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Tag: soldiers

Explosive Report Reveals Trump’s Deep Contempt For Troops

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new report from The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg on Thursday night revealed new and galling details about President Donald Trump's stunning level of contempt for members of the military — particularly those who have died or been injured in battle.

While there's plenty of reason to be critical of the military and even those who serve in it, the comments reported in The Atlantic are remarkable and revealing about Trump's lack of character for several reasons. First, while Trump wraps himself in patriotism and militarism for electoral purposes, it's a sham; he has little understanding or respect for the military's values or its people. Second, it shows Trump's fundamental indecency. The incidents described show little concern or thought for the people and lives involved, including people close to him. And third, the reporting shows Trump has a dark and shallow view of the world, one in which self-interest rules all, and he believes there's no reason to sacrifice oneself for greater values. It's a frightening perspective for a political leader to hold.

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Danziger: War Without End

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Cartoon: Smarting Soldiers

Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for the Rutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia.  He has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He served in Vietnam as a linguist and intelligence officer, earning a Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Born in New York City, he now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here.

Weekend Reader: ‘Afterwar: Healing The Moral Wounds Of Our Soldiers’

Since the United States began its campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, more American soldiers have died from suicide than have died in the field. The scars of warfare are not only physical, and combat veterans who return home often struggle with feelings of guilt, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. Many do not reach out for help for fear that doing so will harm their career.

Nancy Sherman, a psychology professor with two decades of experience working with the military, investigates the costs of the Middle East wars to the mental and emotional well-being of U.S. soldiers. Her new book, Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers, is a lucid, insightful, and compassionate guide to how veterans can recover, so that “minds and not just bodies” can endure.

You can purchase the book here.

It is tempting to think about moral repair in terms of renewals, fresh starts, a fix for what’s broken that looks forward more than back. Moral repair should involve positive thinking and feeling—hope and trust, empathy and connection, as I’ve been putting it, without getting stuck in the negative. It should look to the possible and positive, and nudge and coach and persuade. It should be about bouncing back.

Resilience is a buzzword in the current military. Early on in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with service members surviving their physical injuries at rates unparalleled in the history of warfare, it became all too clear at the highest echelons of the Pentagon that minds and not just bodies had to endure. Schooling in mental toughness and the ability to face cumulative psychological stress needed to be a formal component of pre-deployment training. Alarming peaks in suicide within the military made the issue all the more urgent. Under the directive of the Army Chief of Staff, George Casey, the Army brought on board Martin Seligman, the pioneer in positive psychology at University of Pennsylvania, to help design a pre-deployment resiliency program. Positive psychology, with its starting point not pathology or the treatment of post-traumatic stress, but “the study of strength and virtue” attracted the Army’s leadership. And so a 145-million dollar Army-wide Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program was unrolled in 2009, with an Army surgeon, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, (herself a poster woman for resilience as a former POW shot down during a medical rescue mission in the first Gulf War and survivor of breast cancer) helping on the Army side to stand the program. Its focus, as Cornum and her deputy described it to me, is not “post-adversity,” but “preventive,” “to teach everyone to better thrive.”

Cornum who was retiring from the Army the week we spoke, had emptied her desk and shelves in her Crystal City office in preparation for its next occupant. But on the walls still hung the pictures of the Penn monthly graduating classes from the Master Resilience Training program, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness core course. It’s a train the trainer course in which groups of 180 combat vets, (typically Army captains and staff sergeants), gather at Penn (or in mobile units at military facilities) for a 10-day immersion in “active constructive” attitudes that are alternatives to the kinds of “passive destructive” attitudes Seligman and his colleagues warn against, such as “ruminating misery” and “catastrophizing.” The Master Resilience Trainers (MRT’s) bring the coping skills to their units, in informal problem solving that’s the stuff of conversation and counseling, and more formally, to troops not yet deployed, in mandatory 2-hour teaching slots 4 times a year. All troops take a required, anonymous, online psychological assessment test annually, “the global assessment tool,” or GAT, ambitiously aimed to test the psychological fitness of the force, as a whole.

The program has been severely critiqued from many camps as a quick and very expensive fix, not adequately tested with pilots on a combat troop population. Seligman’s resilience work has been primarily with middle school children and their adjustment to school, not with troops facing day in day out war’s detritus, where the exposure to killing in a death-saturated environment can affect the very vulnerability to post-traumatic stress and moral injury.

