Apr 29, 2011

22nd MEU / USS Bataan, arrives Libyan coast

Amphibious Ready Groups and Marine Expeditionary Units Switching Out

USS BATAAN, Mediterranean Sea - The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Group relieved the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU of their duties in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility April 27.

The Bataan ARG has assumed responsibilities as Commander, Task Force 62 and will conduct maritime security operations and provide support as required for coalition forces assigned to Operation Unified Protector.

"I am proud of the great work the Sailors and Marines of the Kearsarge ARG/26th MEU team have done," said Capt. Peter Pagano, commander, Amphibious Squadron.
"Regardless of the mission they were assigned,they accomplished it with integrity, professionalism, and dedication."

"This MEU has been in positions of tremendous responsibility and each time delivered nothing less than what they were asked to give," said Col. Mark J. Desens, commanding officer 26th MEU. "I am very proud to have served with the Marines, Sailors and civilians of this MEU and our Navy-Marine Corps team. This deployment has been the highlight of my operational career."

During the past eight months in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet AORs the Kearsarge ARG /26th MEU team conducted a wide range of missions, ranging from the delivery of over 3 million pounds of supplies to Pakistan after a devastating summer flood to the safe relocation of 335 displaced personnel from Tunisia to Egypt.

The Kearsarge ARG was actively involved in the initial phases of Operation Odyssey Dawn, with AV-8B Harriers assigned to 26th MEU flying multiple sorties in support of the no-fly zone established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. As the mission transitioned to NATO-led Operation Unified Protector, Sailors and Marines remained on station and ready to render assistance.

"The Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU's performance in the 5th and 6th Fleet AORs has been nothing short of outstanding," said Capt. Steve Yoder, commander, Amphibious Squadron 6. "I have complete confidence that our Sailors and Marines assigned to the Bataan ARG and 22nd MEU will continue this tradition of excellence, and that they will remain vigilant, flexible, and ready to execute the full range of amphibious

The BATARG and 22nd MEU deployed three months ahead of their original schedule to relieve the Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU. The blue-green team conducted a wide range of integrated training over the last several weeks to be able to arrive on station and immediately provide the combatant commander with a versatile sea-based force that can be tailored to a variety of missions.

"The Marines and Sailors of 22nd MEU have completed the turnover with 26th MEU and are prepared to execute operations in support of Operation Unified Protector and other missions that may be assigned," said Col. Eric Steidl, commanding officer 22nd MEU. "As a Marine Air Ground Task Force, 22nd MEU is capable of responding to a wide array of contingencies ranging from humanitarian assistance to combat operations.
As we wish our fellow warriors from 26th MEU farewell, we stand ready to assume the mission as an amphibious force in readiness."

"We talk a lot on Bataan about being on time and ready for tasking," said Capt. Steve Koehler, commanding officer of USS Bataan. "This ship's job is to put the MEU in a position to conduct the nation's tasking. We are certainly ready for that and proud to have the watch here in the Mediterranean Sea."

The Bataan ARG includes detachments from Naval Beach Group 2, Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, Fleet Surgical Team Six (FST) 8, Helicopter Squadron 22, Beach Master Unit 2, Assault Craft Unit 2 and ACU-4. ARG ships include the Norfolk-based Bataan, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde, and the dock landing ship USS
Whidbey Island, homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek - Fort Story, Va.

The 22nd MEU is a Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of the Command Element, Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, and Combat Logistics Battalion 22.

Apr 25, 2011

ANZAC DAY - 2011

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"

By Matt Khoury, CNN

For many Australians in 2011, nothing is more sacred than April 25.

If it fell on Good Friday, it would probably supersede any religious commemoration.

Easter Monday is fitting: thousands of young Australians died at the battle Gallipoli -- which started on April 25, 1915 -- and it is widely regarded as marking the birth of a nation.

Its annual rememberance has evolved beyond the anti-war protests of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was perceived as a celebration of war.

“It’s not a day to support war,” says Nick Feltch, curator of the World War I galleries at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. “It’s a day of commemoration.”

