Archive for the '“Supporting” the Troops' category

Here's How United Airlines Supports the Troops

Jun 23 2012 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

United was able to get my wife into one of the many empty seats on their 0600 departure. While I'm happy that she is en route, the number of empty seats makes me wonder why she couldn't have been rebooked onto that flight in the first place, particularly when United was willing to sell me a seat on that flight for $1500 in the last couple of hours before departure.

Look, I'll admit at the start that United Airlines - or, for that matter, any other commercial enterprise - does not have any obligation to treat members of the military any better or worse than they treat their regular customers, but it would be nice if they can do better than what my family is dealing with right now.

Here's the deal:
Yesterday, the Northeast had yet another air travel debacle. Between weather and an FAA fire, flights were cancelled and delayed all over the coast. Naturally, yesterday was also the day when my wife arrived in Atlanta from Afghanistan for her 15 days of mid-deployment leave, which started upon arrival in the states. Her connecting flight from Chicago to New York was cancelled.

It happens. It's frustrating, but it happens. Weather is not something that an airline can control. Fires in FAA control centers are not something that an airline can control. It's frustrating, but I get it.

How passengers are rebooked, however, is something an airline can control. And it is here that United Airlines is showing just how they support the troops.

My wife is travelling in uniform. She has explained the situation to the United agents at O'Hare, and says that they appear to be doing their best to help her. Unfortunately, the best that they could do is rebook her for an 8:15 pm departure today - that's more than 24 hours after the cancelled flight.

I should be asleep right now, but I'm not. That probably has something to do with being alone in a hotel bed I had planned to share. Since I couldn't sleep, I decided to try to see if I could find some alternative that would get my wife to NY before an 8:15 pm departure from Chicago would.

I started with Priceline. I plugged O'Hare and NYC into the appropriate boxes, told it to try to come up with anything arriving within 200 miles of New York, and waited to see what came up.

Priceline found a 6:00 flight from Chicago to Newark with seats. On United.

I figured that couldn't be right. I went to United's website, punched in ORD and NYC, and went to see what I could book.

At this moment, while my wife sits in uniform at O'Hare waiting on the "first available" 8:15 departure to see her children for the first time since December 27th, United Airlines is willing to sell me Economy seats on:
Flight 1750, departing from O'Hare at 6:00 am and arriving at Newark at 9:00 am
Flight 3452, departing from O'Hare at 2:45 pm and arriving at LaGuardia at 5:54 pm
Flight 5151, departing from O'Hare at 5:22 pm and arriving at Newark at 8:48 pm

That's just the nonstops with allegedly available economy seats. There are another half-dozen nonstop flights with first class seats available, and several multi-stop itineraries with economy seats also turn up.

I've got - and may post - screen captures of some of this later. I've looked at the seat maps for the flights, and they show specific seats that United is willing to sell me on those flights. I sent my wife a text. The agents at the airport in Chicago cannot get her those flights. They tell her that their computer setup won't let them, unless it's tied with pay. Instead, they're trying to get her a flight to Albany, where I can meet her and we can catch the train.

The kids and I flew United's Honolulu-Newark nonstop on the way out here. I'm looking at alternatives for the flight back.

6 responses so far


Apr 23 2012 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops, Afghanistan

CW2 Nicholas Johnson, CW2 Don Viray, SPC Dean Shaffer, and SPC Chris Workman died on Thursday, April 19th when their Blackhawk helicopter crashed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan while en route to pick up Afghan National Police officers who had been wounded in a suicide bomb attack at their checkpoint. They were assigned to A Company, 2/25 Aviation.

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My Wife's War: Worry, Wait, and Guilt

Apr 22 2012 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops, Afghanistan

Yesterday was a worry day; today is a waiting day. If my luck holds, tomorrow will be a guilt day. This is the first of these sequences for this deployment. It’s unlikely that it will be the last.

It’s another beautiful day in Honolulu. Most of the 117 days since my wife got on the plane to go back to Kandahar have been beautiful. Most of the next 250 or so days will also be beautiful.

Thursday night was not a beautiful night in Afghanistan. It was, as Snoopy would type, a dark and stormy night. First reports suggest that this was likely a factor in the crash of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in Helmand Province. The helicopter was one of two that were on a CASEVAC mission. They were en route to an Afghan National Police checkpoint that had just suffered a suicide bombing that killed four police officers and wounded seven more. The first news reports indicated that survivors were considered “unlikely”. Later reports confirmed the deaths of the four American soldiers onboard.
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9 responses so far

Michelle Bachmann wants to fire my wife.

