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I’m Just Not The Same Person I Was Before Iraq

“I’m Just Not The Same Person I Was Before Iraq”


Interview with Spc. Michael Harmon, OIF Vet and Combat Medic
12/18/05
Coalition For Free Thought In Media

“I don’t see any solution for my PTSD. As of right now I can’t see any end to it. I don’t have anything now, because the medical benefits ran out 90 days after my discharge. As of right now I have no medical benefits, nothing I can use for counseling. I’m hoping that if I get into the VA I’ll be able to start really dealing with it. Like I said, as of right now I don’t see an end to it; it will be a lifetime of problems if it is not addressed. I don’t see any solution being offered to me to help put an end to it.”

Interview conducted by Jay Shaft - Editor and Lead Investigative Reporter for Coalition For Free Thought In Media

This interview was conducted on Monday, November 30th, 2005. This was the day Bush gave his speech at Annapolis Naval Academy and presented the 35-page white paper “National Strategy for Victory In Iraq”. Over the last two weeks I have been in contact with Michael to get his general thoughts and to follow-up on some additional questions.

I would like to introduce America to Specialist Michael Harmon. Michael served as a combat medic with the 4th Infantry Division in the initial year after the invasion of Iraq. Michael is suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a host of secondary problems related to the PTSD.

Michael has experienced extreme difficulty getting treatment and access to medical and disability benefits that he is supposed to be entitled to as a veteran of combat in a foreign country.

As of 12/18/05 he does not qualify to receive any medical treatment or counseling from the VA. He has been going through hell trying to get treated or be recognized as actually having PTSD. He has a story that every American needs to hear to fully understand what our soldiers go through, both in Iraq, and when they come back home.

All over the country there are newly returned veterans who are experiencing lengthy treatment delays. Many veterans are being denied much needed benefits and medical treatment. This is just one soldier's story from among the thousands that are very similar to his.

For background of some of the things Michael refers to in the interview see:
President Outlines Strategy for Victory in Iraq
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/11/20051130-2.html
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (full 35-page text)

The following document articulates the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003 and provides an update on our progress as well as the challenges remaining.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/iraq_strategy_nov2005.html

Bush Offers 'Strategy for Victory' in Iraq

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-113005bush_lat,0,2546981.story?page=2&coll=la-home-headlines

In an address short on details and long on the sort of language that stirs emotions, Bush said: "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins, so long as I am your commander in chief. America will not abandon Iraq," he said. "There will be tough days ahead. A time of war is a time of sacrifice," he stated. But, he said, the only way to honor the Americans who have fought and died in Iraq is to "take up their mantle, carry on their fight, and complete their mission." He pledged to remain in Iraq as long as it takes to achieve his goals, while redefining what it would take to reach a moment of "victory."

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Interviewer-What is your name? What unit were you with over in Iraq?

MH-Specialist Michael Harmon, 4th Infantry Division, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment.

This is the unit he served with as a combat medic.

1st Battalion/67th Armored Regiment- 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Ft. Hood, Texas

Interviewer-When did you deploy to Iraq?

MH-I left from Kuwait on April 3rd 2003.

Interviewer-So you were in the initial ground invasion?

MH-That is correct. I was in the initial ground invasion right behind 3rd Infantry Division.

Interviewer-Were you injured in Iraq?

MH-No, I wasn’t.

Interviewer-You are suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and problems related to that, correct?

MH-Yeah, I am. Yes, I am having some serious problems with it right now.

Interviewer-Let me ask you something right away before I get to other issues. Are you getting the proper treatment or care from the VA?

MH-Uh, no, I haven’t. Actually I was on the phone with the VA two days ago and they put me through channels to go through my Senator and Congressman. They gave me all this other run around; just to get into the VA hospital which is right near my house. I’m in Brooklyn right near Ft. Hamilton.

Interviewer-When you went to Iraq, what type of job were you doing?

MH-I was a 91-Whiskey, which is a combat medic, like an EMT.

Interviewer-So you were seeing a lot of the casualties right on the front lines?

MH-Yes, I was with a tank battalion and it was all guys. We were on the front lines in Al-Rashidi, Iraq, about 10 miles north of downtown Baghdad. We were based at Camp Thunder.

Interviewer-That was an area of high insurgency wasn’t it?

MH-Correct, yes, it was.

Interviewer-Do you think you had adequate training to go to Iraq, even with active duty service?

MH-From AIT (Advanced Individual Training- the school where a soldier learns their military specialty) I did. Once I got to my duty station with 1-67 at Ft. Hood it was very lackadaisical. We just went over the same kind of stuff that an EMT in the civilian perspective would do. We didn’t do a lot from a combat perspective.

I would say no to that question. No, we couldn’t have known what to even train for. But it would have been nice to get some more battlefield trauma training and do some actual combat specific medical training

Interviewer-So you weren’t really prepared for the combat injuries you were seeing in Iraq?

MH-No, not the ones suffering from shock. We weren’t ready for that. We also weren’t ready for the amount of injuries that we saw from bullet wounds and explosions. The little things like shrapnel and minor burns, yeah. But the major bullet wounds and trauma, no, we weren’t ready for that.

Interviewer-Were you prepared for what you saw and experienced when you got to Iraq? How did it affect you?

MH-Absolutely not! I was not prepared for it!