“Those who have experienced war are never pro-war,” Feltch says. “They often return and wonder what it was all about. Australia’s currently committed to a conflict overseas [in Afghanistan] –- and it’s a day for the nation to reflect and consider.”

During services, people from all walks of life will come together and hear the stirring sound of a bugler playing “The Last Post.”

Almost everybody who can takes the day off. Lonely pensioners can be found sitting at bars and wearing their medals -– and for a day at least -– their service is remembered. They receive free beer from publicans and patrons.

April 25 is a day of drinking in pubs and playing "two-up" -– the coin-flipping game is legal in all licensed establishments on this day.

Australia Day -– the only other truly national holiday –- still divides the community about the righteousness of British colonization, and the Aborigines' plight.

But ANZAC Day’s a little different. Australians look at each other, remember people past and present less fortunate and think, “You know, we really are a lucky bunch of bastards.”

The Gallipoli campaign was a disaster from the very beginning. On a calm night, under a half moon on the Aegean Sea, Australians and New Zealanders were woken at 1 a.m. Three hours later, 20,000 troops attacked a beach beneath a towering cliff.

The “Sydney Morning Herald” reported their bravado: “The Australians rose to the occasion. Not waiting for orders, or for boats to reach the beach, they sprang into the sea, and, forming a sort of rough line, rushed at the enemy’s trenches.”

Soldiers of the 9th Regiment, only 100 meters from Turkish positions on 'The Nek.'That day, 2,000 were lost to relentless machine gun fire from Turkish soldiers dug in on the clifftop.

Less supportive media stories would later surface from dispatches. Indeed, historian C.E.W. Bean, writing about the West Australian Regiment, commented that the flower of youth would pass that day.

Within the Australian psyche, it was the first time the nation had proven itself. And it was approaching the last time that Australia would offer itself to foreign –- albeit Imperial -– command.

A month into the campaign, which was to last until the following January, a ceasefire was declared to clear the stinking, decaying corpses from “no mans land” in between Australian and Turkish trenches. Soldiers from opposing sides exchanged photos and swapped drinks, and then the fighting continued.

ANZAC Day is not a celebration of a military victory. By the time the bloody failure dragged to a close, the nation had lost 8,709 men, with another 19,441 wounded. Some 2,721 New Zealanders died, and 4,752 were wounded. Of Allied and Ottoman forces, 130,784 lives were lost in the campaign -– and double that number wounded.

Returned soldiers

Soldiers of the 4th Field Ambulance outside their post, known as "Rosebud Villa," on the Gallipoli Peninsula.“War operates in silly ways,” says Bob Crosthwaite, Vice President of the New South Wales Returned and Services League (NSW RSL). “That soldiers meet in the middle and exchange drinks, and then talk, epitomizes government fighting government.”

“There’s never a right side. The actions of insurgents are rarely right. But it’s a commitment by these people to achieve an outcome.”

Crosthwaite's father fought with the celebrated Desert Rats in north Africa in World War II, while he served in Malaysia and later Vietnam. He highlights the more recent recent actions of Australian peacekeeping forces in East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Returned soldiers' support for their own is solid, but they rarely support war as much as politicians.

“It’d be a better world without war -- It’s a futile activity,” Crosthwaite says. “Even in rational economics, the money spent on the front line is ridiculous.”
He said peace activists, “Acknowledge what is before them. But they also acknowledge the past.”

Ken Frank, an 85-year-old New Zealand veteran of World War II and Korea, now lives in Australia. He’s partially blind. “War is an horrific thing,” he says. “But for me, it’s 'two-bob each-way' -– it’s horrible, but you don’t want your country to get overrun.”

Divisions within battalions

Four days after the ANZAC landing, soldiers of the 1st Field Ambulance are given a briefing. When soldiers returned from Vietnam, “Guys were getting blood thrown at them, and everything,” says Andy Forsdike, who coordinates the NSW Vietnam Veterans' Association with his wife, Pam.

“We were told not to wear our uniforms when we went home [to Australia],” he says. “Some of them felt guilty, and most didn’t march on ANZAC Day...treated us really bad,” he says. “They didn’t acknowledge our war -– they said it wasn’t real. But if you were there it was real.”