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Others have implied that while the program is often promoted as asset-based, focused on fitness, wellness, thriving and flourishing, the real impetus and urgency for crafting such an expensive program had to be from the start prevention of negative outcomes, such as post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. But if that is the case, then risk factors should have been more clearly articulated and targeted in order to empirically assess the efficacy of the interventions. Equally, some clinicians worry that the program may only worsen the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment within the military. For if an individual goes through the program and returns from war with post-traumatic stress, then it may just exacerbate the sense, already prevalent in the military, that PTS has to do with one’s own deficits and weaknesses rather than war’s stressors. Moreover, failure to screen for post-traumatic stress in the program, on the grounds that it might be suggestive and draw attention to the symptoms, plays into a deeper view some hold within the military that post-traumatic stress is only a psychological phenomenon with no neurobiological basis, and so easily fabricated. That view can betray a mixed messaging within the Army about its mental health mission.

Around the same time Comprehensive Soldier Fitness was unrolled, the Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli began to convene a monthly review board at the Pentagon to review fatalities due to suicide. The board was a part of the massive campaign to stem the suicide epidemic in the Army and destigmatize attitudes about seeking mental health treatment. Chiarelli, an infantry commander who headed coalition forces during the Iraq war, took on a new battlefield of brain research, biomarkers, and mental health advocacy. I met with Chiarelli’s staff several times and attended some of those two-hour late afternoon meetings. The meetings were brutally depressing, filled with harrowing details. Colonels and generals on “whose watch” a recent suicide occurred sat at a massive conference table in high-backed leather chairs or in many cases, were video-teleconferenced in on large screens from bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Korea, and beyond. Each commander, flanked by a team, reviewed the known facts of the case, the risky behavior, the proximate causes—prescription pain killers, family disputes, troubles with mortgage payments, infidelities, a spouse’s health problems, the death of an uncle, tensions with command, disappointment in being passed over for promotion, a parole– a raft of real life issues, some with little to do with war. At moments it was easy to think that here or there or at this juncture or that a good, well-placed buddy might have made all the difference. As Chiarelli listened to the cases, one, and then another, and another, and another–a litany of details without clear patterns, his impatience at times flashed through as he demanded of his commanders after each review, “What are the lessons learned?” In truth, there were few unifying factors other than humiliation, hopelessness, alienation, at home or on base, and too many weapons or drugs to carry out the deed.

Reprinted from Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers by Nancy Sherman, with permission from Oxford University Press, USA. © Nancy Sherman, 2015.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

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Weekend Reader: ‘Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History Of Americans At War’

Senator John McCain and Mark Salter examine war as it was lived, fought, and endured on the ground in their new book, Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at WarRecounting the experiences of thirteen specific American soldiers, from 1776 to the campaigns of the 21st century, McCain and Salter consider the changing face of warfare and the qualities of duty and valor endemic to the armed forces in every military engagement from the Revolution to the present day.

McCain and Salter’s book is written with thrilling immediacy, insight, and reverence for the men and women who have risked and sacrificed their lives for their country. Much more than a military history, Thirteen Soldiers brings famous battles and campaigns down to the individual scale, enhances our understanding of the costs and consequences of battle, and introduces a human dimension to the history of armed conflict.

In the following excerpt from the book’s thirteenth and final chapter, Private Monica Brown, a frontline medic, is injured when her convoy traveling through rural Afghanistan is ambushed.

You can purchase the book here.

Private Monica Brown reported to the hospital at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost Province, Afghanistan, on February 7, 2007. Salerno is situated on three hundred flat acres in the shadow of the jag­ged mountain peaks along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. In 2007 it was one of the biggest and oldest FOBs in Afghanistan, a small city of canvas and plywood with a population of three thousand, and a major hub of coalition operations. It had an airstrip, helo pads, airplane hang­ers, well-staffed medical facilities, a big chow tent, decent food in ample quantities, a good-sized, well-equipped gymnasium, a PX, a chapel, a movie theater (with a large-screen TV and DVD player), a café, and a restored mosque. Taliban and al Qaeda attacked it so often with rockets and mortars its harassed inhabitants nicknamed it “Rocket City.” A few days before Brown arrived there, a suicide bomber had killed himself and a dozen others at Salerno’s front gate.

Brown helped medical staff treat trauma patients, both soldiers and local civilians. The first patient she worked on was a local male with a gunshot wound. “That’s when the switch flipped,” she recalled, “and … everything changed over from training to me really liking the job.”

In March she was temporarily detailed to an isolated outpost with the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment in rugged, volatile Paktika Prov­ince. The squadron needed a female medic to provide basic medical care to Afghan women in the villages they patrolled. Female medics and corpsmen were often temporarily assigned to combat units to treat Af­ghans in their homes or in clinics the army set up to help build local re­lationships crucial to a successful counterinsurgency. Male medical personnel aren’t permitted to examine Afghan women in the extremely patriarchal society, especially in the remote, poorest locations where the Taliban is strongest. Female soldiers often helped in home searches and interrogations too. They shared the same risks and hardships male sol­diers faced on the missions, the same threat of ambush, the same threat of death or injury from enemy fire or IEDs. They ate the same food, slept on the same stony ground, felt the same fears.

