Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Marine suicides up to 26 so far in 2009

Militarytimes.com, the newspaper group that brings you Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Times, says Marine suicides are on pace to exceed last years alarming trend, and could rise to the most since 2003.

Despite widespread efforts to reduce the number of Marines killing themselves, the Corps recorded 26 suspected or confirmed suicides in the first half of 2009, officials said.

The statistics were released Monday at the Sergeants Major Symposium inWashington, an annual meeting of the Corps’ top enlisted leaders in Washington.

The 26 dead Marines put the Corps on pace for 52 in 2009, which would be the most since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. Last year, the Corps lost 42 Marines to confirmed or suspected suicides, up from 25 in 2006 and 33 in 2007.

“We’re looking at all options to get a handle on this,” Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the Corps’ top enlisted adviser, told the Militarytimes.com reporter. “We’re trying to pinpoint what we can do, and we’re going to stay engaged until we find a fix for it.”

Senior enlisted leaders discussed more enhanced suicide-prevention training that has been formulating for several months, with non-commissioned officers Corps wide trained to watch for signs, and "master trainer" sergeants deploying throughout the Corps to train others.

“Peer groups have to recognize the signs at ankle level, not chest level,” Sgt. Maj. Michael Timmerman, the senior enlisted adviser with the Personal and Family Readiness Division at Marine Corps headquarters, was quoted as saying.

All three of Fort Lewis's Stryker Brigades deploy this year

Fort Lewis's 4,000 member 5th Stryker Brigade, the post's newest and which had never been deployed, left for Afghanistan last month, becoming the first Stryker brigade ever to serve there.

Four thousand more soldiers from the 4th Stryker Brigade are preparing to leave in September for Iraq for their second tour, and some observers predict it will be the last American brigade sent there.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Stryker Brigade last week began readying for its third tour of duty to Iraq, casing its colors last Friday as it mobilized to leave.

The deployments will leave the 30,000-soldier post at about half its Army population this year. Other smaller units from the post also are expected to deploy to war zones this year.

With the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, the missions are expected to change. The News Tribune talks about some of the changes in its FOB Tacoma blog, and caught up with a 3rd Stryker Brigade soldier, Staff Sgt. Jason Hill, who is preparing for his third trip to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department's public relations folks released some videos of the 5th Stryker soldiers landing at Kandahar July 13.

That new Agent Orange report from the Institute of Medicine I referred to in a previous post came out last Friday.

Among the findings:

Limited data suggests exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War is associated with an increased chance of developing ischemic heart disease and Parkinson's disease for Vietnam veterans.

The full 750 page report costs a bundle but can be viewed online for free at HTTP://NATIONAL-ACADEMIES.ORG

The report is the latest in a congressionally mandated series by the IOM that every two years reviews the evidence about the health effects of these herbicides and a type of dioxin -- TCDD -- that contaminated some of the defoliants.

According to a news release, a finding of "limited or suggestive evidence of an association" means evidence indicates there could be a link between exposure to a chemical and increased risk for a particular health effect, though conflicting results from studies, problems with how the studies were conducted, or other confounding factors limit the certainty of the evidence.

Until now, the cumulative evidence had been inadequate to draw conclusions about whether these two conditions may be associated with veterans' exposures to herbicides or TCDD.

Ischemic heart disease -- a condition characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart, which can lead to heart attack and stroke -- is the foremost cause of death among people in industrialized countries.

Major risk factors include buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, age, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The committee that wrote the report reviewed several studies investigating TCDD exposure and heart disease, many of which showed that higher TCDD exposure correlated with greater incidence of disease.

The studies had weaknesses; for instance, it is difficult to adjust entirely for the impact of smoking, age, weight, and other common risk factors.

But based on the preponderance of the evidence as well as biologic data beginning to show how TCDD can cause this toxic effect, the committee concluded that the evidence suggests that veterans exposed to defoliants contaminated with TCDD during the war may face a higher risk for developing ischemic heart disease.

The committee's conclusion that there may be a relationship between Parkinson's disease and Agent Orange exposure stems from its review of 16 studies that looked at herbicide exposures among people with Parkinson's disease or Parkinson's-like symptoms.

The finding was bolstered by several studies that have identified exposure to certain compounds similar to those in the herbicides used in the war as potential risk factors for the development of Parkinson's.

