This time last year, the Marine Corps scrubbed its personnel rosters and found more than 66,000 leathernecks who had not yet done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. The top brass put them at the front of the line.
Now, the Army has followed suit. A servicewide check has determined that about 40 percent of the 515,000 active-duty soldiers have not yet set foot in a combat zone even as the wars stretch into their fifth and sixth years, and some troops have had to serve four or even five tours.
The war-virgin ranks include some soldiers who are scheduled to deploy in the near future, as well as others who are in boot camp or are ineligible to fight “downrange,” as the Iraq front is called. The latter include those with medical or legal problems, along with others who are recruiters or trainers.
That leaves at least 37,000 troops who have no reason for their lack of war duty. The Army says they should start packing.
In the U.S. government, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ national cemetery system has scored the highest rating in customer satisfaction.
That’s not because its customers are in no condition to complain about their accommodations. Rather, it’s because of the high level of professionalism, efficiency and compassion its employees have displayed in helping families arrange the interment of their loved ones.
According to the University of Michigan Business School survey — called the American Customer Satisfaction Index — the VA’s cemetery operation earned a satisfaction rating of 95 percent, higher than any other federal agency or any of the 200 private-sector companies whose customers were queried.
Though environmental purists rage against opening national wildlife refuges to hunters, fishermen and swarms of visitors, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says recreational use of 80 such refuges generated more than $1.6 billion in total economic activity last year.
The money spent by 30 million visitors for food, refreshments, lodging and transportation translated into 27,000 private-sector jobs and $195 million in tax revenue. But environmentalists say any such economic gain is offset by losses in habitat and increases in pollution.
Some may call them visual pollution or dangerous driver distractions, but flashy digital billboards are the new outdoor advertising rage. Now, the FBI has booked 150 such billboards in 20 cities to plaster the faces of its most-wanted fugitives coast to coast. Billboard firm Clear Channel Outdoor is donating eight-second spots to the FBI, and says new information can be added to the signs within minutes. A recent test run led to the apprehension of a suspect in the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer, the FBI said.
One of the more obscure U.S. national borders — the land boundary between Alaska and Canada — will soon be tightened to discourage its use as a possible terror-attack route. In February, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, all trucks passing from Canada to Alaska will be required to electronically transmit information about their cargo before they arrive at the border.
Add archaeology to the list of tasks U.S. troops in Iraq are undertaking. While grading an area near a helicopter pad at Kirkuk Air Base, a team of U.S. airmen stumbled upon what later was determined to be about 100 pottery shards believed to date from 2,000 years ago when the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi flourished nearby.
Other potential sites have since been discovered, lending added excitement to the find in an area that, until now, lay unexplored. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, archaeologists were barred from the base, which was an Iraqi military facility before U.S. forces took it over.
Now, American and Iraqi experts are collaborating on a project to study the sites in detail.