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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Maine War Front

The Maine War Front
by G.I. Film Festival

Far away from the war, in Portland, Maine there are people who think about the war every day. They get up every morning, not with the thought of having to pay their mortgages or the thought of far away adventures, but theirs is the thought of continued service to their country – to give back in some small measure. Whether it is 3 am in the morning or 3 pm in the afternoon, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, these volunteers get up and go out to make a difference in the lives of our departing and returning soldiers.

They see the faces of those deploying to war and the faces of those returning from war every day. They count their numbers and pay their respects in smiles, handshakes and hugs. Who are these dedicated men and women? They are the volunteer troop greeters in Portland, Maine and the subject of an emotionally revealing documentary, The Way We Get By.

The Way We Get By follows three senior citizens, Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet, and Jerry Mundy as they battle with the critical issues common to the nation’s ever-growing aging population. Through their candid and moving stories, viewers are provided with a truthful look at what millions of Americans face each day: loss, heartache, and joy. We learn that you are never too old to serve and that it is never too late to give back to this country.The Way We Get By is directed by Award-winning director and editor Aron Gaudet, who has a personal interest in the story; his mother, Joan Gaudet, is a troop greeter and a character in the film. Aron witnessed how becoming a troop greeter changed her life, which convinced him this was a story that could inspire other people.

Aron has worked on films in the United States, Jordan, and India and worked on projects for the Red Sox, Boston Bruins, and Stephen King. He has earned a total of 8 Telly Awards, 2 Emmy nominations, 2 Vermont Association of Broadcasters awards, and a Michigan Association of Broadcasters award. Aron currently lives and works in Boston and produced this film with his partner, award winning television journalist Gita Pullapilly.

The GI Film Festival is proud to announce this film as an official festival selection the 2009 festival lineup. The GI Film Festival is a 501 c 3 non-profit organization and the only film festival in the nation to honor men and women in uniform. If you like to see more movies like this and believe in our cause, please consider supporting the GI Film Festival with a tax-deductible donation. Every donation helps us continue our mission.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Influx of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan to be Met With Rising Violence

Influx of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan to be Met With Rising Violence

By John J. Kruzel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2009 - The number of attacks in Afghanistan is likely to rise with the influx of additional U.S. forces there, an International Security Assistance Force commander said today.

An increased U.S. presence in the region will spur NATO-led pressure on insurgents and improve efforts to counter narcotics and makeshift bombings, Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of the ISAF's Regional Command South in Afghanistan, said.

But the overall addition of 17,000 U.S. troops to the American contingent in Afghanistan will be met with increased violence at the outset of the plus-up, including a possible uptick in insurgents' growing use of homemade bombings, the commander said.

"That will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents," de Kruif told reporters at the Pentagon.

The United States has roughly 38,000 forces in Afghanistan with the deployment of additional troops to begin in late spring. NATO has some 32,000 forces there.

De Kruif expressed optimism that security would improve following a round of Afghan elections slated for August, adding that there's no current evidence suggesting insurgents are focused on disturbing the balloting process.

"I think that what we are doing now is actually planting the seeds, and that we will view a significant increase in the security situation across southern Afghanistan next year," he said.

The area covered by Regional Command South comprises a restive section of Afghanistan that has been the scene of heavy insurgent activity. Under de Kruif's command is a roughly 22,000-strong composite force with troops from the United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Canada, among other contributors.

The command's focus centers on security and stabilization operations and building government institutions, including a national Afghan security force, de Kruif said. He added that he hopes ISAF will be able to assume a mentor role to the Afghan National Army and Police in three to five years.

Meanwhile, one of the multinational force's major security concerns is the "nexus" of the narcotics trade and networks responsible for launching attacks involving improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which account for 70 percent of the region's casualties, according to the general. Over the past two years, such attacks have increasingly targeted the civilian population, de Kruif said.

"The insurgents changed their overall strategy from attacking our strength, being ISAF, towards focusing on terrorizing the local nationals, the Afghan people," he said. "For ISAF, that means that we have to deliver a 24/7 security in the focus areas where we are placed. It's no use of getting into a village at 8 in the morning and then leave that village at 5 in the evening."