The committee's review was hampered by the lack of studies investigating the occurrence of Parkinson's disease in Vietnam veterans specifically and the lack of animal studies testing the chemical components of Agent Orange for their potential to cause Parkinson's-like symptoms.

The report strongly recommends that studies examining the relationship between Parkinson's incidence and exposures in the veteran population be performed. Parkinson's disease affects approximately 1 percent of people over age 60 -- some 5 million people worldwide.

In response to a request for clarification by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the committee also affirmed that hairy cell leukemia is in the same category as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and lymphomas.

Previous reviews in the series found sufficient evidence to state that there is an association between herbicide exposure and increased risk for CLL and lymphomas.

The report presents scientific data only and does not suggest or intend to imply policy decisions that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs might make. Also, the findings relate to exposures and outcomes in broad populations; researchers' abilities to pinpoint the health risks faced by any individual veteran are hindered by inadequate information about military personnel's exposure levels during service in Vietnam.

U.S. forces sprayed Agent Orange and other defoliants over parts of southern Vietnam and surrounding areas from 1962 to 1970. Most large-scale sprayings were conducted from airplanes and helicopters, but herbicides were also dispersed from boats and ground vehicles and by soldiers wearing back-mounted equipment.

Washington National Guard soldiers begin returning from Iraq

Nearly 150 citizen soldiers from the Washington National Guard's Seattle-based 81st Brigade Combat Team, which went to Iraq last September, are scheduled to arrive at McChord
Air Force Base Wed. July 29 shortly before noon.

They are the vanguard of the entire 4,000 member brigade -- 2,400 of them from Washington -- who are expected to arrive home throughout the next two weeks.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Maj. Gen. Timothy J. Lowenberg, the state's Adjutant General, together will welcome home the first arrivals.

After arriving at McChord, the soldiers will be taken to Wilson Gym on North Fort Lewis for a welcome home ceremony and to be released to their families and friends.

The 81stwas federalized on Aug. 18, 2008. After undergoing pre-deployment training at the Yakima Training Center and Fort McCoy, Wisc., they deployed to Iraq -- the brigade's second tour of duty there since 2004-2005.

Missions for 81st units in Iraq typically focused on convoy security, force protection, provincial
reconstruction and base operations.

To learn more about the Washington National Guard, see http://www.washingtonguard.org

Monday, July 27, 2009

Seafair Parade of Ships features first Coast Guard Legend-class cutter

The Everett-based guided-missile destroyers, USS Shoup and USS Momsen will arrive in Seattle's Elliott Bay on Tuesday to prepare to lead the Seafair fleet's "Parade of Ships" on Wednesday, among them the Coast Guard's newest and first "National Security Cutter."

The two Navy warships will be joined by the USCGC Bertholf based in San Francisco, and two Canadian vessels, HMCS Brandon and Nanaimo. The parade is expectd to sail past Pier 66 after 1:30 p.m.

It's a relatively small Seafair fleet compared to those of years past, but the ships are expected to attract crowds when they moor at Terminal 30 and open for visitors after the parade on Wednesday.

The Chief of Naval Operations and other Navy dignitaries are expected to be in Seattle for the parade.

The Shoup, named for former Marine Corps commandant Gen. David M. Shoup, who earned the Medal of Honor while leading Marines at Tarawa in WW II, is relatively new, having been commissioned in Seattle at Terminal 37 in 2002. It has been commanded since April 2008 by Cmdr. Michael J. Lehman, a 20-year Navy veteran whose first assignment was aboard the Everett-based aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The newer USS Momsen, named for former Vice Adm. Charles B. Momsen of WW II fame, who also developed the submarine escape Momsen Lung breathing apparatus, was commissioned in 2004 in Florida. It is commanded by Cmdr. Robert W. Bodvake, a 19-year Navy veteran.

Each destroyer carries a crew of close to 275 sailors.

Both vessels, technically advanced Arleigh Burke-class modern guided missile destroyers, aren't the old "tin cans" of granpa's Navy.

When the first Arleigh Burke class destroyer was commissioned in 1991, the Navy says that at the time it was the most powerful surface combatant ship ever to put to sea. They are capable of carrying out air, surface and submarine warfare, but also in recent years have assisted in humanitarian missions.

