Thursday, January 29, 2009

Operation Support Jews in the Military: Raising Awareness, Not Money

In September 1970, before the most important Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my husband, 2LT Mitchell R. Miller, and I arrived at our permanent duty station of Munich, Germany. Although we were uncomfortable as American Jews to be living in a country that only 25 years before had murdered six million Jews and millions of others, we were happy to have this respite to live in Europe before Mitch would get orders for Vietnam.

When we arrived in Munich, we were warmly welcomed by the Orthodox Jewish chaplain, his wife and children. Even today, as I re-read the letters I sent home, I realize how important the chaplain and his family were to our adjustment at our duty station. And when the chaplain and his family were rotated back to the States, my husband became lay leader of the tiny military Jewish community in Munich as the replacement Jewish chaplain was assigned to Augsburg.

My husband finished serving his ROTC commitment in May 1972, and it wasn't until April 2008 that my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT -- based on my husband's nine weeks at Armor Officers Basic at Ft. Knox, Kentucky -- was published. And at that same time I started this blog.

My immersion since this April in the world of the U.S. military has been significant, including becoming the co-host of the new BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life. So it's not surprising, having learned that there's a shortage of Jewish military chaplains, that in September this year, as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approached, I thought about the Jews on scattered military bases through the world who would have no Jewish chaplains to lead services.

Since then I have been trying to connect with people interested in helping with this problem of the shortage of Jewish military chaplains. Then on December 31st I had an epiphany -- I wouldn't wait any longer for others to take action. I would take action myself.

And thus was born the website Operation Support Jews in the Military. My younger daughter Yael built the website, as the company in which she and I partner builds websites for clients. And now I've set off to ask people to spread the word about this site.

I hope you'll share this blog post or the website address with those who you think would be willing to help. And do visit Operation Support Jews in the Military to learn how the American Jewish community can support Jews in the U.S. military.

P.S. For those of you who enjoy small world stories: Mitch's and my exposure to the Orthodox Jewish chaplain and his wife led us to become observant Conservative Jews on our return to the States. And at the ceremony where our daughter Yael graduated an Orthodox high school in Los Angeles, I was seated directly behind the chaplain's sister, whose daughter was in the same graduating high school class. I would not have been sitting there if it were not for that Jewish army chaplain. Such strange paths our lives take.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Micro-Economics: How to Win the War in Afghanistan

Below is our weekly guest post from Andrew Lubin. The photo is of a butcher shop in a village outside of Jalalabad.

Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world. The average salary is $1-$2 per day, and the nationwide literacy rate is approx 40% (although out in the countryside it’s closer to 90%). The Karzai government is basically broke, so it’s kept alive by donations from the international community.

The country’s biggest export is opium, whose export value is some $300 million annually. This money goes to the Taliban, however, as it and the drug lords (one of which is Karzai’s brother) control the opium business.

There are only three large cities. Most of the population lives in the countryside, where the Taliban and its allies are regaining control of the countryside. Since Afghanistan has twice the population and twice the landmass of Iraq, how do we “win” with the only 1/3 of the troops we currently have in Iraq?

It’s quite simple, actually, although most of our “big picture” military don’t really like it – except the Marine Corps, which excels at it.

While we need more Marines and soldiers to defeat the Taliban, we also need to win the confidence of the locals. When this happens, then the locals will tell us who the bad guys are, and both we and the locals will take them out. It worked in Ramadi; it’ll work here.

To win the confidence of the locals: First; you need to be in the villages with them. Not on a FOB close by, but in the village with the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the ANP (Afghan National Police).

Next: The locals need jobs, and they need jobs that are appropriate to a medieval economy. Take the following:

1 – Give a guy a couple of boxes of welding tips, an old welding torch and some hoses, and a couple of tanks of Argon and oxygen – and you’ve just put a welder in business. Now he can fix farm implements, do some basic iron work, and help mechanics. Total cost? Under $350.

2 – Get a couple of old sewing machines, some bolts of cloth, and a couple of women to start a clothing shop. Now you’ve started a tailor shop. Cost? Under $500.

3 – Without storage the farmers only grow as much food as they can eat or quickly sell. Import a cold storage unit, set up a co-op, make the tribal chief the boss, and have the villagers (all members of the co-op) store their crops. It’s food for them during the winter – as well as a source of revenue as they can now sell food all winter long. What a concept – food AND an annual cash-flow! Cost? Under $ 15,000 per cold storage unit.

You think the locals are going to side with the Taliban now? No way. When the locals have jobs, cash, and can afford things like school books and medicine for their children – and they get these from us, they’ll be looking to help us. Like in Ramadi when Sheikh Sattar realized working with the Marines was to his advantage – Ramadi “turned” before Bush and Petraus’s “surge troops” had even left the United States.

