Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why Pakistan Matters as Much as Iraq (or More)

Why Pakistan Matters

You may have heard recently that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated on December 27th in Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile from the country. Bhutto’s assassination has garnered a lot of media coverage and stimulated a great deal of international discussion. You may be wondering why.

What you need to know about Pakistan:

1. Pakistan borders Afghanistan.

2. Pakistan is home to known Islamic extremists, including members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It is even believed that Osama bin Laden is living somewhere among these self-ruling tribal areas.

3. Pakistan is estimated to have anywhere from 24 to 48 nuclear warheads but claims to have 80 to 120.

4. There is a great deal of social and political unrest in Pakistan. Despite international condemnation, President Musharraf imposed emergency law from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15, 2007, and postponed national elections. 2007 in Pakistan has been a year of riots, protests, and violence.

5. The U.S. was relying on Bhutto’s return to Pakistan (as she was in self-imposed exile for eight years) and the projected success of her party (and her) in the upcoming election to help stabilize Pakistan.

6. Although he chose to be an “ally” to the U.S. after 9/11, he has been greatly criticized for not removing the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.

7. Pakistan is one of four countries in the world that did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

8. Pakistan and India have a relationship similar to the Soviet-US Cold War era relationship, except their hatred is more deep-seated, long-standing, and contentious. In fact, since their independence from Great Britian in 1947, they have fought three separate wars against each other.

9. India is believed to have 30 to 35 nuclear warheads (and is one of the other countries that refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty).

10. Our concerns, as a nation, are two-fold. First, we want to prevent the nuclear warheads in Pakistan from falling into the hands of terrorists, such as al-Qaeda. Second, we want to avoid the use of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan, which could quickly escalate into a global nuclear disaster.


If you go to the page, there are links for almost every point above. You can learn a great deal about this issue. If there is an uprising against Musharraf, we do not have the manpower to protect the regime or the weapons. This is a very, very scary development.

This is going to be an electoral issue for the 2008 Election Center as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This “War” on Terror Doesn’t Feel Very Global…

“Hope the members of Congress enjoy their holiday break. I intend to enjoy mine.”

So said the President during his “year-end” press conference on the 20th of December.

Well, that is what I read he said. I was not able to actually watch the press conference, so I read the transcript.

And then I read it again.

President Bush spoke of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan briefly, saying that “[t]hese brave men and women are risking their lives to protect us and they deserve the full support of the U.S. government.”

He followed that with two other statements expressing that he was grateful and/or “glad” that Congress funded OIF/OEF (without artificial timetables for withdrawals). Apparently, everything the President had to say about our troops at the end of 2007 could be said in 3 very short and—technically—redundant sentences.

Then the President proceeded to go into his priorities for 2008: “not raising taxes.” In fact, he talked about not raising taxes nine times, using the word “tax” (or some variation thereof) 29 times.

“You know, the argument that you've got to raise taxes make sure your children
don't pay debt only works if the government doesn't follow suit and spend
that money you raise on new programs. My view is that, given more money the
government will find new ways to spend it…”

With all due respect, Mr. President, that’s the idea behind taxation: the government spends the money it collects from the citizens for their collective benefit.

For example, we could use those tax dollars to fund our troops in theater, to care for our wounded warriors, or to recruit and train new troops for future needs. These are not unreasonable expenditures by our government, especially if Americans want to continue to rely upon an all volunteer force for our military, defense, and natural disaster needs. Essentially, what appears to be “taking care” of a small segment of Americans in the short term is really taking care of all Americans in the long term.

Yet, these are the first wars our country has entered into and maintained without raising taxes. Instead, we have accumulated several hundred billion dollars of debt and we shown no interest in cutting up the nation’s ‘credit card’ anytime soon... probably because that would mean we would have to resort to raising taxes. Raising taxes would require a little sacrifice by most Americans, instead of the current situation, which is defined by the tremendous sacrifice of a few Americans.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense freely admits the need for a significant increase in mental health care providers for service members and wounded warriors. Physicians for Social Responsibility estimate the cost of care for our wounded warriors from OEF/OIF will equal or surpass the cost of the wars themselves. And as long as we embrace the VA system, we will need to improve and expand our VA health care facilities to accommodate the 700,000 OEF/OIF veterans expected to seek care at them.

