Sometimes It Is A Soldiers Duty To Tell The Truth
Sometimes It Is A Soldiers Duty To Tell The Truth
By Jay Shaft - Coalition For Free Thought In Media
The following interview was conducted with a US Army high level commander who has been back from Iraq less than two weeks. I was shocked that someone of his rank would be so open and willing to speak out, but he told me he has lost over 100 soldiers from his command since the war started.
The man I spoke too had spent months with a front line combat unit and had seen terrible and horrific sights. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to get his tale of the horrors in Iraq.
I have taken every precaution to insure his identity remains a secret for reasons he details in this article. In this time of war and reprisals against soldiers who speak out, he has exhibited extreme bravery and true valor.
JS- Good morning sir, are you enjoying your time back in the states?
USO- No, to be honest, I am not enjoying being back here. I keep seeing the soldiers dying every time I turn on the news or pick up a paper. I can’t get a sense of relief at being home when many of my fellow soldiers will not ever be coming home. It is hard to feel good about no longer being in Iraq. I just can’t seem to put my feelings in any kind of perspective.
Imagine how terrible it is to be home and not be able to tear your mind away from the worst hellhole you could ever imagine. I pace the floor at night when I think about all the soldiers that are still there or imminently going over, I worry about the ones that are on call up or training to go take their turn at trying to stay alive.
I was in several other combat theaters and I have never seen something as bad as Iraq. I have well over 15 years in service and was in the first Gulf War. I thought I had seen every thing that had to do with combat and police actions. I was wrong, and most of my fellow officers have said the same thing. None of us were really prepared for this, no matter what type of training or experience we have.
I have seen officers with two or three combat tours just freezing up and getting this baffled look of panic and fear. I saw an officer with almost 15 years loose it and just start screaming after he lost ten guys in two days. Some of the NCOs who should have been the most experienced at losing men are being devastated by the continued loss of troops.
JS- I keep hearing that from the soldiers I talk to. Almost everyone I talked to said there was no way they could have ever been prepared for how bad Iraq really is. Is this something you think the Army could have prepared you for?
USO- No, there is no amount of training they could have given us to prepare us for how much of a hellhole Iraq really is. The first thing I want to point out is that most of our troops are not trained for a police action. They do not have any idea how to conduct peace keeping operations or effectively act as a police force. They are trained to kill any type of opposition forces, but not react peacefully to a civilian demonstration or day to day civil unrest.
The main line troops do not even know how to properly conduct peace keeping exercises, and after many months of hostilities, they really don’t care to learn. They see their buddies dying and getting severely wounded, and peaceful interaction goes right out of their minds.
They are stuck in the middle of a massive civil unrest and factional strife, and they is no way to expect battle hardened troops to be objective. That is not what they were trained for and the Army has very little actual hands on training opportunities with an occupied population.
Most of the guys that were in Afghanistan are able to cope with it a little better, but the majority of them were involved with combat and not the civilian control and policing. That is another thing the military never really planned out. They had no real plan set up for long term occupation, and this occupation is going to be long and bloody, no matter what those policy hacks in the White House tell you.
It took us a few weeks to supposedly win the ground war, and then it was right into the role of peace keeper and police force. I am going to make this very clear: We are not giving our troops the proper training to occupy Iraq over the long run. Even if there was relative stability it would be hard, and in the midst of continuing hostilities it is impossible. These men are trained in gun barrel diplomacy, not as police or aid workers.
I always laughed at the term gun barrel diplomacy, but it fits the situation that occurred in Iraq.
JS- I have to ask the question that will be on everyone’s mind. Why are you speaking out and being so frank and honest? Some people are going to accuse you of outright treason and betraying your own government and chain of command. Why are you choosing to speak out about this?
USO- Sometimes you have to weigh your duty to your government, and the duty to your fellow soldiers to protect them and keep them safe. I feel the duty to my fellow soldier out weighs any loyalty to my government. I do not see this as treason or betraying my command, especially in light of how badly the government has betrayed our troops at every level.
I feel it is my ultimate duty to do everything possible to make sure my men come home alive and unharmed. My men have no greater expectation than that I will do everything in my power to keep them alive and to protect them as much as much as possible in any battle.