Give me $20 million and I’ll drag Afghanistan into the 19th Century. Then we’ll let the whiz kids in D.C. take over from there.

To hear more of Andrew Lubin's observations on winning the war in Afghanistan, you can listen to his interview on the BlogTalkRadio show Your Military Life that I co-host with Nancy Brown.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Documentary BROTHERS AT WAR Tells It Like It Is

Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, BROTHERS AT WAR follows one brother who has to understand why his two brothers go to Iraq ... and why they go back. Gen. Petraeus’ public affairs team screened this film in Baghdad, and at the 2008 GI Film Festival in D.C., BROTHERS AT WAR won best feature documentary.

Filmmaker Jake Rademacher’s brothers are Captain Isaac Rademacher, US Army Commander and West Point Grad, and Joseph Rademacher, Army Ranger and Sniper.

BROTHERS AT WAR opens March 13 in five cities near Ft. Bragg, Camp Lejune, and Ft. Benning.

Now here's filmmaker/brother Jake Rademacher talking about why he made the film and the response it’s getting:

Each time my brothers board the plane with rucksacks and rifles slung over their shoulders, I know it may be the last time I ever see them. After they came home from war the first time, I could see and feel the change — the new distance between us. When they told me what I was watching in 30-second blips on the news was not the same war they were fighting, I knew them well enough to know we were all missing something.

I know that journeying into a war zone may not seem like the most rational thing to do, but I felt the need to bridge the gap was that crucial.

That’s the genesis for BROTHERS AT WAR.

I have had a curiosity about war dating back to childhood. As a young boy, I read books about generals and the great battles of history. As an adolescent, I walked the field at Gettysburg and heard the words of MacArthur’s last speech echoing in my mind as I stood looking out at West Point, dreaming of being an officer one day. Later, I saw another side of war as I walked through the gates of Dachau and through Serbia during a ceasefire.

Now I have been shot at and IED’d. I have watched men’s blood wet the dirt and seen battle-hardened warriors break down in tears as they relate an experience or talk about those they love. I have come to know war in a more intimate and deep way.

BROTHERS AT WAR has been the most terrifying, soul searching, and gratifying thing I have ever done. Through it all, I have tried to hold the mirror up to nature, or rather put the frame around it as it happened in front of me.

I started this film for my brother Isaac. I finished it for the guys I met along the way. Now, I am invigorated by the positive impact I’ve seen it have on audiences — especially other military families who also need to reconnect.

We set out to make a film without stock footage, political pundits or anyone talking about an experience they weren’t currently living. I knew it would require me to risk everything—my life — to succeed. I imagined but had no idea the transformation making this film would have on me.

While the laughter, the tears, and the standing ovations with which the film has been greeted are deeply gratifying, the real reward is the thank you from a Gold Star mother, the tears that come from a battle-hardened warrior trying to relate what the film means to him — feedback I’ve received from warriors and their families about the impact the film has had on their healing process.

Now people can see why I think the best part of my generation is currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their deeds inspire me. I hope that we can all admire those who pull from deep within and strive mightily for something greater than themselves. I am humbled by what I have witnessed.

Help eMailOurMilitary Show Love and Support to Our Troops This Valentine's Day

I chose this photo of two hands forming a heart instead of a more traditional red Valentine's Day heart because I want to emphasize what Trish Forant of is doing for the organization's personal outreach Valentine's Day project.

Go right over now to the organization's blog to read about the 7th Annual Valentine's from the Heart project. And then join in at showing your love and appreciation for our troops.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Heart of a Military Woman -- to Support and Defend

Below is a guest post from Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, MSgt USAF Retired. The photo is of her in Qatar in the summer of 2002.

May 2002 -- The El Paso Texas airport was busy as always. Many army personnel were in a group heading to board a plane for a deployment to Afghanistan. Ft Bliss is a stone’s throw from the airport and Holloman AFB where I was stationed is 90 miles away. This is an area saturated with the presence of the military and the airport was busy with troops coming and going.

I walked to the escalator and stepped on. I didn't look back until I got to the top and saw my children and my sister walking toward the exit. They could no longer walk me to the gate to see me off for temporary duty. National Guard personnel were at various locations throughout the airport, weapons ready; 9/11 had left our country in a constant state of alert.

It was now my turn to support and defend in the Middle East. As an Air Force master sergeant I was being sent to run an operation.

I walked down the long corridor to the plane that would start my journey. El Paso to Atlanta to board a flight with 200 plus others deploying to various locations in that region. Atlanta to Germany for a layover while the plane refueled. Germany to Qatar where I would be spending the next four months of my life in tent city.

There was the threat of being blown out of the sky and we all knew it. We approached the runway to the base in Qatar with shades drawn and lights out so as not to be easily detected.

