Often in this space I have written about troubled young people, who have been victimized by the system and about the poor and the needy and how the system has failed to respond appropriately to their needs.
Recently, a young married woman came to see me. She had just finished a deployment in Iraq and her enlisted commitment in the Army. She was deployed in Iraq at the same time as her husband, a non-commissioned officer. Although they were in the same region, they were assigned to different bases and never saw each other while they were there.
The war in Iraq has and is polarizing our nation. However, no matter what one's politics might be, I believe most of us are concerned about the well-being of all of our young men and women in uniform service, who are risking their lives each day for the sake of our nation.
Although I am a pacifist and profoundly oppose the war, I am acutely concerned about the treatment of all of our soldiers, especially those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the last few months, we have read in the national press that many of our troops are not properly equipped to manage the environment in which they are deployed. Countless families who have sons and daughters in Iraq have indicated that their children serving there have less than adequate clothing to deal with day-to-day life. I have also heard a growing number of families complain that there are not enough chaplains to respond to the spiritual and mental health needs of our young men and women who are engaged in active combat. Some parents have pointedly complained that their sons and daughters who have developed mental health issues while in combat have been severely neglected and/or ignored.
We have been horrified this past year by the disturbing stories of American soldiers abusing innocent Iraqi citizens and prisoners of war. What we have not heard is the story that I'm going to share. I believe this story is probably the untold story of a growing number of troubled American soldiers fighting to survive after the trauma of war.
This story is based on an extensive face-to-face conversation with an American soldier whose husband is still in the military and is being seriously victimized. If I did not have an actual copy of this soldiers' cry for help, I would have thought his wife's narrative was an emotional exaggeration. I have her permission to tell this story.
What follows is the content, word for word, from a soldier filled with remorse, who is trying to hang onto his life and our military's scandalous disregard for human life.
"I am writing you concerning some troubles I had while deployed in Iraq. I've been in the Army for 5 1/2 years, part of the infantry division. While deployed in Ar Ramadi. I did some foolish things. During the last week of August 2006 I was stationed in my Bradley fighting vehicle as a lookout. There was a building in front of us and we couldn't fully see. And we do not know what was in it. We broke into it to clear it and check for explosives and found it was an Iraqi clinic. On the way out we went to through a room filled with pills in it and discussed taking some of them. I was charged with conspiracy to commit larceny and larceny. We took Valium and codeine from the clinic. The next day there was a shooting at this clinic. My gunner and I left my driver in the vehicle, while we went to question some households about the shooting. We know it was wrong, because when I told my platoon sergeant, he said, "don't get caught". We had been taking some of the pills that we took from the clinic. Also that night when the re-supply truck came my driver was on guard shift. When they came to supply us, they found all three of us sleeping even though the driver was the one whose shift was to be awake. For this I was charged with misbehavior as a sentence. When we returned to Camp, everyone knew we were under the influence of these pills. Myself and my gunner got in trouble, while my driver didn't because he told on us. My gunner and I were separated from the rest of our platoon and had to live segregated by ourselves for more than a month with never knowing what was going to happen to us. We were no longer allowed to leave the camp. During this time, no one spoke to us, and on many occasions, I tried to reach out to find out what was going to happen. I was ignored and was not allowed to speak to anyone other than the person I got in trouble with. Instead of talking to someone like my wife advised, we found diazepam injectors in a closet we were cleaning and injected them. This was on October 9, 2006. Once the chain of command was informed of the second incident, we were dragged down the street and beaten by the military police. My lawyer has pictures of the blood and bruises. Also, we were not allowed to lock our room door, and my room was raided and all my stuff robbed from me, including MP3 players, a camera, all my DVDS, my laptop and other stuff.
I was thrown on a Black Hawk with no boots, no gear, weapon or armor. I was then flown without any gear to another camp in Iraq to seek help for possible post traumatic stress disorder. After this incident, we were restricted to post and on 24-hour watch until we deployed to Germany in November. While in Germany, we were again restricted to post. The company took leave in December for one month, I spent $3000 on a plane ticket home...my gunner and I were denied leave.
During my trial my commander told everyone that we didn't deserve leave, and that was why he took it, which I fully understand however, the entire time before leave he made us believe we were allowed to go. That is why we purchased the tickets. My wife came to visit me instead. After she left in January, I had two suicide attempts, both of which my chain of command failed to notify my wife. On the first attempt, my wife did not know where I was for three days until my roommate finally answered the phone. I spoke with a counselor regularly after these attempts and even had the counselor help to bring my wife over to be command sponsored, to live with me. I was told it would be no problem, but my wife could not live in housing on post and I would not be allowed to leave post to live with or see her. I would continue to have to live in the barracks.
My trial finally came on May 8, 2007 after I got two years confinement, reduction to E-1 bad conduct discharge and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. Recently they have also stopped paying my wife, her basic allowance in housing, because I am confined. However, that money has nothing to do with me. It is for her expenses and bills. I don't understand why they are doing this to her, she served our country also. On top of everything else she's had to endure now they have stopped paying her to punish me. A record of the trial has been made, reviewed and handed in by my jag lawyer. The prosecution claims to have lost two important pieces and cannot turn the rest in until those pieces are found. Until they have decided what to do, they will not allow me to petition for clemency, which I am soon to be possibly eligible for. They also have the option to bring into court and demand my lawyer turned it over. This is not the first time the prosecution has made a mistake and I don't think it should have to lay heavy on my wife's and my shoulders, because the prosecution is not prepared. There is only so much my family can handle in the prosecution's screw ups shouldn't be one of them. I'm not trying to justify what I did in Iraq. I know I was wrong and that I set a poor example. I just think it should have been taken into consideration the stuff that my chain of command was wrong for. I think two years was a little harsh, after being confined to my barracks for eight and a half months until my trial...I know I was wrong for what I have done, I just want a chance to start a life with my wife and make things right by her and by God. She has suffered so much and doesn't deserve any of it. I just want a chance to take care of my wife and put this whole thing behind us. The other person, who was in trouble with me went AWOL. I could have taken the easy way out and went AWOL as well, but I made this mistake and I needed to take my punishment for it...I apologize..." (Part II)