Monday, September 25, 2006

U.S. Army extends Iraq duty for 4,000 - 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division

U.S. Army extends Iraq duty for 4,000 - 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division

In a new sign of mounting strain from the war in Iraq, the Army has extended the combat tours of about 4,000 soldiers who would otherwise be returning home, defense officials said Monday.

The 1st Brigade of 1st Armored Division, which is operating in the vicinity of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, will be kept in place for several weeks beyond its scheduled departure, the officials said. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been formally announced by the Pentagon.

The brigade's home base is in Germany. The soldiers' families were notified on Monday that instead of going home in early January as scheduled, the brigade would be kept in Iraq until February — an extension of about six weeks, one of the officials said. Army officials also have notified members of Congress.

The brigade has about 4,000 soldiers in Iraq. They are not the first to be extended.

In late July the Army extended the Iraq tour of the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade. About 300 soldiers from that unit had already returned home and were required to go back to Iraq. The brigade is now operating in Baghdad.

The reasons for these extensions are different, but they both reflect the fact that the Army is hard pressed now to maintain rotations for Iraq and Afghanistan at the current pace. The 172nd was extended by four months in order to strengthen U.S. forces in Baghdad, where commanders are trying to avert a full-scale civil war.

The 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division was extended in order to allow its replacement unit, the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, a minimum 12 months between overseas tours, the official said. The 3rd Infantry has already served two tours in Iraq, including the initial invasion of the country in March 2003.

Last week, the top American commander in the region said the U.S. military is likely to maintain and may even increase its force of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring. Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said military leaders would consider adding troops or extending the Iraq deployments of other units if needed.

Until sectarian violence spiked early this year, Bush administration officials had voiced hopes that this election year would see significant U.S. troop reductions in what has become a widely unpopular war.

The Army has a stated goal of giving active-duty soldiers two years at home between overseas combat tours, but it is unable to achieve that "dwell time," as the Army calls, because it does not have enough brigades to meet the demands of simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would not be a problem now if the situation in Iraq had improved enough to allow the Army to reduce its presence as originally planned.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey told The Associated Press last week that the amount of time between deployments has shrunk this year from 18 months to 14 months. In the case of the 3rd Infantry, it appears at least one brigade will get only about 12 months because it is heading for Iraq to replace the extended brigade of the 1st Armored.

U.S. Army extends Iraq duty for 4,000
ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
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Retired officers to testify - Rumsfeld's Incompetence

Retired military officers on Monday are expected to bluntly accuse Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying U.S. troops were sent to fight without the best equipment and that critical facts were hidden from the public.

"I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq," retired Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste said in remarks prepared for a hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

A second witness, retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, is expected to assess Rumsfeld as "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically ...."

"Mr. Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making," said his testimony prepared for the hearing, to be held six weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which the war is a central issue.

The conflict, now in its fourth year, has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 American troops and cost more than $300 billion.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., the committee chairman, told reporters last week that he hoped the hearing would shed light on the planning and conduct of the war. He said majority Republicans had failed to conduct hearings on the issue, adding, "if they won't ... we will."

Since he spoke, a government-produced National Intelligence Estimate became public that concluded the war has helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Several members of the Senate Democratic leadership were expected to participate in the hearing. Dorgan said Republican lawmakers had been invited.

Even before the session convened, Republicans counter-attacked.

"Today's stunt may rile up the liberal base, but it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack," Sen. Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., said in a statement. He called Rumsfeld an "excellent secretary of defense."

It is unusual for retired military officers to criticize the Pentagon while military operations are under way, particularly at a public event likely to draw widespread media attention.

But Batiste, Eaton and retired Col. Paul X. Hammes were unsparing in remarks that suggested deep anger at the way the military had been treated. All three served in Iraq, and Batiste also was senior military assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Batiste, who commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, also blamed Congress for failing to ask "the tough questions."

He said Rumsfeld at one point threatened to fire the next person who mentioned the need for a postwar plan in Iraq.

Batiste said if full consideration had been given to the requirements for war, it's likely the U.S. would have kept its focus on Afghanistan, "not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents."

Hammes said in his prepared remarks that not providing the best equipment was a "serious moral failure on the part of our leadership."

The United States "did not ask our soldiers to invade France in 1944 with the same armor they trained on in 1941. Why are we asking our soldiers and Marines to use the same armor we found was insufficient in 2003," he asked.

Hammes was responsible for establishing bases for the Iraqi armed forces. He served in Iraq in 2004 and is now Marine Senior Military Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, National Defense University.

