October 27, 2003

Families of US Soldiers in Iraq Lead Anti-War Protests

There is one chance left to save the US from this
slippery slope which the Bush cabal has forced us
down, one chance to avoid a deteriorating situation
which will lead to a Third World War that will look
more like World War I than World War II: the 2004
presidential election. This is not the time for
"leftism," (e.g., linking the anti-war sentiment on
Iraq to the situation in Palestine or to
anti-globalization, etc.) this is the time for
striking a tone of inclusiveness and clarity within
the electoral process, this struggle is about rescuing
the US GIs mired in Iraq, restoring the US to its role
in the world and the Western Alliance, saving of the
environment, restoring the integrity of the electoral
process, restoring the integrity of the media, when
and IF these battles are resolved victoriously there
will be plenty of time and new space for other issues

Guardian (UK): In researching this story, we received more than 70 emails and phone calls from relatives of US forces overseas. All but two were negative - about the treatment of soldiers, the reasons for the Iraq war, the pain of family separation and the insensitivity of the military bureaucracy.

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1025-06.htm

Published on Saturday, October 25, 2003 by the
Guardian/UK
Dissent on the Home Front: Families of US Soldiers in Iraq Lead Anti-War Protests
Troops' relatives speak out as death toll rises and
morale falls

by Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

News of the death of Jane Bright's son, Evan, arrived
with the US military's greatest triumph in Iraq since
the fall of Baghdad. In Mosul, the 101st Airborne
cornered and killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and
Qusay. Outside town, a US patrol came under attack,
and Ms Bright's son, an infantryman, was killed along
with two other soldiers.

That was on July 24. Her anger has not abated. "There
are some terrible things going on there," she says.

Yesterday, other American families waited for official
confirmation of death, after reports arrived of one
soldier from the 101st Airborne killed near Mosul and
two members of the 4th Infantry Division killed in a
mortar attack near Samara. This brought to 108 the
number of US troops to die under hostile fire since
May 1, when President George W Bush declared an end to
major combat.

The growing toll and reports of poor conditions and
low morale among troops have produced an undercurrent
of dissent among US military families. The Guardian
has found that 75% of the 478 troops removed from the
Iraqi theatre because of mental health issues have
been reservists.

In researching this story, we received more than 70
emails and phone calls from relatives of US forces
overseas. All but two were negative - about the
treatment of soldiers, the reasons for the Iraq war,
the pain of family separation and the insensitivity of
the military bureaucracy.

The criticisms - a breach of military culture - is
viewed with concern at the Pentagon, which sent a team
to Iraq this week to investigate 13 cases of suicide
in recent months. It has also promised better
treatment of sick soldiers, and has vowed to expand
the program of 15-day furloughs introduced last month
- despite the failure of about 30 soldiers to catch
their flights back to Iraq. But many on the home front
remain furious, and today's anti-war protests in
Washington and others US cities will kick off with
candlelight vigils by families of soldiers serving in
Iraq.

Horrific
Ms Bright's unease set in soon after her son arrived
in Iraq, and grew deeper with calls and emails home in
the months before he was killed. "He had lost 25
pounds from dysentery. My daughter-in-law told me he
called one day and he sounded very upbeat. She said,
'Why are you so happy?' He said he had just got food
and water.

"I don't care what the administration says about
flag-waving and children throwing flowers. It is just
not true. The stories coming back are horrific. All he
told me was that he had seen and done some horrible
things, that they had all done and seen some terrible
things."

The stories coming back from Iraq have helped to chip
away at the culture of stoicism. So have the
circumstances of the deployment. An underclass that
grew up to view military services as a ticket to
advancement or a college education now finds itself
going off to two distant wars - in Afghanistan and
Iraq - in less than two years.

It is still uncommon for families of soldiers to voice
criticism. Some are afraid of retaliation against
their relative serving in Iraq. But there are signs of
growing outspokenness, in part because of the Bush
administration's decision to rely heavily on
reservists and National Guard members to fights its
wars.

Almost half of the 130,000 US troops on the ground are
drawn from these sources - weekend warriors now
serving overseas tours of duty that were recently
extended to 12 or 15 months. The Pentagon is planning
to send another 30,000 reservists to Iraq next year.

On the home front, families may be less than
understanding of having their lives interrupted. Not
knowing how long their relatives will stay in Iraq has
fueled resentment and deepened anxieties about losing
jobs, falling behind on mortgage payments, and family
separation.

