Cost of the War in Iraq
Personal Declarations Of War
Cost of the War in Iraq
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One soldier’s struggle
First it was the horrors of Iraq. Now, Rob Withrow is locked in a fight with his own Army superiors. He wants mental health treatment — they want him to face a court-martial
By CAROL SMITH
Rob Withrow was a good soldier until he got back from combat duty in Iraq.
Now by his own admission, he is no longer anyone’s idea of a model fighting man. He screwed up, and he’s screwed up — an assessment the Army would agree with.
U.S. Army soldier Rob Withrow, photographed among the yellow ribbons tied to the Freedom Bridge across Interstate 5 near Fort Lewis. Since his problems began, Withrow has been reduced in rank from sergeant to private.
But that’s where their agreement ends.
Withrow wants mental health treatment. He has tried to commit suicide four times since returning from Iraq. He has been hospitalized in Madigan Army Medical Center’s inpatient psychiatric unit on multiple occasions and is currently on a cocktail of antidepressants and psychoactive drugs. He is a month out of treatment for an addiction to narcotic pain pills that he began taking to “numb out” the month he returned from Iraq and he does not fit the Army’s new criteria for deployment.
But now the Army wants to redeploy him to Iraq, and court- martial him over there. The charges stem from his pattern of not showing up on time, or sometimes at all.
Withrow’s case raises questions about how the Army handles soldiers with psychiatric illnesses, particularly PTSD and depression and whether discipline, or the threat of it, interferes with treatment.
Since his return from Iraq in November 2004, Withrow has received multiple Article 15s — the Army’s form of non-judicial punishment — for disciplinary issues related to “patterns of minor misconduct.” He’s been reduced in rank from sergeant to private.
If he is discharged for misconduct, he will lose benefits for his family, which is already facing a financial crisis related to his demotions.
“I’m not going to candy coat it,” Withrow said. “I’ll take responsibility for my part. I have purposefully not gone to work.”
At the time, medical records show he was struggling with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. He repeatedly informed doctors that he was late or absent to work because he was having difficulty waking up, in part because of powerful sedatives prescribed for sleep disturbances.
Still, prosecutors have indicated their intent to court-martial him in Iraq, said Capt. Geoff Deweese, Withrow’s defense attorney.
“I think it would be absurd for them to do that,” Deweese said. “You don’t bring someone with this kind of instability to a combat zone and risk harm to himself or others.”
The military’s handling of mental health problems has come under intense scrutiny after an increase in the number of soldier suicides in Iraq in 2005. According to the Army’s most recent Mental Health Advisory Team Findings, the suicide rate was 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers in 2005, up from the year before. That review led to new mental health screening policies and more stringent criteria for sending soldiers to war with pre-existing mental health diagnoses.
“Severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression, preclude deployment,” Col. Elspeth Ritchie, the Army Surgeon General’s Consultant on Psychiatry, said in an e-mail. “Soldiers may not deploy on a variety of types of medication, to include lithium, antipsychotic agents, and anticonvulsant agents.”
But for soldiers such as Withrow, the reality after they return from deployment is that behavior stemming from mental health problems can result in disciplinary action rather than treatment.
The Army does offer several ways to provide psychological help for soldiers and is in the midst of testing a number of new programs to improve resiliency. Soldiers go through an extensive evaluation two to three months after their return to gauge adjustment back to life on the base and to spot any emerging health issues — physical or mental — said Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Piek. The Army also offers confidential help lines and other mental health counseling.
But the military culture, and sometimes the symptoms of depression itself — fatigue and despair — can still make it difficult for soldiers to find and benefit from treatment, said Dr. Jonathan Shay, Boston-based author and psychiatrist who specializes in combat stress injuries.
“What you have is a military that’s not set up to care for these soldiers,” said Tod Ensign, attorney and director of Citizen Soldier, a non-profit veterans advocacy group that has represented a number of soldiers with mental health histories who are being charged with misconduct. The Army, under pressure to keep its troops eligible for re-enlistment, discourages treatment that would deem them undeployable, he said.
If a soldier does seek treatment, often in tandem with discipline issues that stem from PTSD or other disorders, the Army’s preference is to discharge them for misconduct or for having pre-existing mental conditions, either of which would reduce the burden on the Veterans Affairs medical care system, Ensign said.
Withrow said when he first tried to get help, he felt like he was getting the runaround. So he gave up.
When his symptoms were bad enough for him to go to the emergency room, he did receive help. But his symptoms persisted, despite treatment. At the same time, he began having trouble in his unit with a commander he perceived as unsympathetic.
Withrow and his lawyer contend that if he had gotten the right help at the appropriate time, his situation never would have escalated.
Withrow says he wanted to stay in the Army. In the midst of all his turmoil, he pleaded to be reassigned to his original battalion in the 3rd Brigade, 2d Infantry Division, which he knew would be going to Iraq again. (It deployed last July.)
“They said they would welcome me back, even knowing everything that was going on,” said Withrow.
Now he wants a discharge on the best terms possible for himself and his family. Instead, he is facing a court-martial.
Born on the Fourth of July
Withrow, 27, was born in Gettysburg, Pa., on the Fourth of July. He enlisted in the Army and headed to boot camp 20 days after graduating high school in June 1997. A field artillery sergeant, he planned to make the military his life’s work.
In November 2003, he went to Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 35th Field Artillery Regiment. When he returned a year later, he received an Army Commendation Medal for “Exceptionally meritorious service as an air guard during operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Prior to returning from Iraq, he had no disciplinary record and consistently received good-conduct medals, his attorney confirmed. A memorandum from his first sergeant with his old brigade noted, “I would gladly serve with SPC Withrow in combat again because I believe him to be a true Warrior.”
Tall and lean with trimmed dark hair, Withrow is personable and straightforward while relaying his story, but bluish circles under his brown eyes betray fatigue. In addition to his legal and health problems, he is facing bankruptcy and loss of his base housing. He worries frequently out loud about what will become of his wife and three children if he goes back to Iraq. “I don’t want them to wind up on the street,” he said.
“When he got back, I could tell he was just different,” said Jenny Withrow, his wife of six years.
Like many of his comrades, he said he had images from Iraq burned into his brain — a mass grave with still decomposing men’s bodies layered over women’s and children’s, fresh bullet holes in his Humvee.
“I would lay in bed at night and wonder if this is the night I get blown up,” he said.
Adjusting to life back home wasn’t what he expected. He had left when his baby girl was 4 months old.
“When I got back, my daughter — it’s like she didn’t know me,” he said.
Other guys gravitated to alcohol, he said. “I gravitated to opioids. All I wanted to do is be numb.”
In May 2005, short on non-commissioned officers, the Army transferred Withrow to a different unit. But he didn’t click with his new command and missed the soldiers he had deployed with. “We were like family,” he said. His depression worsened and he started having difficulty waking. He began showing up at the ER with problems breathing from panic attacks. In August 2005, he was diagnosed with PTSD as well as depression and anxiety.
He was also late reporting to work on a number of occasions.
Instead of recommending him for mental health treatment, however, he was threatened with an Article 15 — a demotion. “They said fix your issues, or we’ll take your stripes,” Withrow said.
At his request, the Army did switch him to a different battery for a fresh start in September 2005. But the second day with that unit, he woke late again. He said that the night before, he laid in bed and contemplated killing himself.
Distraught, he first tried to cut his wrists. He then tried to drive straight into a tree at full speed with his seat belt off. He swerved at the last possible moment, he said.
“I drove myself straight to the ER instead,” he said.
He was admitted to the psychiatric ward and stayed four days before being discharged to full duty, with the understanding he would go through a two-week outpatient behavioral health program.
His commander picked him up from the hospital and offered him a chapter discharge “nice and quiet,” but Withrow, who had put in nearly nine years, wasn’t ready to give up the Army.
The scope of the problem
Estimates of the number of soldiers who suffer from PTSD and mental problems vary, but most experts agree that the nature of the fighting in Iraq sets up soldiers for psychological trauma.
According to Ritchie of the Surgeon General’s Office, an estimated 15 to 17 percent of deployed soldiers experience PTSD and 23 percent experience other behavioral health problems. Others put the numbers higher.
According to a study published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine, nearly one-third (31 percent) of 103,788 veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with mental health or psychosocial problems upon their return.
The Surgeon General’s Office indicated about 11 percent of soldiers who have returned receive mental health diagnoses.
For Withrow, as his mental anguish grew, his problems with his commanders intensified.
“If I were his commander, I’d be frustrated with him as well,” said Deweese, who has also worked as a prosecutor.
At the end of March, Withrow was informed he would deploy this week with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division back to Iraq.
As part of predeployment screening, an Army psychiatrist specified his “symptoms are not stable” and indicated he should have “no access to weapons or ammunition, no exposure to combat situations, no exposure to casualties, and was not recommended for deployment.”
