May 5, 2011
Claude Stanley Choules, the last known combat veteran of World War I, died Thursday at a nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth, his family said. He was 110
Beloved for his wry sense of humor and humble nature, the British-born Choules — nicknamed "Chuckles" by his comrades in the Australian Navy — never liked to fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108.
"We all loved him," his 84-year-old daughter Daphne Edinger told The Associated Press. "It's going to be sad to think of him not being here any longer, but that's the way things go."
He usually told the curious that the secret to a long life was simply to "keep breathing." Sometimes, he chalked up his longevity to cod liver oil. But his children say in his heart, he believed it was the love of his family that kept him going for so many years.
"His family was the most important thing in his life," his other daughter, Anne Pow, told the AP in a March 2010 interview. "It was a good way to grow up, you know. Very reassuring."
Choules was born March 3, 1901, in the small British town of Pershore, Worcestershire, one of seven children. As a child, he was told his mother had died — a lie meant to cover a more painful truth: She left when he was 5 to pursue an acting career. The abandonment affected him profoundly, Pow said, and he grew up determined to create a happy home for his own children.
In his autobiography, "The Last of the Last," he remembered the day the first motor car drove through town, an event that brought all the villagers outside to watch. He remembered when a packet of cigarettes cost a penny. He remembered learning to surf off the coast of South Africa, and how strange he found it that black locals were forced to use a separate beach from whites.
World War I was raging when Choules began training with the British Royal Navy, just one month after he turned 14. In 1917, he joined the battleship HMS Revenge, from which he watched the 1918 surrender of the German High Seas Fleet, the main battle fleet of the German Navy during the war.
"There was no sign of fight left in the Germans as they came out of the mist at about 10 a.m.," Choules wrote in his autobiography. The German flag, he recalled, was hauled down at sunset. "So ended the most momentous day in the annals of naval warfare," he wrote. "A fleet of ships surrendered without firing a shot."
Choules and another Briton, Florence Green, became the war's last known surviving service members after the death of American Frank Buckles in February, according to the Order of the First World War, a U.S.-based group that tracks veterans.
Choules was the last known surviving combatant of the war. Green, who turned 110 in February, served as a waitress in the Women's Royal Air Force.
Despite the fame he achieved because of his military service, Choules grew to become a pacifist who was uncomfortable with anything that glorified war. He disagreed with the celebration of Anzac Day, Australia's most important war memorial holiday, and refused to march in parades held each year to commemorate the holiday.
"He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war," said his son Adrian Choules."He used to say, if it was the other way around, and the old ... were off fighting, then there would never be any wars," Choules told local media.
During World War II, he was the acting torpedo officer in Fremantle, Western Australia, and chief demolition officer for the western side of the Australian continent. Choules disposed of the first mine to wash ashore in Australia during the war.
He later transferred to the Naval Dockyard Police and remained in the service until his retirement in 1956.
In his 80s, he took a creative writing course at the urging of his children and decided to record his memoirs for his family. The memoirs formed the basis of his autobiography, which was finally published three decades later in 2009. He would cite the book as one of his greatest achievements.
Still, the aging process took its toll, and in recent years, he grew blind and nearly deaf. Despite that, his children say he retained his cheerful spirit and positive outlook on life. "I had a pretty poor start," he told the ABC in November 2009. "But I had a good finish."
May 4, 2011
FORWARD OPERATING BASE ZEEBRUGGE, Afghanistan – U.S. Marines have been defending the area around the Kajaki Dam near here for more than a year, but they are not the only force fighting to protect this key terrain.
Many of the nearly 130 Afghan Uniformed Police officers stationed at Kajaki can literally call the area home, and the Marines based here say their Afghan counterparts have proven themselves in action against the insurgency.
“They go out and find IEDs for us,” said Cpl. Anthony Chavez, a provisional rifleman with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 8. “We take them out with us on pushes … they’ve contributed to us in helping push the insurgents back.”
The AUP is a national security force intended to provide community policing services and rule of law.
“The AUP are important because, other than the provincial governor, they’re the only government influence in these rural areas,” said 1st Lt. Aiden Katz, the officer in charge of the Police Advisory Team from 1st Bn., 5th Marines, RCT-8.
The Kajaki AUP outfit is notable for its organization and patrolling ability, qualities that stem from the fact that most of the unit’s original officers were recruited out of local families displaced by the insurgency, said Katz.
“From my experience the AUP do tend to be local, but not specifically from [the area they patrol],” he explained. “The majority of these AUP are originally from here.”