De Kruif noted that the higher frequency of attacks has not been matched by an increase in the IEDs' sophistication, nor is there evidence suggesting materiel from Iran is being used in the assembly of the explosives. The most common IED is detonated by a pressure-plate mechanism triggered by the victim, about 70 percent of whom are Afghan nationals, he said.

"Based on the fact that these IEDs are relatively easy to produce, we don't see any real signs of influence by other countries like Iran with the fabrication and the use of these IEDs," he said. "So I would not say that IEDs are sophisticated yet."

Emerging technology in the field of IED detection and equipment like the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, which deflects the impact of explosions, are helping stem the threat of IEDs, de Kruif said. But the key in defeating the tactic also demands that a basic counterinsurgency objective be achieved.

"The first step is having an approach in which you win the hearts and minds of the people. So that means that every day, although we have an IED threat, our forces will go out and have a 24/7 presence amongst the Afghan people," he said. "Because by the end of the day, it is the Afghan people who will deny the use of IEDs by the insurgency."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sesame Workshop Reaches Out to Military Families

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2009 - Sesame Workshop continues to find unique and creative ways to reach out to the very youngest in military families, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here today during a sneak preview of a new primetime Sesame program.
"There are few characters more beloved than the Sesame Street friends, and through Elmo and Rosita, military kids can better grasp how to reconnect with their loved ones after redeployment," Lynn said. "They will see that they are not alone in feeling confused or anxious, and that they and their families can learn new ways of ... supporting one another."
"Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change," is scheduled to air April 1 on PBS at 8 p.m., in conjunction with the start of the Month of the Military Child. The show, which features Queen Latifah, musician John Mayer, and of course, Elmo, allows viewers to step inside a few military families' lives and learn how they've coped with life-altering changes.
With some help from Elmo's friend Rosita, the trio talks with real military families who have faced changes because of a loved one's injuries, which can be either external and visible or internal and invisible.
And Rosita can relate to the military children. Her father's legs "don't work any more," and he uses a wheelchair. he finds that just like her father and her, the military families are adapting to changes in the same way: together.
The relationship between Sesame Workshop and the military, which produced "Talk, Listen, Connect," an initiative providing support and resources for military families facing deployments or changes due to combat, began several years ago, Lynn said.
"The program we are celebrating today is a terrific effort to help those families," he said. "Many of our servicemembers will tell you they fight for our country, but they also fight for our kids and they fight for their kids.
"I know they appreciate groups like Sesame Workshop that are looking out for their interests at home," Lynn added.
The initiative offers some of what Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said men and women in uniform deserve for their service.
"Those who serve our country in uniform deserve the very best nurturing we can provide, and that includes helping their precious children learn to live with a mom or dad who may not be quite the same person they watched go off to war," Shinseki said. "We are grateful to Sesame Street for bringing the sensitive subject to the wider American audience through this TV special and its accompanying educational materials.
" Since the inception of Talk, Listen, Connect two years ago, the initiative has grown and evolved, Sesame Workshop's president and chief executive officer said today.
"[It] has struck a chord, we've noticed, with a military community in a way that we never could have expected," Gary Knell said. "Through this project, we're helping kids and families unite and find reassurance that they are not alone in their journey.
"Who would have thought Elmo and Rosita could help these families find ways to grasp and to cope with their changing circumstances?" he added.
That's exactly what is happening, however. Sammy Cila, 9, who participated in the new special with his family, said the one thing he'd like other military kids to know is there are other kids going through this, too.
"There's no need to be worried about it," he said. "It's actually great [to know] that there's other families that are going through the same thing.
" Sammy's father, Army Sgt. Sebastian Cila, who was serving in Iraq when his left arm was severely injured, sang the primetime program's praises, too.
"I believe it will help families tremendously. I was thrilled with the project, [and] I think they did a great job," Cila said. "It just kind of gives some insight and some behind-the-scenes of what families go through with injuries and disappointments.
" Cila's wife, Anna, agreed. "They did a really nice job portraying the situations that the families are going through," she said. "It's true to my heart that what we saw today is something good; something really good is going to come out of it.
" About 800,000 Talk, Listen, Connect kits have been distributed in the two years of the initiative's existence. Each contains DVDs and print materials to help military families cope with different aspects of deployment, change and even loss.
More than 1.3 million kits have been produced and are being distributed at no cost to families, schools, family support programs, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. The kits, produced in both English and Spanish, also are available for download from the Sesame Street Web site.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama mulls making vets foot bill for service injuries