The issue of whether to send him to Iraq for a court-martial is still pending.
P-I reporter Carol Smith can be reached at 206-448-8070 or [email protected]© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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A Perfect Storm: PTSD
“They fly the flag when you attack;
when you come home they turn their back.”
–(Iraq Veterans Against the War cadence)
Stacy Bannerman | March 12, 2007
The sole aspect of the Iraq War upon which Americans are united is the need to provide post-deployment mental health care for our soldiers. The good news is that no one wants to abandon the veterans coming back from Iraq as happened with far too many of the veterans of Vietnam. The bad news is that we already have. Nowhere is that more apparent than within the National Guard and Reserves, who typically go from combat to cul-de-sac in forty-eight hours.
Active-duty troops are required to participate in post-combat mental health care sessions for the first three months of their re-entry, but the Department of Defense has a 90-day “hands-off” policy pertaining to National Guard and Reservists. After serving some of the longest tours in Iraq, they undergo a few days of out-processing, which includes a brief mental health screening. Desperate to get home, Guard and Reservists will say anything that will enable them to leave. When they are released–without support or services –they scatter across states, and generally don’t report at their first post-deployment training drill for three months or more.
The separation from other soldiers creates a feeling of isolation at a time when support and connection with others who are going through the same emotional adjustments is critical.
Like most National Guard soldiers, my husband didn’t receive a comprehensive mental health evaluation until eight months after he returned from a year-long tour at the most-attacked base in Iraq. Nearly a year after his exam, in August of 2006, he was notified of the outcome: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides free health care services to veterans for a period of two years beginning on the date of their separation from active military service. By the time my husband was informed of his diagnosis and advised to get treatment, he had approximately six months remaining to access care. But the waiting list is long, and time is running out for him and for tens of thousands just like him.
The clock has already stopped for hundreds of Guard and Reservists who returned from Iraq suffering from PTSD that was either undiagnosed by the military, or the VA refused/delayed treatment. Pentagon statistics reveal that the suicide rate for U.S. troops who have served in Iraq is double what it was in peacetime.
Soldiers who have served–or are serving–in Iraq are killing themselves at higher percentages than in any other war where such figures have been tracked. According to a report recently released by the Defense Manpower Data Center, suicide accounted for over 25 percent of all non-combat Army deaths in Iraq in 2006. One of the reasons for “the higher suicide rate in Iraq [is] the higher percentage of reserve troops,” said military analyst James F. Dunnigan.
Despite the high risk factor, many soldiers who seek treatment are not receiving urgent care. “When he went to the VA, they didn’t have room to treat him that day,” said the mother of Jason Cooper, an Army Reservist in the Iraq War. Jason hung himself four months after coming back to Iowa. He was 23, a year older than Army Reservist Josh Omvig, and Marine Reservist Jeffrey Lucey, who also committed suicide after the VA’s failure to care. As did National Guardsmen Doug Barber, Tim Bowman, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Jerome Sloss, and far too many others who have ended their lives rather than live them with the psychological equivalent of a sucking chest wound.
A “Perfect Storm” for PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is the result of subtle biological changes in the brain chemistry as a response to severe stress, which alters the way the brain stores memories. During a particularly intense episode, the body releases massive amounts of adrenaline, and the physiological alterations associated with the intense emotional reaction create memories that disrupt normal life.
The markers of post-traumatic stress include nightmares; avoiding reminders of the traumatic event; hyper arousal, a physiological response to stress that can lead to irritability and restlessness; and drug use and alcohol abuse. “Veterans screening positive for PTSD reported significantly more physical health symptoms and medical conditions than did veterans without PTSD. They were also more likely to rate their health status as fair or poor and to report lower levels of health-related quality of life.”
Among soldiers who develop PTSD, “There was a strong reported relation between combat experiences, such as being shot at, handling dead bodies, knowing someone who was killed, or killing enemy combatants.”
More than any previous war, the Iraq War is likely to produce the highest number of soldiers suffering from PTSD There is considerable psychological distress associated with going into a country under the auspices of liberating a people, only to have them rise up against you, and it lingers long after the war has ended. Adding to the pressure is that many mental health officials believe that the nature of urban street fighting and insurgent warfare, coupled with heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve troops, will result in higher rates of PTSD amongst this group of veterans than those in previous conflicts.
Another reason for the escalating mental health challenges is that while soldiers typically spent one tour-of-duty in Vietnam, troops are serving two, three, and occasionally four rotations in Iraq. An additional challenge is the moral ambiguity of fighting a war without front lines, where the combatants are, or are dressed as, civilians. Many veterans are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile experiences such as shooting at civilians because they had failed to stop at a checkpoint.
“At least 30 percent of Iraq or Afghanistan [veterans] are diagnosed with PTSD, up from 16 percent to 18 percent in 2004,” said Charlie Kennedy, PTSD program director and lead psychologist at the Stratton VA Medical Center. The number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans getting treatment for PTSD at VA hospitals and counseling centers increased 87 percent from September 2005 to June 2006, and they have a backlog of 400,000 cases, including veterans from previous wars. The most conservative estimates project that roughly 250,000 Iraq War veterans will struggle with PTSD.
These figures are particularly significant for citizen soldiers when considering that: A 2004 analysis of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who received VA health care revealed that 58 percent of the veterans seeking treatment were members of the Reserve/National Guard and 71 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom vets who utilized VA services were citizen soldiers.5 A 2006 report detailing VA health care utilization by Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans revealed that, of those who sought care for PTSD, 18 percent were formerly active duty personnel, and 30 percent were National Guard and Reservists.6 Even at their highest rates of deployment, Guard and Reservists represented no more than 44 percent of deployed forces; and, many studies conducted at Walter Reed Military Hospital don’t include Guard and Reserve soldiers.
National Guard and Reserve soldiers have less training and preparation for deployment, less cohesive units, and most never expected to see combat, factors that put them at significantly higher risk for stress-related disorders than active-duty military.
The Department of Defense has known this for at least a decade. They commissioned the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, which conducted post-deployment studies of Gulf War veterans. Rates of PTSD and attendant mental health issues were found in approximately 20 percent of regular enlisted, but upwards of 90 percent of Reservists who fought in the first Gulf War reported one or more PTSD-specific symptoms six months [post-deployment].
A 1996 study on the impact of long-term overseas deployments of Guard and Reserve troops found that “Reservists were more vulnerable than regular service soldiers…for psychiatric breakdown. [And] being a Reservist, having low enlisted rank, and belonging to a support unit increased the risk for psychiatric breakdown…Many such personnel entertained little expectation that they would ever be called to active duty.”
The same study found that almost 100 percent of Reserve personnel reported some symptoms of PTSD after overseas deployment in combat zones. Yet, according to an investigation by McClatchy Newspapers:
Even by its own measures, the VA isn’t prepared to give returning veterans the care that could best help them…The lack of adequate psychiatric care strikes hard in the states that have supplied a disproportionate share of the soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - often because of their large contingents of National Guard and Army Reserve troops…mental health services in those states rank near the bottom.
My husband, whom I once called Sergeant Sweet Bear, is not the man I married. He retreats to the dark corners in his mind filled with images of war: loading coffins onto planes, seeing family members gunned down because radio communication between checkpoints went on the fritz. The box on top of the vehicle held the remains of their uncle, killed in the crossfire of an earlier skirmish. They were on their way to the funeral.
Abandoning the Troops
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report examining the Veterans Administration’s failure to give honest information for budget needs. Among other things, the study exposed that the VA used faulty information when planning for health care needs and (under) estimated treatment expenses for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It also showed that the VA used faulty information on when they would see real dollars from projected cost saving measures.
Yet, the Bush administration’s newly proposed budget for hospital and medical care for veterans faces a cut to $38.8 billion in 2009 and would hover around that level through 2012.
President Bush, who claims to support the troops, contends that the cuts to veterans care will ensure a balanced budget within five years. But what will restore balance for those of us whose lives are forever undone by the war and the disregard for our loved ones when they come home?
I appreciate the professed commitment to “getting it right this time,” and thank God folks are starting to call for an immediate exit from Iraq. But what the 99.4 percent of Americans who don’t have loved ones in uniform and have no family members who have EVER seen combat in Iraq don’t seem to fathom is that we get any do-overs. Our lives are at stake, and we really can’t afford this county’s flat learning curve.
“We have heard so much about what this military has learned in Vietnam [about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], and how they’re doing it differently now. We don’t see that at all,” said Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out. For us, as we care for our wounded by ourselves, struggle alone with the phantoms of war, and watch our families fall apart, it is already far too late to “get it right this time.”
Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006) and an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus. She is the director of Operation Occupation and can be contacted at: www.stacybannerman.com.