For Barbara Willis, whose son is a reservist serving
in a postal unit at Baghdad airport, it is the idea
that he was pulled out of college in his final term of
study for a degree in business education, only to sit
at Fort Dix, New Jersey, for three months, waiting to
be sent to Iraq. "If only they'd have said, 'Stay at
home until you finish your education,'" she said. "I
am not against President Bush but it gets very
aggravating the way he is ruining all these young
people's lives."

The families of reservists have taken the separations
harder than those on active duty, who are used to
military life. The experience of war, with its mix of
tedium, brutality and the capriciousness of the US
military bureaucracy, also appears harder for the
reservists and National Guard members to bear.

Rattled
Reservists are beginning to speak out, saying they are
made to do the "grunt work", and are treated unfairly
in provision of supplies - especially of bulletproof
vests for which there are shortages - and of military
furloughs. "The equipment they tried to hand us was
items that were bound for the trash pile," Nicholas
Ramey, a reservist from Indiana working in a public
affairs unit, writes in an email.

"Vietnam-era flack vests held together by dental floss
and a prayer would keep us safe ... It was like
pulling teeth trying to get the things we needed. As
'dirty reservists', we didn't deserve the same
respect, even though we're supposed to watch the
active duty's backs."

Such stories are increasingly common among reservists,
and circulated among family members at home. The
friction, combined with growing confusion about their
mission in Iraq, has rattled even longstanding members
of the reserves.

None of the people the Guardian contacted said their
family member would re-enlist. Some have taken a
decision to get out - even those who have devoted
their lives to the reserves. "My husband has 20 years
in the military, and loved every minute of it," says
Candance Gordon, the wife of a reservist from Texas.
"He will be resigning his commission the minute he
steps foot on American soil, and he says almost
everyone he knows is doing the same. The only ones
staying in are those who have long contracts, or no
family, or make more money being in the reserves than
in their civilian life."

The biggest complaint is the one most difficult for
the Pentagon to remedy: that service personnel are
under strain from long deployments in Iraq. Families
described the slow agony waiting for details about
each fallen soldier. They are also thinking about
homecoming. Several said they feared their children or
spouses would be unrecognizable.

Others said they detected anger and depression in
their emails that would be difficult to fix when they
returned. "They're changing. They have dehumanized the
Iraqis. They call them 'hajji' now - that's like
'gook'. I am old enough to remember the Vietnam war,
and I remember," says Adele Kubein, whose daughter is
a National Guard mechanic serving in Iraq.

On one occasion, her daughter telephoned her, sobbing.
"She said, 'Mom, I have shot people. I am never going
to be able to come home and live a normal life again.
How can I come home and live a normal life when every
second I am trying to be alert to see if I will be
shot?'"

Dear Mom... Emails from the war zone

From a female member of the National Guard serving in
northern Iraq
"I don't see anything wrong with doing whatever it
takes to stay alive. There is nothing sacred about
kids with guns. There is nothing sacred about anybody
trying to kill anybody else, it don't matter how old
they are. I hate this shit ... I don't mind Iraq, I
don't mind war, but I absolutely hate the situation
I'm in, and I'm beginning to hate most of the people
I'm surrounded by."

From a reservist serving as a mechanic near Baquba
"I was offered to go on a convoy today but I did not
go. They came back late tonight, and it turns out that
the Iraqi people opened fire on them from a rooftop in
a small town. We returned, but did not kill any of
them, no one was hurt. This happens all the time. No
one really aimed at the enemy. You just get scared and
pull the trigger and open up in the direction you
think they are firing from."

From an artilleryman's wife
"The morning they shipped out they handed them their
papers and things were missing that were supposed to
be in there. Now I talk to him via the computer
because the phones are never working. I'm on
anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I try to make it
through the day without crying but lately that's
impossible. I never thought that this would be so
hard. I wake wondering if my husband is still alive
and I turn on the news to see more soldiers dead in
Iraq."

From a reservist from Indiana
"Everyone hears that morale is high and it is a
bold-faced lie. The only people they ever talk to are
these commanders. The reserve soldiers never get to
speak their mind. We are the pawns of this war. We
watch the active duty retire, and move to new
assignments. We watch their tours end as we are still
trapped because of poor post-war planning."

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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Posted by richard at October 27, 2003 07:01 AM