Nonetheless, at the year-end press conference, President Bush said he hoped that Congress would enjoy their holiday break as he planned to enjoy his (before returning to the business of ensuring that no taxes were raised, although those taxes could fund essential programs to care for our troops; troops who evidently did not warrant a call to action on the part of the American public for whom they have sacrificed their families, their holidays, their safety, and in some cases, their sanity and/or their lives).

In fact, of the 4,351 fatalities to date, 320 died during a December month. For every fatality, there are 8 to 16 wounded (the latter figure encompasses mental and physical injuries that develop or occur in the combat theater but were not necessarily the direct result of “hostile” action). This means that, on average, two service members a day are killed and anywhere from 16 to 32 service members are physically and/or psychologically injured.

Personally, my holiday thoughts and prayers are with our service men and women. I don’t just want them to “enjoy” the holidays in Iraq and Afghanistan, I want them to survive the holidays.

Statistically speaking, however, not all of them will. And while I understand the political reasons that elected officials (from both partied) have for wanting to "spare" civilians (i.e. 95% of Americans) from the "burdens" of war, I neither agree with nor respect doing it:

Supporting our troops is not just something you say, it is something you DO.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mission. Soldier. FAMILY. Team.

Mission. Soldier. Family. Team.

Carissa Picard | December 13, 2007

"Mission. Soldier. Family. Team."

This is the motto of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In four words, 4th ID has identified the essential elements upon which the strength and stability of the Division is based. The soldier, the family, the unit, and the mission are all interconnected and interdependent. What impacts one, impacts the other. Now the Army needs to recognize this as well.

The Army's problems with recruitment and retention are very much a reflection of its failure to truly appreciate this interdependence. When it comes to decreased morale and retention, our prolonged presence in Iraq has become the scapegoat, masking a larger problem within the military: a reluctance to value the family as much as the service member does and a resistance to allocate funds accordingly.

No matter how high the bonuses are many soldiers, particularly those with families, believe that the benefits fail to outweigh the hardships of service. Too much has been asked of too few for too long--families and soldiers alike.

Of course, reducing combat tours from 15 to 12 months would certainly help soldiers and military families, but it is important to understand that it is not combat tours alone that are keeping soldiers from staying in the Army. It is the lack of support for the soldier and his/her family before, during, and after those tours.

Whether a soldier is deployed for 9 months, 12 months, or 15 months, the fact remains that while he (or she) is gone, the spouse has few resources to compensate for the long-term absence of the second parent under conditions of high stress and isolation. During deployments the incidents of child abuse and neglect, alcohol and drug use, and post-partum depression all increase. Meanwhile, the divorce rate for Army officers nearly tripled and for its enlisted soldiers nearly doubled (between 2001 and 2005). Even without deployments, frequent moves disrupt career aspirations, educational goals, and community ties for families.

Understandably, the Director of Defense Capabilities and Management testified before the Senate (in 2002): "a significant body of research by the military services shows that family satisfaction with military life can significantly influence a service members decision to stay in the military or leave." More recently, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Pace testified that family satisfaction and support played a key role in soldier morale and retention. In light of this, one would expect the Army to expand family benefits and support services much more significantly than it has to date.

For example, the Army could increase the number of daycare providers (especially for evening and weekend hours), expand non-cosmetic dental and vision benefits, provide on post front lawn care for the families of deployed soldiers, allow educational benefits to be transferable to the spouse or child, force Tricare to provide Prime coverage to active duty families who move home during deployments, and/or relocate families to places where they will have support during a deployment that is twelve months or longer.

Of course, while I write this, officials have announced they want to increase the permanent Army by 20,000 to 30,000 troops. (Although the White House initially wanted to increase the number of troops by 65,000.)

You have to admire their moxie. In 2005, the Army failed to meet its annual recruiting goal by eight percent. Despite recruitment bonuses as high as $40,000, the Army again failed to meet its recruiting goals in May and June (usually its best recruiting months) of 2007. The propensity to serve is in the military is its lowest in 20 years, desertion is its highest in 20 years, and junior officers and NCOs are running (not walking) from Uncle Sam.