There was a turning point, he says, in the 1988 “Welcome Home Parade.” After years of politics, both the Australian public and the RSL acknowledged the suffering of Vietnam veterans.

Of 50,000 who served in the Vietnam War –- the last time an Australian Government sent a full Australian force to war -- about 10 per cent still don’t march, he says.

“I march, but I don’t march because I support war –- I don’t support any war these days,” Forsdike says. “We just seem to be following the Americans into battle.”

“But on ANZAC Day, we don’t even talk about war anymore,” he says. “It’s just a chance to catch up with mates and talk about kids and grandkids.”

When Australia entered the Iraq War, hundreds of thousands protested across the country against the country’s involvement. The flag was lowered -- and troops withdrawn in mid-2008 -- after John Howard lost office.

The forgotten war, Afghanistan, remains the nation's primary foreign engadgement. But today, ANZAC Day stands as a commemoration of war and a desire for peace.
Read more: ANZAC Day in Sydney | CNNGo.com http://www.cnngo.com/sydney/life/anzac-tradition-092982?hpt=C2#ixzz1KXJPdl7M

Apr 15, 2011

Time to Re-Think the Drone Wars?

Time to Re-Think the Drone Wars?
by Ali Chishti

Karachi. It's no secret that drone strikes have become a hot-button issue in Pakistan. The Pakistani security establishment has publically distanced itself from the CIA drone program while allegedly supporting it quietly. Pakistani military officials have called the drone attacks in its federally administered area “against humanity” at the same time they openly ask the United States for joint control of drone operations and a transfer of drone technology.

According to Wikileaks there have been a total of 233 drone strikes since 2004 that have resulted in 228 deaths in this "drone war." Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani appreciates the security value of the CIA drone program but spoke against it in the parliament. Only recently a top commander of the Pakistani Army stationed at forward lines fighting the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and al-Qaeda told local journalists that he supported the drone program. For its part, the (TTP) -- which has forged a close alliance with al-Qaeda and is emerging as the biggest national security threat to the United States -- publically acknowledged sending out a Jordanian suicide bomber who killed 14 members of CIA working at a drone command and control station in Afghanistan?

There's no denying drone attacks have had an effect. In June 2004 the first drone attack killed Nek Muhammad Wazir in Wana, South Waziristan. The next attack came almost a year later, in May 2005, killing Haitham al-Yemeni -a top al-Qaeda member in North Waziristan. Since that time drones have killed bad guys from Baitullah Mesud -- Pakistan's public enemy number one -- to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman. Drones have killed more enemies of both the United States and Pakistan than ground offensives or any other strategy attempted since 9-11. And one former general in the Pakistani army estimates that "thousands" of casualties would have resulted had forces tried to get the same result fighting on the ground.

So what do the Pakistanis really want?

Direct US military aid to Pakistan has been approximately $4 billion from fiscal years 2002 to 2010 while security assistance support had been $462 million in FY2008, $884 million in FY 2009 and $1,114 million in fiscal year 2010. (This doesn't include CSF reimbursements since coalition support program is not technically an aide program. CSF reimbursements to Pakistan from the United States have been approximately $8.88 billion since 2001.

The counter-argument on drone attacks is that they fuel more terrorism than they prevent. Understandably there's a backlash as a result of drone attacks in Pakistan but the fault for that lies with Pakistan as much as any other country. The government's ill-conceived policies that provided safe havens to mercenaries around the world in the 80s and 90s along with the deals carried forward from the regime of General Pervez Mushraff have created a very divided country.

Pakistan needs a clear policy on drone attacks along with an above-board counter terrorism policy that doesn't pick between the good terrorists and bad ones. For its part the United States needs to realize that any policy on drones needs to be carefully worked out with Pakistan before any more strikes happen. As it appears right now, the U.S. seems to be settling for short-term disruptions at the expense of long term solutions. And that acceptance won't eliminate the terror threat to either country.

Ali K. Chishti is an investigative journalist and a counterterrorism expert based in Karachi, Pakistan. His book, Jehadi Godzilla and Pakistani Establishment will be released early next year.