Touch down around midnight; it’s hot, humid, dusty and miserable. The bags are piled in the middle of the camp, about 1000 of them. Most people have four bags, personal and military-issued gear. Good thing I marked mine with some bright colored scarves -- 400 chemical warfare gear bags all look the same.

Once processed in, my group of about 30 piled into a bus and was hauled off to a place called Camp Snoopy, where I would run the contracting operation for the 1,000 person base …

Unless you've been in the military or been around military life, you may not know what the life of a military woman is like. The book I’m co-authoring – “Heart of a Military Woman” – will be a collection of inspirational stories and poems about women who have served their country in the armed forces.
President Obama made a comment in his inaugural speech about being of service. The military woman is being of service to her country, to her family, to her children if she has them, and to her fellow service members. It's a special kind of life.

If you are or were a military woman, a child of a military woman, a mother, father or other relative of a military woman, a friend, co-worker or neighbor, you have a story to tell.

We are looking for original stories by, for and about military women. Please submit your story before the March 14th deadline for possible publication in our upcoming book.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pennies for Blankets: Texas Elementary School Collecting Pennies to Help Soldier's Afghan Project

For regular readers of this blog, you know that we're supporting the humanitarian project of Specialist Gerardo Llamas. After learning about Specialist Llamas from this blog, Spirit of America sent blankets and schools supplies, and Spirit of America also supports this project on its website.

Here's today's email from Specialist Llamas:

Dear Mrs. Miller,

Today has been a beautiful day here in Afghanistan, not only weather related but also for my project. First I received 5 boxes of goods. One contained 20 fleece hoodies for children; the other one was full of school supplies; another one had some clothes and full of shoes for children including some sandals and tennis shoes; the other two had blankets and stuffed animals. It was great to receive them.

I'm running out of room in my room for the boxes but I'm arranging for some additional storage. There are boxes under my bed, on top of my locker and piled along the wall.

If that was not enough, later on in the evening I received an email from Evi Hancock in San Antonio, Texas, which I'm forwarding with this email with an attachment that took me by surprise. When I opened it I literally felt tears running down my face; I just could not help it. I'm so grateful for all this and for the help of all the people that have contributed to my project.

This is what makes America beautiful! People like this make America beautiful!


Kind Regards,

SPC Llamas Gerardo
US Army

Email from Evi Hancock in San Antonio, Texas, to SPC Llamas:

Just wanted to let you know that my children's elementary school will be conducting a penny drive to help raise money to send more school supplies. See attached.


Education makes us smarter people. But did you know education is a privilege? Not all children can afford to go to school and not all those that go have the extra money for school supplies. That is the case in many parts of the world.

There is a young serviceman (SPC Gerardo Llamas) stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, that is trying to help the children out in local schools. Afghanistan is very poor and many children do not have their own pencils and paper to do their homework!

Students at Watts Elementary are very blessed and want to help their contemporaries by collecting school supplies.

To collect funds we will be conducting a penny drive. Bring in all your pennies to your classroom by February 13, 2009.

The class that collects the most pennies wins a pizza party!

You can help too. Donate now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Open Letter to President Obama Regarding Afghanistan

Below is a guest post from weekly contributor Andrew Lubin.

To: President Barrack Obama

From: Andrew Lubin

Inauguration Day 2009

Ref: Afghanistan

Dear Mr. President:

I’m one of the many hundreds of millions today who watched you take the Oath of Office to become the 44th President of the United States. (Who would miss a chance to see the United States Marine Corps Band – known since 1801 as “The President’s Own” – open the ceremonies?) And your inaugural speech was even more impressive.

Once the crowds leave DC, however, you’ve got an interesting four years ahead of you. Between the economy and two wars, your first day at work will be a long one. So having spent a fair amount of time in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, I’d like to make a few suggestions that might make your first day a little easier:

1 – Pull the Marines out of Anbar. You have 23,000 Marines sitting in the desert doing nothing. General John Kelly, the Marine commanding general in Anbar, gave an interview last week where he said that he considers his year in Anbar a failure – because he couldn’t convince the Shia government in Baghdad to fund normal reconstruction projects like schools, hospitals, or anything else that would improve the standard of living in this Sunni province.

If Maleki doesn’t care about Iraq, why should we? And you can put your Marines to a far better use.

2 – Send 23,000 Marines to Afghanistan.

2A- Put the fight in Afghanistan under command of the Marine Corps.

Since you want to ‘win’ in Afghanistan, let’s do it right this time. Here’s how:
Afghanistan is a “small wars” fight against two enemies:

1 -The Taliban, who we can beat, and

2 – Corruption in Kabul, which we cannot.

Right now we’re losing the support of the locals because they have no trust in the Afghan National Police or their own government. Until their central government can regularly provide the basic services that American and Coalition force currently provide, why would any locals side with us or Karzai over the Taliban?

