So every now and then, crews will tow the planes around the Texas tarmac a bit to make sure the tires don't rot, then send them back into exile until they can finally get permission to commit the aging aircraft to the boneyard.
It's not an unfamiliar story.
Idle aircraft and pricey ship deployments underscore the contradictions and conflicts as Congress orders the Pentagon to slash $487 billion in spending over the next 10 years and another $41 billion in the next six months. Yet, at the same time, lawmakers are forcing the services to keep ships, aircraft, military bases, retiree benefits and other programs that defense leaders insist they don't want, can't afford or simply won't be able to use. The Associated Press interviewed senior military leaders involved in the ongoing analysis of the budget and its impact on the services and compiled data on the costs and programs from Defense Department documents.
The Pentagon long has battled with Congress over politically sensitive spending cuts. But this year, military officials say Congress' refusal to retire ships and aircraft means the Navy and Air Force are spending roughly $5 billion more than they would if they were allowed to make the cuts. In some cases Congress restored funds to compensate for the changes, but the result overall was lost savings.
In other cases, frustrated military leaders quietly complained that they were being forced to furlough civilians, ground Air Force training flights and delay or cancel ship deployments to the Middle East and South America, while Congress refuses to accept savings in other places that could ease those pains.
Along the eastern seaboard, two Navy cruisers — the USS Anzio in Norfolk, Va., and the USS Vicksburg in Mayport, Fla. — were scheduled for retirement this year but both are now sitting pierside. Navy leaders will soon schedule the ships for significant repairs and begin readying their crews so they can go back into service.
Altogether, Congress is requiring the Navy to keep seven cruisers and two amphibious warships in service, eliminating the $4.3 billion the retirements would have saved over the next two years.
"A lot of it comes down to parochial political interests," said Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "No member of Congress wants to have a base closed in their district or to have a fighter squadron relocated out of their district."
Members of Congress argue that they believe the Pentagon sometimes makes bad decisions and other times may purposely target programs that have broad support.
"Certainly that has been a pattern, they've cut Guard and Reserves in areas where it's clearly unwise and Congress steps in to put the money in," said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services air and land forces subcommittee.
While the Navy sought to retire the seven ships, the Air Force wanted to save more than $600 million by retiring C-130 and C-5A cargo aircraft, three B-1 bombers and 18 high-altitude Global Hawk surveillance drones.
Congress disagreed, adding various requirements that the Navy and Air Force maintain the ships and aircraft, and in some cases added money to the budget to cover them. Fifteen of the C-5A Galaxy aircraft no longer set to retire are at Lackland, while 11 are at Martinsburg, W.Va., and are flown by the Air National Guard there.
A senior Air Force official said the service determined that it didn't need all of the aging aircraft. And it pushed to cut the Global Hawks because defense officials determined that the U-2 spy plane, first produced more than 50 years ago, was better suited for the high-altitude surveillance job and would cost less money.
The official also noted that while lawmakers rejected plans to retire the Galaxy aircraft, congressional appropriators did not add back money to pay for the fuel or the manpower to fly them. Similarly, the three B-1 bombers will move into backup status and likely will be used infrequently. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the budget, so requested anonymity.
The decision to block retirement of some C-130s, however, reveals how narrow, yet critical, the political interests can be. Pennsylvania lawmakers declared victory last month when they reversed the decision to retire eight C-130s and shut down the 911th Airlift Wing near Pittsburgh. Local officials and business owners argued that the base, which uses space at Pittsburgh International Airport, provides an economic boost to the entire community.
Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Bob Casey, a Democrat, lobbied Pentagon leaders and fellow lawmakers to keep the wing. They argued in a letter to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that "the 911th is a very efficient and cost effective installation" and that closing it could be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Pentagon officials have also been thwarted in their broader efforts to shut down costly and underused military facilities around the country. Congress rejected the department's request last year for two more rounds of base closings, as lawmakers objected not only to the prospect of taking jobs and dollars out of a region's economy, but also questioned whether closing the facilities actually achieves the promised savings.
Pentagon budget chief Robert Hale acknowledged earlier this month that the department spent $35 billion on the base closure round in 2005, and while it saves $4 billion a year, officials won't break even until 2018. The expense is largely because a number of new facilities were built even as some were merged and closed.
"Would a (base closings) round be effective in providing rapid savings? Unfortunately, history has emphatically told us, no," Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said during a recent hearing on the Base Realignment and Closures program. "I believe that aggressively moving forward with the BRAC round could significantly harm our military power and their ability to project power."
