Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Operation Truth

Jacqueline (the Journalist from CNN who interviewed me) asked me to go through this web site and see what I thought. I read through it, and here's my report.

(*Note: There's not a lot of "funny" here, and the piece is long, so you may want to get some coffee. Also, there's another post, called Irony, at the bottom. --Chuck)

This is directly excerpted from “Operation Truth’s” issues page. Bottom line: a few valid points, lots of pandering. My comments in red—Chuck

From the “Issues Facing Our Troops” page: Link

Here are some of the key issues facing our soldiers. Operation Truth will continuously adapt to changing circumstances and focus on the Troops' most pressing needs. Or, to be more precise, change what we say and what we support based on what will give us the most fame, cash, and celebrity.

Honoring the Fallen
Soldiers who have given their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom deserve a public memorial. Unfortunately, their sacrifices have often been hidden from public view.

Are you kidding me? The war isn't even over yet. It took over 20 years to get a memorial up for the Vietnam veterans, and almost 50 years to get one up for Korea and World War II. I'm not saying that we don't deserve one; I just think that any monies contributed by the federal government would be better spent on fighting the war at this point than honoring the fallen and the veterans en masse. Any monument that would list the names and/or numbers would have to be constantly modified until we all came home. This is a moot point, at least at this juncture, and shouldn't even be pursued until it's over.

National Guard and Reservists
For decades, Reservists and National Guardsmen have been treated as second-class citizens within the military. Reservists and National Guardsmen should be equipped and trained on par with their active duty counterparts.

In a perfect world, yes, they would be. It's really a question of availability, as far as equipment is concerned. As equipment is modernized, replaced, or introduced, it goes into the active-duty Army first, the reserve second. It takes time to train soldiers on the use and employment of the equipment, it's just not something you can do in one weekend a month or two weeks in the summer. Also, since the active-duty Army is committed to battle first, shouldn't they have the best of the best equipment?

Finally, it's not just up to the Pentagon as to what types of units exist in each state; or what type of equipment they will have. Often, a lot depends on the senators and congressmen from each state, and how "important" they are—that is, which committees they serve. Then, it's a matter of what the state wants to spend on their units. Of course, that is a function of the state budget, and increased spending on the reserve/guard units, results in either cutting back on other programs or raising taxes, neither of which is favorable, especially in election years.

*note: not all funding comes from the state; I'm only speaking to the funding which comes from the state, including equipment and training budgets.

The Mental Strain of War
Returning vets face serious psychological problems, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety, as well as adverse reactions to the vaccine for malaria (Lariam). These issues increase the risk of family problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and even suicide.

I have no issues here, the Veterans Administration is notoriously inept when it comes to diagnosing and treating PTSD, as well as a host of other maladies affecting veterans (Agent Orange victims, for instance, springs to mind.) This is a worthy cause, which definitely needs lobbyists to fight for the rights of veterans, since most politicians turn blind eye to it. Apparently, it just doesn't grab enough votes. I personally have never had to deal with the VA, Carren has had to, and I would seek my own health care insurance if I had to rely on them.

Armor Shortage
Due to poor planning by the Pentagon, 6,530 Humvees in
Iraq and Afghanistan lack adequate protection as of December 2004. While Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that armor for the Humvees was being produced at maximum capacity, this is not true.

Every time you see a Humvee being driven on the street, you are looking at a person who voluntarily deprives soldiers of the equipment they need. The factory can only turn out Humvees so fast, and the ones they produce for the civilian market, although not the same use a lot of the same parts and equipment under the hood that as Humvees in the military.

The Humvees to take time to build, and during the period of 1992 to 2000, defense spending, force structure, equipment, and training capabilities were all cut. Services were literally gutted from their Cold War size, as the President saw no need for a military large enough to sustain itself for a lengthy war.

Depleted Uranium
The military claims it is perfectly safe, but others believe depleted uranium (DU) is the cause of a variety of mysterious illnesses, from cancer to Gulf War Syndrome. Find out more about the controversial use of depleted uranium (DU) in U.S. weapons.

All soldiers are given training and instructions on the hazards of depleted uranium prior to deployment. This has been going on in the military since at least 1995. Any soldier suffering from contact with depleted uranium since that time has done so with foreknowledge of the dangers involved. The causes of Gulf War syndrome and other mysterious illnesses have not been identified, nor has a link directly to depleted uranium.

Without empirical evidence, it is just as reasonable to claim that Gulf War syndrome is caused by prolonged exposure to high ambient temperatures, use of large quantities of sunscreen, drinking warm soda, deprivation of alcohol, or consumption of MRE’s. I do believe that Gulf War syndrome exists, and I also believe that it should be researched and treated just as ardently as the efforts to research and treat AIDS.

Understanding the Wounded

Although the rising death toll in Iraq has received media attention, far less scrutiny has been given to the number of troops wounded, and often permanently disabled, in the war effort.