This is just wrong!!!

By David Goldstein
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration is considering making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries. The plan would be an about-face on what veterans believe is a long-standing pledge to pay for health care costs that result from their military service.
But in a White House meeting Monday, veterans groups apparently failed to persuade President Obama to take the plan off the table.
“Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “If the president and the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA.”
Under current policy, veterans are responsible for health care costs that are unrelated to their military service. Exceptions in some cases can be made for veterans who do not have private insurance or are 100 percent disabled.
The president spoke Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate its 20th anniversary and said he hopes to increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years. But he said nothing about the plan to bill private insurers for service-related medical care.
Few details about the plan have been available, and a VA spokesman did not provide additional information. But the reaction on Capitol Hill to the idea has been swift and harsh.
“Dead on arrival” is how Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington described the idea.
“ . . . when our troops are injured while serving our country, we should take care of those injuries completely,” Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing last week.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said at the same hearing that the plan was “a consideration.” He also acknowledged that the VA’s proposed budget for next year included it as a way to increase revenue. But he told the committee that “a final decision hasn’t been made yet.”
For veterans, that was little comfort. (Read More)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Faith At The Front: How do you stay busy during deployment?

Check this out for a possibility to win a free e-book...

Faith At The Front: How do you stay busy during deployment?: "we have been known to do things like go out for ice cream, for dinner!!! Also the last time, we got"

Actor Defends Troops; Hits Filmmakers

March 10, 2009Chicago Tribune

Gary Sinise fumes.

As we talk and tour the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in the South Loop, Sinise's gravel-and-coffee-grounds growl picks up momentum and passion. At one point, he's hard to interrupt to ask a question as his voice succumbs to infuriated frustration. Especially when talking about director Brian De Palma.

Listen: "He was out to get the troops, to depict them as child rapists. That's the truth he wanted to tell. That's one particular, horrible episode that happened by, clearly, some criminals who happen to be in the American military."

But we're jumping ahead of the conversation.

On this day Sinise is in Chicago promoting "Brothers at War," which opens Friday. He served as executive producer on the documentary, in which director Jake Rademacher follows two of his younger brothers, both soldiers, to their theaters of war in Iraq.

"This movie is not going to be your typical blood-and-guts, negative, depressing thing about Iraq," Sinise says. "What's great about this film is there's a personal investment, because the filmmaker is making it about his family."

Sinise has picked the venue for our conversation. "We've got a little history here," he tells me.
In 2003 it was here, on the third floor, that Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band first entertained troops. The band, a musical side project for the actor, is named for his most famous role, Lt. Dan Taylor in "Forrest Gump." Sinise has been doing USO tours in Iraq and fundraising events ever since, playing bass at 30-some dates a year, in addition to his gig as Mac Taylor in "CSI: New York."
"I have a profound respect for people who serve," Sinise says as we walk through an exhibit of Iraq photographs by female soldiers.

Sinise is polite, but forceful -- he's a vehement defender of the military, he says, with a point of view that often goes ignored.

"Brothers at War" represents a natural evolution in Sinise's crusade to bring attention to the men and women in the armed forces.

The film also reflects a national trend, with more Iraq movies ("In the Valley of Elah," "The Lucky Ones") and documentaries ("The War Tapes," "Gunner Palace") being produced than during any other war.

"It's unusual that there would be so many films about a current conflict," Sinise says. "Quite often it's in retrospect." (READ MORE)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Yes...I'm Alive!