Jul 13 2011 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachamann wants my wife to be fired from her current job.

Bachmann undoubtedly doesn't know who my wife is, and probably doesn't know or understand exactly what my wife's job is, but Bachmann definitely wants my wife's job to be done by someone else. Bachmann does not, it would appear, care if the person who replaces her is better qualified or even as qualified as my wife. She simply wants to make sure that whoever replaces my wife has - and was born with - one thing.

A penis.

Yes, you read that right. Michelle Bachmann, a woman who wants to be the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Military, has publicly come out against women in combat. She did so last week, and the media seems to have managed to completely miss this.
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10 responses so far

A military spouse's Presidential endorsement.

In today's Atlanta Journal Constitution, Army spouse Elisabeth Kadlec writes:

When we married our spouses, I am sure that none of us were signing up to be single parents. But in essence that is what we become. Many people I know, like my husband, have already been deployed more than three times, and will go again. Most of these deployments are to Iraq or Afghanistan. It always amazes me when people ask me if my husband has to go back. I even laugh at this question!

I think it shows that the public has no idea how many troops make up the armed forces and how many are deployed at a time. Somehow, that message has been lost when we talk about the war. I am pretty much resolved that my husband will be deployed almost every other year. You can only imagine what this does to a family, and how important it is to us that smart decisions are being made for military members.

I don't know Ms. Kadlec, but I sure do know a hell of a lot of people like her - enough to know that she is far from the only military spouse who will be voting Obama this year. She understands, as does every member of every Army family, that the current deployment tempo cannot go on forever, or even for much longer, without causing long-term damage to the army as a whole.

In other news, updates here will be fewer and farther between than normal this week. I'll be spending most of my free time working at the Obama campaign's Pensacola office.

8 responses so far

Now that's a real sacrifice.

May 14 2008 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

The following quote is taken verbatim from the transcript of an interview that President Bush did with yesterday. I'm presenting it without any further comment, because there really isn't a hell of a lot than can be said - and we're still stuck with the shallow little twit for the next 251 days:

Q Mr. President, you haven't been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.

5 responses so far

Here's another great example of what "support the troops" really means

Apr 30 2008 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

Back at the beginning of April, ATA airlines suddenly went out of business. With no prior warning, they filed for bankruptcy and suspended all flights. This decision was sparked by FedEx's still unexplained decision to drop ATA from the group of airlines that they use to fulfill their military charter contracts as of October 1st.

Before going belly-up, ATA did a lot of military charter business. So much, in fact, that the loss of the carrier means that troops are still facing delays of several days in coming home from the war zone. Apparently, FedEx has been unwilling to suck up the extra costs that they'd face if they brought in another carrier to make up the lost flights.

Of course, the military authorities don't seem to think this is actually a problem:

According to Sgt. Douglas DeMaio, an Army Central Command spokesman, the entertainment offerings on base in Kuwait keep most troops happy while they wait for flights.

That's right. You may not have seen your family for 15 months, and you may be stuck in Kuwait for another week just because there's no airplane to take you home, but it's all good - you can play Donkey Kong while you're waiting.

Good job, guys. Take another $1.93 out of petty cash, and buy another magnetic ribbon for your SUV.

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Numbers and Tragedies, Statistics and Losses

It's been just over 5 years since the start of the Iraq war, and we've just passed another of those morbid little milestones that get so much attention in the press. This particular milestone has a nice round number on it - 4,000 - which apparently makes it somehow more important, or significant, or something than less neat numbers like 2526, or 3981, or 1135. The media's spent a little while circling over the battlefield, waiting for the 4,000th American corpse to hit the ground. The milestone arrived and passed more or less on schedule, and the media will settle back down and wait for the next round number. But these numbers, round or otherwise are nonsense. They're worse than meaningless. They allow us to care about this war on cue for some fraction of a news cycle. But by the time we've gone to the fridge, grabbed a beer, and slapped our fat asses back down on the sofa, things have moved on to the story of the drug-addled starlet's custody fight with her 5th ex-husband. In six or seven months, when the number's climbed to another round increment, the press will spare a few more minutes of air time and remind us to care again briefly. Between now and then, most of the deaths will be back below the fold on page A-39.

