DoD Shell Game?: You be the judge.

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DOD Shell GameCan anyone tell me exactly how many US servicemembers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How about the number of Americans in uniform on 9/11? Or the number serving in uniform today?  Does anyone know the total number of servicemembers deployed to Afghanistan over the past 9 years?  Deployed to Iraq since 2003?  I’m asking these questions because all I’ve been hearing since “combat operations” ended in Iraq on September 1st is that “the troops are coming home.” Let’s take a reality check re: the number of troops still on the frontlines and then you decide if all the redeployment happy talk rings true.

When we first took stock of our military capabilities the day after 9/11, there were 1.37 million Americans serving in the military with just over 200,000, or about 15%, deployed overseas in static positions. The shell game since then has gone something like this:  The initial force deployed to Afghanistan in 2001 was 13,000 and increased to a stable force of 20,000 through 2005,  then increased to 23,000 in 2006, to 26,000 in 2007 and 2008, to 67,000 in 2009—and today Afghanistan fields approximately 100,000 US troops.  In 2003 the US invaded Iraq with approximately 175,000 boots on the ground; between 2004-2007, deployment averaged 150,000.  The 2007 troop “surge” increased the total to its peak strength of 197,000 and returned to approximately 150,000 by summer 2009.  Today, there are approximately 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq supporting Operation “New Dawn”. 

Taken as a whole, the number of troops deployed inside Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 9 years averaged approximately 225,000; the total today is 150,000.  This boots on the ground number does not include 28,000 personnel and logistic support assets deployed in Kuwait that has remained constant since 9/11.  Nor the requisite sea and air assets in the region supporting these operations, which totaled approximately 75,000 during this same period.  Even if we were to round down the numbers, we are still at 253,000 troops deployed supporting operations exclusively in Iraq and Afghanistan, while another 175,000 are deployed in static positions world-wide supporting other missions, contingencies and treaty obligations. 

The bottom line:  Don’t believe it when you hear “the troops are coming home,” because they’re not.  We still have 50,000 troops deployed in Iraq, 29,000 troops deployed in Kuwait, 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, 75,000 airmen and sailors deployed in the region supporting operations and an additional 175,000 military personnel deployed world-wide.  We’re talking approximately 419,000 troopers deployed in perpetuity from an available end strength of 1.4 million—a third of available US combat power—or a sustained 50% increase since that fateful September day over nine years ago. 

But there’s more to consider.  Since 9/11, the Army has “grown” from 480,000 to 569,000, an 89,000 Soldier increase, while our beloved Marines have ratcheted up their numbers from 172,000 to 202,000 for a 30,000 Devil Dog increase.  Why does this matter?  Because we increased our boot end strength only 119,000 over nine years or less than 10% of our total force, while keeping over 35% of our total forces deployed at any given time during this timeframe.  And remember, the majority of the 35% total have been repeatedly deployed and engaged in combat operations. 

So again, no matter how you work the numbers, “the troops are coming home” is pure spin. The harsh reality is that the troops remain deployed and strategically exhausted. And while the drawdown in Iraq is welcome news,  for every two troopers the US drew down, one returned stateside, the other deployed to Afghanistan or elsewhere. 

As I reviewed these numbers from a host of open source and non-Wiki documents available on Department of Defense websites, I decided to fact check them with an inside-the-Pentagon planner who confirmed my math.  His take on the propaganda went something like this: “. . . deployment numbers are really like a shell game . . . try to follow the shell with one pea hidden underneath it . . we’re moving some over here, and there, and then over there, and then back again . . . repeat and distract the player with song and dance . . . and guess what?  Normally you would turn over all the shells and find at least one pea under one shell.  However, now the rules have changed and the powers-that-be will lift up all the shells, but hide the pea.”  He’s got that right, it’s a new shell game.  No one really knows how many troops are deployed, and no one really knows when they’re coming home.