To meet their post-9/11 recruiting goals they have already increased the maximum enlisting age, granted "moral" waivers for criminal convictions (12% were granted this year), lowered educational standards, and offered bonuses up to $40,000.

Benjamin Franklin said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If the Army wants to accomplish its mission of recruiting and retaining troops, it needs to take care of its soldiers. To take care of its soldiers, it needs to take care of its soldiers' families. That means higher salaries and improved benefits and family support services. Period.

To preserve manpower and protect the integrity of the overall force, the Army needs to recognize that an investment in the family IS an investment in the soldier.

Taking care of military families isn't just a moral imperative - it is a troop multiplier.

Copyright 2007 Carissa Picard. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of


If you go to the actual op-ed at, there are eight hyper-links in the text that take you to the sources used to write this piece.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Blaming the Victim

In 2006, Congress ordered the Secretary of Defense to assess the mental health needs of the Armed Forces and the ability of the DoD to meet those needs. As a result, the DoD created a "Mental Health Task Force" which concluded:

the system of care for the psychological health that has evolved over recent decades is insufficient to meet the needs of today's armed forces and their beneficiaries, and will not be sufficient to meet their needs in the future.

The unmet mental healthcare needs of the men and women we send to wage war in other countries are causing them to wage their own wars, within themselves and with others, in this one.

For example, 1st Lt. Whiteside faces criminal prosecution for trying to kill herself while serving in Iraq. Granted, when she had her psychological breakdown, she waved a gun around at her fellow soldiers to keep them away so she could successfully shoot HERSELF (TWICE) in the stomach. She did not, however, actually harm anyone else.

Research by CBS news revealed that an average of 120 veterans committed suicide every week in 2005. SEVENTEEN VETERANS COMMITTED SUICIDE EVERY DAY THAT YEAR.

I wonder how many service members and veterans attempted to kill themselves the day that Lt. Whiteside tried to kill herself? I wonder how many succeeded?

Iliona Meagher has been compiling data on PTSD-related incidents around the United States since 2005 for ePluribusMedia. PTSD that is undiagnosed, mismanaged, or untreated can, in its most extreme form, manifest itself as violence towards one's self and/or towards others. We don't keep official records of these casualties.

Americans like to keep the ugliness of war contained so as to maintain an illusion of civility. This illusion is hard to maintain when the people we send away to fight these wars actually come back; living testaments to what our country has instructed them to do in its name.

In short, we have evolved enough as a species to feel shame about engaging in acts of war but we haven't evolved enough to avoid these acts in the first place. When we SEE the men and women who have been broken, physically or psychologically, by combat, the degree to which we have failed to be civilized is hard to accept.

In the book, "Just and Unjust Wars," the author wrote, "what we often think of as inhumanity is really just humanity under pressure." Our wounded warriors reflect the side of human nature in general, and America in particular, that Americans do not want to think about.

So rather than take responsibility for sending these men and women to another country to do something that is really quite brutal and inhumane (if necessary), we ignore, minimize, or villify the men and women who, in a very normal fashion, were traumatized by what we told them to do or made them witness. The more our institutions make their problems about THEM, the less uncivilized and inhumane and unreasonable WE are.

Hence the appeal of the refrain, "he volunteered to join the Army." Which is kind of like saying that a woman asked to be ganged raped because she went to a guy's apartment after a movie. Maybe she did go to his apartment thinking about maybe having sex with her date, that doesn't mean that she wanted five of his friends to have sex with her too. She TRUSTED her date to keep the evening between the two of them only.

Well, a service member likewise joins with the very honorable intention of protecting our country and defending our constitution. There is TRUST that you will not be EXPLOITED or ABUSED when you join.

Perhaps you should be thinking that for these men and women, their trust has been violated, and if you feel betrayed, imagine how they (and their families) feel after five years and multiple deployments?

My point is this: our discomfort with our wounded warriors makes us even less civilized, not more. The very people whose wounds make us feel the least amount of pride individually are giving us an opportunity to do something to feel the most pride collectively. By tending to the wounds of those who remind us of our inhumanity, we become more humane. That means we have to do more than just bring our troops home, we have to take care of them when they are here.

