Dec 30, 2008

The Red Cross and the Military

We all know the Red Cross from blood drives and Santas ringing bells as they beg for money, but in fact the American Red Cross (ARC) has a long history of providing support to members of the Armed Forces; they’ve been doing so since their inception in 1881. Military members can be confident that when they are deployed, in training, or stationed far from home –– often without phone or email access –– they are not out of touch. The ARC offers emergency communication, emergency financial assistance, counseling, and services for veterans at absolutely no cost to families in need

I live in the Philadelphia area, so I contacted the Red Cross’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter for information on how the Red Cross supports our military. My good friend Maureen Murphy, their Senior Major Gifts Officer, quickly sent me the below information:

“This year 1,577 military families received 2,643 services. We anticipate no decrease in the need for our services in 2009. In our Chapter’s five-county area, 34 National Guard units are currently active, with 17,000 Pennsylvania Guard having served since 2001. Furthermore, with the current economic downturn, we anticipate that the military families we serve will call upon us even more.

Emergency Communication: Red Cross communication services allow active duty military personnel to be in touch with their families in the event of emergencies such as death, serious illness of a family member, the birth of a child, or similar serious family situations. We contact embassies, ships at sea, and isolated military units. We also record and send special video messages to deployed service-members that allows them to see their loved ones.

Emergency Financial Assistance: We provide financial assistance to military personnel and their families in the form of interest-free loans or grants to assist with traveling expenses incurred during a personal or family crisis requiring the presence of service member or his-her family. We also provide financial support when there is a demonstrated need for burial expenses, or urgent health and welfare needs such as food or shelter.

Counseling: We offer confidential services to military personnel and their family including counseling, guidance, and information referrals of all kinds.

Services for Veterans: We provide assistance and information to veterans about the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our staff and volunteers work as advocates assisting veterans in obtaining financial benefits through the Board of Veterans Appeals.

The following are two examples of how our chapter has been able to assist our local military families this year:

• Jacob D__ was born in the morning. Soon after, Kate D__ called us to ask if we could inform her husband, a Marine serving in Iraq, about the birth of their son. Our volunteer documented the request, verified the information with Kate’s doctor in Montgomery County, and dispatched an Emergency Communications request. The news was conveyed to Corporal D__ that same day.

• Maria B’s daughter was rushed to a Chester County hospital. Maria’s husband was on assignment in the “Beyond the Horizon Exercise” but she could not reach him. Maria contacted our Chapter and a volunteer immediately contacted the hospital, confirmed the child’s status, and dispatched an Emergency Communications leave request. With this quick and efficient work, the U.S Southern Command notified Captain B__ that he was granted leave to go home to be with his daughter and wife – and it all took just 43 minutes.

As our troops continue to deploy, our Chapter remains committed to delivering “Services to the Armed Forces” to them and their families. Your gift truly matters to the thousands of men, women, and children who call upon us in times of crisis.”

Though the Services to the Armed Forces program is a congressionally-mandated core function for the Red Cross, the federal government does not subsidize these services, call Maureen Murphy, Senior Major Gifts Officer at (215) 299 4038 or Emily Davis, Senior Director of Financial Development, at (215) 299-4064. . You’ve still got time to make a 2008 charitable donation.

Dec 19, 2008

Toys for Tots - DONATE NOW !!

2003 - Reader’s Digest names Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation America's "Best Children’s Charity"

There are few charities that have accomplished as much as Toys-for-Tots, and it all started with a Raggedy Ann Doll in 1947 Los Angeles.

Diane Hendricks handcrafted the doll, and asked her husband Bill to give it to an organization delivering Christmas toys to needy children. To their surprise, there was no such group, so after Diane informed Bill that he needed to start one…Major Bill Hendricks, US Marine Corps Reserves, enlisted his fellow Reservists and collected and distributed 5,000 toys that year.

The program was so successful that the Marine Corps promptly adopted Toys-for-Tots and in 1948 made it a national program. The Reservists ran their early campaigns in every city or town in America that had a Marine Reserve Center, with the announced goal to “bring the joy of Christmas to America's needy children.”

While Maj Hendricks was a Marine Reservist on weekends, his day job was that of Director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers Studio, and he used his Warner Brother connections to advance the Toys-for-Tots program; in 1948 Walt Disney designed the logo (still used today), along with the poster used in the initial national campaign, and later Nat "King" Cole, Peggy Lee, and Vic Damone recorded the Toys for Tots theme.