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When Warriors Come Limping Home
Shameful details continue to emerge on the neglectful care extended to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army’s inspector general reports that more than nine out of 10 disabled veterans have been kept waiting for benefit evaluations beyond the 40-day limit set by the Pentagon. Some have waited up to a year and a half for benefits.
A study of 650 soldiers at 32 Army bases portrayed a system overwhelmed by the dual wars. And the number of cases needing evaluation have leapt to 15,000 in 2005 from 9,000 in 2001. The system is stymied by a lack of trained personnel, modern computer systems and even wheelchair access for some of the returning wounded.
The story isn’t much better at the Veterans Affairs Department, responsible for shepherding wounded soldiers after service. With a backlog of 600,000 claims, the agency took four to six months to process a veteran’s initial paperwork and more than 20 months for appealed decisions, according to a survey by Congress’s Government Accountability Office. That study predicts that the veterans department will be swamped by 638,000 new claims in the next five years, adding up to $150 billion in costs.
Congressional critics are properly calling for the hiring of hundreds more workers to process the claims. Others urge a new policy that would automatically accept a veteran’s claim for disability benefits, with spot-checks to weed out weak claims. This seems both sensible and humane because more than four out of five claims are eventually approved under the currently overwhelmed system.
It seems like every day another member of the Army brass is out because of this scandal. That’s not nearly enough. President Bush has a clear responsibility to fix this shamefully broken system.
Veterans for America
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A Valentine to Newlyweds Separated by Their Country
by Susan Van Haitsma
Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The young woman and I talked into the night as we headed south on a Greyhound bus. Each minute of conversation carried us physically farther from but perhaps emotionally closer to the enlisted man she had married just three days prior. The wedding she had arranged and paid for in their home town had to be cancelled because his leave was revoked at the last minute, so she had traveled across the country for a visit with him that included a quick civil ceremony at the courthouse nearest his base. She described in almost comical terms their attempt at a honeymoon, braving subzero temperatures with bodies unused to a northern climate, with his close-shaven head and light sailor hat and her thin jeans, to walk downtown to see the sights. When she couldn’t feel her legs anymore, she told him, “Baby, I’m sure this is a nice place. Send me some pictures. But, for now, get me out of here!”
She said that they ate at the McDonald’s on base, “where their logo has a little anchor hanging on it - it’s kind of cute.” She didn’t expect the food prices to be so high there, nor had she or her husband counted on other expenses of military life when they had decided jointly on his enlistment several months ago. This hadn’t been her first trip to see him, and she hoped that she could go again by train in the coming weeks, bringing along her two children. But, she wondered if she could afford the travel, or even the purchase of winter clothing for her children. There were also the added costs of keeping up two households, as she put it - “his and ours.” She said that they had decided he should enlist in order to help support their family, but now she realized that the support they really needed was his presence at home.
Although I was a stranger, my seatmate expressed her concerns with a frankness that had not yet been altered by the ‘culture of silence’ that often engulfs military family members. With surprise rather than self-pity, she noted the ways her husband had already changed since basic training. She described his new obsession with order, his habit of lining up his shoes and even his toothbrush and toothpaste in precise, parallel fashion. She said that he suggested she do the same. He was more acutely aware of the time, of the number of minutes necessary to accomplish daily tasks. He walked in front of her instead of by her side. In his sleep, he called out as though he was responding to orders. She explained that he used to show his affection for her liberally in public and private ways, but now he was aloof, turning away from her in bed even during their honeymoon weekend.
Another unexpected consequence of being a military spouse was the paper work she had been required to sign in the case of her husband’s death. She described feeling physically sick as she and her husband listened to an official explain the necessary procedures: the personal effects that would be sent to her, the body, the funeral. Because he was in the Navy rather than the Army, she hadn’t foreseen such a discussion taking place in the first hours of their marriage. The death talk compounded her worry because he told her rumors had been circulating that his unit might soon be shipped to the Middle East.
I asked my seatmate what reasons, beyond the financial security they had hoped for but that so far had proven illusory, had guided their decision about her husband’s enlistment. She said that he “had a problem with authority” and had been fired from a series of jobs, so he felt that the military would help him achieve the discipline he needed.
I confided to my seatmate that the “I need more discipline” motivation is one of the most perplexing reasons for enlistment that I hear, and I hear it frequently. Self-discipline and coercion are opposites. But, I didn’t really need to explain that paradox to my seatmate, who already had described how the brand of discipline her husband was learning was leading to family separation rather than the family protection they were promised.
My heart aches when I think of the significant challenges this young couple faces, but I also am heartened by the fact that they are asking questions and discussing the discrepancies between what they know and what they are told. My valentine to them reads, “Question authority always.”
That jealous lover, Uncle Sam, pointed his long finger and shot an arrow into the joined hearts of this couple and said, “I want you to be mine.” But, they had pledged their hearts to one another, not to him.
Susan Van Haitsma is active with Nonmilitary Options for Youth in Austin, Texas and can be reached at [email protected]
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Told to Wait, a Marine Dies
By Charles M. Sennott,
The Boston Globe
Sunday 11 February 2007
VA care in spotlight after Iraq war veteran’s suicide.
Stewart, Minnesota - It took two years of hell to convince him, but finally Jonathan Schulze was ready.
On the morning of Jan. 11, Jonathan, an Iraq war veteran with two Purple Hearts, neatly packed his US Marine Corps duffel bag with his sharply creased clothes, a framed photo of his new baby girl, and a leather-bound Bible and headed out from the family farm for a 75-mile drive to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minn.
Family and friends had convinced him at last that the devastating mental wounds he brought home from war, wounds that triggered severe depression, violent outbursts, and eventually an uncontrollable desire to kill himself, could not be drowned in alcohol or treated with the array of antianxiety drugs he’d been prescribed.
And so, with his father and stepmother at his side, he confessed to an intake counselor that he was suicidal. He wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
But, instead, he was told that the clinician who prescreened cases like his was unavailable. Go home and wait for a phone call tomorrow, the counselor said, as Marianne Schulze, his stepmother, describes it.
When a clinical social worker called the next day, Jonathan, 25, told again of his suicidal thoughts and other symptoms. And then, with his stepmother listening in, he learned that he was 26th on the waiting list for one of the 12 beds in the center’s ward for post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers.
Four days later, on Jan. 16, he wrapped a household extension cord around his neck, tied it to a beam in the basement, and hanged himself.
In life, Jonathan Schulze didn’t get nearly what he needed. But in death, this tough and troubled Marine may help get something critical done.
The apparent failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer him timely and necessary care has electrified the debate on the blogs and websites that connect an increasingly networked and angry veterans community. It has triggered an internal investigation by the VA into how a serviceman with such obvious symptoms faced a wait for hospital care.
And it is being cited by veterans’ advocates and their allies in Congress as a searing symbol of a system that they say is vastly unprepared and under funded to handle the onslaught of 1.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning home, an estimated one in five of them with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. One in three Iraq war veterans is seeking mental health services, according to a report by an Army panel of experts last year.
The death of Jonathan also raises questions, among veterans and in Washington, about how far the military culture still has to go in dealing with the stigma often attached to cases of mental illness. Marines, especially, just aren’t supposed to cry out for help.
“My feeling is no veteran should be turned away, and definitely not a veteran who is openly saying he needs help and that he feels like taking his life,” said Jonathan ’s father, James, who is a Vietnam War veteran and comes from a family with a long tradition of military service.
“My son did his duty, he risked his life for his country, and he came home a broken person. And then the VA failed in its duty to care for him,” he said, sitting in the family home in front of a coffee table transformed into a shrine for his son, with framed photos and, folded in a neat triangle, the flag that draped his coffin.
Across the country, there are stories of veterans suffering with combat stress and PTSD, who are struggling to find help at VA facilities to deal with the problems they face, according to Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs for the Washington-based Veterans for America, an advocacy group.
“Sadly, there are a lot of Jonathan Schulzes out there,” said Robinson, a veteran of the Gulf War who investigates cases all over the country of service members suffering from mental illness and other injuries who are struggling to get the care they deserve.
A Plea for Help
Jonathan’s case has prompted the US Department of Veterans Affairs , with 235,000 employees at a network of medical centers for servicemen and women, to launch an ongoing internal investigation into the details surrounding Jonathan’s death, according to Phil Budahn , a VA spokesman in Washington.
But beyond that, Budahn could say little. All patient files are confidential, he said, declining comment on any of the specifics of Jonathan’s case.
But VA officials have released 400 pages of documents on the case to the Schulze family. One document from that file showed that the VA clinical social worker, Daniel Ludderman, with whom Jonathan spoke by phone on Jan. 12 did not indicate in his notes that Jonathan had expressed suicidal thoughts.