Apr 14, 2011


Special program enables you to show your support for troops and their families

Yesterday, AOL, Inc. announced the launch of "Military Families Week" in support of a White House initiative calling on Americans to honor, recognize, and support military families. As part of the project, AOL Huffington Post Media Group is launching a wide-range of ongoing initiatives dedicated to spotlighting military veterans and their families and providing them with employment and career resources, and kicked off efforts at noon yesterday, with a special AOL "You've Got" Video featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.

In an effort to help support the military families who have served this country so generously, AOL will provide them with tools to connect with each other and to access the services they need. For example, AOL and Huffington Post Media Group sites will feature a career development and job placement hub and an intensive, weeklong spotlight on nonprofits helping service families. AOL will also launch "Patch Military" this spring, an extension of its mission to offer in-depth coverage designed to improve residents' lives and connect them with neighbors, events and services in their communities.

AOL will use its powerful platform to encourage users to get involved by highlighting nonprofits helping military families. Thru Sunday, the Daily Impact module located on the AOL.com homepage will highlight organizations helping in areas such as wellness, education and career development and make it easy to donate to leading organizations that benefit veterans and their families.

Want to get involved?

AOL Huffington Post Media Group recognizes a soldier’s commitment to serving their country and the impact it has on us all. You can show your support for our troops and their families by sharing a support badge during Military Families Week. For each badge you share, AOL will donate to Hire Heroes USA, a non-profit organization that offers job support to military families.

Apr 12, 2011

Obama's / Biden's launch "Joining Forces" initiative supporting Military Families


Major Commitments in Employment, Education, Wellness and Public Awareness

Washington, DC – President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today launched Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America’s service members and their families. The initiative aims to educate, challenge, and spark action from all sectors of our society – citizens, communities, businesses, non-profits, faith based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and government – to ensure military families have the support they have earned.

Joining Forces is spearheaded by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, who have been leaders in supporting our nation’s military families and advocating for their priorities. Joining Forces was created to address the unique challenges and needs of military families that Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden have heard firsthand during meetings with military spouses, briefings with military leaders, and many visits to military communities at home and abroad, and through their work on military family priorities. Building on this groundwork, the initiative will focus on key priority areas – employment, education, and wellness, while engaging in a comprehensive effort to raise awareness about the service, sacrifice, and needs of military families.

“Joining Forces was created to recognize and serve our nation’s extraordinary military families who, like their loved ones in uniform, serve and sacrifice so much so that we can live in freedom and security,” said Mrs. Obama. “This is a challenge to every segment of American society not to simply say thank you but to mobilize, take action and make a real commitment to supporting our military families.”

“There are so many ways that every American can lend a hand and make a difference,” said Dr. Biden. “We have met individuals and groups across this country who are supporting our troops and their families and showing all Americans that there are countless ways to help – some large and many small. But all important. And I can tell you from personal experience, all appreciated. That is why we are here today – and why Michelle and I are trying to rally American communities to join us.”

Joining Forces also builds upon President Obama’s landmark Presidential Study Directive to establish a coordinated and comprehensive Federal approach to supporting military families. Released this past January, Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment aims to improve the quality of life of our military families, veterans, and survivors of the fallen. The report details nearly 50 commitments from Cabinet Agencies to reform, strengthen, and better coordinate the Federal Government’s support for military families. For example, the Department of the Treasury has established an Office of Service Member Affairs in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to address the financial challenges that confront military families. The Departments of Labor, Commerce, Defense and the Small Business Administration are partnering with the business community to make it easier for veterans and their spouses to build a career.

President Obama said, “We’re here today because these Americans in uniform have never served alone. Not at Lexington and Concord, not in Iraq and Afghanistan. Behind every American in uniform stands a wife or husband; a mother, a father; a son or daughter; a sister or brother. These families – these remarkable families – are the force behind the force.”

“I have always said we have lots of obligations as a nation – but only one truly sacred moral obligation: to prepare and protect those we send into harm’s way, and to give them every bit of care they, and their families, need when they return,” said Vice President Biden.