Eaton was responsible for training the Iraqi military and later for rebuilding the Iraqi police force.

He said planning for the postwar period was "amateurish at best, incompetent a better descriptor."

Public opinion polls show widespread dissatisfaction with the way the Bush administration has conducted the war in Iraq, but division about how quickly to withdraw U.S. troops. Democrats hope to tap into the anger in November, without being damaged by Republican charges they favor a policy of "cut and run."

By coincidence, the hearing came a day after public disclosure of the National Intelligence Estimate. The report was completed in April and represented a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government, according to an intelligence official.

Retired officers to criticize Rumsfeld
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special CorrespondentMon Sep 25, 7:11 AM ET

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

40 Years Smoking and I did it - Quit - cold turkey

40 year smoker at a pack a day. My husband, smoker for 12 years cared enough to quit first and lead the way for me. I know better than to become the 'reformed smoker' who nags other smokers to quit. All I can do is share what helped me get to the place of being able to mentally embrace the concept of quitting smoking. I'm only 9 days 'clean and free of nicotine' so I'm still vulnerable and susceptible to a relapse - but I don't think that is going to happen. I don't sense or feel a relapse in the cards for me. And the why of that is another blog entry.

I have read all the 'ills' of smoking over the decades, but rarely come across reading that tells me what is good about smoking. Yes, that's right, I said what's 'good' about smoking. I don't see myself as a bad person and need to know that beyond addiction what is that cigarettes do for me that makes it so hard to quit.

Might then I recommend some reading that helped me because it actually indicates what is good about smoking; not why one should continue but what the brain/body rewards one gets out of smoking. The reading also helps break down what one can expect in quitting hour by hour! Going in better prepared, I am able to outlast my brain signals of cravings as those cravings go from the discomfort of intensely fierce to nagging reminder to those longer periods of time of what is actual comfort.

So let me recommend;

Nicotine Withdrawal and Recovery Symptoms
The Effects of Nicotine Cessation
by John R Polito
(a former smoker - takes one to know one, eh?)
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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Latest military casualties not just numbers

Latest military casualties not just numbers:
2,973 dead in 9/11 ... and now in Iraq, Afghanistan


WASHINGTON ---- Now the death toll is 9/11 times two.

U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now match those of the most devastating terrorist attack in America's history, the trigger for what came next. Add casualties from chasing terrorists elsewhere in the world, and the total has passed the Sept. 11 figure.

The latest milestone for a country at war came Friday without commemoration. It came without the precision of knowing who was the 2,973rd man or woman of arms to die in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania."
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'The Ground Truth' premiered in Seattle; a newly released dvd - please share widely

The weekend of September 15, 16 and 17th, a film called "The Ground Truth" premiered premier in cities around the country. It is about the hidden toll of the war in Iraq, and features returned Iraq War Veterans and military family members telling "the ground truth" about the war. The film played to rave reviews at the Sundance and other film festivals around the country.

The eight cities it will be opening in are LA, NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, DC, Boston, Austin, and Seattle. In addition to these areas, there will be screenings of the film in several other cities around the country. For more detailed info regarding all of the showings, theaters and dates/showtimes, as well as to view the film’s trailer, go to .

If you would like to purchase the DVD of The Ground Truth, you can do so at, and a donation will go to Military Families Speak Out for each DVD sold through that web address.

Please spread the word about this important film so that we can create an appropriate national dialogue about the war in Iraq and educate the American public about the devastating – and often hidden -- toll of this war.

Here is an excerpt from The Ground Truth's promotional materials:

"Hailed by Sundance filmgoers as "powerful" and "quietly unflinching," Patricia Foulkrod's searing documentary feature includes exclusive footage that will stun audiences. The filmmaker's subjects are patriotic young Americans, articulating their stories on-camera - stories that must be heard.The stories are those of a half-dozen American heros, ordinary men and women who heeded the call for military service. The Ground Truth charts recruitment and training, combat, homecoming, and the struggle to reintegrate with families and communities. The terrible conflict in Iraq, depicted with ferocious honesty in the film, is a prelude for the even more challenging battles fought by the soldiers returning home - with personal demons, an uncomprehending public, and an indifferent government. As these battles take shape, each soldier becomes a new kind of hero, bearing witness and giving support to other veterans, and learning to fearlessly wield the most powerful weapon of all -- the truth."

