthew R. Gilg, Elvis Lukaj, Mazen Abdulnour, Mike Middlebrook, Elmer Gonzalez, Ryan Turner and Ryan Howard

If accepted, it will be published in the Journal of Crustacean Biology. I guess I will have to subscribe.

Lucky day

I have always said that Friday the 13th was my lucky day because my wonderful partner of nearly 35 years was born on a Friday the 13th (not today). However, today the bank called first thing this morning to alert me to a rather significant error in my check book. Oh well. So much for lucky days.

Middle East vs. Mainstream Media

There is a long but thoughtful post about the media and its lack of coverage of the war in Iraq over at Love Letters to the Mideast. It's a worthwhile read.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday News and Notes

Blatant advertisement

Some wonderful photos of a Civil War demonstration at Camp Milton are located at La Florida. Most don't really realize that Florida was a pretty busy place during the Civil War. Jacksonville, a river town, was occupied (and burned) several times. Camp Milton is on the Westside of Jacksonville and was saved from becoming a septic sludge dump by the City in 2001. It's now a park. See

The Battle of Olustee reenactment takes place this weekend.

The Camp Milton photos were taken by Wes Lester.

Caption contest winner

will be announced this weekend before I head to Washington.

Terrorists that slither

Oldest son Mike, who is a staff biologist in St. Lucie County, yesterday encountered one of Florida's best known terrorists - a six-foot diamond back rattlesnake. Mike was on some type of ATV when the snake crossed a trail at one of St. Lucie's preserves. The snake took one look at Mike and decided it was still hungry. The snake stood its ground and then advanced toward him. Mike said he backed up about 20 ft. before the snake decided to move on to seek other non-motorized prey.

Dad's Christmas present to Mike last year: snake boots. He had them on.

Economic stimulus

Here's how to stimulate the economy. Bring the troops home.

The moment they come home, especially the single soldiers, they will do the following:

Buy a truck or a motorcycle;
Buy a big screen TV;
Buy a sound package for the TV;
Buy a Blu-ray, DVD player;
Buy a laptop computer;
Buy a video game player;
Buy an IPOD, ITouch, or IPhone;
Buy a video camera or a digital camera or both.

And for those who are separating from the service:

They will buy a pooch.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I've been on the road a lot lately. Orlando on Monday. Blue Springs State Park tomorrow. Washington DC Sunday through Wednesday for a meeting.

Over the weekend, however, my old desk lamp gave up the ghost and had to be replaced. For the last three years, it had been holding the deployment bands I wore while Mark was overseas. When I took them off the lamp, I wondered why I had been keeping them out.

Our Iraq adventure is over.

So, with a satisfying thud, I put them away in my junk drawer and closed it.

It's over for us. Finally.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

82nd resumes its traditional role

The 82nd Airborne is the original first responder. It's mission is go anywhere in the world in 18 hours in response to a threat to the nation. For the last few years, however, the 82nd, like every other infantry unit, has been pulling heavy duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This year, 2nd Brigade, in which Mark serves, goes back on duty as the Global Response Force. The Fayetteville Observer has a story, slide show and several videos of the Falcon Brigade getting ready.

The story is here.

From ice to nice


Grand-dog Shadow enjoys the Florida sun.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 7, 2009

With the parents away, grand-dogs will play

Saturday news and notes

82nd Airborne is heading to Afghanistan:

"The 82nd Airborne Division headquarters will go to Afghanistan, and the 4th Brigade Combat Team might, the Army’s top general said Friday at Fort Bragg, according to this morning's Fayetteville Observer.

The division’s 4th Brigade has expected to go to Iraq in the summer, but talk in recent months about sending more troops to Afghanistan has led to speculation of a different mission.

“That’s one of the items being considered for decision right now,” Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said. “Until the decision is made, I won’t comment any further.”

Casey, the Army chief of staff, spoke at a press conference after a ceremony at U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters."

Other deployment information:

The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade will deploy to Afghanistan in late spring, several months earlier than expected, the Pentagon announced in December. The aviation brigade, which has about 2,800 soldiers, had been planning a fall deployment.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team is in Iraq this year and was involved in helping Iraqis with the provincial elections in January.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team expects to deploy to Iraq later this year.

The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is training to begin a year as part of the Global Response Force with the capability of performing combat parachute jumps, seizing airfields and doing a wide variety of missions.

Army does the right thing:

The Army has finally recognized that Mark has severe stress fractures, bad knees and fallen arches. He is now sporting a cast on his left leg. After that, his right leg. More on this later.

Blatant advertisement:

There is a caption contest under way at La Florida. The winner receives a 13 by 19 signed print from the blog.

Grand dogs are visiting:

Mike and Tara have gone to Sarasota for a wedding so we are dog sitting this weekend.
On the left is our border collie Olustee. On the right her sister (and visitor), Bodie. Shadow, Tara's dog is camera shy. Border collies are quite busy dogs and, as a result, so are we.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Global warming?

There's ice on my north FLORIDA!!!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Humvees = death trap says Pentagon

I picked this up over at Airman Mom's blog. It ran in Wednesday's USA Today.

By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Army and Marine Corps officials knew nearly a decade before the invasion of Iraq that its workhorse Humvee vehicle, was a "deathtrap" even with armor added to protect it against roadside bombs, according to an inspector general's report.

Reports distributed throughout the Army and Marine Corps after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the Somalia conflict in 1994 urged the development of armored vehicles to avoid the devastating effects of roadside bombs and land mines, but the Pentagon failed to act, the report says.

The Pentagon didn't field significant numbers of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles until 2007, more than three years after roadside bombings began to escalate in the Iraq war. The conclusions of the 1991 and 1994 reports were not included in the one-page summary of the inspector general's findings released in December.