Pretending we don't see them, or trying not to think about them, does not make them go away; it just makes it easier not to care.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Personality Disorder Discharges at Christmas


Military Spouses for Change (MSC) has successfully fought for one of our soldiers. Nancy is a member of MSC. Her husband, David, has been in the Army for 10 years. He has served a year in Kosovo and two combat tours in Iraq. Unfortunately, he is suffering from PTSD.

Wednesday morning, November 28 2007, David received a packet by his Platoon Sargeant. He was given a "Personality Disorder" discharge (AR 635-200 Chapter 5 Paragraph 5-13) and was ordered to clear his unit and be off post BY DECEMBER 7.

For TEN YEARS OF SERVICE, with no misconduct, David was being kicked out of the Army in TEN DAYS.

According to the Inspector General, the only recourse for David was getting the Colonel who signed these discharge papers to change his mind.

Nancy contacted us.
David was supporting his wife and four children as an enlisted soldier in the Army. Christmas is just weeks away.

MSC's leadership immediately began reaching out to our partners, other advocacy and veteran organizations, to get help for David, seeking advice and/or contacts. (The larger we become as an organization, the more organizations we can work with and the more resources we will have access to. That is why telling others about us and joining as an actual member of MSC through our website is so important!) We also have board members who were able to work with David based upon their expertise with the military review board process. We spent two days and nights, nearly around the clock, rattling cages.

By Friday afternoon, November 30th, one Congressperson and two Generals had contacted Darnall Army Medical Center as well as David's chain of command, demanding to know why he had been discharged instead of transfered to the Warrior Transition Unit for evaluation and, if necessary, treatment for PTSD.

By the morning of Saturday, December 1st, David signed into his new unit, the Warrior Transition Unit. These Generals are good men and great leaders. The speed in which they corrected this situation is a testament to their awareness of the seriousness of the situation and their sensitivity to the anxiety of David's family.

What David experienced was a failure of leadership within his personal chain of command. His Chain of Command should have taken steps to proactively evaluate him for his COMBAT-RELATED INJURIES, which PTSD is. Even IF David had a personality disorder, what leader (whose job is to inspire trust and confidence in his/her troops) gives a soldier (with a family no less) ten days to get out during the month of Christmas? Service members committing crimes get more time than that to transition out of the military. This was just egregious to the extreme.

There is another soldier at Fort Lewis, Washington, who is facing the possibility of a personality disorder discharge. MSC has not been in contact with him personally, but according to Joshua Kors, Spc. Lengeman has been in the Army for ten years, served a combat tour in Iraq, is struggling with PTSD, and has recently learned that he has been diagnosed with a personality disorder instead of PTSD. Please contact us ASAP if you think you can help.


Unfortunately, one's experience with the military is very much defined by one's unit. A good unit can make the experience as good as you could imagine and a bad unit can nearly ruin your life. The lack of consistency between units due to this human variable means we have to have some level of protection for our servicemembers, some default upon which they can rely when the leadership within their particular chain of command fails them. In this case, there should be some regulation in place providing for steps that must be taken when a personality disorder is being alleged and a service member has returned from a combat tour.

Between 2001 and 2006, 22,000 service members have been discharged under this "personality disorder" diagnosis ( Most of them AFTER serving in a combat zone and seeking mental health care. Rather than diagnosing these service members with PTSD, some units are declaring that these service members had a PRE-EXISTING mental health condition and therefore the military is not responsible for their mental health care. They are given a general discharge and, in most cases, billed for any bonuses they may have received for enlisting or re-enlisting.

In July, both the House (HR3167) and the Senate (S1817) introduced bills that would temporarily stop these personality disorder discharges until the DoD could establish some mechanism for reviewing these cases and ensuring that it is not being abused by the military. Both Houses referred these bills to their respective committees and nothing has happened since.

Sen. Kit Bond is asking the President to set up a Special Panel to review the 22,000 cases who have already been kicked out for personality disorders. ( ·

We are sharing this with you because we hope you will share it with others. Many wonder why we created MSC and what MSC does. MSC is an organization comprised primarily of men and women inside the military community and/institutions. Our goal is to educate, empower, and help one another in a way that is sensitive to the position that we are in as members of the military community. We are committed to maintaining a strong military but we believe that requires taking care of our service members and their families. When you compromise the integrity of your human force, you compromise the integrity of your total force.