Each ships' armament includes SM-2MR standard missiles, ASROC missiles; Tomahawk guided missiles; six MK-46 torpedoes; a close-in weapon system; a 5-inch MK 45 gun; an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile; and two LAMPS MK III MH-60 armed with Penguin/Hellfire missiles and MK 46/MK 50 torpedoes.

Meanwhile, USCGC Bertholf commissioned only last year, is the first of the Coast Guard's new Legend-class national security cutters. It is the first ship to be built under the Coast Guard's at times controversial "Deepwater" modernization program, and is designed to replace the aging 3780-foot high endurance Hamilton class cutters.

The cutter, named for former commandant Ellsworth Bertholf, who commanded the Revenue Service and Coast Guard, and who is known in large part for his Alaskan exploits.

The Bertholf, which carries more enhanced lifesaving and rescue capabilities, including two MH-65 C Dolphin helicopters, also has more firepower to interdict drug runners and potential national security threats.

It is the first Coast Guard cutter to use a Bofors 57 mm deck gun, a close-in weapons system, four 50 caliber machine guns, two M240B light machine guns, and countermeasures and an electronic warfare system. The cutter is also designed for better interopability with the Defense Department, advanced intelligence gathering sensors, and enhanced tracking system for rescues.

Tours will be available Thursday, July 30 through Saturday, Aug. 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Aug. 2 from noon to 3:30 p.m. The ships are slated to leave next Monday around noon.

To learn more about Seafair events visit http://www.seafair.com.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DARPA and nanotech liquid metal Terminators

Anyone out there heard anything more about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's request in April for proposals to created a "chemical robot?" Any takers for the ChemBots project?

It sparked lots of discussion and comparisons to the T1000 in the Terminator movies that could morph into whatever it wanted and shapeshift between liquid and solid metal.

The Defense Department via DARPA in April suggested it wanted to develop a robot made of flexible materials that could slip through small openings -- imagine under doors -- and reconstitute itself. The military currently uses robots in ordnance detachments to disarm bombs, IEDs and otherwise, but their size and shape limits where they can go.

In its solicitation DARPA explained:

Often the only available points of entry are small openings in buildings, walls, under doors, etc. In these cases, a robot must be soft enough to squeeze or traverse through small openings, yet large enough to carry an operationally meaningful payload. ChemBots represent the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics to create a fundamentally new class of soft meso-scale robots.

I'll ask my friend and former Post-Intelligencer colleague Andy Schneider, who has coldtruth.com up and running. In addition to investigating food safety and what we ingest, including toxins we eat and breathe, Schneider expanding his coverage into nanotechnology.

Two dead in apparent Fort Lewis murder-suicide

The Armed Forces Press Service and The News Tribune say a 59-year-old retired soldier who shot a civilian vendor to death at the post exchange Wednesday has died.

The shooting occurred in the corridor area of the main post exchange at Fort Lewis at about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday when the post shopping center was jammed for the lunch hour. At least five shots reportedly were fired, sparking panic as shoppers and lunchgoers scrambled for cover.

The woman, a civilian vendor who worked at a kiosk in the corridor but was not an exchange employee, was pronounced dead after being rushed to Madigan Army Medical Center.

The News Tribune identified her as Sharlona White. Rose Braggs, White's mother, told the newspaper that she learned through news reports that her daughter, who was in her 30s, had died after being shot about 11:30 a.m. while working at her kiosk at the PX.

According to the News Tribune, Braggs in a telephone interview said “He killed my baby. My baby’s gone.”

Braggs told the News Tribune she believed the man who shot her daughter was a former boyfriend who White had left seven months ago.

“She didn’t want him,” Braggs told the reporter. “She was trying hard to get away from him. He just wouldn’t give her up.”

Braggs told the paper the ex-boyfriend had ­threatened her daughter before and had told her he was going to kill himself.

“We called the police and everything,” she was quoted as saying. “We kept on saying (to her) get a restraining order.”

Braggs said her daughter, a Foss High School graduate, worked “all the time, seven days a week” to support herself and her two children, ages 10 and 14, the paper reported.

“She was a wonderful person,” Braggs said.

The man, who retired from the Army in 1952, died at Madigan about 4 p.m. from a gunshot wound to the head.

Preliminary indications are that the man shot the woman and then turned the gun on himself, officials said.