This is an excerpt from what the film's director wrote about the film:

"I tried to create a film that might blow the yellow ribbons off...and encourage people to really wrap their arms around our soldiers and their families. I wanted us to sit with the broken hearts and troubled minds of these young veterans, so we can take responsibility for their suffering that is being experienced in our name. And most important, I wanted to share with all Americans the profound wisdom these young men and women have to impart. Their first step to healing is our listening."

Thank you.

In Peace and Solidarity,

Lietta Ruger

Military Families Speak Out - Washington state chapter coordinator
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Pentagon Five - Camp Democracy, Washington DC

Five young men, Iraq Veterans, were Arrested at the Pentagon this week, because one of them set down some flyers about Depleted Uranium.

Source URL's:
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Monday, September 11, 2006

Marine Corps Chief of Intelligence; Situation called Dire in West Iraq

Situation Called Dire in West Iraq:
Anbar Is Lost Politically, Marine Analyst Says

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006; A01

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

The officials described Col. Pete Devlin's classified assessment of the dire state of Anbar as the first time that a senior U.S. military officer has filed so negative a report from Iraq.

One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, 'We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost.'

The 'very pessimistic' statement, as one Marine officer called it, was dated Aug. 16 and sent to Washington shortly after that, and has been discussed across the Pentagon and elsewhere in national security circles. 'I don't know if it is a shock wave, but it's made people uncomfortable,' said a Defense Department official who has read the report. Like others interviewed about the report, he spoke on the condition that he not be identified by name because of the document's sensitivity."

read more here
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Saturday, September 9, 2006

Gandhi and Sept 11; 100 yrs earlier Ghandi Launches Modern Non-Violent Resistance Movement on Sept. 11, 1906

(one of those eerily weird date coincidences? Maybe - maybe not)

September 11th 2006 has a special significance. It not only marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, it also marks 100 years to the day that Mahatma Gandhi launched the modern nonviolent resistance movement.

September 11th 2006 has a special significance. It not only marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, it also marks 100 years to the day that Mahatma Gandhi launched the modern nonviolent resistance movement. Gandhi called it "Satyagraha."

The date was September 11th, 1906. Speaking before 3,000 Indians gathered at a theater in Johannesburg, Gandhi organized a strategy of nonviolent resistance to oppose racist policies in South Africa. Satyagraha was born and since then, it has been adopted by many around the world to resist social injustice and oppression.

Gandhi used it in India to win independence from the British. The Reverend Martin Luther King used it in the United States to oppose segregation and Nelson Mandela used it in South Africa to end apartheid.

read more at Democracy Now!

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Friday, September 8, 2006

A Father's Story: Donald Rumsfeld and the Families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade

Father's account of meeting with Donald Rumsfeld. Rich's son's second deployment to Iraq; 172nd Stryker Brigade and extended as was the entire 172nd Stryker Brigade. I met Rich Moniak via email exchanges, and we finally met in person at the VFP convention in Seattle, Aug 11, 2006. In my own family, we share this experience of having our two in last minute extended (stop loss) deployments in Iraq (1st Armored, March 2003 - April 2004 and extended thru July 2004).

A Father's Story: Donald Rumsfeld and the Families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade
by Rich Moniak
Published on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 by

During a sunny Saturday afternoon, about 800 people gathered in the gymnasium at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska on August 26, 2006 for a one hour meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Almost all were family members of soldiers in the 172nd Stryker Brigade. Our obvious concern was the drawn out deployment of our loved ones, still in Iraq after their one year tour was extended at the last minute.

Rumsfeld was in Fairbanks for the weekend. On Sunday he participated in the dedication of a memorial for the World War II lend lease program, the primary reason for his visit. The families, given a mere hour, came second behind trying to project an image of a respected leader.

The wounds of disappointment were still evident as soon as we arrived on base. Along a quarter mile on the road just beyond the main entrance, dozens of colorful welcome home signs clung sadly to a chain link fence. Many were personal greetings, a soldier's name spelled out as if seeing it on the banner could somehow bring him closer to the heart of the woman who missed him. Others expressed the obvious pride the collective family felt for the soldiers who were not only gone for so long, but stood tall among the daily dangers in faraway land. Like the spouses who hung them, the signs themselves didn't know why they were denied their day of celebration.

There was no ID screening of the audience as we entered the gym. The crowd filled the folding chairs spread out across the gym floor, then overflowed to the wooden bench grandstands on both sides.

The vast majority of the audience appeared to be wives. More than a few had children with them. Scattered among them were some older faces like mine, obviously parents or grandparents. Our needs were less personal than the wives, many with daily lives like a single mom but the added anxiety from the need to explain to a child that Dad was going to come home someday. A vague someday.