The inspector general's full report was later posted on a website by the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog group.

Troops added makeshift armor to their Humvees and the Pentagon rushed kits to retrofit the vehicles with better protections after the threat from roadside bombs escalated in 2003 and 2004. Even so, retrofitted Humvees remained vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), because of the vehicle's "flat bottom, low weight, low ground clearance and aluminum body," the inspector general found.

The report distributed throughout the Army and Marine Corps in 1994 found that Humvees "even with a mine-protection retrofit kit developed for Somalia remained a deathtrap in the event of an anti-tank mine detonation."

That report called on the Army to outline what types of mine-resistant vehicles it might need, according to the inspector general.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wednesday by the numbers

16,000 - the sets of body armor being recalled by the Department of Army, according to

19 - the predicted temperature for North Florida tomorrow morning. We have activated the 3 "p"s plan: pipes, plants and pets. All will be covered or inside tonight.

2 - the number of bird feeders that need to be filled before the cold snap.

1 - inch, the amount snow on the ground at Ft. Bragg today.

Lots of interesting news coming out of Ft. Bragg today, but I have to check with my NCOIC to see if any of it is post worthy. Hint, hint: read the post about the Army requiring soldiers to carry too much weight.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From ABC News' This Week

Recalling The Names of U.S. Service Members Who Lost Their Lives in Iraq and Afghanistan This Week

Our prayers and thoughts are with their families and friends.

In Memoriam

Marine Sgt David W Wallace III, 25, of Sharpsville, PA

Marine Sgt Trevor J Johnson, 23, of Forsyth, MT

Army SPC Matthew M Pollini, 21, of Rockland MA

Army SGT Kyle J Harrington, 24, of Swansea, MA

Marine LCpl Julian T Brennan, 25, of Brooklyn, NY

Army PVT Grant A Cotting, 19, of Corona, CA

Army CWO Philip E Windorski, Jr, 35, of Bovey, MN

Army CWO Matthew G Kelley, 30, of Cameron, MO

Army CWO Joshua M Tillery, 31, of Beaverton, OR

Army CWO Benjamin H Todd, 29, of Colville, WA

Monday, February 2, 2009

From yesterday's Washington Post

Weight of Combat Gear Is Taking Toll
The Loads Are Contributing to Injuries That Are Keeping Some Troops on the Sidelines


Army leaders and experts say the injuries -- linked to the stress of bearing heavy loads during repeated 12- or 15-month combat tours -- have increased the number of soldiers categorized as "non-deployable." Army personnel reported 257,000 acute orthopedic injuries in 2007, up from 247,000 the previous year.

As injuries force more soldiers to stay home, the Army is having a harder time filling units for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the service's vice chief of staff.

Pietro Tonino, chief of sports medicine at Loyola University Health System in suburban Chicago, agreed that the loads troops carry would "absolutely" predispose them to muscular-skeletal injuries over time. "They will get stress fractures or overuse injuries of the back, the legs, the foot," Tonino said. "Recruits get these stress fractures in their feet all the time just from walking."

The entire story can by seen here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Iraqi elections

Years ago, in another lifetime, I worked as an editor at our local newspaper, The Florida Times-Union. Part of my responsibility was to recommend the front, or pick the stories best suited for A-1.

At the time, local newspapers were beginning their circulation contractions - newspaper sales were not growing as fast as the communities in which they were located. So as editors were likely to do, they began naval scratching exercises, read research, created task forces.

The early consensus was readers were losing interest in national and international news. If it wasn't local news, local readers wouldn't read it. That began the erosion of reporting on national and international news that continues in local papers, albeit for more controversial reasons.

Ironically, the term of art for local news only was "Afghanistanism." Local readers could give a whit about what happens in Afghanistan.


Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis quietly went to the polls to cast votes for 440 seats in the Parliament. Although there will be problems uncovered, it was still an historic election.

With so many sons, daughters, spouses, friends, relatives overseas, Iraq and Afghanistan are significant local stories. Jacksonville is a Navy town. The Florida Times-Union is headquartered in St. Augustine.

So let's see what the front page of my local paper looks like:

Lede story: Nursing home rating system doesn't tell the whole story (good enterprise story)

Second lede: A "Bullet" shoots into history (Bob Hayes, a former Dallas Cowboy superstar and once known as the world's fastest man, makes the NFL Hall of Fame. He grew up in Jacksonville and died here a few years back)

Below the fold: Humbled heart leads servant to give to children (a well-deserved story about Pam Paul, who has tirelessly worked for Jacksonville's children for decades)

Banner refers: Upset in the Cards?, Sports C-1
Halftime predictions, Life E-1
Grow your water wings, Business D-1
Who was that guy? Mark Woods B-1
A hidden tax no more, Insight A-15

The Iraqi elections? A-13, no front page presence.

How did your local paper do?

Iraqi elections, part 2

I couldn't say it better:

"Today, we say "thank you" once again to our women and men serving over in Iraq. Because as we all know, "freedom isn't free".
Woodrow Wilson once said: "though silent, it speaks to us". And while Americans continue living their lives here back at home in safety and peace, we need to know that we can't forget. We shouldn't ever forget to remember, thank and recognize our Soldiers who give up their lives so that we can continue to have ours. Freedom doesn't complain, it isn't selfish or ungrateful. Freedom doesn't always cry out or scream loud so that we'll turn our heads to it's attention. And it shouldn't have to. Because despite the obstacles America faces, we still need to understand, it is because of our Military men and women that we are afforded such things as homes, vehicles, education... It is because of them, that we are even allowed such freedoms and conveniences."

H.L., Love Letters to the Middle East