A VA spokesman told local news organizations that there were emergency beds available in a psychiatric hold unit throughout January. But the VA has not responded to questions about why, if that was the case, Jonathan was not placed in one. Another looming question in the VA investigation is why there are only 12 beds for in-patient PTSD treatment in Minnesota. That number has remained unchanged for a decade, former state VA officials say, even as the nation has engaged in two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the past five years.
James and Marianne insist they both heard Jonathan clearly state that he was suicidal on Jan. 11. Marianne says she heard it again when Jonathan was speaking with the VA’s Ludderman on the phone the next day.
James believes the VA response thus far indicates that officials are worried more about protecting the VA’s image than in meeting the overwhelming need for more and better PTSD counseling for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I heard what Jon said. They can doctor the records all they want; it is not going to change what I heard,” he said.
Major Cynthia Rasmussen, who worked for 18 years as a psychiatric nurse at the VA and who now runs the Army Reserve Combat Operational Stress Control Program at Minnesota’s Fort Snelling, said, “Jonathan’s case is classic and classically tragic.”
Rasmussen said that there are many excellent programs and treatment centers within the VA, but that effective delivery of service is spotty and inconsistent and that problems of poor communication between the military and the VA are thwarting attempts by service providers to treat those veterans who need help.
“That is what happened to Jonathan, and there are just hundreds of cases like this across the country. We are seeing them every day,” she added.
Descent into Mental Illness
Behind the stark details of the case is a more complex and nuanced picture of Jonathan’s descent into mental illness.
He arrived home last fall after a hellish tour of duty with Second Battalion, Fourth Marines in the Ramadi/Fallujah area of Iraq, where fighting was particularly intense in the spring of 2004. In letters home, Jonathan had described the combat deaths of 16 men he called friends. He himself was wounded by shrapnel twice.
In his neat grammar-school cursive, Jonathan described the death and danger that confronted his unit daily. He made it very clear: He was terrified.
“My heart is filled with sadness. And I ask God why,” he wrote on May 13, 2004, the day after two close friends were killed. “I pray so much and ask God to keep me out of harm’s way and get me back in one piece.”
One of his fellow Marines in the Fallujah area was 25-year-old Eric Satersmoen, who knew Jonathan from local bars in the Minneapolis area where Jonathan had worked as a bouncer. They traded news about mutual friends and the Vikings and the Minnesota Wild hockey team, and they vowed to stay in touch when they got back home.
When they did return, in the winter of 2005, they found they shared some other things: persistent nightmares, sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, and a tendency to use alcohol to numb themselves to all that.
But their experiences diverged in a critical way that underscores how the VA system sometimes succeeds and why it so often falls devastatingly short - right from the moment demobilized troops get ready to go home.
Returning Marines and soldiers are routinely asked to fill out a form in which they are told to self-evaluate their own mental health on a questionnaire about nightmares, anxiety, aggression, and suicidal thoughts.
The military says the forms are a way to highlight problems early. But veterans advocates say that all too often servicemen, eager to reunite with family and friends, give the forms short shrift. They simply check “no” to every question because they do not want to be delayed at the base with mental health appointments.
That’s what Jonathan told friends and family he did. And that’s also what his close friend Eric had done after his first tour, but was determined not to repeat this second time around.
This time he knew he had a problem. He checked “yes” to the boxes that asked about nightmares, anxiety, and violent outbursts. He was given a schedule of appointments and began to enter a long process of counseling that has allowed him to slowly heal and eventually to have in-patient treatment at the Minneapolis VA where he was given a bed in the PTSD ward.
Jonathan, meanwhile, returned home for 30 days’ leave. His family immediately saw that he was depressed and anxious. They heard him thrashing and yelling in his sleep. He was not the big, fun-loving young man he was before he went off to war, they said.
The family doctor, William Phillips, saw him and wrote a report that Jonathan appeared to be suffering classic symptoms of PTS D. He prescribed Valium and encouraged Jonathan to seek help when he returned to Camp Pendleton.
“I told him that when I came home from Vietnam, I just closed up and hardened my shell. It hurt me in life. I was a pole cat to live with, and I wanted to be sure he didn’t make the same mistake,” said his father.
After his 30 days’ home leave, Jonathan returned to Pendleton for 90 days before his final discharge notice would be given. That was when he really went off the rails. He was drinking heavily and getting in violent confrontations at local bars off the base and even with his own Marines. He had nightmares of firefights in which comrades died and civilians were caught in the crossfire. He refused to admit he suffered mental problems
“Marines don’t do weakness,” said his older brother Travis, 27, a Marine who also joined up straight out of high school. Travis served in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 during the US-led military response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “That’s the attitude, and Jon was caught up in that world,” said Travis.
Jonathan was completely out of control. In the fall of 2004, he brutally beat a fellow Marine. He also threw a 200-pound potted tree through a plate glass window during a bar fight. He ended up spending one month in the brig. Military Police searched his locker and found steroids - he was an obsessive body builder. He was busted in rank from lance corporal to private and given a “general” rather than an “honorable” discharge.
Drinking and Self-Loathing
These kinds of discharges are on the rise among returning veterans, particularly among those suffering from mental trauma who veer into violence and substance abuse, according to Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey, who supervises the legal defense of Marines at Camp Pendleton.
For Jonathan, the “general” discharge status meant that he was ineligible for GI Bill benefits, including assistance for college tuition, and it was technically up to the discretion of the VA whether he would receive medical treatment.
The VA did accept Jonathan for treatment of his shrapnel wounds and back pain. Eric, his Marine buddy, tried to help him get assistance for his mental health issues as well. They sometimes waited the entire day for appointments and group counseling.
Through it all, Jonathan never stopped drinking. Friends and family say that every night he drank his trusted Wild Turkey by the shot glass and one beer after another to chase it down. When he was tired, he drank “Jager-bombs,” a mix of the potent German liqueur Jagermeister mixed with the energy drink Red Bull.
His friend Eric drank with him. It was not easy for either one of them when they talked about the war. Eric lost control sometimes, but nothing compared with the bouts of anger and depression and violence that he watched Jonathan go through. “Crazy Jonny,” as he called him, was on a different path.
Jonathan was wracked with feelings of self-loathing about his demotion in rank, his tainted discharge, and what he felt was a failure on his part to save his friends, several of whom were killed right by his side in Iraq. The obsession with lifting and steroids, Eric believes, were an expression of low self-esteem.
“He just never could be big enough and bad enough … It was like he was going to drink and lift his way through the mess,” Eric said.
Then at 8:35 p.m. on Jan. 16, Eric, who was in Florida on business, received a phone call from Jonathan, who was staying in an apartment in New Prague, Minn., that Eric owned and where he gave Jonathan a room.
Jonathan told Eric he was in the basement standing on a stool and tying a noose around his neck with an extension cord. A bottle of Captain Morgan rum, three-quarters’ full, was at his side, and he was slurring.
“I tried to stall him by being nice, and then I tried getting mad at him, telling him he was taking the easy way out. I told him, ‘What about your faith?’ I was doing everything I could,” said Eric.
“He said: ‘The hell with it all, the Marines, the VA, the hell with religion. The hell with it all. I am doing it,’” said Eric.
Then, Eric said, he heard the phone fall to the floor.
A Family Mourns
Last week, it was 10 below zero with the windchill factor in the farming town of Stewart. Before his shift at a nearby dairy plant, Jonathan’s father crunched through dry, drifting snow toward the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church cemetery to visit his son’s grave.
Dead flowers from the funeral and a small American flag that marked the grave were disappearing beneath the drifting snow.
“This never should have happened,” said James, tears welling behind a pair of sunglasses.
“This country should have taken better care of one of its sons. They owed that to Jon.”
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For many Vietnam veterans, the Iraq war is a trauma trigger
Sep 25, 2006
Oct. 2, 2006 issue - Scott Cameron and Dennis Kanke had a lot in common. Residents of Duluth, Minn., both fought in Vietnam and returned home with traumas that lingered for decades. Both clawed their way out of the pit with the help of therapy and medication. And both fell back into it when the Iraq invasion began more than three years ago, with war scenes on television triggering nightmares and flashbacks.”It all came rushing back,” says Cameron, a sinewy 56-year-old who took a bullet in the spine in 1969 and went on to have more than 40 operations. When the depression got really bad, Cameron checked himself into a trauma clinic in 2004, where he spent nine weeks with other war veterans affected by Iraq. Kanke, by contrast, coped by shutting off TV news and occasionally reaching out for help from friends. In August of that year, Cameron got a call from Kanke, who wanted company on his boat.”I’d been on the road for two hours and couldn’t drive anymore. I told him to go to sleep and I’d see him in the morning,” Cameron recalls. Instead, Kanke poured a can of gasoline over himself and lit a match, dying in a hospital three days later.
Psychologists have long known that new wars can reopen old wounds for veterans. When U.S. troops fought in Iraq in 1991, clinics of the government’s Veterans Affairs (VA) administration were flooded with calls from distressed former soldiers. But some researchers now believe the current Iraq war is particularly vexing for Vietnam veterans because of the ways it is similar to the conflict they fought 40 years ago: the grinding guerrilla warfare, the constant brush with civilians and the political debate back home.
