I know I have spent a lot of time recently posting on the Walter Reed Scandal and significant Veterans issues.
I'm not sure most people understand that, while very complex, these issues reverberate into our small communities. Last October, I remember a crisp fall day when I was door knocking in Watkins, Eden Valley and Darwin. Despite the small sizes of these communities, I counted no less than 35 blue stars in the windows, indicating that a loved one was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I spoke to one grandmother in a senior housing facility in Watkins, who's daughter was deployed in Iraq and was taking care of her granddaughter. Extending the tours meant she would take care of this child another 6 months. The "surge" has an impact in our small communities as well.
Veterans issues were a signature issue for my campaign this past fall. I served proudly for 11 years and have a lot of friends that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some, like Sergeant David Chatham, lost a leg when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle was hit by an insurgent rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Others like Gregory Hicks, Richard Henkes and Jeffrey Loa paid the ultimate price during the war.
Sometimes, it's a struggle for people like me. I can't even imagine what it's like for the families of my fallen comrades. Everyday, I spend time at Antiwar to review the names of our casualties, scanning for yet another friend. Sometime, it's a phone call from my friend John, telling me that another colleague of ours from our 23rd Infantry days has been killed or injured. Seeing the name of a young Maple Lake Marine completes a full circle for me.
Whether we refuse to consciously discuss it or not, kids all across the country are dying, but what for?
I grow tired of the "the terrorists will follow us home" defense.
I reflect upon my days as an infantryman. As a young private at Fort Benning, Georgia, I watched the first Gulf War unfold on CNN. Nightly, a group of us would literally sleep in our "day room" and watch the coverage of the war. We were being prepared as a contingency force when the war suddenly halted. We were lucky. We did not deploy.
Then guys like Linus Rataczak and Tim Bomboy joined my Fort Benning, 29th Infantry Regiment unit. Guys that were in the war. Both of these guys were roommates. One of Tim's battle buddies, Specialist Schroeder, had large clumps of hair falling out. Little did I know, this was my first experience with someone who was suffering the effects of Gulf War Syndrome.
Most of these guys served with great honor in the Big Red One, 1st Infantry Division. Some of them, as I would find out years later, knew Tim McVeigh. They had all been through quite a bit.
As my duty assignment took me over to Germany, and the 5th Cavalry, I met more and more soldiers who suffered from Gulf War Syndrome. My first platoon sergeant in Germany, SFC Ballard, died from mysterious lung and liver cancers. Another squad leader suffered from numerous ailments and was medically released from the Army.
Regardless of the duty station, Benning, Germany, Lewis, Korea, or Hood, I saw soldiers suffering from the effects of Gulf War Syndrome. Some, like Sergeant Major Billie Harte, died.
I served under three Presidents, both Bush's and Clinton. On many occasions, I did not agree with what we were doing, but I went and did it. Whether it was cuts to benefits, cuts to our equipment, or general foreign policy issues, I was not in agreement on countless occasions.
Which brings me to this current war. I would be a senior enlisted soldier right now, most likely on my third or fourth tour in Iraq, if I was lucky.
The first Bush brought our troop levels down significantly. Friends like Tadd Hendricks were able to get out very quickly. I wonder how many of those force restructuring "casualties" are in need of VA help now, 17 years after the fact.
The Clinton administration brought more force restructuring, as they loved to call it, and smaller pay increases and no improvements in our benefits. It was my time at Fort Lewis that I recalled how bad the budget woes were for us. Our Bradley Fighting Vehicles could only move 100 miles per quarter. Meaning, we saved mileage for major training events.
I could not take my section of BFV's out and do mounted land navigation. I could not do small unit tactics with my section.
As the Battalion Master Gunner at one point (for 2 and a half years), I had to sync this crazy mileage limit with ammunition and range limits.
Despite that, we always spent May and June shooting every piece of ammo we had, since if we did not use it, we would not get it the next fiscal year. The "mad minute" as we would call it, was a reality in every army unit.
Despite all those issues, I could still serve under the first Bush and Clinton. I would have a hard time continuing my service under Bush 43. I was lucky, I only served 10 months of his term.
Imagine how crazy it was to have to shutdown all our ranges for when the President flew back to Crawford. Believe me, we shut stuff down a lot too. It kept us up later and out in the field longer...something I was not a fan of.
As I trained my infantry platoon, and others in my capacity as a master gunner, I always trained to a high standard, and would not compromise that standard for anyone or anything.
Under the Bush Administration, it seems like these standards are gone. NCO's (sergeants) still lead the way, but at the top, realistic and tangible standards have fallen by the way side.
Call me a traitor, call me a coward...I could not serve under this Commander in Chief.
While I believe that we should have never gone into Iraq, and protested against this war months before it happened, we deployed with less troops than military leaders requested. General Shinseki stated it would take hundreds of thousands of our finest to secure Iraq. He suddenly left the military shortly after that testimony.
Our soldiers lacked the proper equipment. Whether it was body armor or vehicles, they always seemed to be shorthanded. Those that wore body armor they purchased themselves, were threatened with losing their SGLI (life insurance) if they were caught wearing it.
Our leaders refused to show the coffins coming home.
Tours being extended for our National Guard and Reserve men and women, only to have these servicemembers find out via their own families.
Veterans of this war committing suicide, at rates twice that of society. Two of those Veterans have been local.
Soldiers and Veterans alike being mistreated at VA and other government facilities across the country. To be completely fair, our Veterans have been mistreated regardless of the party in power of Congress or the President. It's just worse now than it has been in quite some time.
The privatization of our military. How groups like Blackwater, Dynacorp, Vinnel, United Defense, Halliburton and other groups are mercenary forces. They have the best equipment and get paid 3-5 times more than our foot soldiers.
I was a kid once, imagine that. I didn't listen to my mom and grandpa when they told me to bring my GI Joes or Transformers in. I left them in the sandbox and let them rot in the rain, snow, wind, cold and heat.
It's exactly what President Bush has done to our military and our Veterans.
He has abused it, broken it. But he won't pay for it.
We will. Our soldiers and Veterans will continue to struggle for proper care.
I am ashamed of what President Bush has done to our military, as a matter of fact, I hate what he has done to the military.
I spoke to one of my former soldiers, my Bradley driver in Korea, this past summer. Gordon was telling me about how all the equipment in his active duty unit was broken. All parts and supplies were headed to Iraq to the "front" per se. Our soldiers were left back here training with deadlined and inoperative equipment.
Deadissue has a good post on this as well.
What's the point of this long rant?
It's actually what I write about quite often.
At every turn of this war, it has been mishandled. And despite that, some call what is going on in Congress today "grandstanding".
Our government, elected officials, should have done something about this beforehand.
It helps that a Democratic majority is actually listening now. Beforehand, if it wasn't a tax cut, the issue never saw the light of day in a committee, let alone the marble palaces of Congress. And still, Republican's retain a stranglehold on terms like "patriotism".
What has happened under their watch is far from patriotic, as a matter of fact, it's treasonous.
I'd love to hear Ann Coulter spin that one, without using an F-word.
So, stop with the "Support our troops", "Defend Iraq" rhetoric. Take the yellow stickers off if all your going to do is drive around with them.
If you must continue with the catch phrases though, stop calling me a "bleeding heart liberal".
I support our troops, without the yellow ribbon.
I'm a purple heart liberal, and damn proud of it!