Six American soldiers died last week when their Black Hawk UH-6- helicopter went down during a mission in Afghanistan, another tragic event that raised to 129 the number of U.S. troops who died this year in Afghanistan and elsewhere in support of "Operation Enduring Freedom."
Those deaths are doubly tragic, first because of the disdain that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has shown for the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Karzai has refused to sign a status of forces agreement to permit U.S. troops to remain in his country beyond 2014.
Second, while U.S. troops are sacrificing life and limb, there has been rampant corruption, misconduct and out-right war profiteering by U.S. military brass and others.
Here are just the highlights:
- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus disclosed last week he has ordered criminal investors to broaden their investigation into a multi-million-dollar international contract bribery scandal that already has netted two Navy commanders and a senior agent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Services.
- Two Navy commanders were arrested and charged with accepting bribes in the form of cash, luxury travel and prostitutes in return for millions of dollars of government contracts, according to The Washington Post. The president of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based company that provides port services to U. S. ships and submarines in the Pacific, was arrested in September along with another executive in a sting operation in California in connection with the bribery case.
- Last Thursday, the Air Force released a shocking investigative report that an Air Force General who oversaw some of the nation's nuclear weapons was fired for drunken conduct during an official trip to Moscow last summer. Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey, who was stripped of his command of the 20th Air Force -- which maintains and operates the nation's intercontinental ballistic missiles -- is accused of having gone on a drinking binge, insulting the Russians and other guests, carousing at night with strange women and stumbling through Red Square "pouting and sulking," according to the Associated Press and Washington Post.
- The New York Times reported that a large number of other senior military officers have been investigated, penalized or fired over sexual improprieties, sexual violence, financial mismanagement or poor judgment. Congress is debating ways to toughen investigations and penalties for members of the military involved in sexual violence or misconduct.
- In September, Strategic Command boss Gen. Robert Kehler fired his deputy, Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, after he was accused of trying to use counterfeit poker chips while gambling in western Iowa.
And so it goes.
Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has pressed to try to clean up the widespread ethical and behavioral problems among the military brass, but with little to show for it. Moreover, the Pentagon doesn't appear to be overwrought about the problems of improper or outrageous conduct.
"Secretary Hagel has been regularly briefed on this, but he is not ready to assign, or label, or characterize the allegations as systemic at this point," press secretary George Little told Politico last month.
Hagel and the Pentagon got a reprieve from a second year of across the board spending cuts in the bipartisan budget approved by Congress last week, but he nonetheless must make tough decisions in the coming year on scaling back, consolidating or eliminating defense programs.
Before the budget passed, DOD’s budget would be slashed from $527 to $475 under sequestration. With the new budget deal, DOD's budget will be $498 billion.
This means that DOD's will avoid cuts that military planners warned would be calamitous. Still, with $29 billion less, some at DOD are going to feel pain.
This might be a good time for Hagel to begin cleaning house.