Currently, the department saves about $8 billion a year on the four rounds that were carried out before 2005. The Pentagon has proposed another round in 2014 that Hale said would save $1 billion to $2 billion a year. Pentagon leaders insist that the military still has nearly 20 percent too many bases and facilities.
"There is still excess infrastructure," Assistant Army Secretary Katherine Hammack told the House Armed Services Committee last month. "I was just on one (base) that had 800 buildings and we were utilizing 300 of them."
Perhaps the most significant cost savings historically opposed by Congress are Pentagon efforts to scale back military retirement benefits, including proposals to increase premiums or co-pays for retirees.
"I think there's a misunderstanding in Congress about what it is that would change," Harrison said. "They tend to associate changes in retirement benefits with changes to veterans benefits."
But changes to retiree health care would only affect the approximately 17 percent of the service members who stay in the military long enough to qualify for retirement, and those are usually more senior officers who already have a higher income. Veterans' benefits more often help those with lower incomes, and they are included in the Veterans Affairs Department budget, not the Pentagon's.
Turner faulted department leaders for some of the problems with those broader issues.
"I think on policy shifts you need a more holistic approach, and the Pentagon usually doesn't engage Congress in discussions of finding cuts or program changes. They send them up as missiles for Congress to deal with, instead of using a deliberative approach."
Harrison said the Pentagon needs to do a better job explaining and selling its arguments for such politically unpalatable spending cuts.
"If you actually try to do smart targeted reductions, like closing bases, like actually reducing the size of the workforce, targeted cuts have winners and losers," Harrison said. "And Congress has not been willing to make those tough decisions."
As a result, he said, lawmakers resort to broader, across-the-board cuts, such as the furloughs.
"It spreads pain across evenly," he said. "So everyone can wash their hands of it."
The men had health insurance from jobs at one of the nation's largest pork producers. But neither had legal permission to live in the U.S., nor was it clear whether their insurance would pay for the long-term rehabilitation they needed.
So Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines took matters into its own hands: After consulting with the patients' families, it quietly loaded the two comatose men onto a private jet that flew them back to Mexico, effectively deporting them without consulting any court or federal agency.
When the men awoke, they were more than 1,800 miles away in a hospital in Veracruz, on the Mexican Gulf Coast.
Hundreds of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have taken similar journeys through a little-known removal system run not by the federal government trying to enforce laws but by hospitals seeking to curb high costs. A recent report compiled by immigrant advocacy groups made a rare attempt to determine how many people are sent home, concluding that at least 600 immigrants were removed over a five-year period, though there were likely many more.
In interviews with immigrants, their families, attorneys and advocates, The Associated Press reviewed the obscure process known formally as "medical repatriation," which allows hospitals to put patients on chartered international flights, often while they are still unconscious. Hospitals typically pay for the flights.
"The problem is it's all taking place in this unregulated sort of a black hole ... and there is no tracking," said law professor Lori Nessel, director of the Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall Law School, which offers free legal representation to immigrants.
Now advocates for immigrants are concerned that hospitals could soon begin expanding the practice after full implementation of federal health care reform, which will make deep cuts to the payments hospitals receive for taking care of the uninsured.
Health care executives say they are caught between a requirement to accept all patients and a political battle over immigration.
"It really is a Catch-22 for us," said Dr. Mark Purtle, vice president of Medical Affairs for Iowa Health System, which includes Iowa Methodist Medical Center. "This is the area that the federal government, the state, everybody says we're not paying for the undocumented."
Hospitals are legally mandated to care for all patients who need emergency treatment, regardless of citizenship status or ability to pay. But once a patient is stabilized, that funding ceases, along with the requirement to provide care. Many immigrant workers without citizenship are ineligible for Medicaid, the government's insurance program for the poor and elderly.
That's why hospitals often try to send those patients to rehabilitation centers and nursing homes back in their home countries.
Civil rights groups say the practice violates U.S. and international laws and unfairly targets one of the nation's most defenseless populations.
"They don't have advocates, and they don't have people who will speak on their behalf," said Miami attorney John De Leon, who has been arguing such cases for a decade.
Estimating the number of cases is difficult since no government agency or organization keeps track.
The Center for Social Justice and New York Lawyers for the Public Interest have documented at least 600 immigrants who were involuntarily removed in the past five years for medical reasons. The figure is based on data from hospitals, humanitarian organizations, news reports and immigrant advocates who cited specific cases. But the actual number is believed to be significantly higher because many more cases almost certainly go unreported.
Some patients who were sent home subsequently died in hospitals that weren't equipped to meet their needs. Others suffered lingering medical problems because they never received adequate rehabilitation, the report said.