I was with Jennifer Davis, whose husband serves in the 172nd Stryker Brigade. We had driven 300 plus miles from Anchorage the night before, after my 1-1/2 hour flight from Juneau got in. We sat with Diane Benson, whose son lost his legs a year ago after a similar type of stop/loss holdover. We all met through the organization Military Families Speaks Out.

Reporters were expressly denied access by those hosting the meeting. Either the local military command, or Rumsfeld himself, made the decision and informed the news media before-hand that they would be barred from the building. So there were no reporters near the stage waiting with microphones to record for the nation how our Secretary of Defense would respond to the families whose lives he insensitively turned inside out. And no cameras for TV News stories. The photo op was Sunday.

A civilian administrator spoke first, explaining the house-keeping rules for the meeting. He introduced Colonel Dennis Dingle who set the underlying tone that seemed to subtly echo prior direction, telling the audience not to embarrass their soldiers. Only those who he had spoken with before might have understood what he implied after that, telling them they could ask difficult questions. How difficult? And what consequences were explicitly or otherwise implied in more private meetings between the brass and family members.

Photographs and video recordings were permitted. Many were brought out, and a few women moved to find better filming opportunities in the grandstand. I stayed out on the floor, nervously ready with my question, but hoping for a chance to speak. Diane had prepared one too, hoping to ask him if the draft was next.

Rumsfeld received generous applause when he was introduced. He told the audience he would explain the best he could the events that unfolded in the days leading up to the redeployment decision, then he would take the questions.

With smiles and a light hearted tone, he began with trivial observations, very much in command of the public persona that won the cheap affection of reporters around the country during the campaign in Afghanistan and the early stages of the war in Iraq. Then he shifted to his impressions of the highlights born from the administration's decision to invade Iraq.

He touted the efforts of the fledging Iraqi democracy as working diligently with our government. He touched upon the plans Iraqis have developed for a national reconciliation among the three primary religious sects.

Missing from this segment of his speech was the fact that during President Bush's visit to Iraq in June, President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi requested a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces. Missing were claims of the "free" Iraqi government expressed by their national security advisor that "the removal of foreign troops will legitimize Iraq's government in the eyes of its people". Missing was the fact that the 28 point plan presented by "free" Iraqi government was reduced to 24 points as they bowed to the will of the occupying nation.

Rumsfeld moved from the bigger picture of the mission to the personal issue on the minds of his audience. He gave a highly complimentary account of past successes that placed the Strykers on a tall pedestal of dedication to duty and success in their mission in Mosul. He offered positive news that the Strykers and Iraqi troops mobilized to Baghdad have significantly reduced the violence there in the brief time they've been on the ground.

Then his voice settled into a less charismatic level as he explained why the 172nd Stryker Brigade was denied the trip home that they were due. He portrayed that decision as being made only after careful consideration of a late developing need to address the rising sectarian violence in Baghdad. He admitted the difficulty of this mission given that our military is trained to fight armies of another nation, not terrorists or "insurgents" loosely formed around fanatical Islamic fundamentalists.

Then, in the classical manner that defines the weak heart of this administration that is afraid of losing control, he turned the fear card the other way, toward the families. The anniversary of September 11 was approaching. "I know that the people in this room all feel a sense of urgency. The thought of another September 11th, or a September 11th times 2 or 4 is not something anyone wants to contemplate...The fight has to be taken to the terrorists." He promised that when we look back in five, ten, fifteen years from now, the nation will recognize the worthiness of this cause.

Possibly hoping the fear he spoke to would tame the braver people in the audience ready to challenge him, he asked for questions. The first woman who spoke wanted her husband to get a vacation because this deployment extended his stay in Iraq from nine months to over a year, the magic number qualifying for time off. "He oughtta get it", Rumsfeld quickly answered with a smile followed by applause.

Next he was asked if he could guarantee that another brigade was being prepared so that if their mission wasn't complete in 120 days, the 172nd would be replaced and not extended again. Thunderous applause and foot stomping followed. Rumsfeld tried to diffuse the energy with humor, declaring his questioner hit one "out of the park". Then he proceeded with caution, failing to guarantee these people desperate to hear the certainty that it wouldn't happen again. The man in charge of the entire military role in the occupation could do no better than say he'd do everything possible to make sure they came home before Christmas. Why this effort had not yet been an order given with force to his subordinates didn't escape the crowd that responded with little to no applause.

