Friday, November 20, 2009

The fallen

35-year-old Staff Sgt Ryan Zorn died while serving in Iraq November 16th. He hails from Upton, Wyoming. Steve Miller (Rapid City Journal) speaks with his father Myron Zorn who reveals the family has "no information about when the body will arrive in Wyoming" but intend "to hold funeral services in Wright and bury Ryan Zorn at Black Hills Nation Cemetery". Myron Zorn describes the lack of information as "frustrating." Jeremy Godmeier (Gillete News Record) adds:

The Zorn house is packed with food. People just keep dropping by with a fresh dish to plop on the table.
"I could feed an army," says Myron, a coal miner at Black Thunder.
Flags fly at half-staff throughout town. Yellow ribbons adorn poles in memory of Zorn.

Meanwhile Amanda Kim Stairrett (Killeen Daily Herald) reports on a ceremony at Fort Hood yesterday to remember four of the fallen: Pfc Daniel Jose Rivera (killed in Mosul last month), Sgt Bradley Espinoza (killed in Q-West, Iraq last month) and Spc Jason Dean Hunt and Pvt Francheska Velez who were among the ones murdered in the November 5th Fort Hood shooting. All four were part of the 1st Cavalry Division. Stairrett reports:

Rivera was exactly where he wanted to be when he died -- with his buddies, said his friend, Spc. Jose Guzman. When he went home during leave to visit his family, all he could talk about was getting back to his friends in Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Rivera was raised by a single mother and she said that he -- her first-born son -- was the love of her life. He had a tough-guy mentality and wanted to do something big, she told Lt. Col. Andre Cieply, the division's rear detachment chaplain.
Rivera was 22 at the time of his death.
Espinoza was a 26-year-old combat engineer who embodied the motto of his military occupational specialty, "Clearing the way," said Capt. Russell Toll, rear detachment commander for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Espinoza and Toll served in the brigade together in Baqubah during the division's second deployment to Iraq.
Roadside bombs wreaked havoc on the battalion and leaders decided that combat engineers would go out before patrols to clear the way. Toll said he had no doubt that Espinoza's work during that 15 months saved the lives of their fellow soldiers.
Espinoza set an example of a devoted husband, father and noncommissioned officer, Toll said. He was always there for his soldiers, even if it meant getting in the dirt with them.
Espinoza aspired to be a drill sergeant and was set to begin schooling after returning from Iraq. He had a presence about him that gave soldiers confidence, Cieply said.
Espinoza is survived by his wife, Maria, and their children, Joseph and Celeste.

Jeremy Schwartz (Austin American-Statesman) notes:

Velez, 21, was three months pregnant, and friends and officers said she was excited about being a mother. She had returned from Iraq early because of the pregnancy.
Soldiers remembered Velez, the child of Colombian immigrants, as someone who loved dancing and writing poetry.
"We may never know the reasoning behind the attack," Capt. Peter Friend said during the service. "But we will always know the impact she made in our lives. She would not like to be seen as victim. Remember her as a battle buddy."
Hunt had just married his girlfriend, Jennifer, two months before he was killed and had only learned of an impending deployment to Iraq the day before the attack. She and their three children were scheduled to move to Killeen this weekend from his native Oklahoma. His wife collapsed in tears after the memorial and had to be helped out of the 1st Cavalry Division Chapel.

Meanwhile Gregg Zoroya (USA Today)reports that eight service members wounded in the November 5th shooting intend to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq according to Army Reserve Major General Lie-Ping Chang and, of the Fort Hood shooting, "This was not the first tragedy for the 1908th unit heading for Iraq, Chang says. One of that unit's psychiatrists, Matthew Houseal, 54, volunteered this year to deploy to Iraq with another Reserve unit, the 55th Combat Stress Control Team. Houseal was working at a clinic on an installation outside Baghdad on May 11 when Army Sgt. John Russell allegedly opened fire, killing Houseal."

Staying with the Fort Hood shooting, Monday the Senate Armed Services Committee had a hearing scheduled to begin at 4:30 in the afternoon to review the Fort Hood shootings. However, the administration refused to participate. For whatever reasons, they refused to involve the public in the issue. The White House would try to have a 'meeting' where they discussed it with some senators. Senator Susan Collins, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasted the 'information' provided -- as Mike noted earlier this week. Yesterday, Senator Joe Leiberman scheduled a hearing a refused to cancel it when the administration refused to participate. Dana Milbank (Washington Post) notes that former Homeland Security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, former deputy national security adviser Juan Carlos Zarate and the former vice chief of staff of the army Jack Keane were present to offer testimony:

Conspicuously absent: anyone from the Obama administration. They declined a request for their testimony by Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate homeland security committee.
It was a familiar trope of the Bush years: A congressional committee would try to investigate the administration's actions -- over intelligence failures in Iraq, for example -- but the administration would stiff the committee and then set up its own internal inquiry to preempt the lawmakers' probe and keep embarrassing details quiet. On Thursday, the Obama administration followed every element of the script, short of hiring Ari Fleischer.