But with the Marines in charge, it’ll be run differently. As the Marines get out in the field with the Afghan National Army (it’s called “Muscular Mentoring” and the ANA loves it) we’ll be building an ANA that can control its own battle space. Their 201st Corps already handles its own logistics, planning, and fighting. Have our Army get away from mentoring via PowerPoint and get out in the field and walk point with the ANA.

Stop the ‘big project’ nonsense. This is the third poorest country on earth, and we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding power plants? These folks live in mud-brick huts. They own nothing they can plug into the expensive power grid!Instead, start a thousand micro-loan projects like Grameen Bank did in Bangladesh.

Even better, hire Mohammed Yunis (Grameen’s CEO, initiator of the microloan strategy and winner of the Nobel Prize) and let him run the program. By the way, he’s a Muslim; he understands poor Islamic societies better than we do.

Let the Marines fight in the villages. Do you know why the Marines ‘won’ Anbar? Because the Sunnis in Ramadi saw that the Marines would fight – and beat – Al Qada in Iraq. And as the Sunnis joined up with the Marines, the Sunnis’ services improved. They got jobs, their economy improved, and then the other Sunnis saw the improvements and wanted in. And all this was ‘pre-surge.’ It’ll work here.

And with 23,000 more Marines over there, you’ve now got enough for them to fight and live with the ANA in the villages. This kind of security will give the villagers the confidence in their own army and local provincial governments that will let them build a decent local economy and marginalize the corrupt Karzai government.

Get the Army off their huge bases where bureaucracy flourishes. Put them in the field where they belong. Their “creature comforts” have gotten out of control. Do you know they now offer massage services at Bagram? In a war zone? The Army has lost focus as to why they’re deployed.

Level with the American public about what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. We’re not going to turn this place into a garden of democracy; we just want to build a relatively stable country that won’t launch another 9/11.

You’ve got our support. Good luck!

Specialist Llamas Emails an Update from Kabul on His "Blanket" Project

I'm sharing this entire email with you (instead of just the main text) because I want everyone to see how grateful this young man is. If you don't yet know about this project, read his original guest post on this blog. And then I hope you'll help him too.

Dear Mrs. Miller,

I hope everything is going well for you. I'm really exited! I've started to receive boxes of goods. The flights had been canceled to the area because of weather and security issues, but mail is now coming in. I'm hoping boxes keep coming.

So far I've got 27 blankets, 20 stuffed animals, 20 brand-new winter coats for children, and some school supplies, including color pencils, pencils, pencil sharpeners, rulers. I'm still waiting for the shipment from Spirit of America so I can go do my first drop off!! It's going to be great!!

I'm trying to work with other agencies to support my effort so hopefully it works out and we can make a difference in Afghanistan!

I'm so grateful to you for all your support and help by spreading the word!! It wouldn't be the same without all your efforts. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

I will keep you posted on the coming days!

God Bless!

Kind Regards,

SPC Llamas Gerardo
US Army

Monday, January 19, 2009


Today at my PZ the Do-Gooder Scrooge blog -- in honor of Martin Luther King Day and the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama -- I shared the text of the children's picture book I wrote after the Presidential elections in November. The picture book "continues" the story of Wendy, the African-American character in MRS. LIEUTENANT.

If you have young children in your family, I hope you'll consider sharing with them THE DAY AFTER BARACK OBAMA IS ELECTED PRESIDENT.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Help This Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom Find a New Job

I met Courtney Hughey online at Twitter when the words "veteran OIF" in her profile caught my eye. I asked her to write a guest post about her experiences as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (She joined the Army National Guard HHC 151st Signal Battalion in 2000 and deployed to Baghdad from 2003-2004.)

Then I realized that, in her role as president of Greenville, SC., Jaycees, she's going to be the January 28th guest on the BlogTalkRadioShow Your Military Life that I co-host with Nancy Brown of (Small world.)

Read Courtney's guest post below and then look at her graphic design portfolio at I'm hoping that you'll send this blog post to friends (click on tiny envelope at the bottom of post) who might help her get a new job. You know, six degrees of separation. Here's Courtney:

When people separate from the military with less then enough years to retire they normally have one of two reactions: relief or remorse. I unfortunately experienced both.

Growing up I never really had any interest in joining the military. I grew up in Charlotte, NC, and moved to Easley, SC, at the age of 16. I didn't know anyone, I wasn't received well and I really wanted to start over. Some of the friends I had made at my high school my junior year decided to cut class on Senior Skip Day (you know, the holiday that doesn't exist?). That was the day all the juniors had to take the ASVAB test. No interest in the military, no reason to take the test.

Well, I forgot, I forgot to skip that day and ended up taking this crazy long test and really never thought anything more of it. A few weeks later I received a call from a National Guard Recruiter wanting to talk to me about the military. Uh no...I don't think so.