CLOSE HOLD   

For more stories on the “reality” of the hardships faced by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq visit CLOSE HOLD

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U.S. Government Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

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Thanks to superb pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge has issued his ruling on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor. The ruling was characterized in the following way by a news service covering legal issues:

U.S. Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

 (CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.   (For the complete Courthouse News article, see: http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/08/16/29630.htm )       

As supporters of SFTT know, we have, to no avail, for several years requested that these records be reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies of the US Congress. It was only after this baffling refusal that SFTT’s editor requested the records under the FOIA. To no one’s surprise, DOD denied SFTT’s request.   Under the brilliant guidance and with the incredible support of Kirkland & Ellis’ NYC office, SFTT’s editor filed a new request, and that request was basis for the complaint in federal district court upon which the judge issued this ruling.    

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”       

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

 

So, why has DOD not released the responsive records, i.e., the Firearm Wound Charts and body armor description sheets?

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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SPC Charles “Doc” Parrish KIA 4 June 2009 Iraq

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Doc was the combat medic for 1st Platoon, 55th Engineer Company, 5th Engineer Battalion. He was a 23 year old, gentle giant from Alabama with an calm demeanor and a way of putting everyone around him at ease. I was his first platoon leader and I remember liking him from the day he showed up. No matter how long the mission had been, Doc was always ready to take care of his Soldiers’ needs. As fortune would have it, I promoted and moved to another position out of the company, but still ran into my Soldiers including Doc from time to time.

About a month before the end of our 15-month Iraq tour in 2008-2009, I ran into Doc at the HHC TOC. He had sustained a non-combat injury and hadn’t been able to go on mission for the previous week. All he could talk about was getting back outside the wire with the platoon, as he trusted no one to take care of them like he could. We spoke about heading home in a few weeks and how he couldn’t wait to see his 5 year old son. As we parted, I told him to take care of our men and keep his head down. A week later, the battalion PA came by to let me know that Doc had been hit. He was on a route-clearance patrol with the platoon, riding in an MRAP, when a worthless, cowardly insurgent stepped out of a crowd in a market and hit his vehicle with an armor-piercing grenade. Doc was the only one in the vehicle who got hit. He had a love for life and was a fighter who never gave up, but knowing him, he would have wanted to be the one to get hit rather than losing any of his Soldiers. The loss of him not only took a great medic from the platoon and stole a father from his son, but deprived our nation of a warrior and a patriot.

CPT Michael S. Pierce

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44,000 Military Helmets Recalled

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Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse, it has now been reported that the US Army has recalled 44,000 helmets which failed to meet US Army testing standards.  In an article reported in Yahoo news, helmets manufactured by ArmorSource in Hebron, Ohio currently issued to troops serving in Afghanistan were recalled following an investigation by the US Justice Department.

According to Brigadier General Pete Fuller, who is quoted in the article, the helmets were issued to American troops in 2007, including soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Says General Fuller, “We don’t know where they (helmets) are. So they could be on some soldier’s head in either Iraq or Afghanistan. They could also be anywhere else in the world.”

ArmorSource, claiming to have been surprised by the investigation, has issued a one-page statement on their website claiming they will cooperate with the investigation into the defective military helmets.

General Fuller indicated that  ArmorSource manufactured 102,000 helmets under a 2006 contract at a cost of $250 a piece. Of that number, 44,000 were distributed to troops and have been recalled, while 55,000 are still in storage and the military refused to accept the remaining 3,000.

In yet another glaring indictment of the DoD military procurement process, it is worth recapping the current ongoing investigations:

  • body armor currently worn by our frontline troops failed to meet minimum test protocols as reported by the GAO and IG and is currently being investigated by the Committee for Government Oversight and Reform;
  • the standard issue M4 carbine is not effective for combat in Afghanistan according to US Army sources;
  • the DoD Inspector General has reported on serious deficiencies in the supply of spare parts for the M2 heavy machine gun deemed essential for combat in Afghanistan.

As Roger Charles, Editor of SFTT, has reported “the shoddy procurement process within the DoD only confirms that the problems indentified by SFTT are truly systemic and not unique to body armor.”