What affected me the most was when other guys were hurt bad and screaming ‘I wanna see my kids! I wanna see my wife!’ I was especially affected when little children were hurt and helpless. When a little nine year-old boy was shot in the head, stuff like that.

You feel helpless; you can’t do anything about it! It affected me pretty badly. I was depressed all the time.

Interviewer-Do you think you were able to adapt to it as time went on?

MH-I wouldn’t say adapt; I would say I blocked it out.

Interviewer-A kind of just screw it and drive on situation?

MH-Like F.I.D.O. (F..k it and drive on) you mean?

Interviewer-Yes, that is exactly what I mean. I hear it in so many interviews now. Was that kind of the situation with you after awhile?

MH-Right! Right! That is correct!

Interviewer-How many civilians did you see that were killed or injured? How did that affect you?

MH-I would say it was in the upper teens. Like I said, the injured kids hurt the worst, when you can’t do anything. A little girl was shot in the leg; a nine year-old boy was shot in the leg because of an accidental discharge that the Army never investigated.

You know, the older men that were injured, I guess you could deal with it. The kids though, uh, it’s just terrible, it’s terrible. Like I said, it made me depressed all the time to see these kids. It just kids driving in their daddy’s car getting shot by crossfire, things like that.

Interviewer-Do you think that affected you more than seeing soldiers get killed?

MH-Yes! Absolutely! Most definitely!

Interviewer-How many soldiers did you see get killed, or know about from other units around you?

MH-I saw two for myself, and, uh, I knew of about eight. One of them was actually a good friend of mine, an E-5. I didn’t see it, but my fellow medics were on the scene. He was from my hometown, in Queens, NY.

Interviewer-How many soldiers did you see get wounded, being a medic?

MH-Uh, 20, maybe 25.

Interviewer-You were seeing the soldiers get killed or hurt right there in front of you. How did that affect you on a short term and long term basis?

MH-In the short term, it was like I said; I blocked it out and was putting it off. Once you see the first couple of injuries with the heads blown off and things like that, you kind of block it out.

Once I got back to the States, that’s when I developed the PTSD, the severe depression, dreams and waking up screaming a night. It was kind of haunting when it started happening to me!

Interviewer-So it did have a traumatic affect on you in the overall perspective of it?

MH-Uh, yes, to this day, right now to this day. Yes!

Interviewer-When you saw them killed and hurt you said you didn’t get used to it. What were some of the methods you used just too kind of forget about it at the time?

MH-Well, at the time we were being fed some propaganda and patriotic duty stuff. Uh, it was being said that there were WMDs and things like that. I figured we were fighting for a cause, so it was kind of like we were there for a real good reason.

Then after a while it just was, uh, you just get numb to it all. I can’t explain how I got over it; I mean I can’t really describe it. I talked with two other medics at my base. So I guess we had sort of a debriefing session or whatever to let it out.

Interviewer-How do you think the combat and the stress affected your ability to perform your duty?

MH-Uh, it affected it a lot. Because you’re always on edge, you’re always alert. For the medic duties, I was good. Everything else, I was kind of on edge and always turning my head looking for danger or threats. It would just make you crazy.

Interviewer-Do you think you were performing at a diminished capacity after a while?

MH-Yes, oh yes! Yeah, I would say that after a while my medic duties were fine, but my overall ability to perform other duties was greatly diminished.

Interviewer-Overall, what was the general unit morale after a while?

MH-Uh, it was severely down. Like I said, we were in the first invasion force. Our colonel stood in front of battalion formation and said, ‘Oh, it’s only for 90-120 days.’ Then it was like six months, then it was nine months, then it was a whole year. It was just like, when is the end?

You know, you give these troops hope, and then you just shoot it down. So it was real, real low. I think even in the beginning it was low because of the mail situation and everything.

Interviewer-Go into that, because you told me about it briefly the other day. You weren’t getting mail and equipment up to the front lines?

MH-No, we weren’t. We deployed in April and I didn’t receive steady mail until about August. I have a close-knit family, so they were sending me letters and care packages pretty much on a daily basis.

So that’s a pretty big gap there where we were not receiving any mail from the home front. You know, it’s just hard when you know the support was supposed to be there and it never reached us.

Interviewer-At that time Bush, the Pentagon and all the Generals were making statements in the media that morale was great and everybody was happy to be in Iraq. Was that true for your unit? Or not true, based on what you experienced?

MH-My unit was stationed at a blown out hospital. Out of about 400 guys, I would say that at least 350 of us were not happy about being there; not at all happy, no way, not by that time!

That whole thing about high morale was a complete lie! That was completely false; no way did I see it where I was! I don’t know where Bush was getting his figures. He never talked to us on the front lines; I know that he never asked me about my morale!

Interviewer-Did you have the proper armor on your Humvees and vehicles to be able to safely perform and complete the mission? Were you lacking any equipment or armor that you needed to be able to properly conduct daily operations?

MH-The unit was definitely lacking. I was one of the lucky ones; because I was the medic, and I was always with the Captain or Lieutenant. Because if I got hurt, then obviously I couldn’t help anyone else. So I was always, pretty much 90% of the time, riding in an armored Humvee.