The more I let him talk...the better it sounded. I didn't have direction, no money for college and I was overweight. The military might help me with all my problems. I met with him a few times to talk and then finally brought my mom and dad in to sign for me to enlist on October 21st, 2000.

It was a struggle for me. I told all my friends at school and they all thought I was crazy. People at work said I couldn't do it but for the first time in a while I had direction and purpose. I had to lose 40 pounds to make weight and I did.

I started applying to colleges left and right and was energized and finally knew what it meant to be proud of myself and my country. Through my senior year many of my friends followed suit and joined other branches. Then September 11th happened.

I was scheduled to leave for boot camp in November and this was scary. I wanted to go to boot camp as soon as possible to help anyway I could. I selected to be a Cable Systems Installer (31L or Cable Dawg to some) because it was the shortest class and would get me home quick. I was home maybe six months and we were deployed to Iraq.

I was stationed in Baghdad for nine months out of my 12-month tour. I learned so much in that year about myself, life and pride. Suddenly I was there for my country and not for myself. It was hard and things I saw were evil and devastating. We were attacked regularly and we lost loved ones but I couldn't leave so I just made the best of it. I kept a journal for my family so they knew what was going on, and I eventually made it into a huge elaborate scrapbook to one day show to my kids.

We were able to get school supplies donated from the states to a school that had been ransacked. It was the most rewarding experience and definitely a turning point in my life. Who I am can be separated into “before deployment” and “after deployment.” As bad and good as it was I would do it all again in a heart beat.

Once we returned home it was hard to adjust back to normal life. I had some huge anger management issues. I had been on constant guard of my surroundings for a year and a half and back in 2003 the process for de-mobilization was weak. It was like I hit a brick wall. I started “eating my feelings” so to speak and gained a lot of weight back. I went to college and graduated with an associate degree in graphic design.

I was struggling to pass PT tests and it wasn't a priority. I was a very good soldier but the PT part was hard for me and eventually I gave up. I was hurt and felt the military was losing a good soldier who wanted to be there but just she couldn't run. So when my contract was up I didn't re-enlist. I regret it every day but I enjoy the life I am able to live because of what the military has done for me and the person the military made me.

I got a job with a RE/MAX location here in Greenville, SC. They have a program called Operation RE/MAX where they help veterans and military spouses obtain careers within the company. This program influenced my boss to hire me based partially on my military experience. I worked there for almost two years before getting laid off this past Christmas. The real estate market is down all over the country, and graphic design and my expertise is a luxury.

However that is not all I offer. I am also the president of our local Junior Chamber of Commerce chapter, and we do a lot of community service projects, professional and leadership training. Event planning and social media/marketing is a passion of mine. I am looking for anything resembling those subjects. I would love to work for a non-profit, ad agency or the government. I come highly recommended, and I am searching for that employer that can benefit from a soldier/civilian like me.

Thanks for any help you can offer and God bless America!

The photo is of Courtney and a child from one of the villages in Baghdad in 2003. Her unit was taking school supplies to this village and she was responsible for getting donations from back home. They got over $350 worth of school supplies. This child in particular was really fond of Jolly Rancher ... we can't see it but his pockets were stuffed with them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time to Win or Lose in Afghanistan

Some in the Pentagon want to repeat the Iraq strategy of securing the towns while others want to focus on the border. This war didn’t start yesterday. Why are these questions still being asked?

Next week Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States. His immediate focus will be on the economy, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan – he’s going to have a busy first few days.

It’s good news that he wants to make the Afghanistan War the main part of his foreign policy. And it’s better news that VP-elect Joe Biden was in Afghanistan last week with Senator Lindsay Graham, and Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman were there also. When one adds new National Security Council head General James Jones (USMC, ret) and Secretary of Defense Gates to the group, one can say that finally America has an administration that equals its Marines and soldiers in competence.

But within the Pentagon, there is still no clear idea of either the strategy or tactics the Pentagon brass might recommend to their new Commander-in-Chief. So let’s assist these desk-bound bureaucrats and do their job for them.

The debate is as follows:

1 - Some argue that the majority of the build-up should be arrayed along the border with Pakistan, focusing on fighting with militants as they move easily across the rugged terrain.

2 - Others, including General David H. Petraeus, the new Centcom commander, want to see the U.S. copy Petraeus’s Iraq strategy and make Afghanistan’s cities and towns the top priority in protecting civilians from the Taliban and other militants.

3 – There is a Marine strategy known as “Muscular Mentoring” that entails working closely with both the Afghan Army and the local citizenry to bring security, jobs, and confidence in local government. This is is successful but low-key and “non big-picture” – which makes it a non-starter to those back-office Army and Pentagon officers who do their best to avoid real field experience.

President Obama has only a finite time to implement a clear and coherent strategy. The Afghan people are increasingly frustrated in the face of rising violence (and American Air Force killings of civilians). And increasing numbers of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan has been mismanaged and is going badly.