Max Cleland, the former senator and Vietnam War veteran, gave the phenomenon a public face when he disclosed last month that scenes from Iraq had made him depressed. His chief of staff told NEWSWEEK that Cleland has been getting trauma counseling at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington since the start of the war. He’s clearly not alone. In a small study conducted at Cleveland State University earlier this year, half of the Vietnam veterans surveyed said they felt emotional distress over Iraq. And figures put out by the VA show a 36 percent rise since 2003 in the number of Vietnam vets seeking help for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Veterans and their therapists say watching coverage of Iraq or reading about it can make some former soldiers feel like they’re back in battle, and can trigger some of the old sensations—the deep anxiety and the hypervigilance. Jim Doyle, of Fresno, Calif., says his anxieties are set off by news of the casualties in Iraq. “When I see a headline—two Marines killed, three soldiers wounded—I see the faces of the guys I was with 36 years ago.”
Some therapists have been coaching veterans to tune out. Thomas Bennett, who counsels former soldiers at a VA center on Martha’s Vineyard, says watching TV “becomes over-stimulating for them and then they have trouble sleeping.” Bennett says some of his patients have required more medication to cope with Iraq-related stress. The VA has also adopted the switch-it-off treatment. Earlier this summer the VA explicitly told veterans suffering from PTSD not to watch “Baghdad ER,” a documentary that follows the wrenching events in an American combat-support hospital in Iraq.
Kanke, the Duluth veteran, had been a Marine photographer, which meant he was regularly taking shots of bodies and battle zones. After the war, doctors diagnosed him as 100 percent disabled due to PTSD. His widow, Carol, says her husband suffered from depression long before Iraq but had been improving. The war put him off course. He grew distant from loved ones, including his chil-dren and grandchildren, and he dropped weight, she says.
On the night of his suicide, after talking by phone to Cameron, Kanke roused Carol and pushed her out of the house before setting himself on fire. She says she watched the fire from the outside, then tried to douse her husband with a garden hose. “We had a wonderful life. But when the war started, he just got more and more depressed. He didn’t handle things’ going wrong very well,” she says. Now she’s hoping her husband’s story will help other veterans spot the symptoms and avoid his fate.
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Iraq War veterans’ mental health has police on alert
Sep 18, 2006
Colorado Springs, Colorado - After returning from Iraq, Jason Harvey, a combat soldier with the Fort Carson-based 2nd Brigade Combat Team, raced his car at speeds of more than 100 mph on Squirrel Tree Road and played paint ball to replicate battle situations.
“You have no idea what stress is until you’ve been in combat. When you’re in combat, the adrenaline rush, it becomes fluid, you’re used to it all the time. Then when you come back, it’s not there anymore and you have to find something to get back to how it was,” said Harvey, 23, who was diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder. “I know a lot of guys who started going sky diving or rock climbing; for me it was street racing. … It might sound strange, but for me, when I was driving fast, it made me calm again.”
Harvey was kicked out of the Army after he was found driving with a loaded gun on Fort Carson. He now lives in Wellington, Fla. He is among the untold number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have found themselves in what law enforcement officials increasingly realize are crisis situations - situations that often prove deadly.
While there is no hard data on whether high-risk or violent behavior is increasing, studies show the death rate for veterans returning from Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm was higher than for veterans who had not served in either theater.
“We expected it to happen, and it is now happening,” said Steve Robinson, director of government relations for Veterans for America, a program of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
Colorado has seen the following in the past two months:
On July 17, after an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy stopped a pursuit that began when he saw two men on motorcycles popping wheelies and screaming up Academy Boulevard at speeds of more than 80 mph, Army Spec. Kelon Jones slammed his Kawasaki into a car. He flew 85 feet and later died. Jones, 20, had served in Iraq with the 43rd Area Support Group.
On Aug. 7, Robert Ziarnick, 25, was accused of shooting at Greenwood Village police and carjacking a 2005 Acura before fleeing to Cherry Creek State Park. Seven months earlier, Ziarnick used a knife to cut the words “kill me” into his abdomen. His wife told police he had served in Iraq and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Two days later, in Colorado Springs, a police officer found Reisom Markose, 25, dead of an intentional overdose of bupropion, an antidepressant. Markose served in Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and recently had become a U.S. citizen.
More than 1.36 million Department of Defense personnel have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. Surveys show that 19 percent to 21 percent of troops who have returned from combat deployments meet criteria for PTSD, depression or anxiety, Army Col. Charles Hoge, chief of psychiatry and behavior services at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told a House subcommittee last year.
That war veterans may be in need of mental-health help is becoming increasingly clear to law enforcement.
In Massachusetts, Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating developed “Beyond the Yellow Ribbons: PTSD and Veterans,” a training video for first responders. The DVD has been provided to police, fire, probation and court personnel to help them understand when a veteran is having trouble readjusting from the combat zone to the streets and what resources are available in the community.
“This is going to become, in my mind, one of the major, major issues to deal with in this war: the aftermath,” Keating said.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, an organization with more than 17,000 members, said that in the future, it may issue guidelines - or helpful hints - on how police officers can help veterans in crisis.
In Colorado Springs, police Sgt. Kerry Duran said he has advised officers to be aware that thousands of soldiers from Fort Carson have returned from war. Duran tells his officers to protect themselves at all costs but also to understand that the soldiers are trying to adjust.
“They can be verbally aggressive to officers,” Duran said. “Some of them are very angry.”
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, scientists noted that returning vets had a 9.4 percent higher death rate than other active- duty personnel from 1991 to 1993. The increase was caused mostly by accidents such as car wrecks, according to a Veterans Affairs study published in 1996 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Vietnam veterans had a 7 percent higher death rate after discharge than veterans who did not serve in a theater. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found higher rates of motor vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides during the first five years after deployment to Vietnam.
So far this fiscal year, 156 sailors and Marines have died in off- duty accidents, said Cmdr. Edward Hobbs, a CDC spokesman.
“This has been one of the worst years in recent history,” Hobbs said.
The fatality rate among sailors and Marines in off-duty motor vehicle accidents is 25.6 per 100,000 personnel - the highest since the war started and nearing the highest rate in more than 14 years, when the rate was 25.74 per 100,000 personnel in 1992.
For the Army, the number of off-duty soldiers killed has risen since the war started, with 150 off-duty deaths reported in 2005, compared with 135 deaths so far this fiscal year, statistics show.
After Desert Storm, in a 1996 article in Injury Prevention magazine, Dr. Niki Bell proposed possible explanations for increases in injuries, including depression, PTSD and symptoms of other psychiatric conditions developed after the war. Traumas experienced during the war may result in the postwar adoption of “coping” behaviors that also increase injury risk (for example, heavy drinking) and others, she said.
“It struck me that there clearly could be a lot of ways in which injury fatalities, intentional and unintentional, could be related to the experiences that one has when you’ve been in a war situation,” Bell said. Testing her theories has been difficult, she said, because there is a lack of strong data.
In July 2005, Defense Department officials told a House subcommittee that military mental- health efforts include a yearly preventive assessment and pre- and post-deployment screenings. Also, mental-health teams are embedded with units, and military personnel have access to a confidential counseling and education service.
However, a Government Accountability Office report in May found that eight of 10 soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who showed signs of PTSD were not referred for further mental-health treatment.
Military research shows that 35 percent of Iraq war veterans accessed such services in the year after returning, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“The high rate … highlights challenges in ensuring that there are adequate resources to meet the mental-health needs of returning veterans,” the Journal concluded.
Robinson, of Veterans of America, agreed.
“People are coming home, and their bodies may be in Fort Carson, Colo., but their adrenaline, their heart and their mind are still in Iraq. So they are in survival mode,” Robinson said. “They can’t just turn their adrenaline off after 365 days of surviving.”
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Lieutenant Watada Faces New Charges
By Sarah Olson
t r u t h o u t | ReportMonday 18 September 2006
US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq, faces one new charge, the Army announced Friday. The additional charge, of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen, centers on Lieutenant Watada’s statement that “to stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.” Lieutenant Watada made the comments during a public address to the annual Veterans for Peace convention held in Seattle, Washington, in mid-August.
In response to the additional charge, Lieutenant Watada stated: “As I’ve said in the past, my only intent is to impress upon all service members that their duty is to fully evaluate the truth and lawfulness behind every order - including the one to participate in a war. We each have a civic and moral responsibility to make the right choices regardless of the consequences.”
Eric Seitz is Lieutenant Watada’s civilian attorney. He called the additional charge an obvious attempt to silence his client. “His commander told him when they brought him in, if you continue to speak, we’ll continue to add charges,” said Seitz. “He’s not doing anything other than saying things he believes to be true, and that we believe are true. This makes it that much clearer that this is just a political prosecution, and that’s really all this case has been about from the beginning.”
