Print

Regiments and history

Published by James O'Toole on .


 
                                                        By James M. Perry
 
Bowe Bergdahl, recently repatriated from Afghanistan, served at the time he fell into the Taliban's hands in June of 2009 as a private first class in the Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company, First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment. The platoon, the New York Times reported Sunday, was "raggedy," without explaining just what it meant by that.  Soldiers in the platoon -- about 42 of them, normally -- did, the story says, wear bandanas and T-shirts.
 
The Times report, by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt, says "an internal Army investigation into the episode concluded that the platoon suffered from lapses in discipline and security" in the period before Sergeant Bergdahl disappeared into isolated Paktika Province (he was promoted to sergeant while in enemy hands).  
 
The platoon, probably a little raggedy to begin with, "was sent to a remote location with too few troops to seriously confront an increasingly aggressive insurgency, which controlled many villages in the region."  It was lonely, dangerous work, and the platoon commander, probably a second lieutenant, "less than inspiring," was relieved weeks into the deployment and replaced by the platoon's top sergeant, but he too was relieved when Army brass was shown photos of his soldiers in those non-regulation bandannas and T-shirts.
 
It seems to have been the kind of standard SNAFU that has bedeviled every army in history at one time or another -- incompetent generals, poorly disciplined troops, lax security.

The 501st Regiment was not an elite unit. It is, in fact, a little difficult to say exactly what it is. The First Battalion, supposedly, is located in Fort Richardson, Alaska, and is part of the 25th Infantry Division, with headquarters in the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, made famous in James Jones's classic novel, “From Here to Eternity.’’  The division's Second Battalion, for reasons known only to the Army, is assigned to the 82d Airborne Division. During World War II and the war in Vietnam, the 501st was part of the 101st Airborne.
 
The problem with so many units in the American army is that their histories are so convoluted that it is almost impossible to develop unit cohesion or unit morale.  
 
One of my favorite Army regiments is the 164th, activated early in World War II from the North Dakota National Guard. The regiment showed up in New Caledonia to join two other National Guard regiments and win designation as the Americal Division. Early on, its National Guard commanding officer was replaced by Colonel Bryant E. Moore, a West Pointer, and a first-class soldier. The 164th arrived on Guadalcanal ahead of the rest of the division in October of 1942 and was soon fighting side by side with exhausted Marines.
 
The Marines were so impressed they called the unit the 164th Marines, and one of its battalion commanders was awarded a Navy Cross.
 
So what happened to the glorious 164th? It was de-activated from federal service and reassigned to the North Dakota National Guard.  It seems to me outstanding units such as the 164th should be treasured by the Army, not routinely deactivated.
 
Great Britain has done a lot scaling back the size of its army in recent years, but it has kept at least a vestige of its old regiments. There is, for example, only one Scottish regiment these days, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, but its battalions carry the names of Scotland's old regiments. The legendary Black Watch, for example, is now the Royal Regiment's Third Battalion. The Royal Regiment has its own band, its own distinctive uniform, its own Parachute Display Team, and (according to Wikipedia) its own Scots Shinty Club that plays a game somewhat akin to field hockey.
 
Britain's oldest regiment, the Coldstream Guards, has been in continuous service in the British army since 1650.
 
Sergeant Bergdahl's 501st Regiment was activated in 1942, disbanded in 1945, activated in 1946, inactivated in 1948, activated in 1951, deactivated in 1954, and activated in bits and pieces ever since. That's no way to run an army.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

Print

Clinton strong in Pa 2016 polls

Published by James O'Toole on .

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential candidacy attracted strong support from Pennsylvania voters in two early tests of the speculative 2016 field.
She was the overwhelming choice of the state’s Democratic voters as their nominee in a survey by Public Policy Polling, and she topped every Republican candidate tested in separate trial heats conducted by PPP, and the Quinnipiac University poll.

Despite the controversy over his associates’s roles in the notorious George Washington Bridge lane closings, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won the most support among GOP voters although no Republican enjoyed the dominant position of the former First Lady.

President Barack Obama, who twice captured the state’s electoral votes by big margins, may be glad not to have to face the state’s voters a third time. In the Quinnipiac University survey, only 44 percent of the state’s voters approved of the way he is handling his job, while 53 percent disapproved. There was a predictable Republican-Democratic contrast in views of the president, but a strong majority of independents, who broke his way in 2008 and 20012 in Pennsylvania, expressed disapproval, by a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent.

The state’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, received middling grades from the voters. Mr. Casey’s approval rating was 44 percent, while 27 percent disapproved. Mr. Toomey, whose seat will be on the 2016 ballot, got a positive rating of 41 percent, with 27 percent disapproving.

Print

Christie to stump with Corbett

Published by James O'Toole on .

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the head of the Republican Governors Association, will be campaigning in Pittsburgh with Gov. Tom Corbett Friday.
Gov. Christie was to attend a lunchtime fund-raiser for state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, at the William Penn Hotel.  After that, Mr. Christie and Mr. Corbett were to appear at a separate fund-raiser for the RGA, while also doing some retail politicking in Downtown Pittsburgh.
The joint appearances come as Mr. Corbett trails Democratic nominee Tom Wolf in early post-primary polling of the governor’s race.  Mr. Christie has been dogged by the lingering controversy over his associates’ roles in the much criticized George Washington Bridge lane closings last year.  But the stories don’t appear to have ruined his  popularity in with the voters of his neighboring state.  
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning survey firm, reported Thursday that in a recent trial heat, Mr. Christie was the leading choice among Pennsylvania Republicans as a 2016 presidential nominee.  He was preferred candidate for 23 percent of the state’s GOP voters, followed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 14 percent; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 12 percent.

Print

Boilermakers back Corbett

Published by James O'Toole on .

Gov. Tom Corbett picked up another union endorsement Wednesday, with the backing of Boilermakers Local 154.  And with the poll numbers that have been coming out, Corbett could probably use a boilermaker, maybe a couple.

The decision of the Pittsburgh-based local, representing more than a thousand members, follows that of the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania, which announced its support for the Republican just after the primary.

You can check out the Corbett campaign's release on the development after the jump.

Print

Workers rally on minimum wage

Published by James O'Toole on .

By Kate Giammarise/Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
 
HARRISBURG -- June is always a busy time at the Capitol, with dozens of advocacy groups rallying all month long to make sure legislators remember their issues as lawmakers complete the state budget, which must be passed by June 30.
 
Among other rallies Tuesday, was the Raise the Wage coalition, advocating for Pennsylvania to raise its minimum wage. 
 
Raising the minimum wage has been a hot topic of late, with Democrats pushing the issue nationwide, and a number of states and municipalities hiking wages.
"Folks, the tide is turning," said Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, speaking to the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda, noting the other states that have recently increased wages.
 
The state's current minimum wage is $7.25; the General Assembly last voted to raise the wage in 2006.
 
 
Business groups oppose such a raise, saying it would hurt businesses and workers. 
“Employers across the Commonwealth have continually expressed their concerns that a government mandated wage increase would put jobs at risk. This is especially true of the state’s small businesses,” said PA Chamber President and CEO Gene Barr in a letter sent to lawmakers today.
 
For a more detailed story on the issue and these arguments, check out our piece from a few months ago here.
To read the PA Department of Labor and Industry's most recent annual report on the minimum wage in Pennsylvania, click here. The report has some fairly detailed information about who, demographically speaking, in Pennsylvania is earning the minimum wage.