Most everyone agrees that the new strategy needs to focus on controlling the border, security for the locals, and increased training for the totally corrupt Afghan police. But will this work?

The biggest issue is that, unlike the Marine strategy, the Army proposals have no role for local, provincial or the central government in Kabul. Yet this is the Afghans’ country and things need to be done their way. If they don’t stand-up and begin to take control of their own destiny, then for how many generations will American troops stay?

There are about 32,000 U.S. troops today in Afghanistan, with an additional 20,000 -30,000 expected to deploy this year. The current idea is to use the majority of the new troops to safeguard villages and cities, and to send some of the additional forces to the border.

"There is a primacy on securing the population," Army Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, director of operations for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, told the New York Times today. "The approach is to reach out to the population, get into the villages, and separate them from the insurgency."

That’s fine in theory, but will it work? Afghanistan has a bigger population than Iraq, a larger land mass, and is being invaded daily by the Taliban Pakistani’s. The "surge" in Iraq boosted American troop levels to approx 150,000 – this surge will boost the troops in Afghanistan to only 50,000- 60,000.

Additionally, as opposed to Iraq’s Sunni/Shia/Kurd issue, Afghanistan has literally hundreds of isolated tribes who have no allegiance or loyalty to anyone outside of their tribe.

While General Petraeus is loathe to admit it, the Marines and Sheik Sattar were working together months before he announced his ‘surge’ campaign – and there is surely no Afghan equivalent of the charismatic Sheik Sattar.

Iraq was “won” because Sheik Sattar realized that Al Qada in Iraq was a worse threat to them than the Marines – and that by allying with the Marines the Iraqis could mutually rid themselves of AQI. Once Al Qada in Iraq was rooted out of Ramadi, the other Sunni tribes saw the economic boom that resulted and wanted their share of it – and Anbar turned pro-Marine very, very quickly.

This won’t happen in Afghanistan. And to build a strategy based on non-existent leaders and tribes who don’t trust each other is a losing strategy from the onset.

Assuming that American troop levels will stay at the 60,000 level, then the Marine plan to engage the population and the Afghan Army and to empower local government is the only plan that bears a modicum of success.

When local Afghan citizens see that their army and their local government can successfully protect their families, provide some basic services – and, perhaps, a job, then we’ve given them a stake in making their country viable again.

But until then, Afghanistan will continue to burn as the Army and Air Force hunkers down on their huge bases like Bagram and refuse to engage with the locals.

Guest post from weekly contributor Andrew Lubin. For more of his boots-on-the-ground commentary on Afghanistan, listen to today's BlogTalkRadio interview of Andrew Lubin.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Contributing to the Thrift Savings Plan While Deployed

Michael Kothakota, Chief Investment Officer, WolfBridge Financial, was a guest on the BlogTalkRadio show that Nancy Brown and I co-host two times a week. I was so impressed with the information that he had for military personnel, particularly personnel about to deploy, that I asked him to write a guest blog post.

You may email him at if you’d like more information after reading this blog post. And you can also listen to his interview on our show.

Uniformed servicemembers are faced with an almost overwhelming list of tasks before they deploy. In addition to their duties of getting ready for the deployment, they also have to take care of personal and legal issues such as powers of attorney and wills. And because there are so many things to do, it is often easy to avoid the subject of personal finance. Specifically, retirement planning.

I can say this because I’ve been there. Right there with you. I was in the infantry. I remember quite well the pains of deployment preparation. I remember that the last thing I wanted to think about was retirement. I hadn’t even heard of it before. Between the eye exams, the smallpox shots, chemical training and the ranges, I really just wanted to sleep.

And this is why I want to talk to you about the Thrift Savings Plan -- a retirement savings and investment plan offered by the U.S. government. Prior to 2001, the Thrift Savings Plan (or TSP) was offered only to civilian military personnel. Thus, if you have been in the service longer than eight years, you may not have heard of the plan or its benefits.

This plan allows for participants to place part of their earnings into a retirement account similar to what the private sector uses a 401K for. This money can accrue interest based on the various investments within the plan, and can be withdrawn without penalty once the participant reaches the age of 59 1/2. In addition, before retirement servicemembers still in the military may take an interest-free loan from their TSP should the need arise.

The TSP offers enormous benefits to servicemembers who deploy. Not only can soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines contribute to their retirement tax-deferred, but while they are deployed to a combat zone they can contribute money tax-exempt into a separate account. This means, for example, in 2009 they can contribute into their normal TSP account up to $16,500 (or if they are over the age of 50, up to $22,000). This is the tax-deferred portion, meaning that servicemembers don’t pay taxes on the money going into the account now, but they will pay taxes on the money that comes out when they retire.

