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Archives: 2008


2008 saw a drop in violence for Washington’s troops

Iraq still remains the deadliest combat zone for Washington-based service members, though the number of fatalities has dropped since their apex in 2006. One likely reason for this is that the majority of deployed soldiers from Fort Lewis have served in Iraq. This year, though, was the deadliest in Afghanistan for Washington troops, defined as a service member who is stationed at a military installation in the state or lists Washington as his or her home state.

Here is a breakdown of Washington service member deaths, both combat- and non-combat-related, in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001:

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Gig Harbor man optimistic about Afghanistan reconstruction

Michael Haines admits he’s a bit of an idealist – probably the best philosophy to espouse when working in a country that has been wrecked by decades of civil war and ethnic conflict.

Next week, the 40-year-old Gig Harbor native will arrive in Afghanistan to become the deputy country director for the Asia Foundation, a non-governmental organization.

He will help oversee a staff of about 250 and a budget that routinely handles $25 million in projects at a time.

Projects include anything from running a preparatory course for girls before they take a college entrance exam to production of radio programs that teach about the country’s government and possibilities for citizen involvement.

Development work is a second career for Haines. He left his private-sector job in 2003 and joined the Peace Corps, working business and economic development in Ukraine.

"That’s when I learned that working in these communities instead of just passing through is much more valuable," he said.

He has since worked in Iraq for the International Republican Institute and in Azerbaijan for the Eurasia Foundation.

Haines is visiting family in Pierce County this week before flying to Afghanistan, and he sat down with The News Tribune on Tuesday to discuss his next assignment.

Q: What is the main focus of the Asia Foundation’s work in Afghanistan?
A: Most often it’s developing institutions and capacities for citizens to be engaged, promoting economic prosperity and social justice. We’ll be working with women’s groups in civil society or government to help develop their capacity and skills for potential career advancement. I know there’s a perception that women aren’t engaged in Muslim countries – and that’s certainly true in many countries – but in others, they’re an integral part of civil society.
We also work with youth, who, like women, are also marginalized. We help them get involved in the process, at the school level, municipal level. We’re dealing with countries that have no concept of civil society, and we’re helping to bridge that gap. No functioning democracy works without a civil society.

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Plenty of work for deploying Guardsmen

About 30 Washington National Guardsmen leave for training next week and will begin a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan this spring.

And it sounds like the detachment from the 741st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion can’t get there soon enough, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Roadside bombs have become the largest threat to combat troops in Afghanistan, the newspaper reported. The number of incidents and casualties involving the bombs is up 33 percent from a year earlier. They’re the largest single cause of American and NATO troop death and injuries.


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Drop in violence means different mission for Lewis engineers

The third Iraq deployment for Fort Lewis’ 14th Engineer Battalion has a different feel: The 750 soldiers are spending less time searching for roadside bombs and have more opportunities to train Iraqis and rebuild roads.

And that means more opportunity to build goodwill, the battalion commander said.

"In the summer of 2003, most Iraqis waved or smiled when you passed them on patrol," Lt. Col. Pete Helmlinger said by phone. "When I returned in 2006, I saw mostly long faces and glares. I now see waving and smiling again, with an occasional hang-loose wave, and far fewer glares."

Most of the soldiers spend their days rebuilding roads near Tallil, in southeastern Iraq. But a third of the unit, part of the 555th Engineer Brigade, spends its days on patrol, looking for roadside bombs – a task that took up most of its first two deployments.

The battalion, which includes 500 soldiers from Fort Lewis and about 250 from Fort Hood, Texas, is largely stationed at Contingency Operating Base Adder outside Tallil, though a company is working near Balad in central Iraq.

The engineers deployed in April and should return from its 15-month tour this summer. The battalion previously served during the 2003 invasion and again in 2005-06.

Helmlinger, a University Place native, said the difference between deployments is stark.

"Violence and the number of (improvised explosive devices) are down to a fraction of what they were two years ago," he said. "On our route clearance patrols, we now average two IEDs a week, instead of two a day, which has freed us to focus on other engineer missions."

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Just one more reason to get your info from newspapers

The war in Iraq is easily the biggest news story of this decade, possibly this generation. More than 130,000 Americans are serving there. More than 4,000 have died since the invasion.

And yet ABC, CBS and NBC have pulled full-time correspondents from the country as the television networks’ focus shifts to Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a piece in the New York Times.

That’s because of rising tensions in Afghanistan and dipping violence in Iraq. Many media outlets, television networks included, are trimming staff and expenses, and the maintaining a

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Poll: Obama faces uncertainty as commander in chief

About 60 percent active-duty service members are “uncertain or pessimistic” about President-elect Barack Obama becoming commander in chief, according to a Military Times poll.

This shouldn’t be a total surprise. Almost half of the 1,900 respondents describe their political views as conservative or very conservative. Only 13 percent identified themselves as Democrats.

Obama’s lack of military experience and his pledge to pull combat troops out of Iraq in the first 16 months of his presidency seemed to trouble service members, the poll showed.

But the poll isn’t scientific, the article

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Fort Lewis ‘model of the new philosophy’ of growth

USA Today has an article on the building boom around military installations, and how planners are aiming for “smarter” growth.

Fort Lewis is the article’s focus on how to do it right. If you regularly keep tabs on Lewis’ growth, there’s not a ton new. But it’s always helpful to read what a reporter with a fresh set of eyes wrote.

From the story:

Fort Lewis, a post south of Tacoma, Wash., is touted as a model of the new philosophy. The active-duty population was 18,000 five years ago. It’s now 30,000 and is expected to top 32,000 by 2012, says Col. Cynthia Murphy, garrison commander.

Fort Lewis stretches across 86,000 acres, much of it used for training missions. About 30% of families live in the 3,800 homes there — most built after World War II. Another 290 homes will be built next year and up to 2,000 more over time.

The military doesn’t want to touch land used for training, which it views as vital. That means overhauling the base’s old development plan. About 600 people met in workshops — “from junior soldiers to the most senior leadership to families of deployed soldiers … single soldiers, retirees,” Murphy says.

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