Kajaki’s defining features are the hydroelectric dam on the Helmand River and the fertile green zone that winds along it into Sangin District to the south. Coalition security in the area centers around the dam, and the AUP station is adjacent to it.
Much of the population that had lived in the villages near the dam and the nearby green zone fled about five years ago after fighting in the area intensified. The local bazaar closed and most of the locals went with it.
“Five years ago the bazaar was busy and crowded,” said Haji Faziullah Ahakizad, who has been district chief of police for several years. “After the Taliban came all the people left.”
Many of Kajaki’s displaced families settled near the provincial capital at Lashkar Gah. Much of the local AUP force was recruited from there, said Faziullah.
Faziullah and his men have established several posts in the lowlands around the dam. At night, lights from their trucks and checkpoints can be seen from the hillside forward operating base here, patrolling and interdicting suspicious activity.
Marine Police Advisory Teams with 1st and 3rd Battalions, 5th Marines, have been working with the Kajaki AUP for more than a year. The PATs teach the AUP patrolling and rule of law tactics, and serve as an operational liaison between the Afghan forces and the Marines.
Cpl. Brock Bigej, a police trainer with 1st Bn., 5th Marines’ advisory team, knows about working with Afghan police. In 2009 and 2010 he spent several months training Afghan Border Police officers in southern Helmand province. By the end of that deployment the ABP had made significant strides under their Marine mentors, he said.
“It was very gratifying to see the progress they had made by the end of seven months,” he said.
The experiences from his previous advisory deployment lead Bigej to volunteer for his current mission. As good as the unit he helped mentor last year were, the police at Kajaki are better, he said.
“This unit is much more organized than the unit I worked with last time,” he said. “They’re moving around at night and during the day providing security. They’re much more independent than the last group.”
The AUP are designed to serve more as a traditional police force than a full-fledged fighting force, but the reduced population around the dam has the Kajaki AUP working the other way around, said Katz. They are operating much more akin to how the Afghan National Army would be,” he explained.
The AUP here have been involved in numerous actions against local insurgents since the Marines took over security of the area. There is plenty of insurgent activity in the area just outside the security bubble near the dam, and improvised explosive devices are a serious threat to locals and coalition forces.
“The insurgents in this area are not from here,” said Faziullah. “They want to fight; we will fight them.”
The result of the AUP aggressively policing in the area has been to create an extra layer of security that benefits coalition units and locals in the area, said Katz.
The police advisors are not the only Marines to note the effectiveness of the Kajaki AUP. Primary security for the area falls to 1st Bn., 10th Marines, and certain AUP officers have achieved quasi-folklore status with the unit.
The Marines talk of an officer nicknamed “IED Dundee,” whom they say has unearthed and disarmed dozens of improvised explosive devices in the area. Other officers are known for their lethal accuracy with rocket propelled grenades and PKM machine guns.
Although most of the local populace may have fled, the AUP are involved in the lives of those locals who elected to stay. In January, a local man stepped on an IED likely meant for coalition forces. Two AUP officers rushed to his aid before hitting a second device. One officer lost his legs, the other lost a foot, said Katz.
“Being from here they have a notable amount of bravery to protect the people and fight the enemy,” he said.
For now the coalition and AUP forces in the area are in a holding pattern in the area around the dam, although Faziullah has plans for the future of his home district that go beyond the current situation.
"My plan is to expand my posts,” he said. “The Marines will help me, and the Afghan Army will help me, and we will bring peace to Kajaki.”
May 3, 2011
Boehner: Afghanistan now more important
From NBC's Shawna Thomas
House Speaker John Boehner sees the death of Osama bin Laden as proof that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a necessity for the country’s safety. "It's important that we remain vigilant in our efforts to defeat terrorist enemies and protect the American people,” he said during a late afternoon press conference at the Capitol. “This makes our engagement in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan more important not less.”
Surrounded by most of the Republican leadership in the House, Boehner began with talk of unity. “The tragic events of 9/11 10 years ago remind us that we’re all Americans and that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us.” He honored the troops and the intelligence community, as well as those who died on September 11, but he and three other members who spoke -- Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and GOP Conference Chair Jeb Hensarling -- all seemed to express a renewed commitment to American armed forces. Their choice of words was striking in the context of the continued spending debate. (Remember, the Defense Department was appropriated billions more than what it got last in fiscal year 2010 in last month’s compromise, but is a huge piece of the spending pie that will have to be dealt with.)
Hensarling, who was last to speak, congratulated President Obama, while reminding everyone that the war isn’t over. “One thing that has not changed after today is that the price of liberty remains eternal vigilance,” he said.