Now, during deployment to a tax-exclusion zone, the Internal Revenue Service allows uniformed servicemembers to contribute up to $49,000 in tax-exempt earnings for 2009. This money goes into a separate, tax-free portion of the TSP. What this means is that this money will go into the account tax-free, grow tax-free, and -- here’s the best part -- when you withdraw the money it comes out tax-free!

Therefore, when servicemembers retire, they would have two accounts. One where withdrawals are tax-deferred, and one where the funds are tax-free. This is in addition to any pension they have earned from having 20 or more years of service.

While there are few people in the military who can put this large amount of money away in any one year, you should check to see how much you can put away if you’re deploying. This is especially true for members of a Reserve component, who can use their deployment as an opportunity to enhance their nest egg. This is an opportunity available only to uniformed servicemembers and should not be wasted.

There are three questions that servicemembers need to ask themselves at this point. How do I set up my TSP account? How much should I put away? How should I allocate the money I do invest across the different investment options?

Unfortunately, the military is not equipped to handle these questions on an individual basis. There are guidelines provided at However, these guidelines do not take into account personal preferences, risk tolerance, and return expectations. The guidelines also only take time horizon into account on a limited basis.

This is where a financial planner or advisor comes into play. There is a myth that financial planning is for extremely wealthy people. What is true is that extremely wealthy people tend to have financial planners or advisors. They did not get that way by accident.

Our firm, WolfBridge Financial, specializes in helping military personnel and their families become financially knowledgeable. In fact, we have an entire department dedicated specifically to the military. I started the company in part because there was a need for financial advice for the military. And it needed to be affordable. We do not charge thousands of dollars in commissions, nor do we charge a large hourly fee.

Normally, for setting up an investment plan, we charge $250. But for military personnel, that rate is reduced to $150. For this $150, we will help you set up your TSP, figure out how much you can put in it, and we will show you how to allocate your investment funds given your risk tolerance, time horizon, return expectations and personal preferences.

By contacting us approximately three months before your deployment, we will walk you through the process of getting started on your TSP account. We will help you determine how much you can contribute while deployed. Finally, we’ll ascertain your investment profile by conducting a review of your risk tolerance and return expectations. From that, we’ll formulate investment recommendations for your TSP using the investment options allowed by the government within the plan.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spirit of America Offers to Send 50 Blankets to Soldier in Afghanistan

On December 23rd I wrote a blog post about one soldier -- Specialist Gerardo Llamas -- currently deployed in Afghanistan, who is trying all on his own to get blankets to help save the lives of freezing Afghan children.

In my blog post I also said:
My husband told me that Spirit of America is an organization that helps “Americans serving abroad assist people in need.” But I wanted to support Gerardo Llamas, who all on his own is doing this humanitarian project.
I took the liberty of forwarding my blog post to Spirit of America and suggesting someone get in touch with Specialist Llamas.

Here's what's just happened: Yesterday I got an email from Specialist Llamas saying that he has gotten his first shipment of donated blankets, including the four I sent from Kmart.

Today I got an email from Spirit of America thanking me for thinking of the organization and saying someone would be in touch with Specialist Llamas. A few minutes later I was cced on this email:
Spirit of America would like to immediately send you 50 blankets for distribution to those in need in your area. We have your APO address from Ms. Miller, so please just let us know that these are still needed, and I will order them tomorrow. In addition, we would be happy to create a project page specifically for your request on our website so that our supporters and friends can support your efforts.
Wow! This brought tears to my eyes. I'm waiting to hear that Spirit of America has connected with Specialist Llamas. And I'll let you know what develops next.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Military Recruiting Today

Below is a guest post from weekly contributor Andrew Lubin. Read more of his writing at

Lost in the noise of the football games this weekend was an announcement that the Marine Corps is three (3 !!) years ahead of its recruiting schedule.

When President Bush announced “the Surge” two years ago, he also ordered the four services to increase their manpower, with the Marine Corps growing from 177,000. The Pentagon estimated that it would take five years to do so, at an unheard of rate of finding 5,000 recruits annually.

The Army (told to increase their size by 65,000) and other services were also tasked to increase, but warned gloomily that “wartime conditions” would make meeting even their old recruiting standards impossible.

Perhaps it’s not the “wartime conditions” that makes young American men and women reluctant to join the other services, but what those services offer?

Look at the recruiting advertisements on television. When was the last time you even saw a Navy or Air Force advertisement? Only recently did the Army even drop its “an Army of one” campaign. When I’m embedded, the last thing I want to be out there is alone…maybe our young 17-18 year olds feel the same?

And accepting felons? And forget a high school diploma or even a G.E.D. Now the Army will take kids without even a GED – referring to these dropouts as having an “alternative education.” Who’d want to go out into combat with them?

All four services offer the same bonus plans, the same pay scales. Yet the Marine Corps gets the dirty jobs (winning Anbar Province) as Air Force deployments only last three months, and Marine recruiting still sets records monthly.