There comes a time when every commander has to put the life of his troops at a higher level than the profits of our corrupt leaders. There comes a time when to sit silently and watch means you have a part in those soldier’s deaths, and their blood is ultimately on your hands if you do nothing to stop it. If you can do something to stop the death of even one soldier, and you sit back and do nothing, you are as culpable in that soldiers death as whoever actually kills them.
You won’t find a whole lot of support for the way Bush and the Pentagon are running this war, not in the military anyway. Someone has to come out and tell the truth so that the rest of the troops will not be afraid to be honest with themselves and the American public.
There is such an under current of fear among the troops about what might get you in trouble. There are soldiers worried that something they say in a letter or on the phone will get them court-martialed or thrown in the brig for treason.
It is not right that our own men and women have to fear the government to that extent. What the hell is going wrong in America right now? The military has prosecuted and punished soldiers for simply telling the truth about the actual situation in Iraq. How can the American people let this go on?
To punish a soldier for speaking his mind is one of the most atrocious things I can think of. If a soldier comes back from Iraq and wants to tell the truth we should let them do it. As long as they are not giving away any sensitive military information or revealing top secret documents there should be no reprisals against them.
These brave soldiers are putting their life on the line in Iraq, supposedly to bring about democratic elections, but they are not allowed to speak freely when they come home. I think the situation with the serving forces in Iraq is slightly different, but look at what I am doing. I had enough of the bullsh.t and made my decision a few weeks ago. I went to a journalist with a major US newspaper and offered to talk to him under anonymity and he told me he wasn’t looking to take that kind of heat from his paper.
I know of several soldiers who were interviewed by the press while on leave, and when they started really telling the truth they were ignored, and their words were never published. I know of the Sgt. Jessica Macek incident where she went on the radio and denounced Bush and the war.
Her comments were reported to the Pentagon by a journalist from some newspaper in her home state. More soldiers might be willing to speak out if they knew they were not going to get harassed and sent back to Iraq as punishment.
I am doing this for all the soldiers who want to speak out but will not for reasons of fear and keeping a career intact. I know of a few guys who got called in to the O2 (intelligence operations for a military unit) after making harsh comments in e-mails home. The military has been trying to stomp out the grass fires of dissent and anger in the ranks. They are so afraid that a high level NCO or commander will go on record that they are crushing any form of dissent no matter how small.
I looked at all the reasons to keep quiet, and the need for the truth outweighed any personal consequences. I want to make sure that every American knows this information, and the press has not done sh.t to bring out the voices of the dissatisfied soldiers. I think that they are willingly taking part in keeping this type of interview away from the public eye, at least for the most part.
JS- So you feel it is your duty to do this interview?
USO- I swore an oath to defend this country, but I also swore to protect my men to the utmost of my ability. I am only doing this out of honor and loyalty to all the men who put their life on the line in my command and the command of others. I am sick of watching young men and women die needlessly. If there were a purpose behind it besides oil and the sick greed of our leaders, I would keep my mouth shut and drive on.
There is a military term we have for this type of thing. FIDO: F.ck It and Drive On! That is the attitude they try to pound into your head from the first day of training. You are supposed to follow orders and do as you’re told no matter what. That makes it feel unnatural to do an interview like this or to speak out publicly against any military problem, even if it is killing troops.
Another thing they have done over the past year is to make supporters of the peace movement look like traitors and terrorists. Many of our family members have joined in the protests or spoken out publicly against the war. To cast dispersion on the peace movement has really alienated many service members whose families are active in some type of peace group or activity to bring us home.
There is an enormous amount of veterans who are involved in Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against War, and other organizations. There are also a large number of vets who don’t actively participate in those groups who are individually opposed to the war. My older brother is a Vietnam vet who has been anti-war for many years.
He is not a part of VVAW anymore, but he still does his part to support the troops and send them letters and care packages. There is growing number of soldiers who have family members in the peace movement or have a veteran in their family who does not support the war.
We got letters and e-mails, and all kinds of care packages from the peace movement. When your half a world away, someone that writes you and says they want to bring you home doesn’t look that bad sometimes.
I feel that I needed to get all this in some kind of recorded form, and bring out the truth even if they come after me. I don’t want to be publicly identified because I have a family and a new baby at home. I don’t want to get in trouble unless I can avoid it. I had thought about going on record with my name, but it is still way too dangerous right now.
To finish this question off, yes I feel it is my duty and every commander and NCO who truly cares about their men. We must do whatever it takes to make the public call our leaders out on this. Our men are dying every day and there is no real purpose that I can see. We were told we were going to Iraq to Iraq to liberate them and keep Saddam from attacking the US.