Our troops need to be able to perform their duties knowing that they will be taken care if something were to happen to them. They cannot fight these battles as well. ANd they shouldn't have to.

Last week it was Nancy's husband. Whose spouse will it be next week?

Become informed.

Become involved.

Become inspired!

Become a Military Spouse for Change. (Or join as a friend of MSC!)


MSC would like to give special thanks to U.S. Representative Tom Davis and Marcie Roth and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. We also received great information from Amy Fairweather of San Francisco's Swords to Plowshares, Paul Sullivan at Veterans for Common Sense, and Andrew Pagony at Veterans for America.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When Does A War Really End?

This forum is NOT about being for the war in Iraq or against the war in Iraq. This is about the fact that there IS a war in Iraq (as well as Afghanistan) and there are CONSEQUENCES to that war--consequences for our service members, for their families, for our country. We believe the candidates should have to talk about how they plan to identify and deal with these consequences.

How do we help our military and veteran families receive the help they need emotionally, medically, and/or financially? What are our obligations and responsibilities to them as a nation once they have fulfilled their obligations and responsibilities to us?

What can and/or should we be doing to help our returning warriors successfully reintegrate into peacetime society?

These issues need to be a part of the national discourse about the war in Iraq because the war in Iraq does not end when a service member comes home.

We would like voters all over America to be mindful when selecting their nominee for President that his or her choice will have a significant impact on the lives and well-being of millions of service members, veterans, wounded warriors, and military families, including children.

This Forum can help all of us, military, veteran, and civilian alike, make the most informed choice.

You can learn more at:

Or contact me at

Why I have a bee in my bonnet...

Yes, I wrote that. I say things like "aren't you the cat's pajama's?" too. It's part of my charm.


I go on and on and on about this Presidential Forum on Veterans, Wounded Warriors, and Military Families. I work tirelessly. I blog. I email people and call people and network and research and write and constantly look for another reason why America should care, the candidates should care, the networks should care...

I believe our service members do the work that needs to be done, that others don't want to do, that others don't want to think needs to be done... the dirty work of war that continues among men today (I use the word man in the general sense). Yet for this work, they are not adequately compensated, nor are they justly rewarded. In fact, we have evolved just enough as a species to feel shame for these acts of war but not enough to avoid engaging in these acts. So now our "warriors" are relegated to the status of "necessary evil" and all that is associated with that is easily demonized or quickly dismissed.

An example, I think, of how the military is marginalized and unappreciated by both parties:

First, that broke my heart.

Then it just pissed me off.

So I keep writing. And blogging. And work on helping others find their voices to share their stories. Because the military and veteran community should NOT be marginalized. It should not exist in the shadows of a great nation. It should not be a tool for abuse by a great nation nor should it be abused BY a great nation. It should be a reflection OF a great nation.

Men and women die EVERY DAY. Men and women face death or the fear of death or the possibility of death by virtue of their service to this country every day. By virtue of voluntary service that is undervalued, misused, and misunderstood. Service that should be appreciated b/c were it not for them volunteering, there WOULD be a draft.

Every day there are men, women, and children whose lives are irrevocably altered by virtue of physical and emotional separations and traumas that transcend the traditional definitions of "wounded" and "casualties".

Since 9/11, the military community has witnessed the devastation of thousands of lives that cannot be categorized by any word other than broken: broken hearts, broken homes, broken lives, broken spirits, broken dreams. Broken. And loss. Loss is another word that can describe what is experienced by thousands. Tremendous loss.

Every person on that helicopter lost something that they will never get back and every family member of every person on that helicopter lost someone or something.

Our nation doesn't mourn these losses. And we don't mend what is broken. We don't see what is broken. We don't talk about what is breaking.

That pisses me off.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Presidential Forum...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Can I just say that I LOVE Microsoft Publisher?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


A beautiful spirit (Kristin Van Huysen from the Wellsville Veterans Project) shared this with me. It is from the National Veterans Foundation.