On the Ground: Troops in Iraq Focus on Schools

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2009 - U.S. forces in Iraq increasingly are putting down weapons to build schools in their changing role there.

Some of Diwaniya's brightest female students between 13 and 15 years old participated in their new school's opening Feb. 26.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked with the local government and contractors to open the Irshad Secondary School for Girls.

"With my partners the Iraqi engineers, and with diligent effort, we were able to provide for you this beautiful school," Army Lt. Col. Dwight Davies of USACE said. "It is a great joy and privilege to provide an opportunity for such gifted young ladies to learn and evolve and support the future of Iraq."

The Irshad students are among the top 20 percent of young female students from within and around the city.

"We are happy for this school. It is very nice," a student said in English at the ceremony, before repeating it in French, then Arabic.

"Our old school was too small and not ours. We borrowed it, shared it with others," she said, recalling the overcrowding that sometimes prevented students from having a full day of school.

The school's size provides a better environment for teaching these girls, an English-speaking teacher at the school said.

"I have girls of my own," she said, explaining why she wanted to teach young girls. She said she enjoys teaching and is happy for the new school. "I can participate in helping small girls in building their personalities and to be good people and good members of society to build the future of Iraq," she said.

During the ceremony, students waved Iraqi flags and flowers, chanting, "Long live Iraq!" They also chanted in Arabic of a brighter future, a safe country where its people prosper and flourish.

"I have three kids, so for me it's pretty inspiring and pleasant to see [students] with so much energy and enthusiasm. I was so impressed," said Mike Klecheski, leader of the U.S.-led provincial reconstruction team in Diwaniya province.

"This country is making a lot of progress, and the extent that we can be partners in this progress is wonderful," Klecheski said.

He stressed the importance of the partnership with the Iraqi government. "We work very closely with them," he said. "Construction of a school like this is really a partnership, in every sense of the word."

Soldiers with the 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade, and the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion also are part of a partnership to improve schools.

Members of Abu Lakah's village council requested to meet with the soldiers at the village high school south of Baghdad to discuss how U.S. forces could help them improve the school and others. They also discussed how to help with village building projects and plans for the "Sons of Iraq" civilian security group members, said Army 1st Lt. Kirk Tooley, 3rd platoon leader for Company B, 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade.

The village council and town members recently joined to raise money for a fence and an extra classroom, Tooley said. Even with the extra classroom, desks made for two students have four students sitting at them.

"The school not only needs at least four additional classrooms, some minor repairs are needed in the previously built classrooms," Army Capt. James Reed, a civil affairs officer, said.

Reed and Tooley offered to help the leaders send proposals to the Iskandariyah council, asking them to invest money into programs to help employ the people of Abu Lukah Sol, build up infrastructure, and build, repair and enlarge schools in the village.

Many council members told the soldiers how safe they feel in their village now. The elders said they have complete faith in the local Iraqi forces to control security situations and are thankful to the Americans for helping to secure the area and train the Iraqis.

"We live on Patrol Base Hamiya around the outskirts of Abu Lukah and other villages," Army Sgt. Brandon Waugh, squad leader, said. "As noncommissioned officers, we are used to training soldiers, so training the Iraqi army is second nature to us, and training Iraqi police to conduct presence control is also in our lane."

Waugh's younger soldiers, many just out of basic training, are now instructors, which sets them up for future success as NCOs. Waugh said he is glad to see the progress made in Iraq and shares his experience from previous combat tours with his younger soldiers.

"Every now and then you'll hear someone say something about this not being our job," Waugh said of the civil affairs work. "We leaders are quick to interrupt and let them know that this is also part of being a soldier.

"After my last tour," he continued, "I never would have thought I would go this long without being involved in a firefight or an explosion. I am here now and can honestly say Iraq is well on its way to being stable."

(Compiled from Multinational Division Center news releases. Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team and Army Spc. Tiffany Evans of the 172nd Infantry Brigade contributed to this article.)