If we would accord our brave heroes the same level of oversight that we pay to defective brake pedals, most of our troops would probably be in a stateside repair shop since the combat equipment we are providing them seems best suited for paintball warfare.  Where is the outrage?

Richard W. May

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Should US Troops Wear Body Armor?

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There appears to be a bit of a backlash within military circles and families of men and women currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the “suggestion” that our troops should leave their body armor behind to ingratiate themselves with local civilians.   This “new” strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace first came to my attention during an airing of a 60 minute special on General McChrystal some months ago.

I recall similar “hearts and mind” arguments in other engagements by the US military and I have always reacted the same way:  Send in the Peace Corps.   It is one thing for General McChrystal and other US military and civilian dignitaries to walk into a village without their protective gear when surrounded by a heavily armed security detail with air cover and quite another to for military personnel to doff their body armor and helmet to play a game of cards and drink tea with the Afghans.

Befriending the local population has always been a welcome characteristic of US troops serving in harm’s way, but it is quite another mission altogether when the military brass “asks” our frontline troops to become social workers at the expense of their own safety.  Unfortunately, military “suggestions” and leaders acting in ways to encourage this behavior encourages a chain reaction of idiocy right down the military chain of command. 

Witness this bizarre military “spin” on the appropriate use of body armor that was reported in the Honolulu Advisor

QUOTE

Col. Walter Piatt, who commanded the approximately 3,500 soldiers in 3rd Brigade in Iraq and now back at Schofield, said there was no order to not wear body armor.  “My guidance was that commanders at every level would determine the force protection equipment required to accomplish the mission,” he said.

That guidance went to high-level government meetings “inside a very well-furnished office with a mayor or a provincial representative who was wearing a thousand-dollar suit or a very nice dress and the furniture is very expensive,” Piatt said. “I told our soldiers we should not be wearing our kit (body armor) in those rooms because we’ll destroy the furniture.”  Commanders could decide to keep body armor on, leave it in vehicles, or take it off in an antechamber at a meeting, he said.

Piatt also said it was “key leaders” only who would leave their body armor in a vehicle. Even without body armor, the soldiers retained their weapons. There also always was a security element wearing all protective gear that accompanied those soldiers.  Bland said “guidance” is the same as an order. When a commander gives guidance or a suggestion, “it’s exactly the same as giving an order. It’s just more politely phrased.”

UNQUOTE

Nuance aside, I would be hard-pressed to determine how to act if I were currently deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Even Farmer McGregor would not leave behind his overalls and gloves to work in the Brier patch, but it seems to me that we are asking our soldiers to take on additional risk to win some pyrrhic victory for General McChrystal.   Mind you, this is the same military leadership that barred troops from wearing any other body armor other than official “Army Issue” at the risk of losing their medical coverage if wounded.    As Alice in Wonderland said:  This is getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

Richard W. May

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Picking up the Torch for Col. David Hackworth

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My valiant, wonderful husband, Colonel David (Hack) Hackworth, one of America’s greatest heroes and most valor-decorated soldiers, died in my arms two years ago this past May (Editor’s note:  This was written by Col. Hackworth’s wife three years ago on the second anniversary of his death).  During the last weeks we shared, he thought not a wit about himself; and his love for me burned so brightly I still feel surrounded by that awesome warmth.  But he worried too about the frontline troops he spent his life protecting and particularly about Soldiers For The Truth (“SFTT”), the foundation we started together.  So I promised Hack I’d pick up the torch and keep SFTT viable – and continue our commitment to get the kids out at the tip of the spear the best leadership, training and equipment.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  In spite of the major stories we broke – such as the lack of up-to-date body armor or none at all when the troops first went back into Iraq or the unarmored hummers or Abu Ghraib, which pointed so clearly to flaws in both training and leadership – most people we addressed when we tried to raise awareness and funds found it difficult to accept that our soldiers and Marines weren’t getting the right stuff with which to wage war.  Even though we eventually came to expect the disconnect, we always found it hard to compute — but that was because for many years we were often first to report outrages like the Tillman cover-up in our weekly column DEFENDING AMERICA, which Hack would also discuss every week on TV and radio.  To disbelieving ears, of course, but he kept getting booked because he had better pundit credentials than most and good TV-Q, probably because he was as quick and deadly with words as he’d been in battle.