The other guys were in cargo Humvees with plastic doors and nothing, nothing at all, no armor. Those are the Humvees with the two seats up front and the cargo hold in the back with two benches to seat soldiers. Those are the ones we had the most of that would still roll and were drivable. They didn’t have any supplemental armor to the cab, or anything to protect the guys inside the back. Nothing between them and whatever was coming at them.

They were extremely vulnerable to any kind of attack; even small arms fire would go right through the vehicles most of the time. If they got hit with an IED or RPG they were done for. They were gonna get really messed up or killed if they had that happen.

(NOTE: A rocket-propelled grenade is the portable anti-vehicle weapon of choice for insurgents to attack moving vehicles and convoys:
RPG-7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RPG-7
Rocket Propelled Grenade http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_propelled_grenade )

(NOTE: This is the type of vehicle Michael is referring to:
High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) (M998 Truck) Series: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/m998.htm
Picture of the 998 series: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/m998_color.jpg)

Interviewer-It was common in the early days after the invasion for the troops not to have the newer up- armored Humvees. Many units do not have any or don’t have enough to operate safely right up to this day.

From what you saw, did a lot of the casualties come from the under equipped or inadequately armored Humvees and vehicles?

MH- Yeah, yeah! Actually the first one I ever went to was in an old Humvee. It was the second week of April, about two weeks after we got there. It was a scout vehicle, a bunch of scouts out on patrol. They got shot with an RPG and it hit the Javelin system on top, and it went off inside. Since the vehicle wasn’t armored and there wasn’t a hatch on top it messed them up real bad. The explosion came back into the vehicle and just shredded the guys inside.

(Note: This is the missile Michael is talking about that was hit by an RPG:
Javelin Antitank Missile: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/javelin.htm
Picture of a Humvee equipped with a Javelin anti-tank system: http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/hmmwv-dvic368.jpg)

It was bad, real bad! It was really bloody, a real nasty scene!

We had to call in the birds because they needed immediate, urgent hospital care. There was nothing we could do on the scene, nothing that would work. Every bandage that I put on slipped off, nothing would stay on. There was heavy, profusely heavy bleeding and I couldn’t stop it.

We had to get them to a MASH unit immediately. They would have died right there if we hadn’t got them airlifted out.

Interviewer-Okay, that brings up something I heard from other medics and soldiers who treated bad injuries. What is a 9 Line medevac call?

MH-A 9 Line medevac is when you give them the ground situation when you call in the helicopters. There are nine lines you give them. You would tell them where you are, what kind of environment it is, how many are injured and what type of injuries they are, what the ground risks are, like hostile fire and things like that.

Then you would set up a landing zone and bring them in to pick up the casualties.

(9 Line MEDEVAC Request: http://www.armystudyguide.com/content/army_board_study_guide_topics/First_Aid/9-line-medevac-request.shtml)

Interviewer-I talked to another medic who said they had called for a medevac and they couldn’t come in because it was too dangerous. He told me they had to make a 20-mile run to the CASH (Combat Support Hospital) with a soldier almost bleeding to death in the back of a Humvee.

MH-Yeah, I had the same exact thing happen! They said the area was not safe enough for the birds to land.

Mine was not 20 miles, more like five or ten miles that we had to run to the hospital. I had the guy slouched in the back of the Humvee all the way to the hospital.

He got run over by one of our tanks when he pulled over to the side of the road to let it pass. The edge of the tank hit him and drove the truck engine right back into the driver’s hatch. They found out later that he couldn’t drive at night.

I kept him alive on the way to a little field hospital that was set up. He almost died; he was really critical the whole way. I found out later he did die, that they lost him when they tried to transfer him to a hospital down in Baghdad. He was just too badly injured to make it.

Interviewer-What were the medical conditions like in the field when you first got over there?

MH-Filthy, absolutely filthy. We were burning feces because it’s the only way to get rid of it. We had no running water, no decent sanitary facilities or anything. It was filthy and we didn’t have any type of sanitary supplies. They didn’t give out any soap, hand towels or baby wipes. They didn’t give us anything that we could clean up with.

Interviewer-So basically you were at the most primitive field conditions imaginable, and you were just struggling to get through the best you could?

MH-Absolutely! Hygiene was a big issue like I said. The feces and the urine, stuff like that. I was the sanitary guy for my unit and I brought it up to a Captain. I told him this was very unhealthy and not sanitary at all.

He just told me to suck it up and drive on; he said to shut up, because it would be all right. He told me suck it up and just deal with it. So what could I do, I was just a PFC at the time. You can’t order a Captain to do anything,, you can just advise him and that’s it.

Interviewer-Did the commanders in the rear ignore a lot of complaints from the front line soldiers? I have heard from many soldiers who say that their complaints about very real and dangerous problems were ignored or not properly responded too.

Did you see that happening with situations that needed to be addressed, but which were basically ignored by the higher ups in the rear?

MH-Yeah, oh yeah, all the time! The commanders at Baquba and in Baghdad were basically ignoring the field commanders and NCOs. They just didn’t seem to care about us at all. They were pretty much living the glamour life with great food and the PX, all the stuff we didn’t get.

The front line soldiers were getting dumped on all the time. We got watered down nasty food and had to just suck up all the crap and get on with it. They didn’t really seem to care about how we had it.

Interviewer-Did you report symptoms of combat stress while you were in Iraq?