The Administration has made military families a priority across the federal government, but Joining Forces recognizes that this can’t be the work of government alone. Joining Forces will reach out broadly to include commitments and efforts from outside government across many different sectors. As an initial step, the White House convened and worked with leading employers, non-profits and media companies to kick off Joining Forces with meaningful commitments to address military families’ unique needs in employment, education, wellness and public awareness. Some examples are below:

In employment, Sears Holdings, Walmart and Sam’s Club, Siemens Corporation, Goodwill, the Society for Human Resource Management, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cisco, and Indeed.com have all committed to major hiring and training initiatives for veterans and family members, and/or transportable job options for military spouses.

In education, the National Math and Science Initiative, Discovery Education, National PTA, the Military Child Education Coalition, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Reach Out and Read, Best Buy’s Geek Squad, McGraw Hill, the Better Business Bureau’s Military Line, and Intel have all committed to major initiatives to support academic achievement of military children, and to expand education and training opportunities for veterans and military spouses.

In wellness, Joining Forces has engaged associations and organizations representing primary care and mental health specialists across military and civilian health services to promote collaboration, sharing of best practices and expansion of exemplary models of care to reach all military families. WebMD, the American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, YMCA, National Military Family Association, Sierra Club, and the U.S. Tennis Association have all committed to expand access to wellness programs and resources for military families.

Commitments also include public awareness activities to ensure that Americans know more about the unique challenges and needs of military families and their strength, resilience and service. Joining Forces will work with Sesame Street, NASCAR, A&E Lifetime Networks, AOL, USO, Viacom’s Nickelodeon and Country Music Channel, Disney ABC, Pixar, Major League Baseball, and the four major entertainment guilds on ongoing public awareness campaigns about military families. And, Blue Star Families, the Red Cross, and ServiceNation: Mission Serve have developed an initiative enabling people to honor military families by making pledges of service.

As part of the initiative, a new website – JoiningForces.gov – provides ways for all Americans to step up and show their gratitude to our service members and their families. Visitors can send messages of thanks, find opportunities to get involved and share stories of service. The website will highlight Federal Government support and the outstanding American citizens, communities, and businesses that are serving our nation’s military families.

In response to the White House’s call to action, one of the nation’s leading nonpartisan institutions focused on national security, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), has announced it will be coordinating commitments already made and mobilizing ongoing support for the initiative. The effort at CNAS will be led by a board of distinguished Americans with a life of experience in the armed forces, military families and the private sector. The two initial members of board will be General Stanley McChrystal (Ret.), and Patty Shinseki.

17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Announced

17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Announced

HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS- The Commandant of the Marine Corps announced today his selection for the next Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

"I'm pleased to announce Sergeant Major Micheal P. Barrett as the 17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps," said General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps. "Sergeant Major Barrett, through his long and distinguished service to our Nation, has demonstrated that he is particularly well-suited to serve as my senior enlisted advisor through the challenges ahead. My wife Bonnie and I welcome him and his wife Susan and look forward to serving with them."

Sergeant Major Barrett will replace Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, who has served as the 16th SMMC since April 25, 2007. The relief and appointment, and retirement of Sgt. Maj. Kent will take place on June 9 at Marine Barracks Washington.

Sergeant Major Barrett recently returned from Afghanistan where he served as the sergeant major of Regional Command Southwest and I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He currently serves as the sergeant major of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, CA.

The post of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps was established in 1957 as the senior enlisted advisor to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the first such post in any of the branches of the United States Armed Forces. The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps is selected by the Commandant, and typically serves a four-year term, though his service is at the pleasure of the Commandant.

Apr 11, 2011

31st MEU's leaves Japan / returns to Oki


USS ESSEX, AT SEA - 2,200 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary unit, are returning home to Okinawa, Japan, after nearly three weeks of conducting relief operations with the Japan Maritime and Ground Self-Defense Forces in support of Operation Tomodachi in mainland Japan.

USS Essex (LHD 2), with the majority of Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU aboard, is scheduled to arrive at Naval Facility White Beach, Okinawa at noon on April 12. Two other ships with elements of the 31st MEU aboard, USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), already arrived in Okinawa on April 7.

"The Marines have helped their friends in time of need, and stand ready to support further if called upon," said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer, 31st MEU. "We are proud to call Okinawa our home, and to help those in Japan was an honor and privilege. We are all proud to have been a part of the relief efforts."