Gail Montenegro, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency "plays no role in a health care provider's private transfer of a patient to his or her country of origin."
Such transfers "are not the result of federal authority or action," she said in an email, nor are they considered "removals, deportations or voluntary departures" as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The two Mexican workers in Iowa came to the U.S. in search of better jobs and found work at Iowa Select Farms, which provided them with medical insurance even though they had no visas or other immigration documents.
Cruz had been here for about six months, Rodriguez-Saldana for a little over a year. The men were returning home from a fishing trip in May 2008 when their car was struck by a semitrailer truck. Both were thrown from the vehicle and suffered serious head injuries.
Insurance paid more than $100,000 for the two men's emergency treatment. But it was unclear whether the policies would pay for long-term rehabilitation. Two rehabilitation centers refused to take them.
Eleven days after the car crash, the two men were still comatose as they were carried aboard a jet bound for Veracruz, where a hospital had agreed to take them.
Rodriguez-Saldana, now 39, said the Des Moines hospital told his family that he was unlikely to survive and should be sent home.
The hospital "doesn't really want Mexicans," he said in a telephone interview with the AP. "They wanted to disconnect me so I could die. They said I couldn't survive, that I wouldn't live."
Hospital officials said they could not discuss the case because of litigation. The men and their families filed a lawsuit in 2010 claiming they received minimal rehabilitative care in Veracruz.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit last year ruling that Iowa Methodist was not to blame for the inadequate care in Veracruz. The courts also found that even though the families of the men may not have consented to their transport to Mexico, they also failed to object to it. An appeals court upheld the dismissal.
Patients are frequently told family members want them to come home. In cases where the patient is unconscious or can't communicate, relatives are told their loved one wants to return, De Leon said.
Sometimes they're told the situation is dire, and the patient may die, prompting many grief-stricken relatives to agree to a transfer, he said.
Some hospitals "emotionally extort family members in their home country," De Leon said. "They make family members back home feel guilty so they can simply put them on a plane and drop them off at the airport."
In court documents, Iowa hospital officials said they had received permission from Saldana's parents and Cruz's long-term partner for the flight to Mexico. Family members deny they gave consent.
There's no way to know for sure whether the two men would have recovered faster or better in the United States. But the accident left both of them with life-altering disabilities.
Nearly five years later, the 49-year-old Cruz is paralyzed on his left side, the result of damage to his hip and spine. He has difficulty speaking and can't work.
"I can't even walk," he said in a telephone interview, breaking into tears several times. His long-term partner, Belem, said he's more emotional since the accident.
"He feels bad because he went over there and came back like this," she said. "Now he can't work at all. ... He cries a lot."
She works selling food and cleaning houses. Their oldest son, 22, sometimes contributes to the family income.
Rodriguez-Saldana said he has to pay for intensive therapy for his swollen feet and bad circulation. He also said he walks poorly and has difficulty working. He sells home supplies such as kitchen and bath towels and dishes, a business that requires a lot of walking and visiting houses. He often forgets where he lives, but people recognize him on the street and take him home because he's confused.
The American Hospital Association said it does not have a specific policy governing immigrant removals, and it does not track how many hospitals encounter the issue.
Nessel expects medical removals to increase with implementation of health care reform, which makes many more patients eligible for Medicaid. As a result, the government plans to cut payments to hospitals that care for the uninsured.
Some hospitals call immigration authorities when they receive patients without immigration documentation, but the government rarely responds, Nessel said. Taking custody of the patient would also require the government to assume financial responsibility for care.
Jan Stipe runs the Iowa Methodist department that finds hospitals in patients' native countries that are willing to take them. The hospital's goal, she said, is to "get patients back to where their support systems are, their loved ones who will provide the care and the concern that each patient needs."
The American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs issued a strongly worded directive to doctors in 2009, urging them not to "allow hospital administrators to use their significant power and the current lack of regulations" to send patients to other countries.
Doctors cannot expect hospitals to provide costly uncompensated care to patients indefinitely, the statement said. "But neither should physicians allow hospitals to arbitrarily determine the fate of an uninsured noncitizen immigrant patient."
Arturo Morales, a Monterrey, Mexico, lawyer who helps Cruz and Rodriguez-Saldana with legal issues, is convinced the men would have been better off staying in Iowa.
"I have no doubt," he said. "You have a patient who doesn't have money to pay you. You can't let them die."
--- Associated Press Writer Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines contributed to this report. ---
Boston Bomb Suspect Captured Alive in Backyard Boat
The alleged Boston Marathon bomber who hid from authorities for more than 12 hours was captured tonight by police, sending cheers up through the Watertown neighborhood where he was found.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was found by a homeowner lying in a boat in the man's backyard around 7 p.m.