MH-Yes, I did report it, but I did it confidentially. I was afraid they would take me out of my medic position. That was the only thing I was actually enjoying about Iraq. I liked being able to help the other soldiers out in the medical aspect. You know, I enjoyed being called Doc and stuff like that. It made me feel good to know they relied on me to help them.

So, yes I reported it confidentially. We had one debriefing about it where a Captain came in and did a little Power Point presentation. That was it, the only time it ever came up.

So, yes I reported it confidentially. I told the Captain that I was kind of having a problem with all the injuries happening over and over again. You know, it gets to you after you see it keep happening. It gets real old after a while; it just gets old.

Interviewer-Did they offer you help or counseling?

MH-Well, they said to check back with them for follow up. But it was one of those kinds of false things they always said. Like one of those yeah, we’ll get back to you when we can kind of situations. They never followed up at all. They just kind of pushed it aside and never did a thing!

Interviewer-Did you see anybody else that was having problems with getting help? Did you see any negative treatment of the guys who asked for help?

MH-Uh, yeah I did. They tried to sweep it under the rug when it happened. One of the soldiers, a young guy, was loading an M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon- the 5.56mm light machine gun used for squad and platoon fire support) and it went off and shot this nine year old kid in the head. The kid was just standing there on the side of the road.

Of course, the guy that shot him had a lot of guilt. It is natural to feel guilty after something like that; it was really bad. They just tried to sweep it underneath the rug. They transferred him to another duty station and that’s the last we heard of him.

Interviewer-That’s what I was trying to get at with that question. So you did see a lot of negative attitudes from the commanders after someone reported combat stress or other problems like that?

MH-Yeah, right! They tried to sweep it under the rug and say it was just an isolated event when it happened. But it really wasn’t, it happened a lot. I saw it all around me and a lot of guys were holding it inside and not telling anyone.

After we saw this kid get transferred it really put the chill on us. None of us would say anything; we all kept our mouths shut. It stopped us cold, that’s for sure!

Interviewer-I have heard it from a lot of soldiers I speak to. They tell me there was a general state of fear in regards to reporting combat stress or asking for help with other coping problems. I have heard it over and over about how they were afraid of getting transferred or put on combat patrols, convoys, or high-risk security details and other hazardous duties.

MH-That is correct! I would vouch for that. I can tell you all about it; I saw it and heard of it all the time.

Interviewer-Were you offered any resources or information about PTSD treatment or stress counseling while you were coming back or when you got home from Iraq? Did they discuss PTSD and the available treatment and help?

MH-While we were in Iraq it was just that one time I told you about. We were supposed to be able to go to Baquba, but we could never get there. There was always some excuse when we actually tried to get a ride down there. It was always just another excuse and run around. Nobody ever got to actually go and get help at the Combat Stress Clinic. We just got a bunch of excuses why they couldn’t get us there.

When we got home we had days filled with these generalization style classes. I had to go to a debriefing about how not to beat my wife and kids. It did me no good because I didn’t even have either one. I told them I needed something besides that but they told me I had to go to those classes.

I told them I needed help dealing with the injuries and having bad dreams. Nothing happened for that, but they still made me go to all these generalized classes and debriefings. It was yet another bunch of worthless power point presentations in a big auditorium. That’s it, that’s all they did!

Interviewer-That doesn’t sound like a real through follow-up for the guys having any stress or readjustment problems. I thought they were supposed to have an in-depth decompression and evaluation period after you came home.

MH-I told them specifically that I was having problems with nightmares and waking up at night. I would go down in a prone position if I heard a noise or something startled me. One night something fell off my bed, and I was face first under the bed before I could think about it.

You know, that’s natural after you’ve been on edge for a year. But it seemed like every one was ignoring the stress or coping problems because they were so happy to be home. They didn’t want to know abut any problems or bring them up.

It seemed like the leadership was actually ignoring any problems that were reported. They just didn’t seem to care about the little guys.

Interviewer-How many soldiers did you see in Iraq, or when you came home, who were suffering from some type of PTSD, combat stress, or coping problems and other related issues?

MH-I would say about 20% of my unit. A lot of them were the same kind of symptoms that I was. They were having nightmares, the sweats; sometimes they would have a nervous twitch. I had a twitch, like my hands would shake for no reason.

There was on Sergeant I was close to, an E-5, who had these really bad shakes. It looked like Parkinson’s it was so bad. It was just from the stress and pressure of Iraq that was causing these massive twitchings and shakings.

They just discharged him with no counseling or help. They just got rid of him by giving him a quick discharge and release. I don’t think he ever got offered any help, just a boot out the door.

Interviewer-After you came home, how long did you serve before you were discharged from active duty?

MH-I served for another year.

Interviewer-Did they ever mention any deployment back to Iraq?

MH-Uh, yes, I actually keep in contact with some guys, and my old unit is going back to Iraq in two weeks

Interviewer-Have you been in contact with anyone who is deploying back to Iraq? Have you been in contact with anyone from your old unit, or anyone else that is on the redeployment orders?

MH-Uh, yes, I have and still am. I am in contact with a few guys in my old unit and some in 4th ID. I don’t want to go into too many details because I don’t want to get any guys in trouble. But the answer is yes, I do keep in contact with quite a few people who are active, both with the 4th ID and some other units that are going back.

Interviewer-How do they feel about being deployed to Iraq for a second or third time?