Let’s look at the Marine Corps advertisements. Over the years they don’t change. It’s “Honor – Courage – Commitment” – if you’re good enough to be accepted. Forget the Army promising to teach you how to drive a truck, or the Navy teaching you repair skills. Marine ads show old photos of Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, and Vietnam. Now here is something over which a young person can be proud.

And maybe it’s the message for which these young men and women are searching. Life is too easy these days – what does one do to differentiate himself/herself from the boring pack?

The Marine Corps has an answer: stretch yourself … become a part of something larger and more important than yourself … be part of a tradition of fierce excellence that earns you worldwide respect for the rest of your life.

Like Brigadier General Robert Milstead, head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said this weekend: “Kids don’t join the Marines because they’re tired of flipping burgers. They join because they want to be Marines.”

Well done, and Semper Fi.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Vote for THE WAR ON BIG TOBACCO in 2008 Weblog Awards

I've often stated that my blog is not political and therefore I don't discuss Presidential candidates or the U.S. energy policy.

That said, I'm comfortable promoting my candidate who is a finalist for the "Best Military Blog" category in the 2008 Weblog Awards -- "The War on Big Tobacco." I've been following Big Tobacco's blog written from an FOB (Forward Operating Base) somewhere in Iraq since my husband discovered the blog a few months ago.

While I admit that some of Big Tobacco's blog posts are R-rated, I love his ability to bring us up close and personal with his world.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have had Big Tobacco do a guest post for my blog, and he has granted me permission to use a blog post of his on a military-related website I'm about to launch. And I still think you should vote for him.

Voting started today and ends January 13th. And in what seems strange to me, you can vote again every 24 hours. This means you can vote early and often for "The War on Big Tobacco."

Please vote now.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch Suggests a Novel Form of Veteran Aid

In the January 3rd Wall Street Journal Edward I. Koch, former mayor of New York City, had a letter to the editor published under the headline "Let's Help Our Veterans While Helping the Economy." Koch bemoaned the amount of money spent to date on the economic crisis without any apparent success. And he then offered his suggestions "that will at least give us something more tangible for that ongoing generosity with taxpayers' money."
Why don't we authorize the secretary of the Treasury to buy up to 1.5 million automobiles at a price on average of $30,000 each, which comes to $45 billion. Also, provide the authorization to buy up to 300,000 houses in foreclosure that were part of the subprime mortgage fiasco, at an average cost of $300,000, in aggregate less than $500 billion. Then give a car and a house as a bonus to every veteran of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will leave to Hank Paulson and his successor the job of working out the details of distribution, e.g., lottery, fairness, region, etc. The veteran should be required to live in the house, unable to sell for five years, and demonstrate an income that can support his/her maintaining the now mortgage-free home.

The total cost of this package is approximately $500 billion, depending on the number of veterans, while President-elect Obama's projected stimulus package is a reputed $800 billion. Most important, our veterans get something tangible for our money, as opposed to the bailouts to date, which are sweetheart giveaways.
This is truly a novel suggestion -- one that would be interesting to see seriously considered by the new administration.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Air Force and the NY Israeli Consulate Use Twitter to Spread Their Messages

Thanks to Twitter I knew about the blog post by David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) titled ”The US Air Force: Armed with social media.” The post couldn’t have come at a better time as I’d been contemplating an online project that shall be revealed in due time.

The gist of Scott’s blog post is that, because he found the Air Force on Twitter as @AFPAA, Scott spoke about this effort to Captain David Faggard, Chief of Emerging Technology at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency in the Pentagon. Scott wrote that Faggard explained that the Air Force’s “mission is to use current and developing Web 2.0 applications as a way to actively engage conversations between Airmen and the general public.”

Scott is particularly impressed by the Air Force’s efforts because, as he says, “the Air Force is doing so much while many in the private sector are still doing so little.”

And I am equally impressed with the Air Force’s efforts as well as other emerging uses of Web 2.0.

This week Benjamin Netanyahu went on YouTube (see above) to explain the U.S. position of retaliating against attacks from Gaza. And the New York Israeli Consulate (@IsraelConsulate) held a “press conference” on Twitter on the same topic.

What’s a press conference on Twitter? It’s a way to bypass the often-biased media channels and take the info straight to the people. Twitter users asked questions in 140 characters and got answers in 140 characters. And afterwards these conversations were “enlarged” from Twitter language (for example, changing 4 to for) and put on the consulate’s blog.

Without spilling the beans too soon, I’ll say that on Wednesday afternoon I registered a domain name for my proposed experiment of using the new media and the new technology to undertake a project that I believe I can’t successfully undertake using traditional methods. I’m hoping that, by using a technique called “inbound marketing,” I can achieve my goals.

Only time will tell whether my experiment will succeed -- I’ll announce the launch here when the project’s ready to go.