FROM GODS TO GHOSTS by Salin Ebrahamian


They ride in the humvees or walk patrolling the streets in Iraq or Afghanistan. They have less than a second to determine if the man, the woman, the child standing in their path is a civilian or a human bomb. They have less than a second to decide between life or death… if they are wrong then they either kill an innocent civilian or their own fellow soldier. Having the power to hold the life of an individual in your hands is not a human quality, it is playing God. These soldiers, however, are not playing. This power over life and death does not come without its own heavy burden; they know all too well they are not Gods. They have to live with that decision for the rest of their mortal lives. These young men and women of our military, when in Iraq or Afghanistan, are given a mission, and they do what is necessary to complete the mission. They fight, some die to complete their mission. They kill to live; they kill so they won't bury another brother or sister. In the battlefield, when bullets and bombs are ripping through the air, there is no politics, there is no right or wrong- there is only one truth, for one to live another must die. They carry the power of life and death over there.

But what happens when they come home? What happens to the soldier when he takes off his uniform? When he is no longer in the battlefield, but in a lawful society? When nothing distinguishes the guard dog from the sheep and the wolves in our society? Nothing. Nothing happens. We, civilians, don't see them. When they come home, when they take off their uniform, we treat them like they don't exist. You don't want to see it; you don't want to admit it, because you don't want to feel the shame. It is the truth nonetheless. Ask any veteran or wounded soldier or any soldier who has just returned from battle, but taken the uniform off-ask them if they feel like they have been treated like second class citizens. Why can't they get access to proper mental health treatment to deal with battle stress? We go to therapy to deal with road rage. Why can't they get even a minimum wage employment easily so they won't have to sign up again to pay the bills? What was your last job? Theirs was protecting the Constitution of the US with their own blood or the blood of their brethren. Why do they have to pay for education? While we have only the stress of midterms to worry about they may have PTSD, survivor's guilt, friends still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, injuries and more. Besides it is the military of our past that has allowed us the freedom to have a choice to go to school, to think, to be innovative, to dream. Their reality which was a living nightmare has allowed us to dream and pursue our goals. Why can't we at least provide shelter and housing for our veterans? They are homeless today- the men who fought in the jungles of Vietnam and the desert of Iraq, but we complain about the rent.

We only acknowledge them when they are in uniform. Support the troops is lip service, because the real support they need is when they come home, when they become veterans. We can't help those we don't know exist. Open your eyes and honor and respect the veterans, as they deserve to be treated. Say thank you to a veteran. Fight for them when they come home, don't allow this second class treatment to continue. You would not be doing more than what you owe them…. You see they are in this position because they fought for you whilst in the military. They were Gods once, when in uniform. They are ghosts now, when dressed like you or I. The truth is they are neither. They are simply men and women, with the courage to face their fears, to fight for a cause bigger than themselves, to sacrifice all that we take for granted for the sake of honor. They are our humble heroes, the pillars of our nation. They should be treated no less. Respect the veterans… by acknowledging them.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Yesterday an Army Blackhawk crashed in Italy

killing 5 people (including the pilots).

My husband, Caynan, is a Blackhawk pilot.

We are using some of his leave to visit his family and travel because he is deploying to Iraq in early 2008.

Anyway, on this particular morning, we were at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, California, and I had to go to the main lodging lobby to use the internet.

As I was checking my email, I hear CNN report, "helicopter crash in Italy" and I look up instinctively.

When my eyes met that television screen and my brain registered the now familiar Blackhawk form with its missing tail rotor and crumpled nose, I was instantaneously transported to a place that I religiously avoid: a place where his call to tell me he landed safely never comes, where my worst fear for him and us and our children is confirmed by strangers at the door that our 4 year old will probably answer before I do.

My chest tightens, my throat constricts, my eyes tear up. If I were more selfless (or a better liar), I would identify that feeling as empathy for another pilot's wife, but I think a more honest assessment would be fear, panic, shock… a sudden reminder of the possibility of becoming a widow under similar circumstances.

Caynan is going to Iraq in the spring and although I know it is going to be difficult when he deploys, the fear of being notified of HIS helicopter crashing already lives with us like an unwanted but determined houseguest who has nowhere else to go.

Since 9/11, a third of Blackhawk crashes have occurred in non-combat zones. Every time Caynan goes through his pre-flight checklist, I swallow a seed of anxiety that I refuse to let grow by sheer will alone.

That seed comes from images like this on CNN.