MH-They’re felling dreadful, very dreadful. They’re really dreading it; they are really scared to go back. They’re trying to do anything to get out right now. I know some guys who filed for Conscientious Objector status so they wouldn’t have to go back. They didn’t want to have to do it again; they were really opposed to it.

They got turned down completely; nothing was ever done to get them processed under CO status. They (the Army) told them “Hey, you went the first time so you can’t go under that status now.” They don’t want to go and legally they should have been able to get out under a CO status discharge.

They couldn’t get anyone to accept the paperwork, from what I understand. There was no one they could officially submit it too. From what I heard, there was no officer to investigate the case for objector status they were trying to make.

I just know that they tried to get out under an objection to carrying a gun and going into combat. Well, guess what? They are still going back to Iraq in about two weeks. They really might get a lot of crap from the other soldiers over it if the unit finds out.

They are going to be complete outcasts for the whole year in Iraq if it gets out! They are sure to get some kind of sh.t duty over it; I think that’s a real possibility. The commanders will most likely pull them for the most hazardous duties and make them do more patrols or scout missions. You can bet that somehow they are going to have it much worse than the other guys.

Interviewer-The statements in the press made by the Bush administration are that these soldiers are happy to be going back for more duty in Iraq. Bush just said it today in his speech at Annapolis Naval Academy. He said that the soldiers were proud and happy to be called upon to finish the mission they had started.

Is that the exact opposite of what you heard from soldiers going back? In your opinion, would that be a false statement that Bush made?

MH-It’s completely false! It’s absolutely B.S.! I would say 70% of the guys in my old unit don’t want to go back. Like I said, I talk to some of the guys going back, and they say it’s about 70% who are opposed to it. I’d say that only 30% of them want to go back, or they feel that they have to.

I will stand by the fact that at least 70% of the guys in 4th ID would not go back if they actually had a say in it. If they had the choice I guarantee that they wouldn’t choose to go back. Just talk to the families and you’ll see that a lot of them are telling their families they don’t want to go.

Give a guy a chance to talk about it privately and see how many of them really don’t want to go. The whole thing about being happy to go back is such bull. It’s stupid to think that a guy with a family would want to go back second or third time.

No, there’s no truth to what Bush said today; no way is it true for the majority of the soldiers. Come on, would you want to go back to Iraq if you had already done a year or more over there? I mean the people have got to ask themselves that. It is so hard not to see the truth if you really look at it; it’s not hard to see if you really want to see it.

Interviewer-Can they call you back for duty? Can you still be deployed?

MH-Uh, no, I’m done. I had alcohol problems related to the PTSD. They gave me a general discharge under honorable conditions. I am banned from military service for two years.

Interviewer-Go into some of the problems you are still having. What’s going on in your day-to-day life right now?

MH-I have symptoms of depression and just not being myself. I was always a happy go lucky type of guy before Iraq. I’m just not that guy anymore. I’m just not the same person that I was before. It’s hard to really explain.

My day-to-day life, it just drags on. It’s just a nightmare, day after day now, there’s just no level playing field. I don’t have anything to look forward to. I don’t have the ambition I used to have. It’s just bad! It’s real bad right now!

Interviewer-Was the alcohol problem directly related to the PTSD?

MH-Absolutely! The alcohol problem started as soon as I came back. When I came home I was reliant on it. As soon as I would come home from work I would be pouring the Crown Royal into the glass.

Interviewer-How long do you think it’s going to take to clear this up? Do you think it’s going to be a lifelong thing with the PTSD and related issues?

MH-You know, I’m hoping it’s soon. As of right now I don’t see any solution for my PTSD. I’m trying to get any kind of help I can. I don’t have anything now, because the medical benefits ran out 90 days after my discharge. As of right now I have no medical benefits, nothing I can use for counseling. I’m just trying to get into the VA to go to counseling and stuff.

I’m just hoping it’s soon. I’m hoping I don’t have to go any longer without treatment. As of right now I can’t see any end to it. I’m hoping that if I get into the VA I’ll be able to start really dealing with it.

Like I said, as of right now I don’t see an end to it; it will be a lifetime of problems if it is not addressed. I don’t see any solution being offered to me to help put an end to it.

Interviewer-So you don’t qualify for VA benefits at all?

MH-No, I don’t, because of the type of discharge I received.

Interviewer-So you’ve been denied some necessary and much needed treatment because of the nature of your discharge?

MH-Yes! Yes! Even though I honorably served in the war and I’m well decorated. They don’t want to hear it! They just don’t even want to listen to it when I tell them! So I don’t get anything from them! I lost my GI Bill and my VA loan, and everything else I should be entitled to. I lost all my other benefits with that discharge.

The thing that I’m so upset about is that I brought the alcohol problem to the attention of my leadership. It took me having a fight with a girlfriend for them to kind of wake up. I brought it to them twice and they didn’t do anything about it.

They always gave me excuses and didn’t really pay attention. It was just kind of ignored; until it got bad enough where they had to deal with it. It got ignored until it became so out of hand that they had to discharge me.

Interviewer-How do you feel about the war now that all this has happened to you?

MH-Very anti-war! Very much anti! I want to be outspoken now. I want to let people know the truth. That’s why I’m doing this interview. I’m hoping it spreads the truth around for people to see.