I don’t see Iraq liberated and there are not any WMDs. I was there on some of the searches and I can tell you that we did not actually expect to find anything. Our leaders were telling us we would find them, but most of the officers knew that was bull sh.t.
I am sure that there will be many of my fellow soldiers who will hate me for speaking out like this. There are many of them that are still completely dedicated to the cause of the US. Don’t take this interview as a condemnation of everything the US stands for. I am still completely dedicated to serving my country in the military and fighting in whatever place they send me to. I am not going to stop serving my country, I just don’t want to have my men lost for something I can’t totally believe in.
I have talked to many of my fellow soldiers about this tearing feeling of having to call into question any of our countries policies and beliefs. But on it’s basic principles, the whole war in Iraq is based on many lies and half truths. I am not saying that it will not end up causing more good than harm, but it might be years before we can really see any real results from our occupation.
JS- So tell me how bad it really was. I heard recently that the chain of command almost broke down entirely. An article came out yesterday and the Army admitted that there was complete chaos at the company command level. There were details of the supply chain breaking down, lack of fresh water and food, and a whole host of problems that were not expected. How bad was it during the first months, and had it improved at all?
USO- To quote a really old and well worn military expression, it was a complete cluster f.ck! I am in command at a higher level than the company command, so I saw first hand how badly prepared some of my unit commanders were. There was a level of chaos and confusion that almost brought the chain of command down around our ears. I really want to focus on some more recent stuff, but I will give some brief details on this one, because I think it caused many lives to be lost needlessly.
In the first few weeks our supply chain was in shambles, whole columns were getting lost in the desert, there was a severe shortage of drinkable water, and unit level communication was completely unreliable. I could get my staff on the radio, but often we were out of contact with the more remotely located unit commanders for hours or days at a time.
That was a major problem when we were trying to scout the Iraqi positions. We did not hear from some units for days except by satellite phone communication and other non-standard communication methods. I heard one story of a guy who scrounged up some kids walkie-talkies and it was the only way the unit commander could keep in contact with his patrols. I also heard of one unit that found a pair of old field radios in an Iraqi vehicle and they had to use them for short range communications.
The food was in critically short supply for some of the front line units. Our faster moving strike force units were days ahead of the forward supply chain, and we had a severe parts shortage for a few weeks. Some of our units lost quite a few vehicles along the way and they had to cannibalize some of the vehicles to keep the others running. One of the worst problems is the dust and sand that gets into everything and clogs the filters and moving parts. I ate and drank enough sand to crap a beach or two.
The communication problem was the most frustrating from a command level perspective. I needed to know exact positions and details of each unit on a real time basis. There was no real time communications on a consistent basis for over a month. It was especially frustrating when we reached Baghdad and our scouts could not get proper reports of the area of Iraqi positions.
Initially there wasn’t any real idea of how many Iraqi soldiers we were facing. There were a couple situations during combat where the unit commanders used some of the embedded reporters’ communications devices to reach other units for reinforcements and artillery support.
Let’s get on to more recent events. It’s been almost a year since the invasion happened. There are much more important things happening now. I could talk about all the problems of the first few months, but it doesn’t change the fact that our soldiers are still dying at an intolerable rate. That’s what I really want to focus on.
JS- All right let’s get to that. You told me on the phone the other day that you don’t think that there is a good reason for the soldiers continuing to die after the Pentagon has declared major combat operations to be over. Do you have any solution to this?
USO- That is one of the problems that is tearing me apart. We are stuck in Iraq now and committed to long term occupation, no matter what the Pentagon says. There is no simple solution, which is why I get angry with the peace movement on some issues. They just want us to come home right now and get out of Iraq.
That is not possible right now, and if it were the US would not withdraw voluntarily. There is no way they are going to give up the foothold we have acquired. That is one of my biggest problems right now with the way they are directing this occupation.
It has nothing to do with liberation or ensuring a free election in Iraq. No way that will ever really happen. If you could see how they are parceling out the Iraq resources to the contractors there right now, you would understand what I mean. I have seen the profiteering on a first hand basis. I have never seen that level of outright greed even around the Pentagon at budget time.
