Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is Badger Trips a bad guy?

Travel agency Badger Trips offered free trips to the Rose Bowl for Wisconsin vets, then withdrew the offer when it found that the seats were sold or selling out quickly.
Some of the folks commenting on the story seem to think this is a slap in the face for veterans.
I talked with one of the travel agency co-owners and he seemed very sorry about the turn of events. It was a pretty nice gesture to begin with, and the company is saying it will make it up to veterans at a later time. But many are reacting by saying the almighty dollar trumped allegiance to our fighting men and women.
Perhaps it's ironic that the for-profit economic system the military fights to preserve has in this case come back to bite a few veterans. With unemployment as high as it is, it shouldn't be a surprise that the free market system -- despite all its benefits -- can be a rough game.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The end in Iraq

Today's the day the U.S. officially ends its mission in Iraq, nearly nine years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

According to CNN: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad for the ceremony to personally thank the U.S. troops who have served there, as well as Iraqi security forces.

All U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of the month after Washington and Baghdad failed to agree on terms under which they could remain. The cable network includes the voices of military personnel who served there.

The Guardian has stories saying the withdrawal is "an act on a stage," and that it portends terrible things for world stability. Take your pick.

Fox has a less extensive report that emphasizes, oddly I think, that no "stray" shots were fired today.

"Farm girl loses her Navy boy"

I spoke with Clem Felsheim a few days before he and his brother boarded a Badger Honor Flight to Washington DC. last month.
(There he is at left in a photo by the State Journal's John Hart.)
Most of you know about honor flights, the network of volunteers who are rushing to give World War II veterans a chance to see their memorial in Washington before old age does to them what war failed to do.
Mr. Felsheim was happy he was going. I'm afraid I didn't have a chance to talk to him after he returned, but I've talked to a lot of other veterans who took the flights, and even was able to join a group of them on one of the exhilarating, exhausting trips a few years ago. I suspect he had the time of his life.
And, with his trip to Washington, he beat the clock, but only by a few weeks.
The retired Navy man, who came home to work in the local Oscar Mayer plant, died peacefully on Dec. 8, according to his obituary.
The opening line of the obituary -- "Farm girl loses her Navy boy" -- speaks in a very touching way about his life, and how his family still saw him as a sailor nearly 70 years after he joined the Navy.
His service was like military service is for most men and women. It involves sacrifice, maybe even danger, but not necessarily a lot of heroics of the type that you see in the movies.
He enlisted as soon as he graduated from high school, but it was so late in the war that he always seemed to be the least senior seaman on his ship. So when they hit port, he was usually the one who stood watch while his buddies went to town.
One of the few times they gave him some shore leave was in Japan, after the fighting was over. The Wisconsin lad went straight to a bar and ordered a glass of milk.
He was from Arcadia in western Wisconsin. One of five brothers who served during two wars. All five came back home, safe and sound, to be the kind of ordinary heroes who work hard and raise families.
Three of them have died of natural causes over the years.
Clem Felsheim and his brother George were the last two living when I talked with them last month. Now there is one.

Clem's daughter sent me these photos taken in Washington. Clem is in the Navy cap and George is in the Merchant Marine cap.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wisconsin Guard worries about budget cuts

Federal budget cuts threaten to shunt the Wisconsin National Guard back into the bit part it played as a weekend warrior force with second-hand equipment before the post-9/11 wars thrust it into a full combat role, the state guard's top general said Wednesday.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sept. 4, 2007 -- deadly day for the 2-16

While I was working on a story for Sunday's paper, I interviewed Kyle Kumbier and Michael Mathieus, two Wisconsin men who served in the Army's 2-16, which lost 14 soldiers during a 15-month tour that stretched across 2007 and 2008. (Mike is on the left, Kyle on the right, in the photo, taken in Baghdad a few years ago.) The outfit is the subject of Pulitzer prize winning reporter David Finkel's 2009 book, "The Good Soldiers."

Kumbier tells a chilling story about Sept. 4, 2007, the day a bomb blast killed three members of the unit, mortally wounded another and left a fifth with serious injuries.

Here's what happened:
On Sept. 4, 2007, Kumbier was driving a line of five Humvees when an armor-piercing bomb exploded. As the dust cleared and gunshots rang out, Kumbier could see a Humvee aflame, its gunner sprawled on top of it and another soldier down on the ground. Kumbier tossed a fire extinguisher to his sergeant, who led a group on foot to the blast site.
“They started coming back and they are dragging a guy with them and as they are dragging him his leg, it looks like jelly, it’s just completely falling off his body,” Kumbier said.
It was Pvt. Randol Shelton, the gunner, and one of Kumbier’s best friends.
“We tried to throw on a couple of tourniquets, but his leg was so far gone up his leg that you couldn’t even get a tourniquet on there,” Kumbier said.
As Shelton moaned, Kumbier and another soldier tried to stop the bleeding with bandages soaked in a clotting agent. A medic jumped in and Kumbier sped toward the base through congested Baghdad streets. “I had my gunner start shooting to try to clear the road and it kind of worked,” Kumbier said. The Humvee fishtailed around the last corner into the base. An officer who didn’t know what was happening motioned for Kumbier to slow down and Kumbier flipped him off.
At the base aid station, medical personnel worked on Shelton for 15 minutes before pronouncing him dead, Kumbier said.
Shelton was one of four killed by the explosion. A fifth soldier survived with serious injuries.
In December 2007, Kumbier’s unit captured the insurgent believed to be responsible. The soldiers never found out what happened to him.
“We didn’t really get any justice from it, but it was nice to know he wasn’t going to be out there anymore doing that any more,” Kumbier said.

Sunday's story in the State Journal includes more from Kumbier and Mathieus as well as others who enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001.

-- Steve

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wisconsin photog chronicles Desert Storm

News from WDVA:
The Wisconsin Veterans Museum will open The Scorching Desert Sun: A Wisconsin Photographer Chronicles Operation Desert Storm exhibit on Friday, January 14, 2011. The exhibit will remain on display until March 31, 2011. As a photographer for the 28th Public Affairs Team, Sergeant Mike Weber documented the actions of the 82nd Airborne Division during the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm. From the capture of prisoners-of-war and the confiscation of ordnance, Weber saw it all. The latter action, though, has proven to be the most difficult as Weber, like many of his fellow Gulf War veterans, still suffers from the effects of exposure to leaking or detonated chemical weapons. This photography exhibit, culled from the collections of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, chronicles Weber’s tour in Iraq, from staging in Kuwait, to the charge into Iraqi territory, and the American interaction with Iraqi civilians. Questions about the exhibit may be directed to Jeff Kollath, Curator of Programs & Exhibitions at (608) 261-0541. For more information go to

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Scocos lands post in Walker administration

From Wisconsin State Journal politics writer Mary Spicuzza

John Scocos is back.

The former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs has landed a job with the Walker Administration.

Scocos attended a Cabinet meeting Tuesday afternoon, where it was announced that he's been named deputy secretary of the state Department of Regulation and Licensing.

Scocos was fired from his post in Nov. 2009, just two months after returning from a tour in Iraq. He was replaced with Ken Black, an agency official he had recently demoted.

Scocos was secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2003 until last year, is and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

The Veterans Affairs board had been signaling disapproval of the agency's leadership for months leading up to Scocos' firing. But the board members pushing for his removal had been appointed by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.