People are just deluded by the government. Whatever the government says, the American people believe it. That’s actually how it should be in normal situations, but this government under the Bush leadership is lying. They’re lying about everything to do with the war!

I just want to let people know what’s really going on. Just look at how much they lie about the treatment of our soldiers. There are uncountable numbers of vets out there getting screwed after they come home! That’s just one example of all the lies being put out!

Interviewer-How did you feel about the government before you went to Iraq?

MH-I was all for it! In 2000 I voted for Bush because I thought he was going to be an all right President. Then as time went on I saw the reality of what was going on. I sure didn’t vote for him this time in 2004, no way!

Before Iraq and all I was fine with the government, I had no problems. I am a New Yorker and after 9/11 happened I joined the Army. 9/11 was a big part of why I joined. Because of being from New York City and seeing 9/11 I was ready to go and fight and serve my country.

Interviewer-How did you feel when you had done your duty in Iraq and then found out there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction?

MH-Horrible, just horrible. Let me tell you, it wasn’t even after I came back when I found out there wasn’t any. In the first month we pretty much figured it out. We went over there with gas masks and chemical protective gear. One of the Colonels came down from 2nd Brigade, 4th ID and told us it was very likely there were no WMDs.

They told us to pack our protective gear away. That was in the very first month, around late April or the first part of May. That’s what got me because I’m not a stupid guy. I got this feeling that it was fishy. Like, hey, you guys knew that already, and now that we’re here you’re just going to sweep it under the rug? I really had to think about it and realize they used the WMDs to invade Iraq.

I thought to myself: Hey, now that we’re here and we’ve used an excuse to invade, the whole thing is just going to be hidden and covered up? Come on, I just couldn’t get over it; I knew they had used the WMDs for a real good excuse to get us into Iraq.

I had a feeling that we would be pretending to look for stuff just to keep up the illusion of a justified invasion. Pretty much that’s exactly what happened!

Interviewer-So you were disillusioned from almost the beginning of your tour?

MH-Exactly! This is kind of what started me thinking about it and changing my mind. I’m not a stupid guy and I’m not calling anyone else stupid. But you’ve got to think things through and it’s not that hard to figure out if you just stop and think it over.

I took some time and gave it serious thought and did my own investigations into the stuff I had found out. It didn’t add up for me; I’m a street-smart guy and it just didn’t make any sense.

Interviewer-As time went on did you see the attitudes of the really gung-ho guys starting to change? Were some of them even becoming disillusioned and frustrated with the whole thing?

MH-Absolutely! Absolutely, yes it did! I would say by the ninth month of deployment, the guys like me who were against it outnumbered the gung-ho guys.

Yeah! I think about 80% of us were really pissed off and frustrated with everything going on. By the ninth month the gung-ho guys were outnumbered at least two to one. There were some that held on to their beliefs even harder after they saw the truth; they kind of locked down and were even worse with not wanting to think things through.

I even had some of the most hard core guys come and tell me they were doing a complete 180 on the whole thing. It really changed for a lot of them; their attitudes really went through a serious readjustment and they ended up bitter and upset when it occurred.

Interviewer-Well, that seems to discredit the media myth that everybody is in favor of being in Iraq. I keep hearing it over and over again about how the soldiers who don’t want to go or be over there are a small minority. I just watched a program after the speech with that exact statement…

(At this point Michael broke in and had to say a few things about this. He was extremely upset and wanted to get some thing settled based on what he has experienced.)

MH-Hey, wait! Not to cut you off, but this is something I need to clear up. This media myth that keeps going on is such a big lie! It’s just such a big lie and total fabrication!

Do the American people really think that after three deployments the morale would be up? Do they really think that all these units have such a high morale? Come on; let’s use some common sense here!

This is some of the 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Infantry Divisions third deployment away from their families. There are almost a hundred thousand other soldiers who are now going over for at least a second deployment, and some guys have been deployed four or five times since 9/11.

They are leaving their families yet another time and going off to risk their lives again. You think their morale is going to be up? You think they’re happy and that they’re fine with this?

Absolutely not! NO WAY! It’s not even possible to think it would be all glory and happiness! How can anyone even think it would be that way? I mean, think about the whole picture here!

They have already gone and risked their lives, put them on the line and come home to their families safely at least once. They have already been through hell and then had to get used to being back home. Think about all the guys that had problems getting settled back into their old lives.

Now you’re going to ask them to do it again? What is wrong with this picture? I mean is it really sinking in for these people? Do they even think it all the way through? I don’t know man; I just don’t know why people don’t think about it. I get so frustrated seeing all these media lies and outright propaganda.

Interviewer-Hold on for a minute. What do you mean by propaganda?

MH-I mean, if it’s a lie isn’t that propaganda? Isn’t it propaganda if they’re not telling you the real details, like they are dong right now, it happened today during the speech and all, it was right out of Bush’s mouth. It’s happening every day where they don’t tell you the whole truth and give you only the facts that they want to fit the message.

Isn’t that publicly lying and officially promoting propaganda? Like I said, it’s not just the media, it’s also the government, and in fact it is mainly the government. It’s because the media reports on what they are told by the government, which controls most of the news and info coming out of Iraq. So it goes right back to the government manipulating and controlling the information in the media. That’s propaganda and lies in my mind!

Sorry I cut you off there, but I had to try and get that stuff addressed properly.