The 31st MEU was split into three separate parts on March 11. The largest ship, USS Essex (LHD 2), with most of the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU aboard, had just completed an exercise in Cambodia and had arrived in Malaysia for a port visit. When 31st MEU leadership received news of the tsunami, they initiated an immediate recall of all personnel who were away from the ship on liberty. The ship quickly took on some supplies, and in less than 24 hours was underway to Japan where it would meet up with the other two ships.

Germantown and Harpers Ferry were both in Indonesia with elements of the 31st MEU embarked, and Marines and Sailors aboard Harpers Ferry were scheduled to participate in a large humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise starting March 12. Both ships were immediately alerted upon news of the disaster in Japan and headed north for the stricken country.

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st MEU first arrived off the coast of Akita, Japan, March 17 and began flying coastal surveillance flights. Then, on March 22, the ARG repositioned off the east coast of Japan, near Hachinohe, and the 31st MEU immediately began delivering relief supplies ashore via helicopters. Supplies delivered included water, blankets, and other health and comfort items. HMM-262 (Rein) conducted a total of 15 survey missions and 204 supply delivery missions with nearly 300 hours of flight time.

On March 27, the MEU and Essex ARG's priority became support to the isolated island of Oshima. The units began by transporting relief supplies, which included moving commercial electric utility vehicles, a fuel truck, a water re-supply vehicle and civilian workers from the Tohoku Power Company by U.S. Navy landing craft to restore partial power to the cut-off island.

During the Oshima operation, two pallets of clothes, blankets, food and toys donated by Marines and Sailors were flown to the JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181) by Marine helicopters, where they were distributed to displaced residents of the island who were temporarily embarked aboard the ship.

Working alongside the JGSDF, the 31st MEU delivered 15,000 pounds of supplies to the island and cleared tons of debris from harbors, roads and beaches. Marines also created temporary shower facilities allowing residents to bathe. For some it was the first time they had been able to take a shower since the tsunami struck.

In total, the 31st MEU and the Essex ARG moved more than 160,000 pounds of relief supplies to those affected by the disaster.

JMSDF Lt. Hiroaki Tanaka, who served as a liaison officer between Japanese and U.S. forces in the area, expressed appreciation on behalf of the people of Japan. "Thank you," said Tanaka. "We are extremely thankful for your help and cooperation. I will never forget everything you have done for us."

The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation's force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region. It provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of responding to a wide range of contingencies as required.

Apr 9, 2011

Romney, Trump Not Going to Do It for GOP

Newsmc.com. 4/9/2011

The latest public poll showing Donald Trump running right behind Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination suggests some very serious problems on the Republican side.

No offense to Mr. Trump, a master showman, but hosting "Celebrity Apprentice" is a far cry from running the country. It's almost funny to think of all those people who claimed that Barack Obama's years in the Illinois Legislature prior to being elected to the United States Senate did not qualify him to be president, whereas Mr. Trump's career as a high profile (and highly leveraged) developer turned TV star does.

Indeed, it is hard to think of anyone less qualified to preside over the nation's deficit than the man who, in his own business, was the biggest deficit spender ever. Talk about too big to fail? It is the motto that has kept Mr. Trump in business, in the face of what should have been (and actually was) one extravagant failure after another.

There's no law against a "showman" being president; Ronald Reagan was in many respects a bigger "star" than Mr. Trump will ever be. But he was also the two-term governor of California and, as far as I can tell, never amassed — personally or professionally — anything approaching the debt Mr. Trump did. Yes, a star can be president, but Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. '

As for the more serious contenders, Mitt Romney's solid hold on the top position may be almost as good news for the Democrats as Mr. Trump's No. 2 status. In Mr. Romney's case, the question isn't qualifications, but ideology and religion. The first does matter; the second shouldn't, but might matter even more.

One of my favorite lines when I was working for the last Massachusetts governor to run for president was the one some of my Southern friends used to say: that by November, folks remembered that only two things came from Massachusetts: liberals and lobsters. And my candidate — and Mr. Romney, for that matter — is definitely not a lobster.