Funny, in all the times I've been to Walter Reed, I've never once been visited by anyone from operation truth. I have been visited by various Senators and Congressman, various cabinet members, various high-ranking service members, and even the President. Many volunteers have come into the hospital to visit with soldiers, most notably volunteers of Soldiersangels, the Yellow Ribbon Society, Sew Much Comfort, Milbloggers, and the American Red Cross, but never these self-proclaimed "nation's first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Underfunded VA
Learn about the inadequate resources provided for VA health care; new drug co-pays, fees, and eligibility requirements for vets; hospital closures; and possible VA budget cuts in 2006.

Again, I agree the VA is notoriously under-funded, over budget, bloated with bureaucracy, and has almost as much (if not more) red tape as the federal income tax. Soldiers need a lobbying agency willing to champion the cause of adequate health care for service-related injuries.

Problematic Role of Private Contractors in Combat Zones
The effectiveness and affordability of Halliburton, K.B.R, Blackwater and other companies are questionable. These private contractors are weakening our military by drawing away experienced troops using incentives such as significantly higher wages, better benefits and a more relaxed lifestyle. Introducing profit to the battlefield sets a dangerous precedent.

In my experience, Halliburton and KBR have been exceptionally effective in replacing the cutbacks in logistical support suffered by the military during the Clinton administration. From 1992-2000, almost all division, corps, and higher-level maintenance and logistics assets were drastically reduced or cut outright from Army formations. During peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, Halliburton and KBR were instrumental in supporting the military. Their role continues to "free up" soldiers for combat duty who would otherwise be used in support of war fighters.

As for Blackwater, most of their "employees" are former Special Forces and Rangers, who are lured away from the ranks by increases in wages and benefits.

Until the military starts to pay and provide benefits for highly-skilled individuals, they are going to continue to lose experienced troops. This is called capitalism. There is a lot of precedent as far as introducing profit to the battlefield goes. Governments, corporations, and individuals have made money from every war.

From personal experience, having a representative from General Dynamics to help troubleshoot maintenance issues for the tanks was instrumental in keeping the fleet running, and having KBR-run dining facilities and FOB maintenance (trash pickup, waste removal, shower and housing maintenance) freed up a lot of manpower to actually fight the war.

Proper Counseling and Treatment for the Soldiers
Some returning vets are suffering from psychological problems, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and illnesses linked with malaria and anthrax vaccines.

The military is trying to do a better job of identifying, counseling, and treating soldiers who return with psychological problems including PTSD, anxiety, depression and other illnesses. It is far better to treat and retain good soldiers than it is train replacements. The military is pushing to remove institutional stigmas and apathy towards mental illness. However, signs and symptoms may not surface for years after redeployment. If the soldier has separated from the military, I agree that it is very hard for them to prove service-related disability, as well as get treatment through the VA.

Citizenship for Returning Servicemembers
A notable percentage of the military is currently composed of non-U.S. citizens. These Servicemembers have served their adopted country and deserve a streamlined route to citizenship.

The only soldier I had under my command who was not a US citizen deserted the unit just prior to deployment. I had his citizenship process halted, and he went to jail following courts-martial for desertion. Upon completion of his sentence, he will be deported back to the Dominican Republic. This one soldier does not represent the entire population. However, a streamlined citizenship process would have resulted in his citizenship much sooner, and he would have deserted as soon as he became a citizen.

As for returning soldiers, or even soldiers in theater, their citizenship process should be turned over to the military, and they should be granted citizenship, based on their performance while deployed and recommendations of their chain of command. They should still go through normal citizenship education requirements, which could be taught during their deployment.

Weak National Support Systems for Soldiers' Families
When National Guard and Reserve soldiers are deployed, their families need and deserve child care, counseling services, job placement, spiritual support and financial safeguards.

National Guard and Reserve soldiers should be treated exactly the same as Active component soldiers. They should gain no rights, nor privileges beyond that of an active-duty soldier. That being said, the military does not provide child care for active-duty deployed soldiers. Families requiring child care go through the same hurdles as most other Americans, and secure child care out-of-pocket.

The Army does provide counseling services (under TRIcare) for spouses and family members, and the soldiers can receive counseling through military mental health channels.

The Army does not offer job-placement for Soldiers departing active-duty, nor does it ever provide job-placement for family members. The Army does have a program called ACAP, which is the Army Career Alumni Program, which offers training in interviewing for a new job, and helps outgoing soldiers in building a résumé in "civilian" terms, as well as identifying military training and experiences and relating them to civilian employment. It does not place soldiers into jobs. Military bases sometimes host job fairs, in conjunction with ACAP training, and all military active-duty, National Guard, Reserve, and retired are welcome.

Spiritual support is provided through the Army Chaplain Corps for deploying and deployed soldiers, and spiritual support at home comes from whichever religion the soldier or their family chooses to follow. Army chaplains take great pride in deploying were ever other soldiers go, and have been present in every unit and on every deployment I’ve been on in the last 13 years.