Interviewer-No, it’s okay. I was going to ask you some questions about your thoughts about that very subject. I have been in contact with a lot of soldiers who are either going back to Iraq or have already left.

Almost every one of them was scared that they were going to die or be injured this time, if they went back. A lot of them were extremely angry they had made it back home safely and now they were going back and might not make it through another tour.

Do you think it’s becoming like that for even the battle hardened active duty combat units? You have spoken with soldiers in an experienced and decorated combat unit so you qualify to have an expert opinion in my mind. Do you think a lot of the soldiers are now scared and really don’t want to go back

MH-Oh yeah, most definitely! Right! That’s about as true as you can get! It’s definitely true from what I know!

You have to understand why even the most hard-core soldier would be scared or angry. One year is hard enough to make it through. To go through two or three, well, figure it out! Your chances of coming home safely get smaller and smaller.

There’s a much bigger chance of either (a) getting wounded or (b) not living through it. Your chances of getting home without being killed get smaller and smaller. They know that it’s getting worse in Iraq. They know the insurgents have been killing a huge amount of soldiers over the last few months. Look at what is happening with 101st Airborne Division.

They just went back into combat last month for a third time, and they have already lost at least 20 soldiers, and had about 50 get very seriously wounded. They are taking a terrifying death toll after they already had a really high number of casualties from their first Iraq deployment.

You think they or their families are happy they back in Iraq? NO! NO! NO! Like I said, I just watched Bush’s speech and it was such crap! No way are these guys happy!

Interviewer-You say you are now strongly opposed to the war. How do you feel about the people who say you are disgracing your uniform or that you are a traitor or a coward? I have heard Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reiley all make very strong statements that condemned any soldier who had the nerve to stand up and question the war, or question some of the problems that were plaguing the troops like low morale or lack of equipment.

They have called the soldiers cowards and traitors and even worse things than that. How do you feel about all the angry rhetoric and condemnation?

MH-Well, number one, I would ask this question. Did they ever serve a day in the military? Because if they didn’t it’s beyond their opinion all together! Reason number two is that I’ve done my own investigations and asked my own questions. I have found out some stuff most people don’t know or won’t accept.

I was there first hand to see all the lies and deceit that goes on. These people that just watch CNN or Fox News, they don’t have a real idea of the whole picture. They can’t put up a real argument just because of what they see and hear on the news.

I think I have a good argument against the war! I’m not a coward! I’m well decorated and I served in combat honorably! I’ve saved a lot of soldier’s lives, and some civilians. I saw the war at it’s most bloody and it was graphically violent!

People just don’t see that one the news. If you want to call me a coward then you walk in my boots for a year over in Iraq!

Interviewer-I’ve heard a lot of soldiers say that. They say walk in my boots, go join up and fight, and throw around all theses slanderous words.

MH-Right! Exactly! Go on over to Iraq and fight and then you can talk! How’s someone who hasn’t served one day or done one bit of combat going to call me a coward? That’s just not right to call a soldier a traitor or coward just because he stands up and speaks out!

Interviewer-How do you feel about the whole withdrawal issue? What do you think needs to happen with that? Do you support bringing the troops home right now, or should they stay in Iraq?

MH-I think an immediate pullout is required! Within the next three months I think we need to bring all the troops home!

I mean, look, they are going to elect their own government in a few weeks. I think we need to leave them alone and just let them run their own country. We went over there so they could have freedom and democracy. Well, if they have free elections and choose their own government doesn’t that mean we accomplished our main goal and completed the mission Bush said we were there to do?

Interviewer-What about the statement Bush made today and many times in the past? He says we will stay the course in Iraq no matter what the cost in soldier’s lives. One thing that I find ironic is that Bush says we will honor the deaths of our soldiers by fighting on, even if it means we costs many more lives as a result.

I don’t see the logic of killing more soldiers just to honor the memories of the ones who have already fallen in battle. Bush says we will disgrace the ones who already died if wee pull out now without a clear victory.

How do you feel about that?

MH-You know, I agree with you! I don’t see the logic of that either!

How can you honor them by losing more soldiers’ lives? Isn’t that what’s disgracing them? Doesn’t it disgrace their memories more if you kill more soldiers? Isn’t that a bigger disgrace then saving the lives of the rest of the soldiers?

Come on, where’s his logic? It doesn’t make any sense! How can losing more lives possibly be honorable? I just don’t see it! I don’t think it makes any sense at all, not from a soldier’s point of view!

Interviewer-Okay, well that pretty much covers everything. Anything you want to say to the American people? Anything I haven’t covered that you want to say or discuss?

MH-I just want to tell the American people that these Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are now speaking out ARE NOT TRAITORS! WE ARE NOT COWARDS! WE ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT TRAITORS!

It is disgracing us to say that! It is the greatest insult you could ever say about a combat soldier who did his service for his country! We’ve served our country honorably, and some of us came home hurt or mentally messed up! We’ve done it once, twice, maybe three times and we’ve seen it first hand! We’ve seen the lies and the deceit and everything most people don’t ever get to see for themselves!

Ask yourself why we’re speaking out and condemning the war! Ask yourself why; don’t just condemn us without a real good investigation. Don’t just follow along after all these people who are slandering us and our service to this country! How dare the American people just blindly follow along with that kind of hate and what I consider to really be treason and cowardice! That’s what’s cowardly, not us speaking out!

