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Afghan War Dead Face Lonely Journey Home

They are shunned by politicians who want happy news
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Saturday 29 September 2012

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Michelle and Barack Obama have time for Hollywood, but not for fallen soldiers. This week the Obamas had time to appear on the television show “The View.” This follows guest appearances by Mrs. Obama on the Jay Leno show, the David Letterman show and the Steve Harvey show, which follows a fund raising dinner for the Obamas in Los Angeles with actor George Clooney.

The last time President Obama went to Dover Air Force Base to pay his respects to the returning caskets of war heroes was on August 9, 2011. It is not clear if President Obama or Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have ever attended a funeral for any of the U.S. military, diplomatic or civilian casualties of the Afghan war. Perhaps if they attended some of these funerals there would be less of them as these officials would quickly tire of these tragic ordeals.

The caskets make a lonely journey from Bagram Air Base to Dover Air Force Base, where they are quietly routed to their final destinations. They arrive with no fanfare and no headlines. Obama Administration officials seem too important and too busy to pay any respects. The names of the fallen and their stories and contributions remain largely unknown because the American news media has polled its audiences and determined that such stories are not popular. Those who gave their lives for the United States deserve better, as do their loved ones who remain behind.

The Government’s desire to ignore the war dead and push the story below the news radar led to a recent scandal regarding America’s fallen heroes. Last year three whistleblowers at Dover Air Force base uncovered a scandal within the Office of Mortuary Affairs. The horror stories included mutilations of corpses, sloppy handling of bodies, lost body part and the burning and dumping into local landfills, during 2004-2008, of the remains of 274 military members. The culprits were the office’s Director, Quinton Keel, along with U.S. Air Force Colonel Robert H. Edmondson and his aid Trevor Dean. A timid investigation by Carolyn Lerner, the Obama Administration’s Special Counsel, was ignored by the Air Force. Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and General Norton A. Schwartz defended the abuses and refused to punish the perpetrators. Eventually Mr. Keel was demoted, Col Edmondson received a letter of reprimand and Mr. Dean was allowed to remain at the Office of Mortuary Affairs. A few months ago Mr. Keel quietly resigned. All Ms. Lerner would tepidly say is that she was “not surprised” that Keel resigned.

During this scandal President Obama kept his distance and then apparently concurred with the Air Force’s inaction, seemingly uncomfortable with his duties as Commander in Chief. The goal was to quietly sweep the scandal under the rug. “Supporting the troops” is all too often a convenient slogan rather than a declaration of principle. The Dover AFB episode is a symptomatic end-result of an Administration that would rather not be reminded of the war in Afghanistan. The war has been expensive, inconclusive and not fun. Nothing about it allows for a positive press release, and in this election year that is all that matters.

As of three days ago, the Pentagon officially acknowledged 2125 soldiers, Marines and sailors as having died in Afghanistan. The Pentagon refuses to list all the wounded, nor will it describe the severity of their injuries, amputations and disabilities. If the complete list of Pentagon and Veterans Administration-verified injuries was ever released, the true impact of this war would begin to be understood, but these statistics are apparently considered too controversial to disclose.

U.S. troops depart for Afghanistan in fanfare and return in silence to a near-empty tarmac. It should be the opposite. Their departure should be solemn, as war is a serious and terrible business. Their untimely returns should be attended by everyone who stayed behind while the better of them journeyed to Afghanistan to do their duty. No one deserves to die alone and unnoticed. There is nothing that should be more important to Administration officials then paying their respects to each and every one of the fallen.

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