The Hollywood connections continued, with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Tim Allen, Kenny Rogers, Clint Eastwood, and Billy Ray Cyrus but a few of the long list of celebrities who have given their time and talent to promote Toys for Tots since 1948. Organized as a 501(C)(3) tax-deductable public charity, thousands of America’s corporations and dozens of thousands of individuals donate money, toys, and time annually. First Lady Nancy Reagan served as the national spokesperson in 1983, as did First Lady Barbara Bush in 1992.

Even in 1990, as Marine Reservists were being mobilized for Operation Desert Shield – Desert Storm, Hollywood and corporate America stepped in to assist; Merv Griffin’s popular “Wheel of Fortune” TV teamed with Pizza Hut for a three-week promotion of Toys-for-Tots that raised in excess of $ 3 million – and the deploying Marines still distributed 7.9 million toys.

The number of toys donated is staggering, as is the number of children who receive them:

• 1995: 8.1 million toys were collected and distributed to 4.2 million children.
• 1997: 10 million toys are distributed to 4.7 million children
• 1999: 13.7 m toys for 5.9 m children
• 2000: 15.8 m toys for 6.3m “
• 2003: 15.1m toys for 6.6 m “
• 2004: 19 m toys for 7.5 m “
• 2006: 19.2 m toys for 7.6m “

And remember that the Marine Reservists were called up in 2001 to fight in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, all of this has been accomplished with 35 % of the Reservists deployed.

These are the most difficult economic times in memory – which makes it even more difficult to be a child. Take a few minutes this weekend and donate a wrapped new toy to your local Toys-for-Tots barrel, or even better; click on the Toys-for-Tots icon (top-right) on my home page and donate $ 20-30 via paypal.

Keep faith with the Marines fighting overseas - it’s the right thing to do.

Semper Fi

Dec 18, 2008

The Air Force - A Failed Experiment

Air Force nuclear unit fails inspection

By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the fifth time this year, a U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons unit failed an inspection, this time because of failure to document its handling of nuclear missiles and other critical issues, Air Force officials said.

A "nuclear surety inspection" and "unit compliance inspection" was conducted this month on the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming by an Air Force inspector general.

There was no risk to the unit's Minuteman III nuclear missiles, Air Force officials said.

The unit has 90 days to correct the problems and pass another inspection.

In the wake of recent problems, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top Air Force officials have indicated a zero tolerance for failing inspections, but no punishments are expected in this case, officials said.

The inspection report found the maintenance unit failed to document tests conducted on missiles correctly, including tests on safety devices. The inspector general told the unit the failures indicated either a "lack of competence" or "disregard for procedures," according to a source who has seen the report.

Additionally, failures included having some personnel on duty without proper medical clearance and failure to inspect radiation detectors.

Other units that failed inspections this year included two bomb wings and two missile units.

Dec 17, 2008

Marine Leadership on the Afgan-Pak border

FOB Joyce. Part of being a Marine officer is looking after one's Marines, and in last last few weeks in-country, Col Jeff Haynes has been out in the boonies doing just that.

Haynes is the commanding officer of Embedded Training Team 3-5 (ETT); a unit made up of Marines, Army, National Guard, and Navy that has been mentoring the Afghan National Army's 201st Corps. Theirs is more than just a purely military mission; they provide a 'muscular mentoring' that has them teaching their Afghan counterparts the fine points of being a Sgt Maj or a Captain, as well as going out in the field with them during operations. Hayne's goal is to do far more than putting an "Afghan face" on the war; he's trying to teach the Afghan's 201st Corps how to conduct operations on their own...when the Afghan people see the Afghan Army fighting independely, they'll have more confidence in the Afghan government. But now ETT 3-5's time in Afghanistan is coming to an end, and Haynes is travelling out to visit his Marines and soldiers one more time.

We helo'd out to Jalalabad, from where we moved to FOB Hughie. The BlackHawk reduced a multiple-hour drive to one of the most amazing 20-minute helicopter rides ever experienced as the scenery changes abruptly from the stark moon-like mountain ranges and deserts to a brilliant green agricultural area.

With Jalalabad having a major airport, FOB Hughie has become the headquarters hub for the American bases in this part of Afghanistan. In the past months Haynes has spent considerable time and effort pushing his forces north along the Afghan-Pak border into the smaller FOBS and COPS (combat outposts) where groups as small as 2-3 Marines mentor the ANA and assist the Army in these remote areas. It was in one of these little bases in June where three of Hayne's Marines rallied the Army defenses in the vicious fight at Wanat (24 Army KIA, with 1 Marine nominated for the Silver Star and 1 for the Bronze), and Haynes wanted to see as many bases as possible. The plan was to convoy-up to Asadabad, then over to Camp Blessing, and stop at the smaller COPS like Able Main, Hannukah Miracle, FOB Monti, and Camp Joyce before returning.