Brown arrived in the advent of spring, when the snow was starting to melt in the Toba Kakar Mountains, the apricot trees were beginning to bloom, and the Taliban were launching another offensive. It was a dan­gerous place to be, and it got more dangerous every day Brown was there. Taliban and Haqqani network fighters are plentiful there. Paktika’s rug­ged terrain offers abundant hiding places and hard-to-detect routes into the country from Pakistan. One of the important tribes in the province, the Sulaimankhel, was hostile and a reliable source of recruits for the Haqqani. Suicide bombings were common.

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Living conditions in the outpost were pretty primitive. Soldiers were crowded together in tents behind Hesco barriers—wire mesh containers filled with dirt that served as the walls of the command observation post. They were without power or running water. They ate MREs (meals ready to eat) or local dishes Afghan soldiers and interpreters sometimes pro­vided. The aid tent where Brown worked was only forty square feet. And she was the only woman there. She loved it, she told the Washington Post.

Brown wasn’t there very long when she started going on patrols as a line medic with Delta and Charlie troops. That wasn’t in her job description or consistent with official policy, but nobody bothered about that, not out there. Medics were in scarce supply at the outpost, and as someone in Charlie Troop commented afterward, she was one of the best there. They went looking for Taliban, weapons caches, and bomb makers for three, four, and five days at a time, returned for a day’s rest and resup­ply, and went back out again. She loved that too, hunting bad guys, sleep­ing under the stars. She carried her own weight, she later insisted to the 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan. “I expected to be treated like one of the guys. So, that’s how I got treated.”

She hadn’t run into any serious trouble yet. No IEDs, no ambushes, no firefights. She had been on patrol almost constantly for several weeks, and she still did not know for certain if she could do the job. She had not had to keep someone alive while someone else was trying to kill her.

On the afternoon of April 25, 2007, she had been out two days on a patrol with 2nd Platoon from Charlie Troop. The platoon’s medic had gone on leave, and Brown was the best of the available replacements. They had received a tip there might be a couple members of a bomb-making cell and some weapons in a little village in the Jani Khel district. It would be their last stop of the day before spending the night at an Afghan National Army camp. They searched a dry well before entering the village and searching a few homes. If there were Taliban there they had been warned in advance and made their escape. The streets were empty, but the Afghans they encountered in their homes were notice­ably hostile. Their welcome worn out the moment they appeared, the soldiers were as happy to vacate the area as its inhabitants were to see them leave.

They traveled in a column of four up-armored Humvees and an Af­ghan Army Ford pickup truck. Approximately a hundred meters separated each vehicle from the next, a distance considered prudent in hostile country, where, in the words of the army manual for convoy tac­tics, you want “to reduce the number of vehicles in the kill zone,” in the event you are attacked or drive over a mine. As the sun started to set, the convoy took another precaution a couple of miles outside the village: they pulled off the road into an adjacent wadi, a dry riverbed. As a gen­eral rule, you are less likely to encounter an IED if you drive off-road. The Taliban believe ours is a road-bound army. They are right for the most part, and it is a liability in the asymmetrical wars the army has fought this century. But soldiers adjust their tactics to the threat, and when a wadi or open field can get them to where they need to be, they’ll take it.

The platoon commander, Lieutenant Martin Robbins, was in the lead Humvee. Staff Sergeant Aaron Best was Robbins’s gunner. Brown was in the third Humvee with platoon sergeant Jose Santos. A hundred meters behind her, in the last Humvee, were Sergeant Zachary Tellier and specialists Jack Bodani, Stanson Smith, and Larry Spray. The first three Humvees and the pickup had turned into the wadi and were rolling. The last Humvee started to ease over the bank when its left rear tire struck a pressure-plate mine. The explosion nearly blew a man out of the gun tur­ret. It ignited the fuel tank and the extra fuel cans stored in the rear, creating a fireball that engulfed the Humvee. All four men inside were wounded.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

Excerpt from Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at War by John McCain and Mark Salter. Copyright © 2014 John McCain and Mark Salter. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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Israel Kills Two Palestinians Suspected Of Teens Murders

Hebron (Palestinian Territories) — Israeli troops on Tuesday killed two Palestinians in the West Bank suspected of the murders of three Jewish teenagers in June, which sparked events leading to the bloody war in Gaza.

The killings, during a raid on the two suspects’ hideout, came as Israeli and Palestinian delegations were to negotiate in Cairo a more permanent Gaza ceasefire, almost putting the talks in jeopardy, a Palestinian official said.

Amer Abu Eisha, 32, and Marwan Qawasmeh, 29, whom Israel accused of kidnapping and murdering the teens, were killed “in an exchange of fire” in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, the army said.

The two men were hiding out in a house in Hebron and killed when gunfire broke out during an operation by the Shin Bet internal security services and the army’s anti-terror unit, it said in a statement.