Only recently have I noticed that we’re gaining more traction and I suspect it’s mainly because the Walter Reed debacle so deeply shocked and touched the nation.  Suddenly we were all confronting what Hack had warned us about on Larry King when we first went into Iraq:  in spite of all our vows to the contrary, we’ve allowed ourselves to be sucked into another Vietnam with far greater potential fall-out.  Sure, because of medical and technological advances, we won’t have a black granite wall listing 58,000 fallen warriors; but depending upon how much longer we’re stuck in Iraq, we’re likely to have far more than 58,000 wounded, many grievously.

Excellent organizations offer countless services to take care of the troops, from entertaining them in Iraq to helping them and their families when they come home.  The USO, Wounded Warrior, Fisher House and so on.  But no organization except SFTT is dedicated day in, day out to being there for our stalwart warriors as they stand tall for their country out in the shifting sands of the Valley of the Shadow of Death — to try to prevent them from being killed or wounded in the first place.

As we entered last spring the fifth year of this terrible war, SFTT will formally announce the new Basic Five campaign to get America’s frontline troops the best available of the five most essential items of personal combat gear so they have the best possible chance to complete their assigned missions and make it home alive and in one piece in a plane seat instead of a body bag or on a stretcher.  Doesn’t it seem criminal that the richest nation in the world, which spends more than the rest of the world combined on defense, can’t budget responsibly enough to provide its sons and daughters with a helmet that will prevent many more of the endemic, life-altering head injuries?  With the same better body armor the generals choose – and wear hidden under their uniforms?  With a rifle that’s not a jammer like Jessica Lynch’s M-16 and that’s at least as effective as the AK-47, the terrorists’ weapon-of-choice?  With a sidearm that’s reliable and deadly in tight situations?   And with boots capable of going the bloody distance?

No wonder Hack died worrying about the troops.  But if more Americans stay mindful of the dreadful consequences of war and help SFTT carry Hack’s torch, we can together “SUPPORT THE TROOPS WITH MORE THAN LIP SERVICE” and make sure more of our brave volunteers survive whatever lies ahead.

Eilhys England

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Severe Clear debuts in NY

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Severe Clear, a documentary based primarily on footage shot by Marine First Lt. Mike Scotti on his Mini-DV, shows Marines in combat during the early days of combat in Iraq in 2003, opened today in New York City.

Severe Clear, which I have not seen, was reviewed today in the New York Times and vivdly describes combat conditions during the early days of the assault on Baghdad by Lt. Scotti’s unit.  The documentary, drawing largely from Lt. Scotti’s video sequences and his journals, was directed by Kristian Fragas.

Stephen Holden, who reviewed the documentary, comments that “More than the battle scenes filmed with a jiggling, hand-held camera, the profane, hyper-macho banter and roughhousing among the men in Lieutenant Scotti’s unit are what make you feel part of the experience. So do his complaints: about the awful food, lack of adequate body armor, and the endless sand. At least at the start, the troops share a righteously gung-ho fighting spirit.”

Certainly, this documentary appears to be far more realistic than the staged but vivid film sequences in The Hurt Locker, which won Oscars for “Best Film” and “Best Direction.”   It appears that Severe Clear has only been released in one theater in New York City.  I would appreciate any reviews and comments from SFTT readers who have seen the film.  Severe Clear carries an “R” rating.

As Roger Charles points out in his detailed analysis of the October 2009 GAO report recommending “Independent Testing” of body armor, I am fearful that not much has been done to improve the body armor for our troops since Lt. Scotti and his fellow Marines served in Iraq some 7 years ago.

Richard W. May

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