Friday, March 07, 2008

Niche Marketing 

If you're feeling blue . . .
More than a quarter of U.S. soldiers on their third or fourth tours in Iraq suffer mental health problems partly because troops are not getting enough time at home between deployments, the Army said Thursday.

Overall, about 17.9 percent of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had mental health problems in 2007, according to an annual Army survey. That is slightly below the 2006 figure of 19.1 percent but relatively consistent with previous years . . . .

"Soldiers are not resetting entirely before they get back into theater," said Lt. Col. Paul Bliese, who led the Army's Mental Health Advisory Team survey for 2007.

By "resetting" Bliese meant soldiers are not getting enough time to recover from the trauma of duty in a war zone . . . .

Short dwell times helped the Pentagon execute President Bush's troop "surge" last year that boosted troop levels in Iraq to 160,000 and keep about 28,000 troops in Afghanistan.
If you're feeling really, really blue . . .
Last year, 121 soldiers in the Army and active-duty National Guard and Reserves committed suicide, the largest number since the military began keeping records in 1980.

That is more than double the 52 suicides reported in 2001, the year the war in Afghanistan began, according to a Pentagon report. The report also cited 2,100 attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries last year -- six times the 350 reported in 2002, before the Iraq war . . . .

The current suicides, one-quarter of which occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, are primarily the result of strained personal relationships exacerbated by repeated deployments that last up to 15 months, Ritchie said. That, coupled with the availability of firearms, can become a deadly combination.
. . . then why not take the President's advice? Do yourself -- AND your friendly neighborhood military contractor! -- a favor. Try a little retail therapy. Go shopping!
More REI than M.A.S.H., [Commando Military Supply] is regularly jam-packed with deploying grunts and sergeants, poking around for custom gear including $200 flashlights, $150 Oakley protective sunglasses, $180 Thinsulate boots, and $20 thermal socks . . . .

The traditional Army credo is that it's guts that win the glory – not fancy long-johns or Oakley sunglasses. But that old-school thinking is wicking away like perspiration through Gore-Tex as US soldiers today go beyond military-issue battle dress uniforms in favor of top-of-the-line gear to help them get home in one piece – and look sharp, too.

One reason, critics say, is that military procurement, especially of life-saving equipment, is still too slow. Quietly, however, the Pentagon – with the Army leading the charge – has begun bypassing rigid procurement rules, loosening uniformity requirements, and even spearheading technical innovations in gear, ranging from flame-retardant shirts to low-infrared signature zippers.

"The idea now is, 'If it helps Joe do the mission, let him have it – as long as it's not hot pink,' " says Army veteran Logan Coffey, founder of Tactical Tailor, a custom-maker of packs and pouches in Lakewood, Wash. "It's a giant change" in the military mind-set, he says in a phone interview.

Since 9/11, the market for tactical war gear has expanded from nearly nonexistent to nearly $150 million in sales each year, which includes sales directly to soldiers as well as to the Pentagon, according to industry sources . . . .

To some critics, the sight of soldiers buying their own battle gear symbolizes a divide between frontline grunts and rear echelon procurement officers who may never have seen battle. Rep. Gene Taylor (D) of Mississippi told the House Armed Services Committee last week that supplies such as body armor and uparmored Humvees "[have] taken entirely too long" to get to frontline troops . . . .

"The Army is planning a $20 billion future combat system, and they can't provide boots that don't wear out," says Roger Charles, editor of DefenseWatch, an investigative website that advocates on behalf of frontline soldiers. "There's no priority for taking care of relatively mundane items where most people would think, 'Gosh, that's so simple. Why don't they have the best boots, the best uniforms, the best helmets, and the best flak jackets?'"

. . . . Even in life and death situations, fashion means something on the battlefield, soldiers say. "The Army does issue everyone glasses, but the young soldier wants to look cool, fashionable. He wants to look sexy," says Mr. Coffey.
Remember: in today's army, you've got to spend to survive!

TANGENTIALLY RELATED SIDEBAR (via our one-and-onliest colleague A. Carol): And while we're on the subject of ill-gotten gains, you will no doubt be delighted to learn that America's #1 war profiteer, KBR, has figured out yet another way to suck a few dollars out of every taxpayer's pocket:
Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation's top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.

More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq - including about 10,500 Americans - are listed as employees of two companies that exist in a computer file on the fourth floor of a building on a palm-studded boulevard here in the Caribbean. Neither company has an office or phone number in the Cayman Islands.

The Defense Department has known since at least 2004 that KBR was avoiding taxes by declaring its American workers as employees of Cayman Islands shell companies, and officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars.

But the use of the loophole results in a significantly greater loss of revenue to the government as a whole, particularly to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds . . . .

"Failing to contribute to Social Security and Medicare thousands of times over isn't shielding the taxpayers they claim to protect, it's costing our citizens in the name of short-term corporate greed," said Senator John F. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who has introduced legislation to close loopholes for companies registering overseas.

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