Is Mr. Romney a liberal? By conservative lights, he almost certainly was, as governor of Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong: when my brother and his family were recently trying to get health insurance, I was very glad that he lives in the first state in the country to adopt what is derisively known in certain circles as Obamacare.
In Massachusetts, anybody can buy health insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and everyone is expected to; families earning less than $55,000 per year get a subsidy that allows them to do so. Thanks, Mitt.

Not sure your Republican colleagues would second that. On a whole range of issues, from abortion to discrimination, Gov. Mitt Romney was in the Massachusetts mainstream, where the lobsters swim.

Of course, as Mr. Romney proved in his last campaign, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. You can change your mind on healthcare and abortion. Mr. McCain did a lot of shifting and won the nomination. But the one thing you can't change is your religion.

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against Mormons. I would never "not vote" for someone because of his religion, any more than I would exclude someone because of race or sex. It's popular to say that Barack Obama's election put an end to such obstacles. I'm not so sure.

During the last campaign, I found myself at dinner with the leaders of a conservative Christian university. They could not have been nicer to me; as I recall, they even paid me. But in answer to my question, they said they could never vote for Mr. Romney.

Why, I asked, thinking they might think that he wasn't a lobster either, might take issue with some of the positions he took when the electorate was limited to Massachusetts.

No, they said, without blinking, with a straight face; it was because of his religion.

I almost fell off my chair. You wouldn't vote for him because he's a Mormon, I asked, in utter disbelief. After Kennedy broke the Catholic barrier, religion wasn't supposed to count. But here were these intelligent, well-educated, and worldly men invoking what I thought was an argument that had been put to rest half a century ago.

It hasn't. When I pushed a bit — would they feel the same way about a Jew (no) or an African-American (no) — so why a Mormon, they explained to me, with a level of detail that I can hardly duplicate, that Mormons are not really Christian, that they don't accept the trinity and that their beliefs are so fundamentally at odds with Christianity that it was insulting to suggest that they were members of the same faith.

I was shocked. Everyone else at the table was shocked that I was shocked. There are many potential candidates I respect on the Republican side, who are not Mormons and not failed developers. But so long as Romney and Trump are leading the pack, they are unlikely to lead their party to the White House.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

Apr 3, 2011

31ST MEU aids cut-off Oshima Island

OSHIMA, Japan - Approximately 170 Marines and Sailors from Company G, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit left the USS Essex (LHD 2) beginning Operation Field Day in support of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, April 1.

The operation involves clearing and cleaning-up debris on the remote island of Oshima, which has been isolated since March 11 when the tsunami hit.

Along with the Marines and Sailors, four humvees, a dump truck, water truck and fuel truck were brought to the island via U.S. Navy landing craft to assist in debris removal.

The island, which is dependent upon ferry service from the mainland, was cut-off from the mainland when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore

31st MEU personnel are scheduled to assist in cleaning the harbor area to facilitate transportation of disaster aid and relief supplies to the island. Marines and Sailors are also scheduled to remove debris from local schools and government buildings, under the direction of the JGSDF and local officials.

"The Marines and Sailors with the 31st MEU are committed to helping out the people of Japan in any way possible," said Col. Andrew MacMannis, 31st MEU commanding officer. "We have the capability and equipment to move ashore and assist the people of Oshima, and we are proud to help the Japan Self Defense Forces begin the large task of getting the island back to normal."

For most Marines and Sailors with BLT 2/5, this is their first opportunity to help in the relief and recovery efforts.

"As the guys on the ground, we have a lot of manpower to assist our Japanese friends and neighbors," said Lt. Col. Pete Farnum, commanding officer of BLT

2/5. "This gives us the opportunity to join in the ongoing humanitarian operations, and to help those in need."

The 31st MEU's involvement comes in support of the ongoing Japanese response after the horrific earthquake and resulting tsunami struck northern Japan causing widespread damage. The 31st MEU is ready to support its Japanese partners and to provide assistance when called upon.

The island, which is dependent upon ferry service from the mainland, was cut-off from the mainland when the tsunami washed its ferries ashore.