It makes you nauseous to see how methodically they are taking over the Iraqi economy and work force. Right know if you don’t work for the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority), or one of the US contractors, odds are that you will be among the 50% that are unemployed. If you take a job with the CPA or one of the contractors the Iraqis are liable to call you a traitor and take revenge on you or your family.
This internal strife this is helping to make it more difficult for us to stabilize the country. As long as there is any kind of internal discord among the population, it is that much harder to stop the attacks and bombings.
Iraq is a powder keg right now and it is going to explode if things don’t change. If it ever really turns into a classic urban guerrilla war we are going to be in a very bloody, drawn out conflict. All you have to do is look at the situation that occurred in Lebanon in the last thirty years and you can get an idea of how bloody Iraq could become. The Israelis know all about jihad and urban warfare from the high toll the various Palestinian groups have extracted. Iraq is in a similar situation and some of our high level officials refuse to admit it.
If the deaths keep up at this rate we will loose over 2000 soldiers in the next year. I have heard some of the Pentagon insiders predict at least 1000 more deaths over the next year. The way they talk about it is just so casual it makes a combat commander cringe. They seem to be willing to fully accept those kinds of losses or even more deaths if it comes down to it. Anything to insure the military domination and control of Iraq.
Without the military occupying the country there will be no need to build bases and installations. The whole premise of long term occupation entails fortifying the country with bases and airfields to better control the region.
The fact that it is costing me the lives of my men and the brave coalition forces is not even coming into the picture. The disregard for the man in uniform who is out there on the front line dying and shedding his blood is what we need to focus on.
The total lack of caring for how many of our men and women we will have to sacrifice is appalling. The nest of vipers at the Pentagon has taken over our whole military structure for the profits of their corporate connections. I don’t know how much more obvious it could be.
That is what I am doing this interview for. I have talked to many guys with long years of service and have heard the rants about Halliburton, Bechtel, DynCorp, Fluor, and the rest of the contracting mess.
JS- Let me break in here and ask you something. I have heard about the high rate of fatalities that have occurred in soldiers traveling in the older, lightly armored Humvees. Some unit commanders have told me that up to 80% of their front line casualties are coming from the older hummers. How bad is that situation and is that number of casualties reasonably accurate?
USO- I will say that the Army has started to take some steps to put better armor in them. It is not going to happen soon enough to save the lives that will be lost before they give them better equipment. Not to mention the lives that have already been lost, and all the soldiers who have been, or will be injured.
Let’s talk about the thousands of our soldiers who have been permanently disabled either physically or mentally. They have evacuated thousands of troops with mental problems, and then they claim that troop morale is high and the troops are satisfied with their service.
JS- Let’s talk about troop morale. I keep hearing from so many people that all they see on the news are soldiers who were quite happy to be in Iraq, and that their morale couldn’t be higher. That is one of the things I keep having hammered into my head. How happy are the troops and how is the morale on an overall basis?
USO- Are you really asking me that in a serious manner, or are you just being sarcastic? You have talked to some of the guys who came back. Did their morale seem high to you? Did they seem happy that they were going to have to go back to Iraq? I’d say about 25% of my men actually wanted to be in Iraq and were happy to be in combat.
Most of them were just there because it was their duty, or else they had no choice in the matter. It’s not like you can really tell the military no, and most of the soldiers would never think about it. It’s not like we are looking to get out of our duty to fight in Iraq. We just want our duty to be meaningful and not cost unnecessary lives.
That is what is really getting more of the soldiers to be opposed to doing duty in Iraq. The high fatality rate has really hit them like nothing else can. To get into the whole case of WMDs and even the general condition of Iraq is useless for the average soldier to even consider.
What is really affecting them is the daily loss of close comrades and fellow soldiers. Seeing an endless stream of casualties is what will make a soldier think about objecting to some of the things we are being ordered to do. It is not really because we are trying to bring freedom to Iraq that most of the soldiers are fighting. Many of us just do what we are told because it is so much a part of our entire being.
I would not have this kind of problem if we were not losing good soldiers to such a stupid drive to completely rule Iraq. If this were about really liberating and freeing Iraq, we would have set up a different type of occupying force. We are trying to lock down a whole country while we keep telling the Iraqis that we are here to bring them freedom.
I have had many Iraqis tell me it is no different than when Saddam ruled them. They see us as just another master trying to control them. One of the comments you hear is that America is the white Saddam.