Marine LtCol Anthony Terlizzi was awaiting us. An artilleryman by trade, he's the senior Marine in this area, and therefore responsble for the Marine mentoring program in the Kunar and Nuristan region (while reporting to Col Haynes). Under him are LtCol's Mike Cuccio and Kevin Anderson, who are 'up-country' with their men, and in the morning the convoy would run north to take us to the small bases for which they are responsble.

Even from the backseat of a humvee, Afghanistan is lovely country. The river - and Pakistan - is on the right, along with trees, villages, and one 'National Geographic" view after another; it's easy to take 100 pictures daily here. Children uniformly wave enthusiastically as we go past, and many of the adult men nod their heads or otherwise make some sort of gesture of acknowledgement. It's hard to determine what the women think, however; they're wearing full-strength, up-armored chadors that even covers their eyes, so their take on the American convoy remains a mystery as we roll by on the way to Camp Blessing.

Blessing is dug into the side of a mountain, and sits at the end of the usually kinetic Kornegal Valley. Lots of firefights in this valley in the past few years; this area used to be one of Afghanistan's chief sources of logs - lumber until the American Army came in and shut down the logging businesses which cost jobs. Now the Kornegali's take Saudi money funnelled through Pakistan to fight the Americans, and since they know the steep valley best, it's a difficult fight.. As in many areas of Afghanistan, the fight is more economic than ideological; the availability of steady jobs would cut the supply of guerillas considerably.

After an Afghan-style dinner on base with Mohammed Nasim, the local deputy Kandak commander, Haynes was able to talk at length with his Marines. "You've done well", he told the few of them on base, "but don't relax. keep up the pressure, work until the last day, and pay attention. Stay aggressive; we're not going to sit back and let the fight come to us...and in three weeks we'll all be back home in Okinawa."

Leaving in the morning, Haynes repeated his message " aggressive - but be smart. Get out there, and finish hard."

Driving out along the narrow valley roads was a replay of yesterday...except for the incident at the voter registration station in one small town. Afghanistan is actively registering voters for their upcoming Spring 2009 elections, and the ANA is being stretched thin as they safeguard the registration stations from Taliban violence and intimidation. Driving past one station, with 30-40 men and women lined out outside to register, we recieved a radio report of "bad guys setting up a DSKA ( the Russian version of our .50-cal haeavy machine gun) to shoot into the town..." Our small convoy slammed to a halt, and began to ready itself for a QRF mission (quick relief force), should the shooting start. But virtually simultaniously, the Army unit got grid coordinates on the bad guys and called in a mortar mission that killed the bad guys...this is voter registration; Afghan-style.

Only a few minutes later just a mile or so down the road from the potential massacre, at the next ugly little base, Able Main, Haynes stopped to give the same talk to the small group of Marines and Soldiers manning that little outpost "...You've done a great job; stay alert; don't take unnecessary risks, but stay aggressive, and keep bringing the fight to them."

And then it was back into the humvees as we rolled down the road again to yet another base

Dec 15, 2008

Support your Troops at Christmas!

Send Some Holiday Joy To Our Troops !

And after the holidays, send them some more…

I’ve recently returned from my third 4-5 week embed in Afghanistan. This is a different battlefield than Iraq; other than the insanely posh Bagram living conditions ( multiple chow halls, massage parlors, and jewelry shops ), this is still a war zone. Out in the mountains on the Afghan-Pak border it’s pretty rustic living, and when I was south of Kandahar in June, it was 140’F and too hot to eat our MRE’s. But in December - Jan - Feb, there will be 150+ inches of snow in the mountains with temps are below zero, and down in the south the3 blustery winds will make the desert south of Kandahar very, very cold.

Packages from the home-front are a big deal.

The Marines and soldiers can use what you send, and it’s damn nice for them to know they’re not forgotten. Here’s what you need to do:

Buy a US Post Office “Priority Mail APO/FPO flat rate box ( $ 10.95, regardless of weight) and fill it with:

Ramens, beef jerky, powdered Gatorade-sports drinks, paperbacks, racing car, hunting, or rifle magazines, powdered hot chocolate, potato chips, triskets or other flavored crackers, pretzels, Little Debbie cakes, lip balm, disposable razors, playing cards…and add a note with your address or email and you’ll most likely get a reply.