This war is not justified! We’re losing lives for no good reason and it’s got to stop! Just because we are speaking out against the war does not mean we don’t support the troops. That’s wrong to say because we are all either serving troops or combat vets! Speaking out against the war means we do support the troops!

We want all of them home as soon as possible, safe and sound, and not hurt or dead! I think a majority of the country just wants the troops to come home safely. How are you going to call me a coward or traitor because I want them to be safe? I know a growing majority of the country does not support the war after seeing all the troops keep dying.

They might be afraid to say it publicly, but I have seen the opinion polls recently. I think the constant death and injuries are changing people’s minds that might not have changed them other wise. I think the 20%-30% of the country that wholeheartedly supports the war are afraid to admit that our government lied and is still lying.

I think that they just can’t believe that our government would cost us lives for no good reason. So they have to use words like traitor and coward for the ones that do have the courage to stand up. That’s why you see a lot of them who say the protesters want the troops to die or that they want the terrorists to kill soldiers?

How can trying to bring the soldiers home become trying to kill them or wanting them to die? You know, “Support the Troops, Bring Them Home” means exactly that! How can you twist that around? It’s a statement that you shouldn’t be able to argue with!

Interviewer-I just saw that happen at a protest the other night. There was a Vietnam veteran who had a sign like you just mentioned. He also had the current death toll and “Not One More Death, Not One More Injury!” on the other side of the sign. I watched a lady come up and call him a murderer and terrorist supporter. I just couldn’t believe she did that when this man was wearing his uniform and all his medals and awards.

MH-I just can’t see the logic of that! Do these people even think for themselves? Actually I wonder if they even think at all! Where is their logic and reasoning for saying something like that? It just doesn’t make any sense when you think about what supporting the troops should mean.

Supporting the troops means they come home alive and safe with two arms, two legs, two eyes; everything they went there with they should come back with. Support the troops means they come home intact and not missing any body parts!

People forget about all the troops who have been wounded. Yes there’s been over 2100 deaths, but there are over 15,000 troops that have been wounded. You know, the public sentiment is “Support the Troops” but look at how some of us that came home are being treated. Look at all the injured soldiers who are not getting treatment or have to go through hell just to get somewhere for proper treatment.

Look around and it’s not hard to find a soldier who’s being screwed after he put his life in danger and served his country. I just think that we need to provide healthcare and benefits for every soldier who went to war. We need to make sure that it happens, especially if you were one of the ones who supported the war and supported sending them over there.

Now that you have shown your patriotic support, then go the extra step and make sure all the soldiers are treated the way they are supposed to be. They earned the right to proper treatment by serving their country when they were called upon. Now we need to call upon the country to serve them!

That’s why I did this interview with you. I wanted the truth to come out and you definitely asked the right questions. So what if people call you a liberal or a peace activist for putting out interviews like this. I think that you are getting at the truth that no one else wants to expose.

I know that no matter what your views are, I have seen that you care about the troops most of all. I see that you really do want them to come home safely and without being injured. That should be the message that people see, not the fact that you are not following the current party line and blindly following the pack or helping to cover up this stuff.

That is what I want to leave the people with. Just think about the price the soldiers are paying. Think about all the dead and wounded soldiers that we seem to want to forget. Don’t forget that they did what they thought they had to do for this country.

I want to remind everyone that I am a Republican and I joined up because of 9/11 and the call to duty for my country. Remember that, because I am as patriotic as you could ever get. I just saw the truth and now I am speaking out. Remember that when you think about slandering or condemning me.

Imagine what it must have taken to change my mind and make me say this stuff. Think about what it took to make me do this. Just ask yourself why I would say all this if I didn’t have a 100% conversion by seeing the real facts and truth.

(As of 5:00 PM on 12/18/05 there have been 2155 US troops killed and 15,568 wounded according to the official DOD figures. See the Iraq Coalition Casualties web site for current figures that are updated on a daily basis: http://icasualties.org/oif/ )

*************

Specialist Michael Harmon can be contacted at: michaelharmon23@yahoo.com

He welcomes any comments, requests for interviews, or inquiries from the media. Michael is available to any group or individual that would like him to speak about Iraq and his experiences.

*************

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Jay Shaft is a freelance investigative writer. He is the Managing Executive Editor/Owner of the independent news group Coalition For Free Thought In Media.
http://groups.google.com/group/Coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia

He has conducted many interviews with soldiers who have served in Iraq, in which service members exposed the issues of the military's failure to provide proper equipment and training to USA troops. He has been on the forefront of investigating the price that soldiers are paying as a result.

He is currently involved in interviewing soldiers who have returned from war with PTSD or traumatic injuries. An ongoing expose and series of troops/vet interviews and articles highlighting the failure of the VA system to adequately take care of the soldiers and vets is in current publication at this time. An additional project to document the war time and combat experiences of returning soldiers is also in active production.

He has also published many letters and interviews from parents speaking out against the death or injury of their children serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contact Jay at coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia@yahoo.com or cftmeditor@gmail.com

COPYRIGHT 2005- Coalition For Free Thought In Media©/ Jay Shaft ©2005
This article is freely provided for public and private NON-PROFIT use, as long as anyone who uses it does not alter any of the content, and leaves all links intact.

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