So no, there are not a lot of recent events that would inspire high morale. The press and government will still keep trying to sell that to the public though. At best most soldiers are just committed to doing their duty and trying to stay alive. I don’t think you could say that there are that many ecstatic soldiers.
JS- Let’s get back to the Humvee situation. I want to explore that some more.
USO- We kind of got off track there, but the morale issue needed to be discussed. Some of the horrific injuries from the Humvees are actually causing major morale problems. I had a brand new vehicle and I was still worried that it was vulnerable to IED and rocket attack.
The road side bombs are tearing up the older hummers like they were made of cardboard. I have seen many that were torn open and the crew compartment was full of shrapnel holes. I have seen several that took an RPG or rocket hit and it was a bloody scene. I don’t know if the casualty rate from the hummers has been as high as 80% but it has to be well over 60%.
That is what the reservists have really been complaining about. They have all the older vehicles and supplies. The vehicle situation was especially bad with the support units and some of the Reserve MP units. It gets even worse if you look at some of the National Guard units. The equipment in some of the units I saw was pathetic.
JS- Okay I want to get into a few other things now. You have had to take steps to make sure that the Army does not come after you. How do you feel about the fact that you are afraid to speak out?
USO- I never thought I would have to speak out so I didn’t ever think about what the military would do to me. I have been terrified about doing this because of how bad it will get if they catch me.
The least they will do is to take all my benefits and my pension away. Not to mention the fact that they could formally court martial me and put me in jail. It would not be something that would be easy to go through if they ever find me. That is something a soldier should not even have to think is a reality, much less the fact that it will happen if they catch me.
You had asked me to explain why I am doing this, and that is part of it, but not really the big reason for me. My biggest reason is to make some difference in the death toll on our troops. I have seen my men die and it hasn’t made Iraq any safer or more stable.
If you sacrifice a man’s life, then let it accomplish something. The tragic waste of life is just sickening and it crushes troop morale. It takes away soldiers who can help defend our own shores or fight in a real defensive war should it become necessary.
That is probably the biggest factor in my telling tales out of school. Do you think it is really easy for me to do this? I am trained and told to distrust the media and the public opinion on general principal. You just don’t do this type thing if you want to survive in the world I live in. I just had my fill of the lies and failure to insure the safety of my men.
I thought I knew how I would deal with the large scale death of my men. There is no way to prepare yourself for that kind of responsibility. It has changed my whole perspective on honor among the troops.
George Bush says he is behind the troops but he keeps cutting more of our benefits and services. Right in the middle of two raging wars he has consistently demonstrated his lack of compassion and caring. My father has had some of his health care benefits cut and had to wait three months to see his doctor.
These are my main reasons and I had to think long and hard before I decided to take a stand and tell someone. It was probably the hardest decision I have made recently. I am not a traitor or ashamed of doing my duty. I want nothing more than to be the best leader I can be.
I searched for some other solution and for a while I was going to keep my mouth shut. Sitting here the last week watching the soldiers die changed my mind like nothing else could.
I know you had told me that almost every soldier you interview has said about the same thing.
Let anyone who thinks I am a traitor take my place and send good men off to die. If you can honestly say you could do this without any guilt or remorse, than you are one of the reasons that America is failing our troops. I try to understand how any citizen could support the useless death of our soldiers without any questions.
I am growing more disillusioned as we lose more troops by the day. I watched the news for the last week and saw all the men we lost. It has made it feel surreal to be back home and see the war getting worse by the day.
It just feels wrong to be able to walk across the street without having to watch for attackers. I left behind men who will die and come home wounded. I went to a movie and had a pizza the other day while three men died. That is something I can’t get out of my thoughts.
There is not an unpatriotic bone in my body. A true patriot stands up for what he believes in. I have come to believe that doing this is right, and my duty as a patriot makes this necessary. This country was founded on the right of all men to address their grievances openly, without fear of reprisal. That is the opposite of what I have seen recently.
I don’t know how much difference this will make, but I am obligated to do it and hope it helps save lives. Nothing else could ever be more important to me than trying to stop this bloody carnage. There has to be a better way than this. I don’t think I really have anything else to say. Make this count for something. I don’t want to do this for nothing.
JS- Thank you for doing this. I think it will make a real difference if people are willing to listen.
Jay Shaft, Editor, Coalition For Free Thought In Media, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org CFTM address http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coalitionforfreethoughtinmedia/