The Army did not immediately return requests for comment, but in a summation of the Article 32 hearing conducted in August, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Keith concluded that while he believed Lieutenant Watada was “sincere” in his beliefs, his “contempt for the President and suggestion that US soldiers can stop the war simply by refusing to fight borders on mutiny and sedition.” While Lieutenant Colonel Keith agreed that officers must disobey illegal orders, he did not find it wise for officers to attempt to navigate the complexity of international law, and should rely upon “official interpretation” of such orders unless “definitively illegal.”
A final decision on charging Lieutenant Watada is expected from Lieutenant General James Dubik within several weeks. If the Army proceeds with all charges now filed against the lieutenant, he faces up to eight and a half years in prison.
Iraq Veterans Against the War member Maricela Guzman was at the Veterans for Peace convention and heard Lieutenant Watada speak. She says she still finds it hard to describe the emotions she experienced. “Enlisted soldiers and officers, they are a different breed in the military,” she says. “To have an officer come out and resist the war, and support other resisters, was a very emotional moment for me. I was very proud of what was going on that evening.” Guzman says the Army is clearly trying to make an example out of Lieutenant Watada.
Kelly Dougherty is the chairperson of Iraq Veterans Against the War and agrees the Army is attempting to silence Lieutenant Watada with their aggressive prosecution. “The charge is unwarranted. They are trying to show others how hard they will be punished if they speak out. Right now the military sees more and more soldiers speaking publicly and it’s threatening to them. They are creating an atmosphere of threats and of fear.” Dougherty says Iraq Veterans Against the War will continue to give Lieutenant Watada and all war resisters their full support.
On June 7th, Lieutenant Watada became the first commissioned officer to announce publicly that he opposed the Iraq war on moral and legal grounds. At a press conference, he said: “It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law.” He continued: “The war in Iraq violates our democratic system of checks and balances. It usurps international treaties and conventions that by virtue of the Constitution become American law. The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army’s own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.” 15 days later, on June 22nd, Lieutenant Watada was given an order to deploy to Iraq, and he refused.
For refusing to deploy to Iraq, Lieutenant Watada was charged, on July 5th, with violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 87, missing movement by design. It’s a charge that normally brings with it prison time of up to 2 years. For speaking publicly against the Iraq war, Lieutenant Watada has been confronted with a barrage of charges: initially three, now four violations of Article 133 - conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman - and two violations of Article 88 - speaking contemptuously against officials.
At the heart of Lieutenant Watada’s pending court-martial is whether an officer in the United States Army has the right to speak against orders he believes to be illegal and a war he believes both immoral and illegal.
In a friend of the court brief filed in Lieutenant Watada’s Article 32 hearing, the American Civil Liberties Union writes: “If the charges leveled in this case are allowed to proceed, it would mean that service members are completely barred from voicing their honest opinions on political subjects of significant public concern. Silencing speech like Lieutenant Watada’s violates the Constitution while it also harms the military and the public at large.” The ACLU brief goes on to conclude that speech limitations applied to members of the military deserve - and historically have received - the narrowest possible interpretation. “Given how strongly the First Amendment protects statements like Lieutenant Watada’s, the government must demonstrate extraordinary justification before it can eliminate that protection within the military justice system.”
“In Lieutenant Watada’s case,” the ACLU argues, “the question is whether it is somehow reprehensible to express serious legal and moral opinions about matters of undeniable public importance. It is not. The Founders themselves knew that it was the highest calling of a gentleman to be fully engaged in the political life of one’s country. Far from being a sign of moral unfitness, such statements indicate a highly developed moral sense. Lieutenant Watada’s statements indicate that he was attempting to fulfill his legal and moral obligations as an officer, not that he was pursuing selfish pleasures for their own sake.”
Lieutenant Watada was, from the outset, a patriotic and idealistic young man, deeply moved by the attacks of September 11th. Like many, he says, he felt compelled to give something back to this country. “I took an oath to the US Constitution, and to the values and the principles it represents. It makes us strongly unique. We don’t allow tyranny; we believe in accountability and checks and balances, and a government that’s by and for the people.”
And when he was told he would be deploying to Iraq, Lieutenant Watada began to educate himself on the war, so he could most effectively train and command the soldiers reporting to him. He says as he began to read about the Iraq war - and the foreign and domestic policy that brought us to the war - he began to question and to doubt. ” I started asking, why are we dying? Why are we losing limbs? For what?”
And the more he learned the more his doubts overwhelmed him. “The deciding moment for me was in January of 2006. I had watched clips of military funerals. I saw the photos of these families. The children. The mothers and the fathers as they sat by the grave, or as they came out of the funerals. One really hard picture for me was a little boy leaving his father’s funeral. He couldn’t face the camera so he is covering his eyes. I felt like I couldn’t watch that anymore. I couldn’t be silent any more and condone something that I felt was deeply wrong.”
Lieutenant Watada had a sense that he was doing something that was bigger than just his own immediate actions: to him, this represented a deep moral obligation. “It’s not about just trying to survive. It’s not about just trying to make sure you’re safe. When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences.”
For now, Lieutenant Watada is in a holding pattern, waiting for the military to convene a court-martial. Friends and Family of Lieutenant Watada are planning a series of events and demonstrations leading up to the Lieutenant’s prosecution. The court-martial may take place some time in December, and organizers are planning demonstrations at Ft. Lewis, and around the country.
Stay up to date about Lieutenant Watada’s case at www.thankyoult.org.
Sarah Olson is an independent radio producer and journalist based in Oakland, California. She can be reached at [email protected]
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Iraq War Vets’ Support for Lt. Watada Growing
By Sarah Olson
t r u t h o u t | Report
Wednesday 16 August 2006
Clifton Hicks was looking for a body. Specifically, the Army tank driver was fumbling about in the dark, looking for and failing to find the remains of the Iraqis who, moments before, had been firing on his tank. When Hicks’s flashlight swept the ground around his feet, he realized he was standing in the remains of a man. Literally. His boots wedged between the rib cage and the pelvis, blood and human organs squishing out from beneath the souls of his shoes.
It’s this experience and others like it that made Hicks question the war in Iraq. It also compelled him to support US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada - the highest-ranking member of the military to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.
28-year-old Lieutenant Watada disobeyed deployment orders on June 22nd, several weeks after announcing his opposition to the war at a press conference. He is charged with six violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: one count of missing troop movement, two counts of speaking contemptuously toward officials, and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. An Article 32 hearing is scheduled for Thursday, August 17th, to decide whether to proceed with a general court-martial. If tried and convicted, Lieutenant Watada could face over 7 years in prison.
“GI Resistance Is a Growing Trend”
The Army would like to depict Lieutenant Watada as a lone military voice of dissent: a renegade upon whom enlisted men and officers alike look with scorn and derision. But Clifton Hicks is joining a growing number of Iraq war combat veterans who support the Lieutenant. And, he says, for every veteran who supports Lieutenant Watada publicly, there are possibly hundreds more who feel they cannot speak out.
Geoffrey Millard is a sergeant in the Army National Guard and has no problem speaking publicly or supporting Lieutenant Watada. He spent eight years in the military, and was in Iraq between 2004 and 2005. He says GI resistance is a growing trend. “American GIs are beginning to respect the Nuremberg principles. They are resisting orders; they are going to jail, going to Canada, and going AWOL. And they’re talking about why they’re doing it.”
When he was ordered to deploy, Millard says he didn’t know how to resist the war. “Lieutenant Watada hadn’t come forward. I didn’t know about Camilo Mejia.” This, he says, is the importance of Lieutenant Watada’s public opposition to the war. It shows military personnel who disagree with the Iraq war another path.
Millard says it’s important that leaders like Lieutenant Watada are supported; the brutality and duration of the US occupation demand it. He remembers a day during his tour of duty when a soldier opened fire on a car, killing an entire family. During the evening briefing, the commanding colonel said, “If these fucking Hajjis would learn to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.” This is one of countless examples Millard has of the dehumanization accompanying the Iraq war. “This person wiped out an entire bloodline, and the colonel implied it was the victims’ fault, using language designed to offend and demean them.”
“We Were Conditioned to Hate Them”
Army tank driver Clifton Hicks says the military presence in Iraq is clearly not making a difference for the Iraqi people. “We didn’t care about Iraqis, because we were conditioned to hate them.” He says he knows from experience that Lieutenant Watada’s belief that the war is illegal and immoral is the correct position.