Somehow or another, I doubt that the parents of the 3683rd soldier to die are somehow injured less than the parents of the 4,000th. I doubt that the parents of the 4010th will feel any differently. And, of course, American soldiers aren't the only ones who have died in the course of this disaster. We don't know how many Iraqis have died. Every estimate that's been published so far has been the subject of some controversy, because the different estimates aren't in complete agreement with each other. After five years, the whole country is still so comprehensively screwed that it's not possible to safely conduct the censuses and surveys needed to come up with an answer that everyone can agree with. The survivors of the family that becomes the collateral damage from an American air strike don't mourn any less than the family of the American soldier killed by friendly fire.

Every single person who has died in this war leaves behind a hole. Their absence is felt by their families, by their friends, by their colleagues, no matter who they were or why they fought.

And those aren't the only holes that are left.

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13 responses so far

The Army, The Department of Veterans Affairs, and Miscommunication

Feb 11 2008 Published by under "Supporting" the Troops

Back on January 29th, NPR aired a story that claimed that the Army had taken steps to keep Veterans Administration workers from helping soldiers with their Army disability paperwork. Since then, there have been some new revelations, including a document that indicates that the Army Surgeon General was at best ignorant of all the facts, and at worst dishonest, when he was first interviewed by NPR. After listening to the NPR stories, and (more importantly) reading the documentary evidence they presented, I think that their report clearly illuminates some serious problems with the care of wounded troops. These problems are serious. They need to be addressed very quickly. But they're not necessarily the same problems that NPR decided to focus the bulk of their attention on.

The story began with a January 29th report by NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro. Shapiro reported on allegations that a group from the Army had told Veterans affairs workers at Ft. Drum to stop helping soldiers contest portions of the Army paperwork that can determine how the Army rates the soldier's medical condition. The paperwork in question is referred to as a "narrative summary", and is a detailed description of the soldier's medical condition.

A narrative summary is usually written by a doctor assigned to the same unit as the soldier, based on the entire medical history of the person involved. This document is an absolutely critical part of the Army's medical separation process. The wording of this document has a great deal of influence over how disabled the Army considers the soldier to be. That, in turn, determines whether the Army will medically discharge or medically retire the soldier. The distinction between "discharged" and "retired" is the difference between whether the soldier gets a one-shot severance package or a lifetime of retirement benefits. In short, it's a high-stakes document.

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2 responses so far

Mental Health and the Rapidly Breaking Army

It's safe to say that 2007 wasn't the best year of US Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside's life. She started off the year with a bullet wound to her torso that damaged, among other things, one lung, her liver, and her spleen. She ended her year as an outpatient at Walter Reed, waiting for her superiors to decide whether or not she would have to stand court-martial for inflicting that wound upon herself. In between, she had to recover from her physical wounds, learn to deal with the inner demons that led to them, she had to deal with superior officers who believed that she would be more appropriately handled as a criminal than a patient, and cope with a system that constantly threatened soldiers with mental illness with discharge and no benefits. It's not entirely clear that 2008 is going to be a better year for her. On Tuesday, the Army announced that they were dropping all charges against her. At the time of that announcement, she was in intensive care, recovering from a second failed attempt to take her own life.

In the note that she wrote before swallowing whatever pills she had around her, she said that she was "very disappointed in the Army". It's hard to find any reason for her not to be disappointed. The Army's treatment of her has been absolutely abysmal. Unfortunately, the same can be said for many other soldiers and veterans. Although the Army has been working to improve mental health care, the system is not where it needs to be, and faces no shortage of hurdles along the way.

According to the December 2, 2007 Washington Post article that first presented Lt. Whiteside's case to the public, there were a number of things that happened in Iraq that may have contributed to her mental illness and suicide attempt. I'm not going attempt to discuss that, or, for that matter, the exact actions she took in Iraq that her commanders at Walter Reed felt were so egregious as to warrant criminal prosecution. No matter what happened in Iraq, the things that happened when she returned to Walter Reed very clearly demonstrate some of the problems that the Army is having when it comes to handling mental health issues.

The problem that Lt. Whiteside's case illustrates most clearly involves the attitude that too many career combat arms officers have toward soldiers with mental health issues: they're an excuse, not an illness.

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11 responses so far

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