For many military families, the release this month in a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence determining that intelligence activities leading up to the occupation of Iraq were deliberately distorted, is not a revelation. The reportâ€™s conclusions, that the administration knew claims of weapons of mass destruction, ties to al Qaeda and confirmations of 9/11 hijackers to Iraq were false or not supported by intelligence were no surprise. The real surprise is that the media have not covered the report, or as Bill Moyers said, â€œâ€¦ the media have failed to tell the people what they need to knowâ€.
Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D- W. VA who originally voted to go to war, declared the handling of pre-war intelligence as an â€â€¦ absolute cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion..â€. This cynical manipulation caused Rep Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, to file 35 articles of impeachment in the House. The House vote passed 251 to 166 to impeach and was moved on to the judiciary committee where it is likely to stay untouched.
Today, I look at my son, Johnâ€™s medical disability evaluation after serving two tours in Iraq in the Marine Corp and see words like chronic, severe, major depressive and recurrent. A young life coldly and clinically assessed and summed up in thirty pages and permanently disabled by cynical manipulation.
John enlisted in the Marine Corp two weeks before 9/11 and my heart sank that morning as I realized we would likely go to war. Like so many young men he was swept up with a wave of patriotism fueled by youthful testosterone, repeated images of the towers falling and the cynical manipulations of men who never fought in a war. He couldnâ€™t wait to fight for his country.
Despite test scores that allowed him to choose any MOS, John chose infantry. To his motherâ€™s dismay, he chose to be a Marine assaultman with an eleven second combat life expectancy. He would proudly die defending his country if he had to.
While I have been critical of the occupation of Iraq from the beginning, it was not until Johnâ€™s second tour that I learned how poorly the leadership was prosecuting the war and the added risk this placed our troops under. A new, Rumsfeldian, lighter, faster, deadlier, Pentagon doctrine was sold to the public right along with the non existent yellow cake uranium and the non existent ties to al Qaeda with devastating effect on our warriors.
A good friend lost his oldest son, Alex during the siege on Fallujah. For three days, Alex, a squad leader, called for reinforcements and more ammunition for he and his men but there was no manpower to spare, not even to deliver more rounds. Alex survived three hours after firing his last round until unable to defend himself he was shot and killed.
In Ramadi, firefights were almost a daily occurrence for John and the rest of Weapons Platoon. Most firefights last only a few minutes, John says, â€œâ€¦you find each other, move forward and step into another one.â€ However, also undermanned in Ramadi, Weapons Platoon sometimes operated with as little as six hours sleep in three days and it was one of these periods that saw one of their longest firefights.
Normally, the Marines would rely heavily on air support but this was often not the case in Iraq. Exhausted and taking fire from all around the Marines called for air support and fought for 90 minutes on the ground under heavy fire. Finally, after suffering more casualties they gave up on air support and at significant added risk took out the targets with shoulder mounted rockets.
Insufficient manpower forced wounded Marines back into combat sooner than recommended by medical personnel. John was lucky enough to survive five full hits by IEDs in his hummer only to be sent right back out again despite evidence of concussion. Soldiers are experiencing six to twenty five bomb blasts during their tours of duty and TBI (traumatic brain injury) affects tens of thousands of our troops.
John and his battle buddies were put at unnecessary additional risk due to mismanagement of the war. Chronic sleep deprivation is implicated in the high percentage of Weapons Platoon suffering from severe and debilitating post traumatic stress disorder and everyone suffers from mild, moderate or severe TBI.
Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, calculates the cost of the Iraq war at three trillion dollars. Included in these calculations are the future costs to communities and military families of taking care of wounded veterans. Military families are hit the hardest often giving up jobs and income to care for their loved ones.
It has been brought to my attention that some of our civic leaders are encouraging our local youth to enlist in the military. The military can be a fine and honorable career choice but I wonder if the future cost to the community has been taken into full consideration.
Local civic leaders never attempted to speak to my son, not even to thank him for his service but if they had he might have told them that the transition from Department of Defense to the VA is not seamless. Winding through the process can take months and the burden for entering the VA system falls entirely upon the veteran. During the lengthy and complicated application period the costs of care for that veteran are borne by the family and not reimbursed.
John might have shared that GI benefits do not come close to covering the cost of a quality education as they did after World War II. Presidential candidate John McCain discouraged a bill to improve GI benefits and President George Bush threatened a veto of that bill, fearing its enactment would adversely affect retention or re-enlistment.
Today active duty and retired military are committing suicide at a rate of 120 per week. In what can only be described as a national disgrace, one in four of Americaâ€™s homeless population served their country, only to fall through the cracks of bureaucratic paperwork and end up living on the streets. Not included in official DoD casualty lists are the thousands of soldiers afflicted with service related diseases like leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal disease transmitted by sandflies.
These are details we need to know. These are facts our youth need to know before enlisting in the military. These are facts our civic leaders need to know to plan for our future.
What military families learned from the under reported SSCIR is that our loved ones did not sacrifice life, limb and sanity fighting for their county. Instead they were and are fighting for their government and the distinction between country and government is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. Our loved ones are fighting for a government whose foreign policy mission has brought about a $100 per barrel increase in the price of oil since the war began.
The SSCIR is a confirmation of a gross betrayal of public trust and a cynical manipulation of the passionate patriotism of our youth. It reveals a criminal misuse of our greatest resource, our children. The young man John might have been is gone, lost to the flawed mission and cynical manipulations of men who, in the words of retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, â€œâ€¦never had to execute these missions â€” or bury the results.â€