Hicks is haunted by his activity in Iraq. He talks about what he calls the “wedding party incident.” His unit was on patrol when they heard shooting between US armed forces and what they thought were Iraqi insurgents. While Hicks prepared to go house to house in search of the enemy, what he discovered instead was a wedding. Some of the men had been shooting rifles into the air, as is customary during family parties and celebrations. Three people from the wedding were shot; a six-year-old girl was killed. When the platoon sergeant called the command center to report the incident, “all they said to us was ‘Charlie Mike,’ a stupid Army acronym for continue mission.”
No one spoke of the incident, and it was like it never happened. “What struck me most was just how callous we had become. I didn’t even care myself. Sure some Iraqi kid had been killed; big deal. It’s like seeing a dead dog on the side of the road.” Hicks said he had no thoughts of shame or regret, no thoughts of the girl’s mother or friends.
“We hated them and were happy to have killed one. For as long as I can remember I’ve been taught to fear and mistrust Arabs. That’s how those kids on the news were able to rape the 14-year-old girl, shoot her in the face, and kill her whole family. They just didn’t care, they still don’t care, they couldn’t make themselves care if they tried. Every soldier on the frontlines is capable of that or worse.”
Hicks eventually filed for and received conscientious objector status. He wants the US to withdraw from Iraq immediately, and is convinced Lieutenant Watada is taking the only honorable and patriotic action available in the face of what he calls an unjust and illegal war. “The only way to be a patriot is to be against the war. Thomas Jefferson would pat me and Lieutenant Watada on the back.”
“I Feel Guilt All the Time About What I Contributed”
Indiscriminate violence is only one of the reasons Prentice Reid supports Lieutenant Watada. Reid was in the Army Infantry for one tour in Iraq, between March of 2002 and 2003. He was honorably discharged in May of 2005, and is now a student at Central Texas College near Ft. Hood, Texas. To Lieutenant Watada, he writes: “I only hope all of us can find the balls to stand up for truth when the time comes. You risked not only your reputation, but also potentially your freedom, for truth, and for this we all salute you, sir.”
Reid says he questioned the war from the beginning, but his doubts deepened when he arrived in Iraq. “The entire war was a sham from the beginning,” Reid says. “There were no WMDs. No connection to Osama bin Laden. I’m over there thinking we have an enemy, but this is contradicted every day by what I’m seeing as I drive around.”
Reid was a truck driver in Iraq, and one of his responsibilities was to transport Iraqi prisoners to US-run prisons. “I would see how they were treated; there was so much abuse. There was no restroom for them, and they had to urinate and defecate on themselves.” Reid says most were later released without charges having been filed against them.
“The longer we were there, the more things deteriorated. There was tighter security, more check points. Things were not rebuilt. I wish I had had the courage and the platform to speak out,” Reid says. “I have insomnia. I have nightmares. I feel guilt all the time about what I contributed.”
Reid says families and communities are destroyed due to the length of time troops are required to spend in Iraq, and their insufficient medical treatment when they return. He says he’s put his own wife and daughter through hell. He doesn’t want others to experience this type of trauma, and believes that leaders like Lieutenant Watada are taking an important and necessary step toward ending the war. He says that rather than feeling betrayed by Lieutenant Watada’s actions, he feels encouraged and supported.
“Lieutenant Watada Speaks for Me”
An active duty Army specialist who has asked to use only his initials, DP, stationed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, joined the Army in April of 2003. He was injured during training, but expects to join his unit in Afghanistan in February of 2007. At Ft. Stewart he’s escorted war resisters to their court-martial and is generally sympathetic. But it’s different for a Lieutenant to make this kind of stand, he says. “To see an officer who recognizes that something is wrong and who would take that kind of heat: I really respect that.”
When he joined the Army, DP believed in what was happening in Iraq. “When I learned there were no WMDs, I was pretty disappointed in the military intelligence, the analysts, and everyone who swore up and down that this was a necessary pre-emptive strike,” he says. As the US armed forces mission in Iraq disappears, DP says new goals are put in place. The goal of finding weapons of mass destruction turned into the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein as the objective. After Hussein was detained, the military was to help stabilize Iraq. “Our mission isn’t clear, and keeps shifting. I feel like a puppet.”
Over the phone, you can hear DP talking to his son. He and his wife are also expecting twins. He says that while he doesn’t support the Iraq war, protesting isn’t an option for him. “I don’t have the financial freedom to protest the war. Lieutenant Watada is speaking for me.” DP is the only member of his family with a paying job, and with twins on the way, he doesn’t feel he can risk going to prison. But, DP says, the anti-war protests are important. “We in the military don’t have free speech. If you’ve got a problem with the government you need to be able to tell them.”
DP says he got in trouble recently for talking about Lieutenant Watada. His commanding officers told him that as long as he was in the military and wearing the military uniform, he needed to keep a low profile, and not voice anti-government opinions.
Regretting Participation in the War (or Something)
“It takes real courage to resist the war,” says Cloy Richards, a former artillery cannoneer for the Marines. “I was afraid to not go; afraid to say no. I took the easy way out and went to the war. It takes way more bravery to say no.”
Corporal Richards did two tours of duty in Iraq, between March and October of 2003, and again between March and October of 2004. Like so many in the military, his initial support for the invasion began to disintegrate as the occupation lengthened and became more brutal.
“I was in the artillery unit. I saw a lot of civilian casualties,” says Richards, who has seven nephews and one niece. “I love kids,” he says. And his views of the Iraq war began to change as he saw Iraqi children die. He particularly remembers watching some kids play with unexploded ammunition. When it exploded, several of them were killed and several more were disfigured. “It was kind of like everything else over there. I just shoved it to the back of my mind somewhere and forgot about it.” Except that Richards couldn’t actually forget.
Richards has a hard time forgetting other experiences in Iraq as well. For example, the first time he was ambushed, on March 25th, 2003. “My commanding officer lost his hand that day,” Richards remembers. “But he wrapped cloth around the remaining portions of his arm and led us into battle.”
By his second tour of duty, Richards says he didn’t want to fight. The reason he’s speaking out now, he says, is not because he has some kind of agenda. “It’s just that I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I feel sorry and am trying to make amends for all the bad things I’ve been a part of. I should have said no the second time, when my heart and my mind were telling me not to go.”
This guilt is part of the reason Richards says it’s so important for the people like Lieutenant Watada to take the lead. “As an officer, he lends more credibility to anti-war sentiments among the troops. The Lieutenant is leading by example, and this is taken very seriously. An officer’s example is what we are supposed to follow.” It’s only now, Richards says, that he’s found an example that he wants to follow.
Listening to the Troops
Geoffrey Millard, the 8-year Army National Guard veteran is quick to point out that not any single story is conclusive. Each member of the military has something to tell that folks back in the states can learn from. “Each of these stories means something,” he says.
The experiences and the expertise of Iraq war veterans are missing from the media coverage of the Iraq war. “When we turn on the evening news, we don’t ever hear about a GI’s experience.” This leads to a skewed and unrealistic impression of the war. Millard says that if the Iraq war veterans’ opinions and experience were valued, the Army would be forced to uphold Lieutenant Watada as a hero, rather than attempt to put him in prison.
For now, there are dozens of members of the military who publicly support Lieutenant Watada. There are likely hundreds more who are watching anxiously in silence, waiting for an outcome in Lieutenant Watada’s case. They all say they view him as a true war hero, and believe in his efforts to end the Iraq war. They say he is fighting for what they believe in, and for that they are grateful. In Army parlance, they might say Charlie Mike: continue mission.
Lin @ 1:49 pm Comments Off
Soldiers Can Choose to Stop Fighting: Watada
By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 14 August 2006
On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be at the Veterans for Peace National Convention. For that night, Lt. Ehren Watada was able to give the following speech, which I’ve just received permission to post here. The speech was met with a powerful, standing ovation from the vets who’ve been there.
Lt. Ehren Watada, for those who don’t already know, became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the unlawful war and occupation in Iraq. While doing this on June 22, 2006, Watada said, “As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must refuse that order.”
Just as Watada took the stage and began to speak, over 50 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War filed in behind him. Watada, surprised by this and obviously taken aback by the symbolic act, turned back to the audience, took some deep breaths, then gave this speech:
Thank you everyone. Thank you all for your tremendous support. How honored and delighted I am to be in the same room with you tonight. I am deeply humbled by being in the company of such wonderful speakers.You are all true American patriots. Although long since out of uniform, you continue to fight for the very same principles you once swore to uphold and defend. No one knows the devastation and suffering of war more than veterans - which is why we should always be the first to prevent it.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to say tonight. I thought as a leader in general I should speak to motivate. Now I know that this isn’t the military and surely there are many out there who outranked me at one point or another - and yes, I’m just a Lieutenant. And yet, I feel as though we are all citizens of this great country and what I have to say is not a matter of authority - but from one citizen to another. We have all seen this war tear apart our country over the past three years. It seems as though nothing we’ve done, from vigils to protests to letters to Congress, have had any effect in persuading the powers that be. Tonight I will speak to you on my ideas for a change of strategy. I am here tonight because I took a leap of faith. My action is not the first and it certainly will not be the last. Yet, on behalf of those who follow, I require your help - your sacrifice - and that of countless other Americans. I may fail. We may fail. But nothing we have tried has worked so far. It is time for change and the change starts with all of us.