Lieberman's office issued the following yesterday:

Lieberman, Collins Open Fort Hood Investogation
Hearing Witnesses Agree Incident was a Terrorist Attack

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday opened their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, with testimony from witnesses expert in the military, Islamist extremism and self-radicalization, and federal intelligence collection and information sharing.
"We will look at the Fort Hood murders not as an isolated event, but as part of a larger pattern of homegrown terrorism that has emerged over the past several years," Lieberman said. "Our purpose is to determine whether that attack could have been prevented, whether the federal agencies and employees involved missed signals or failed to connect the dots in a way that enabled Hasan to carry out his deadly plan. If we find such errors or negligence we will make recommendations to guarantee, as best we can, that they never occur again. "
After acknowledging the intelligence information-sharing improvements made in the wake of 9/11, Collins said, "the shootings at Fort Hood may indicate that communication failures and poor judgment calls can defeat systems intended to ensure that vital information is shared to protect our country and its citizens. The case also raises questions about whether or not restrictive rules have a chilling effect on the legitimate dissemination of information, making it too difficult to connect the dots that would have allowed a clear picture of the threat to emerge.
U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with killing 12 of his fellow soldiers and one civilian on November 5. When asked, four of the five panel witnesses agreed that, based on available evidence, the incident was a terrorist attack. The fifth witness, a member of the New York City Police Department, declined comment because of the ongoing federal criminal investigations. In addition, Retired Army Vice Chief of Staff General John Keane testified that he was not aware of any U.S. Army guidelines to help commanders, officers, and soldiers identify behavior that could be categorized as Islamist extremism. Keane, who commanded the Fort Bragg, N.C., army base shortly after the murder of two African American civilians in 1995 by white supremacist soldiers, said the Army subsequently developed guidelines to identify white supremacist behavior.
Lieberman began the hearing by recognizing the thousands of Muslim-Americans who serve in our military with honor and stressed that the Committee investigation would respect them, and every other Muslim resident of our country. But he said, "we do no favor to all of our fellow Americans who are Muslim by ignoring real evidence that a small number of their community have become violent Islamist extremists and terrorists."
Lieberman also said he had had discussions with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder about the Administration's cooperation with the Committee investigation with regard to document and witness production. Both said they respected the Committee's authority to conduct an investigation as long as it did not interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation.
"We are off to a good cooperative start," Lieberman said. "I am optimistic that we will work out a way for both investigations to proceed without compromising either."
Collins added: "Our ongoing investigation will also seek answers to questions specific to the Fort Hood case. For example, how did our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies handle intercepted communications between Major Hasan and a radical cleric and known al Qaeda associate? Did they contact anyone in Major Hasan's chain of command to relay concerns? Did they seek to interview Major Hasan himself? When Major Hasan reportedly began to openly question the oath that he had taken to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, did anyone in his military chain of command intervene? When Major Hasan, in his presentation at Walter Reed in 2007, recommended that the Department of Defense allow "Muslim soldiers the option of being released as 'conscientious objectors' to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events," did his colleagues and superior officers view this statement as a red flag? "Were numerous warning signs ignored because the Army faces a shortage of psychiatrists and was concerned, as the Army Chief of Staff has subsequently put it, about a 'backlash against Muslim soldiers?' These are all questions that we will seek to answer."
In addition to General Keane, witnesses were Frances Fragos Townsend, former Assistant to President Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Mitchell D. Silber, Director of Intelligence Analysis at the New York City Police Department; Juan Carlos Zarate, Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies and Former Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism; and Brian Michael Jenkins, Senior Advisor at the RAND Corporation.
Since 2006, the Committee has held 10 hearings and issued a report on the phenomenon of violent Islamist extremism and self radicalization in the U.S., and the role the internet plays in both.

In this morning's gina & krista round-robin, you can find Wally's report on the hearing (he attended it).

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Dennis Cuff (Contra Costa Times) reports that "BART will offer $50 free ride tickets to members of the armed services on leave from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] To get the tickets, military members would need to appear at a BART ticket center and present their military identification and leave papers." And R. Norman Moody (Florida Today) reports on the training at Camp Blanding for deployments:

The guard unit will leave in early January for Fort Hood, Texas, where they will train for several more weeks before deployment to Iraq and Kuwait in early February.
They will take with them 1,000 vehicles and weapon systems to protect convoys and transportation routes between Iraq and Kuwait as the United States continues troop withdrawal and turns over security responsibilities to the Iraqi government.

The following community sites updated last night:

And Ruth's "New Jersey's important vote," Marcia's "Jayne Lyn Stahl strikes again," Trina's "Economy, abortion, mammograms," Ann's "Top 10 reasons Oprah's quitting," Kat's "House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia" and Isaiah's "Feinstein questions at the NSA hearings."

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oh boy it never ends