Residents told AFP they heard shots fired during the assault in what appeared to be a firefight between the suspects and security forces, and that the army had also broken down the doors of several shops in the area.

Dozens of local youths threw stones at the soldiers near the scene of the raid, and following the shooting, a general strike was being observed across the city.

Sporadic clashes between stone-throwing youths and soldiers continued during the day, an AFP correspondent said, but ceased briefly during the funerals of Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha.

Some 3,000 mourners attended the processions and burials, with many waving the flags of Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza and has a large support base in Hebron.

The Shin Bet said in a statement the army had also arrested several other Palestinians who had helped hide Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha after the teens were killed.

“Troops also arrested Bashar Qawasme, Mahmud Qawasme and Taer Qawasme, the sons of Arafat Qawasme who was himself arrested on July 14 on charges of helping the killers hide after the murder of the teens,” it said.

– ‘No longer a threat’ –

The suspects “no longer pose a threat to Israeli civilians,” army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said on Twitter, posting pictures of the two men.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the operation, saying the suspects had been “dealt with.”

“I said that whoever perpetrated the kidnapping and murder of our boys would bear the consequences… that we would pursue the enemy, find them and not return until they had been dealt with,” he said in a statement.

The June abduction of Gilad Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach from a hitchhiking stop near Hebron sparked a huge Israeli search operation in which hundreds of Palestinians were arrested and at least five killed.

Israel immediately blamed the kidnappings on Hamas militants, rounding up hundreds of suspected members during the arrest operation.

The brutal revenge killing by Jewish extremists of Mohammed Abu Khder, a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem, was followed by an uptick in rocket fire from Gaza, and the launch on July 8 of a full-scale Israeli military operation against the Strip.

More than 2,200 people died during the 50-day war, which ended with an August 26 ceasefire.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were to discuss a more permanent truce in Cairo beginning Tuesday, but a Palestinian official said the killings of Qawasmeh and Abu Eisha had almost scuppered the talks.

“The killing of the two youths in Hebron is causing a crisis, and could lead to the Palestinian delegation not attending indirect talks with the Israeli team,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Rachel Frenkel, the mother of 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, one of the three Jewish teenagers, said she was relieved not to have to face his killers in court.

“I’m not all that sorry that I won’t encounter their laughing faces in a courtroom,” she told army radio.

The army had already partially destroyed the two suspects’ homes on July 1, a day after the teenagers’ bodies were found. The demolitions were completed in August.

Earlier this month, Israel charged the prime suspect in the teens’ murders, Hossam Qawasmeh, with organizing and financing their kidnapping.

AFP Photo/Hazem Bader

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U.S. Army Invites Women To Try Out For Elite Ranger School

Washington (AFP) — The U.S. Army is inviting female soldiers to apply to the grueling Ranger school, officials said Monday, part of the military’s effort to open the door to women serving in ground combat.

The prestigious Ranger school has been closed to women until now.

But the army wants to study the possibility of introducing female troops, officials said, reflecting new rules in the U.S. military designed to permit women to work in more jobs closer to front lines.

To perform a one-time assessment, the army has put out a call for female volunteers who — if the plan goes ahead — would enter the two-month course in the spring of 2015.

“The Ranger assessment course would train men and women together in order to help prepare institutions, schools and leaders for future integration decisions,” the army said in a statement.

Opponents of lifting restrictions on women in combat argue that female soldiers lack the physical strength to perform the tasks required in an infantry unit at the front.

But officers said the standards for the course at Fort Benning in Georgia would not be altered for the female candidates.

“Current Ranger course standards will remain the same for all students; there will be no change to current performance requirements or graduation standards,” the army said.

In the rugged woods of Georgia and the swamps of Florida, soldiers at the Ranger school are put through a demanding regimen, performing long-distance patrols, simulated raids and parachute jumps while under intense physical and psychological stress.

The troops typically train for 20 hours a day and operate on fewer than four hours of sleep. And about half of those taking the course fail.

The Ranger school is designed to test leadership skills for a small unit under severe conditions, and the training brigade handbook carries the motto: “Not for the weak or fainthearted.”

The army said it was asking for female volunteers to take part in the Ranger school course as well as a second group of female observers and advisers.

It was still unclear how many women would be selected for the pilot project.

“It’s in the early stages and that (number of female students) has not been fully determined yet,” spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Garrett told AFP.

The vast majority of army infantry officers pass through the Ranger school and army leaders say allowing women to attend the course would enable more female troops to be on a competitive footing with their male counterparts.

Graduating from the Ranger school does not necessarily mean a soldier serves in the elite Ranger battalion special operations units.

Women in the U.S. military already serve as combat pilots, officers on naval warships, and as medics and intelligence officers. But women are prohibited from serving in the military’s most dangerous ground combat jobs, including the special operations forces.

AFP Photo/Stephen Jaffe

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