The FBI is investigating with Fort Lewis law enforcement and the Army's Criminal Investigation Command participating.

The victim’s identities were withheld pending notification of their families.

Fort Lewis military police secured the scene, and people in the area were evacuated, post officials said. Loaded firearms are not allowed to be brought onto the post, Maj. Mike Garcia told the Seattle Times.

The News Tribune interviewed two who were there, Kathy Johnson and her mother, Kazui Miller, who were shopping on opposite sides of the PX when the shooting started.

According to the Tribune's story:

“Everyone ran in every direction,” said Johnson, a 44-year-old Tacoma native who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Everyone was yelling, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ ”

Johnson dived under a rack of women’s clothes and tried calling the police. The line was busy. She tried again.

“It just rang and rang and rang,” she said. “So I called my husband back home, and he called 9-1-1 and was patched through to the Fort Lewis operator.”

A woman sat beside her under the rack, screaming and sobbing uncontrollably, Johnson said.

“Everyone in the store thought it was a mass shooting because of the number of gunshots,” she said. “My heart was racing. We weren’t sure if a gunman was coming for us.”

The woman next to Johnson was still in hysterics.

“She kept saying, ‘Oh, my God, I’m about to die,’ ” Johnson said, adding she shook her enough to run out of the store with her.

In a written statement, Fort Lewis officials expressed condolences to the victims’ families and commended the quick reaction by PX employees to evacuate the facility quickly without further injuries.

White also worked at McChord Air Force Base selling fashion accessories and jewelry.

The Tribune said she opened a custom fashion store in Fife named ZnZWear, named for her two children whose first names begin with Z. It closed last year but White retained a goal of one day owning several stores and entering manufacturing.

White also lent her talents to charities, helping the Boys & Girls Clubs with a fashion show every year, and assisting a Ugandan family by selling their handmade neckties in her store.

Fort Lewis is the nation's largest Army installation west of the Mississippi, with 30,000 soldiers. It is home to the nation's first Stryker brigades, which were first developed there in the late 1990s.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Washington's 81st Brigade heading home from Iraq

This in from the Washington National Guard Monday:

Citizen soldiers from the Washington National Guard's 81st Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Seattle, are beginning to travel home from their second deployment to Iraq.

The 3,300 citizen-soldiers will complete their demobilization process at Fort McCoy, Wisc. and begin traveling one plane load at a time back home to Washington state. The first plane load
could arrive home as early as July 25.

Soldiers of the 81st will return to either McChord Air Force Base or Fairchild Air Force Base depending on where the soldier lives.

Upon arrival, they will be greeted by a brief welcome-home ceremony. It is anticipated that the entire brigade will have returned in its entirety by the end of the first week
of August.

"We are all delighted to have the 81st back home and honor them. Their service and dedication as soldiers is a shining example to our state and nation," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a press release.

"Visiting the 81st in Iraq was a life changing experience for me and I've been working diligently to ensure they have access to the programs and support they need upon their return."

The demobilization process, a comprehensive approach to facilitate a soldiers reintegration as the rejoin families and reenter civilian life, typically takes about 6 days for a soldier to complete.

During the process soldiers receive briefings about transition to civilian life, pay and benefits, in addition to undergoing medical and dental evaluations.

The 81st entered federal active duty on August 18, 2008. After conducting pre-deployment training at the Yakima Training Center and Fort McCoy, they deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Missions for 81st units in Iraq typically focused on convoy security, force protection, provincial reconstruction and base operations.

The 81st is headquartered in Seattle but is comprised of units from around the State of Washington and a battalion from the California Army National Guard. Approximately 2,400 soldiers from Washington and about 900 from California comprised the deploying force of the 81st. The 81st previously served in Iraq from March 2004 to March 2005.

For more info, see http://www.washingtonguard.org

Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange - update coming

Stay tuned July 23 for a new report due out that day from the Institute of Medicine concerning the question of whether certain diseases or conditions could be associated with exposure to Agent Orange and other defoliants used in the Vietnam War, or with a type of dioxin that contaminated these herbicides.

Prior IOM reports have found evidence to link some long-term health problems with herbicide exposure, but for others the evidence at the time was too sparse to draw conclusions. This latest report in a series weighs findings from previous research and evidence from new studies.