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I don’t have many pictures of my first deployment, to Iraq in 2006 and 2007, which lasted (counting Kuwait) nearly 16 months. I got rid of most of them, just like I got rid of most of my letters from the time as well. I wasn’t worried about forgetting. The few pictures that I do have were saved on accident, hidden away in desktop files or Facebook albums and forgotten about.
Military bands form a tradition — a living tradition that continues even today. But budget tightening and fat cutting have put the Pentagon’s continued support of that tradition under a microscope. Entertainment is “just not the role of the military,” Arizona Rep. and retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally recently told the website Politico. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, she is one of several lawmakers pressuring the Pentagon to take a long hard look at its spending on military bands. And while it’s probably true that military bands should share their equal burden of cuts in an atmosphere of tightening budgets, it’s important to keep in mind the important role they play. Instead of thinking about budget cuts for military bands and simply downsizing, it would be more constructive to think of making them more efficient at what they do.
In my two deployments as an infantryman to Iraq, I never had the honor of working in close proximity with a dog. There were street dogs galore in Baghdad, of course. And I’d occasionally see working dogs and their handlers stroll by on larger bases. But I never had the pleasure of actually going out on mission with one of them, to my lasting dismay.
In 1961, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem asked the United States to help defoliate the lush jungle that was providing cover to his Communist enemies. President John Kennedy acquiesced and formally launched Operation Ranch Hand, the United States Air Force’s program of systemic defoliation with the chemical compound Agent Orange. So many years later, we’re still coming to grips with the devastating effects of Agent Orange on troops and civilians alike. Decades of the government dragging its feet on dealing with the Agent Orange issue in any comprehensive way has delayed a full reckoning. New information about diseases caused by the defoliant trickle in year by year while clean-up efforts continue in Vietnam itself. The entire Agent Orange saga provides a casebook study in how not to deal with the health and environmental fallout of combat.
2016 promises to be a year of demographic revolution in the military on par with the racial desegregation of troops in 1948. But making a change as enormous as introducing women to combat jobs isn’t like flicking a switch. Even after President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, integrating the armed forces on paper, it took decades to deal with issues like equal housing, promotions, and so on.
By now you’ve probably heard of former Marine and Army Sergeant Joseph Hickman’s new incendiary book, “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.” It’s a provocative look behind the massive burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan, detailing a chilling history of sickness and systemic neglect from higher ups.