I could not wrap my mind around why that Blackhawk went down. When Caynan was in flight school, I helped him study all his emergency procedures: auto-rotational landings in the event of x, y, and z... but this looked like a clear day and the pilots found an even, open field. Yet they hit the ground with such incredible force. It was a really, really, really "hard landing." Why? I need it to make sense and it doesn't.*

Crashes are an occupational hazard, I know.

But it still hurts. And it is still scary. And it still makes me cry.

And today I cried for the pilots' wives too.

* The fact that there were survivors at all is a tremendous credit to the skills and ability of these pilots.

Please pray for the families of everyone on that helicopter. Please pray for all of our military families.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Bipartisan Presidential Debate at Fort Hood, TX

As much as individual presidential candidates want to talk about their health care plans or "outstanding" personal values, the fact remains that we are electing a WAR PRESIDENT. We are electing a president who will probably spend the bulk of his or her first term managing military conflicts and performing extensive foreign policy damage control. In fact, in 2008, the next President will inherit at least two wars and the costs of those wars, internally as well as internationally, will continue long after the last service member comes home.

As a result, Military Spouses for Change is inviting ALL the candidates to Fort Hood, Texas (Killeen), on February 1st, to talk EXCLUSIVELY about the U.S. military, veterans affairs, foreign policy, and America's wounded warriors (from ALL conflicts, including Vietnam).

Fort Hood is the largest military installation in the United States. There are almost 46,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Hood and more than 24,000 spouses. On any given day, almost a third of these soldiers are deployed to Iraq and every week at least two soldiers from Fort Hood (on average) are killed in Iraq. (I am 34 and I know more widows than my mother.)

This kind of event has never been done before and it needs to be done now. Not only because Americans on both side of the aisle need to be reminded (before Super Tuesday) that we are selecting the next Commander-in-Chief, but also because our service members and their families deserve to be addressed and heard by the people who wish to be selected for that position.

Not to mention, we also think this country’s large veteran community should know which candidates REALLY value the military and veteran votes (which all the candidates should care about, if not for moral reasons, then for practical reasons). There are approximately 1.4 million active duty service members in America and 1.2 million in the National Guard/Reserves. If you include the spouses, they come to a total of 4.1 million votes.

Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, 1 in 8 adults were veterans (26.4 million) in 2003. If we assume that at least half of those adults are married, then we have approximately 39 million vet couples giving us a total of almost 43 million American adults who are currently serving in the military, had served in the military, or are married to someone serving or who had served. That is not an insignificant number.

As an organization and as military spouses, clearly U.S. foreign policy is important to us. But the American public has an interest as well, not only for fiscal reasons (we have spent 447 billion dollars on the war in Iraq to date), but for national security reasons.

And what about the depletion of our states' national guard and reserve units. How are we going to replenish those units so that individual states can respond to natural disasters or, heaven forbid, another 9/11?

So far 1.5 million service members have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. What are the candidates positions on the possibility of reinstating the draft if, for example, we become engaged with Iran before he or she enters office?

Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense has reported more than 64,000 wounded and 4,000 killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs, however, has reported treating 250,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, including 95,000 for mental health conditions.

Meanwhile, an estimated 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are expected to seek care from the VA within the next ten years, at a projected cost (by the CBO and CRS) of 7 to 9 BILLION dollars.

The suicide rate is the highest in almost 30 years and the propensity to serve is at a 20 year low. Consequently, the Army and Marine Corps are relying on reenlistment and recruiting bonuses that will cost nearly 2.5 billion dollars next year.

Iraq is the defining electoral issue of 2008. Nothing can be done domestically until we have settled our foreign affairs in such a way that does not require a large military presence in hostile countries.

Yet because Texas is not an early primary state, it does not warrant the attention of the Presidential candidates. Nonetheless, we cannot imagine an event more powerful than these candidates answering questions posed to them by the very people whose service and sacrifice allow forums such as these to exist.

Shouldn't we ascertain which candidates are the most qualified (from both parties) to lead our nation and our military prior to Super Tuesday? And shouldn't this be done in front of an audience of service members, veterans, wounded warriors, advocates, and their families?

* MSC is a non-profit, non-partisan organization created to educate military spouses about the political process and its impact on their lives (and the lives of those they love). Recently, MSC was in an article in the Military Times: Link.