Gunfire broke out in the immediate aftermath of the discovery, but quickly stopped as police hunkered down for a standoff with Tsarnaev that lasted a little more than an hour and a half.
Around 8:45 p.m., Tsarnaev was taken into custody and transported away from the scene in an ambulance, as law enforcement officials and onlookers clapped and cheered.
Tsarnaev had been shot by police during gunfire nearly 24 hours earlier. Sources said Tsarnaev was bleeding badly.
A senior Justice Department official told ABC News that federal law enforcement officials are invoking the public safety exception to the Miranda rights, so that Tsarnaev will be questioned immediately without having Miranda rights issued to him.
The federal government's high value detainee interrogation group will be responsible for questioning him.
The Miranda exemption exists to protect the public safety from another attack, according to the official.
"We got him," Boston Mayor Tom Menino tweeted immediately after Tsarnaev was arrested. "I have never loved this city & its people more than I do today. Nothing can defeat the heart of this city .. nothing."
The Boston police department also sent out a tweet in the aftermath trumpeting, "CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."
Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, are believed to be behind the bombing of the Boston Marathon on Monday that killed three individuals and injured more than 170.
Tamerlan was killed by gunfire Thursday night in a shoot-out with police. Dzhokhar fled the shoot-out on foot into the Watertown neighborhood, which was the subject of an intense manhunt today involving hundreds of law enforcement personnel. The entire city of Boston was placed on lockdown for the dragnet.
At a new conference around 6 p.m., Gov. Deval Patrick lifted the lockdown order, saying they had not found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Watertown.
Shortly after the order came down, Watertown homeowner David Henneberry walked into his backyard and saw something amiss with his boat, according to Henneberry's neighbor, George Pizzuto.
"He looked and noticed something was off about his boat, so he got his ladder, and he put his ladder up on the side of the boat and climbed up, and then he saw blood on it, and he thought he saw what was a body laying in the boat," Pizzuto said. "So he got out of the boat fast and called police."
He said that Henneberry was being interviewed by police about what he saw, and that power was cut to the Henneberry's house.
"That boat's his baby. He takes care of it like you wouldn't believe. And they told him it's all shot up," Pizzuto said. "He's going to be heartbroken."
Henneberry notified police, and minutes later gunfire erupted and dozens of law enforcement officers rushed to secure a perimeter around Franklin Street in Watertown, where residents were immediately warned to stay indoors and "shelter in place."
Erik Thompson, who lives across the street from the Henneberry's home, said he heard gunshots and saw law enforcement rush to the scene.
"There was some gunfire earlier which was almost immediately stopped. People were yelling to cease fire, and it seems to be focused on some homes across the street from where I am, which I think is the western side of the street," Thompson said.
"There's still a significant presence of law enforcement there," he said. "It's like D-Day."
The governor lifted an order that kept people in Watertown, Boston and surrounding suburbs inside all day.
The officials had said at the press conference that they thoroughly searched Watertown and had not found any sign of Tsarnaev.
Earlier in the day, police in took three individuals into custody in connection with the search for Tsarnaev.
Lt. Robert Richard of New Bedford, Mass., said three "college age" individuals were taken in for questioning by the FBI. New Bedford is less than 15 miles north of Dartmouth, Mass., where Tsarnaev attends college.
Following a late-night shootout with police that involved more than 200 rounds of ammunition and explosive devices, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, abandoned his car and slipped away on foot.
His older brother and alleged accomplice in the bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in the gunfire. The pair are believed to have dropped two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, killing three and injuring more than 170.
Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Col. Timothy Alben said at a press conference this afternoon that the Tsarnaev brothers opened fire and threw explosives at cops around 10:30 p.m. Thursday as they fled from Cambridge to Watertown. But he said law enforcement were forced to choose between providing first aid to those in need and securing a perimeter to contain the suspect.
"Unfortunately we did not have enough people to provide first aid" to the injured "and establish a perimeter," the colonel said.
Gov. Deval Patrick ordered everyone in Watertown, Boston and surrounding suburbs to stay indoors, shut down public transportation and taxi service for the day as the search for Tsarnaev proceeded.
Heavily armed officers and military-style vehicles conducted a door-to-door search of Watertown, but the search turned up nothing, Alben said.
Police did find evidence of homemade pipe bombs and a pressure cook at the scene of the shootout, they said.
Shortly after 6 p.m. today, the governor lifted the "shelter in place" order and reopened the city's mass transit system. He asked residents to remain vigilant.