I stand before you today, not as an expert - not as one who pretends to have all the answers. I am simply an American and a servant of the American people. My humble opinions today are just that. I realize that you may not agree with everything I have to say. However, I did not choose to be a leader for popularity. I did it to serve and make better the soldiers of this country. And I swore to carry out this charge honorably under the rule of law.
Today, I speak with you about a radical idea. It is one born from the very concept of the American soldier (or service member). It became instrumental in ending the Vietnam War - but it has been long since forgotten. The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.
Now it is not an easy task for the soldier. For he or she must be aware that they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for individual action. They must remember duty to the Constitution and the people supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. The soldier must be willing to face ostracism by their peers, worry over the survival of their families, and of course the loss of personal freedom. They must know that resisting an authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action.
The American soldier must rise above the socialization that tells them authority should always be obeyed without question. Rank should be respected but never blindly followed. Awareness of the history of atrocities and destruction committed in the name of America - either through direct military intervention or by proxy war - is crucial. They must realize that this is a war not out of self-defense but by choice, for profit and imperialistic domination. WMD, ties to Al Qaeda, and ties to 9/11 never existed and never will. The soldier must know that our narrowly and questionably elected officials intentionally manipulated the evidence presented to Congress, the public, and the world to make the case for war. They must know that neither Congress nor this administration has the authority to violate the prohibition against pre-emptive war - an American law that still stands today. This same administration uses us for rampant violations of time-tested laws banning torture and degradation of prisoners of war. Though the American soldier wants to do right, the illegitimacy of the occupation itself, the policies of this administration, and rules of engagement of desperate field commanders will ultimately force them to be party to war crimes. They must know some of these facts, if not all, in order to act.
Mark Twain once remarked, “Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country …” By this, each and every American soldier, marine, airman, and sailor is responsible for their choices and their actions. The freedom to choose is only one that we can deny ourselves.
The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one’s right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. “I was only following orders” is never an excuse.
The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the world that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the soldier in these crimes.
The Constitution is no mere document - neither is it old, out-dated, or irrelevant. It is the embodiment of all that Americans hold dear: truth, justice, and equality for all. It is the formula for a government of the people and by the people. It is a government that is transparent and accountable to whom they serve. It dictates a system of checks and balances and separation of powers to prevent the evil that is tyranny.
As strong as the Constitution is, it is not foolproof. It does not fully take into account the frailty of human nature. Profit, greed, and hunger for power can corrupt individuals as much as they can corrupt institutions. The founders of the Constitution could not have imagined how money would infect our political system. Neither could they believe a standing army would be used for profit and manifest destiny. Like any common dictatorship, soldiers would be ordered to commit acts of such heinous nature as to be deemed most ungentlemanly and unbecoming that of a free country.
The American soldier is not a mercenary. He or she does not simply fight wars for payment. Indeed, the state of the American soldier is worse than that of a mercenary. For a soldier-for-hire can walk away if they are disgusted by their employer’s actions. Instead, especially when it comes to war, American soldiers become indentured servants whether they volunteer out of patriotism or are drafted through economic desperation. Does it matter what the soldier believes is morally right? If this is a war of necessity, why force men and women to fight? When it comes to a war of ideology, the lines between right and wrong are blurred. How tragic it is when the term Catch-22 defines the modern American military.
Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer, when we swear our oath it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up and threw their weapons down - no President could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, “… Against all enemies foreign and domestic,” what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice.
The military, and especially the Army, is an institution of fraternity and close-knit camaraderie. Peer pressure exists to ensure cohesiveness but it stamps out individualism and individual thought. The idea of brotherhood is difficult to pull away from if the alternative is loneliness and isolation. If we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path - they must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans. To support the troops who resist, you must make your voices heard. If they see thousands supporting me, they will know. I have heard your support, as has Suzanne Swift, and Ricky Clousing - but many others have not. Increasingly, more soldiers are questioning what they are being asked to do. Yet, the majority lack awareness to the truth that is buried beneath the headlines. Many more see no alternative but to obey. We must show open-minded soldiers a choice and we must give them courage to act.
Three weeks ago, Sgt. Hernandez from the 172nd Stryker Brigade was killed, leaving behind a wife and two children. In an interview, his wife said he sacrificed his life so that his family could survive. I’m sure Sgt. Hernandez cherished the camaraderie of his brothers, but given a choice, I doubt he would put himself in a position to leave his family husbandless and fatherless. Yet that’s the point, you see. People like Sgt. Hernandez don’t have a choice. The choices are to fight in Iraq or let your family starve. Many soldiers don’t refuse this war en mass because, like all of us,, they value their families over their own lives and perhaps their conscience. Who would willingly spend years in prison for principle and morality while denying their family sustenance?
I tell this to you because you must know that to stop this war, for the soldiers to stop fighting it, they must have the unconditional support of the people. I have seen this support with my own eyes. For me it was a leap of faith. For other soldiers, they do not have that luxury. They must know it and you must show it to them. Convince them that no matter how long they sit in prison, no matter how long this country takes to right itself, their families will have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education. This is a daunting task. It requires the sacrifice of all of us. Why must Canadians feed and house our fellow Americans who have chosen to do the right thing? We should be the ones taking care of our own. Are we that powerless - are we that unwilling to risk something for those who can truly end this war? How do you support the troops but not the war? By supporting those who can truly stop it; let them know that resistance to participate in an illegal war is not futile and not without a future.
I have broken no law but the code of silence and unquestioning loyalty. If I am guilty of any crime, it is that I learned too much and cared too deeply for the meaningless loss of my fellow soldiers and my fellow human beings. If I am to be punished it should be for following the rule of law over the immoral orders of one man. If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period … was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Now, I’m not a hero. I am a leader of men who said enough is enough. Those who called for war prior to the invasion compared diplomacy with Saddam to the compromises made with Hitler. I say, we compromise now by allowing a government that uses war as the first option instead of the last to act with impunity. Many have said this about the World Trade Towers, “Never Again.” I agree. Never again will we allow those who threaten our way of life to reign free - be they terrorists or elected officials. The time to fight back is now - the time to stand up and be counted is today.
I’ll end with one more Martin Luther King Jr. quote:
One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Thank you and bless you all.
The only thing Watada said that I would disagree with is that he claimed that he is not a hero. He is a leader, yet again, by taking this stance. And he may never know how many lives he has already touched.
Today, it is up to the anti-war movement to make sure his leadership touches as many soldiers’ lives in Iraq as possible. Watada is making his stand. He needs continued support.
As he said, if more American soldiers in Iraq know that they, along with their families, will be supported if they stand up against this illegal occupation, countless more will follow, and this repulsive war will end.
Lin @ 9:46 pm Comments Off
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"When the Bodybags Come Home"
Ratshit and the Weasel and I
are behind this paddy dike,
and Victor Charlie?s giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head,
just a little, but just enough
for the round
to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ,
out the other.
And he starts thrashing,
and bleeding, and screaming,
and trying to get the top of his head
to stay on,
But we have to keep shooting.
A B-40 tunnels into the dike
and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn?t get the chance
to decide if he should give up and die.
Now I?m crying
and I?m screaming, ?Medic,?
But I have to keep shooting.
At this point, I always wake,
and big, black Jerome
and little white William,
are not dying beside me
I can still smell their blood,
I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two,
they?ve been taking turns
dying on me,
Again and again and again
for all these long years,
and still people tell me,
by David Connolly
In daunserly light,
when twilight last gleams,
when winds whip across plains
toward majestic purple mountains,
and desert sands rage
from sea to shining sea,
it matters not
what politicians may speak,
what regimes may plot,
what pundits may conject.
In bedroom darkness,
between sweaty sheets
of cold gray steel,
it matters only
what the soldier
about that moment
when quaking, pulsing index finger
squeezed life from an enemy child.
? 3/28/03 Lin McNulty
For and About Troops and Veterans
"The question of what stand to take toward U.S. troops is a big question throughout society? The slogan 'support the troops' has been pushed by the U.S. Government as a cynical attempt to get people to support the war by pulling on their emotions and playing on their concerns about loved ones in the military? What does it mean to say we 'support the troops' when they are fighting an unjust war?? 'Supporting the troops' will not take them out of danger; only stopping the war and occupation NOW and withdrawing all U.S. military will do that? We encourage people to support the troops who follow their conscience and refuse to carry out unjust and immoral orders."
On the Question of
"Supporting the Troops"
Not In Our Name Interim Steering Committee,
revised April 17, 2003
Lets take care of our own!