Bush’s turkey leaves a bad taste

Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon-authorized newspaper read by the U.S. military, has ruffled the feathers of the brass once again.

First it reported on a poll it took among troops in Iraq and found half of them reported morale was low among their units. They also said their training was not adequate for what they had to do, and they did not plan to re-enlist.

Now Stars and Stripes is blowing the whistle on President Bush’s Thanksgiving turkey trip to Iraq. The paper said the cheering troops who met the prez were pre-screened, while others arriving for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner were turned away.

The paper quoted two officials of the 1st Armored Division who said that “for security reasons, only those pre-selected got into the facility during Bush’s visit. The soldiers who dined while the president visited were selected by their chain of command, and were notified a short time before the visit.”

According to the Washington Post, Sgt. Loren Russell did not care for the arrangement. In a letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes, Sgt. Russell wrote of the heroism of his fellow soldiers and added: “Imagine their dismay when they walked 15 minutes to the Bob Hope dining facility, only to find that they were turned away from their evening meal because they were in the wrong unit. They understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away?”

Sgt. Russell said his men complained among themselves and ate rations (called MRE’s or Meals Ready to Eat in Army jargon) even after the dining hall was reopened for other troops at 9 p.m.

Top officers of the 1st Armored Division told Stars and Stripes that all soldiers had the chance to get a proper Thanksgiving meal.

It’s been a while since Air Force One arrived in Baghdad, but the flight itself is still making some turbulence.

The flap began when the White House said the president’s plane was spotted by a British Airways jet, and the pilots of Air Force One told the skeptical British that they were flying a Gulfstream V. Later, the White House said the conversation was between British air traffic control and another plane while Air Force One was “off the western coast of England.”

Actually, at the time, Air Force One was over the North Sea, off the east coast of England when it was spotted by a German charter jet.

British air traffic controllers are incensed because the president’s 747 was falsely identified as a Gulfstream V while flying through British airspace.

The controllers said the flight violated international rules, posed a safety threat and exposed a weakness in the air defense system that could be exploited by terrorists.

David Luxton, national secretary of Prospect, the British air traffic controllers union, said that by identifying itself as a Gulfstream V rather than the much larger 747, Air Force One could have put itself and other airplanes in danger.

The Gulfstream V can climb faster and is much more maneuverable than a 747. Luxton said controllers might have assumed Air Force One could perform collision-avoiding maneuvers, which it could not do. Also, the “wake vortex” from a 747’s engines could damage smaller aircraft that were instructed by misinformed controllers to follow in its wake.

The flight went off without incident. But, Luxton noted, that’s beside the point. “It’s important air traffic control have an accurate picture of what’s up there in the sky they’re controlling,” he said.

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