Or fill a shoe-box; when my son was deployed, I’d mail a shoebox of stuff every Saturday; it cost maybe $ 5.00 to fill it, and whatever to ship it. Your packages won’t get there by Christmas, but frankly time and holidays lose all meaning in a war-zone – they’ll be as happy to receive your box in January as in December. Oh yeah, and mail them to:

Capt Lindsay Mathwick
Unit 42540
FPO AP 96426-2540

Sgt Castro Frances
XV111 Airborne Corps
42001 MNC-1-C3 COIC
APO AE 09342-2001

Sgt Justin Mason
UIC 41116
FPO AP 96426-1116

LCDR M.L. Tomlinson, USN
1st Bn, 2nd Marines
UIC 73040
FPO AE 09509-3040

And check out the Michigan-2 Motor city Chapter of the Women Marines Association. They run "Operation Holiday Joy", which sends stocking of holiday items to our deployed troops. They're at: or

So get your friends, office workers, and church to roger-up and support our troops. Maybe the war doesn’t make the news like it did in 2003, but America’s still got 200,000+ Marines and Soldiers fighting overseas who deserve your support.

HoHoHo and all…and Semper Fi

Dec 11, 2008

Meltdown in Mexico

Mexico's bloody drug war

The drug violence in Mexico rivals death tolls in Iraq.

December 10, 2008

By David Danelo

On Nov. 3, the day before Americans elected Barack Obama president, drug cartel henchmen murdered 58 people in Mexico. It was the highest number killed in one day since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006. By comparison, on average 26 people -- Americans and Iraqis combined -- died daily in Iraq in 2008. Mexico's casualty list on Nov. 3 included a man beheaded in Ciudad Juarez whose bloody corpse was suspended along an overpass for hours. No one had the courage to remove the body until dark.

The death toll from terrorist attacks in Mumbai two weeks ago, although horrible, approaches the average weekly body count in Mexico's war. Three weeks ago in Juarez, which is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, telephone messages and banners threatened teachers that if they failed to pay protection money to cartels, their students would suffer brutal consequences. Local authorities responded by assigning 350 teenage police cadets to the city's 900 schools. If organized criminals wish to extract tribute from teachers, businessmen, tourists or anyone else, there is nothing the Mexican government can do to stop them. For its part, the United States has become numb to this norm.

As part of my ongoing research into border issues, I have visited Juarez six times over the last two years. Each time I return, I see a populace under greater siege. Residents possess a mentality that increasingly resembles the one I witnessed as a Marine officer in Baghdad, Fallouja and Ramadi.

"The police are nothing," a forlorn cab driver told me in September. "They cannot protect anyone. We can go nowhere else. We live in fear."

An official in El Paso estimated that up to 100,000 dual U.S.-Mexican citizens, mostly upper middle class, have fled north from Juarez to his city this year. Only those lacking means to escape remain.

At the same time, with the U.S. economy in free fall, many illegal immigrants are returning south. So illegal immigration -- the only border issue that seems to stir the masses -- made no splash in this year's elections. Mexico's chaos never surfaced as a topic in either the foreign or domestic policy presidential debates.

Despite the gravity of the crisis, our closest neighbor has fallen off our political radar. Heaven help you if you bring up the border violence at a Washington dinner party. Nobody -- Republican or Democrat -- wants to approach this thorny discussion.

Mexico, our second-largest trading partner, is a fragmenting state that may spiral toward failure as the recession and drug violence worsen. Remittances to Mexico from immigrant labor have fallen almost 20% in 2008. Following oil, tourism and remittances, drugs are the leading income stream in the Mexican economy.

While the bottom is dropping out of the oil and tourism markets, the American street price of every narcotic has skyrocketed, in part because of recent drug interdiction successes along the U.S. border.

Unfortunately, this toxic economic cocktail also stuffs the cartels' coffers. Substitute tribal clans for drug cartels, and Mexico starts to look disturbingly similar to Afghanistan, whose economy is fueled by the heroin-based poppy trade.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Obama's pick for Homeland Security director, has argued for permanently stationing National Guard troops along the border. That response alone will do little to assuage American border citizens. To them, talk of "violence bleeding over" is political pabulum while they watch their southern neighbors bleed.

If Napolitano wishes to stabilize the border, she will have to persuade the Pentagon and the State Department to take a greater interest in Mexico. Despite Calderon's commendable efforts to fight both the cartels and police corruption, this struggle shows no signs of slowing. When 45,000 federal troops are outgunned and outspent by opponents of uncertain but robust size, the state's legitimacy quickly deteriorates.

The Mexican state has not faced this grave a challenge to its authority since the Mexican revolution nearly a century ago.

If you want to see what Mexico will look like if this pattern continues, visit a border city like Tijuana, where nine beheaded bodies were discovered in plastic bags 10 days ago. Inhale the stench of decay. Inspect the fear on the faces. And then ask yourself how the United States is prepared to respond as Mexico's crisis increasingly becomes our own.

David J. Danelo is the author of "The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide" and "Blood Stripes: The Grunt's View of the War in Iraq."