Finally, the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act does not do enough to provide financial security for deployed soldiers. My personal belief is that all debts, public and private, should be suspended without interest, for the duration of the deployment. Further, soldiers suffering traumatic injury (or death) should be forgiven any debts owed prior to deployment. This way, any National Guard or Reserve soldier who deploys would not be faced with the hardships incurred by a potential loss in income. Any soldier who was seriously injured would not also be faced with repaying debts.

Stop Loss: A "Back-Door Draft"
Stop Loss is the involuntary extension of active duty status of soldiers beyond their contractual obligation. Stop Loss is essentially a "back-door draft"-- a band-aid solution that has now been implemented to provide additional troop strength. Stop Loss is destroying the very concept of our volunteer military, is terribly damaging to morale, and is yet another indication that the original plan for war was flawed.

Almost all enlistment contracts with the military, any branch of the military, are for a period of not less than eight years. Failure of any soldier to read their enlistment contract (or reenlistment contract) and to fully understand exactly what they're getting into when they sign that bottom-line is their own fault. Full disclosure by the military is given, and this requirement is clearly stated in the contract. I still have my initial enlistment contract from 1990, and it was clearly stated then just as it is now. Generally, soldiers that complain about the stop-loss are “sunshine patriots” who care more about themselves than this country. They claim to have "held up their end of the bargain" and accuse the military of reneging on their end. The fact of the matter is, they didn't understand what they were getting into when they enlisted, and now that they have to face the danger of war, the yellow streak on their back is showing.

As for soldiers who’ve participated in multiple tours in the war on terror, this is the first time in history that the military has tried unit rotation into theater and back. During Vietnam, individual replacement failed, and during Korea, individual return “points” programs failed. Both were extremely detrimental to morale, and both resulted in greater stress on the soldier. Prior to Korea, you went to war until you were either killed or maimed, or the war was over. Sure, multiple rotations seem unfair, and are definitely taxing, but at least you are home for some length of time in between. Incidentally, there were no policy-mandated “mid-tour” leaves during any other war in history.

All in all, this organization claims to lobby for Soldiers’ rights, but mostly what I find on their web site is pandering to “possibly” disgruntled soldiers, comments from (mostly) deployed National Guard and Reserve soldiers who are unhappy with military service. Some of those who posted comments are truly suffering from injury or illness caused by the war, and I definitely empathize and sympathize with them—I have walked many miles in their shoes already.

Yet this web site appears to be pushing its own agenda; one the casts blame on the government for “poorly treated” soldiers, strives to highlight inequality between services and components of the military, and definitely criticizes the current administration for its handling of the war. It falls under the category of those who protest against the war, and against the government, but claim to be for the soldier. I would not be surprised to find that these people were the same ones that protest outside of Walter Reed. They want to sell their agenda, and are willing to do it by hanging protest banners around the necks of the wounded and dead. They deride the Pentagon as some governmental agency, completely staffed by people without souls, ominous and foreboding; and describe its decisions as placing the needs and lives of soldiers at the absolute bottom in their decision-making criteria.

I've had the pleasure, along with hundreds of other wounded soldiers, of visiting the Pentagon. As we toured the outside ring of the building, people were lined up on both sides of the hallway, four and five ranks deep. Their applause and cheering began as we entered the building (greeted by the Secretary of Defense and his wife) and continued throughout the entire tour, around all five sides. We were taken to a part of the building, consecrated in the memory of those awarded Medal of Honor, and then shown the very spot where the third plane crashed on September 11, 2001. We looked at the wall and down the corridor where so many lost their lives that day. We were welcomed as returning heroes.

Towards the end of the visit, a lady came up to me and asked me if she could give me a hug (of course I said yes). She worked at the Pentagon, and lost her husband in Iraq on Memorial Day. And here she was, thanking Me and Carren for our sacrifices. I've never been more touched or more moved in my life. Yet, for an organization which alleges to support soldiers, especially wounded soldiers, I've never heard of them or seen them at Walter Reed.

Many soldiers do feel that Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) has been outshined by Operation Iraqi Freedom. They believe that OIF has taken resources and support away from OEF, and that OEF is quickly becoming a “forgotten war.” I believe that eventually, all soldiers are forgotten by their country. That is why after every major conflict, the military is gutted, soldiers and equipment are "gotten rid of." The country focuses on commerce and industry, and the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform are relegated to history books, VFW halls, and politicians who wrap themselves in the flag and polish their medals (earned or not) during elections. Knowing this, and still choosing service, and considering it an honor, either makes me a fool, a hero, or true patriot.

In the minds of many Americans, Iraq is very much in the forefront and Afghanistan isn’t thought about very much. I honestly believe that is partly due to the main stream media’s continuing to report on the violence and casualties in Iraq; and partly due to editorial prejudice and liberal agenda. OEF is relatively successful, and casualties (comparatively) low. This supports the President’s goals on the war on terrorism, and is positive news. Blood and violence attract readers/viewers, and the terrorist activity and casualty rate in Iraq feed the insatiable ratings monster better, and help to turn public opinion against the President. Reporting on Iraq “in depth” and not Afghanistan at all, shows only one side of the story, no matter how balanced the report.

Operation Truth—Indeed.


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