Another difficult question was more of a courageous demand. Some of the brigade is without sufficient water resources to properly shower, a soldier's wife told him, and that was unacceptable. The audience again erupted. "A home run with the bases loaded" said the Secretary. He told her "we will find out what's going on and try to fix it". But the woman felt a need to reiterate the necessity to address this problem, revealing a lack of trust for the integrity of his word.

There was one more challenge to the rosy and hopeful picture that Rumsfeld tried to paint. Why, if the Strykers were there for their expertise, were they instead performing basic infantry functions clearing homes in the city?

Here Rumsfeld wandered around as if searching for an excuse for not knowing the answer, then placed the rhetoric of success in training Iraqi troops in contradiction to the necessity for the redeployment. "I could be wrong, but I would hope, that the actual task of house clearing, which is going on in Baghdad is being done at 95% by Iraqis, not by Americans."

It was the issue I wanted to challenge him on. How critical could the redeployment be with that kind of help from the new Iraqi soldiers? How could he have credited the Strykers as contributing to significantly reducing the violence in Baghdad if the Iraqi presence was that high? Why indeed was the 172nd needed in Baghdad? It doesn't add up. As his qualifier suggests, was he wrong? Or he been misleading us all along on the entire issue of training Iraqis that we always hear about?

About halfway through the meeting, Diane set aside her note pad and said "This is what he needs to hear, from the wives." Maybe she sensed my disappointment, but she certainly understood my feelings when she said "And from you too."

Rumsfeld took only 4 or 5 other questions. Some were of a personal nature. A few women made statements expressing unquestioning gratitude to the brass on base all the way up the chain. Only one person who spoke wasn't the wife of a soldier in the 172nd. A 12-year old quietly asked why her dad was in Iraq.

There were a few hands of other family members waving in the air. None of us were selected. But I also had a letter that Jennifer delivered with 5 others from wives who couldn't attend.

Rumsfeld played the charm card well, and America loves its actors. Donald Rumsfeld made himself a household name with a quick wit and smiling personality in the many press conferences he held during the days everything was going well.

The audience here was more difficult though than a room full of reporters competing to write stories of battles won. To them it was a job, whereas the war was personal to every person in this room, and the redeployment was not a story of success. We don't go home after the story is written. We are living a piece of the administration's failure every day.

The wives of the soldiers in the 172nd deserved their chance to question the Secretary. Still, the gymnasium was a friendly venue for him. Like all stage acts, it's easy to play the lead role when one believes the audience is not a room full of public movie critics professionally judging the performance and anxious to tell the world if he bombed.

After the meeting we attended a press conference organized by Military Families Speak Out. Several reporters from the national beat came, and we gave them the story our government wanted to deny them a chance to report on. We played a video tape of the meeting. It wasn't personal and private. That was a cheap and easy excuse to deny the press the freedom guaranteed by our Constitution.

Mr. Rumsfeld often speaks about the risks of cutting and running. That too is simple rhetoric to control the message and demonize those opposed to the administration's aggressive policies. But our civilian military leader practices the cut and run strategy every time he cuts short the list of venues he will speak at as he runs from the American public.

The rest of America deserves the chance to question our Secretary of Defense. I challenge Mr. Rumsfeld to stand before some his harshest critics, maybe a tenth the size of this audience, with the press present. There are a lot of real questions waiting, and all those who passionately oppose this war are Americans too. The stories we read that break the mold of noble purposes and promising progress aren't fiction dreamed up for a liberal cause. That they oppose the desires and impressions gleaned from the perspective of politicians isn't an opposite spin, but a wish to end all spin and deal with the full truth.

Stop running and hiding Mr. Rumsfeld. Show some political courage and hear our questions and grievances. Listen to our case in a public forum and then try to explain why the long occupation on the heels of an unjust war shouldn't end now.

Rich Moniak is a member of Military Families Speak Out from Juneau, Alaska. His son is a Staff Sergeant in the Army and was recently extended in Iraq with the 172nd Stryker Brigade. This is his second tour in Iraq.
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Family tells of Fallen Marine's Last Days; IED rips through his brain; wrenching story.

As this family shares the horrific details of their son's last days in hope that we can begin to recognize the extent of what our young troops endure in the name of Iraq invasion/occupation, we can also recognize what we have consigned our military to suffer for the sake of a Commander-in-Chief who has all but abandoned the integrity, duty, honor and respect for the very troops he commands. Conduct unbecoming a Commander-in-Chief ought to be held to same standards required of our troops in upholding their sworn oath to the Constitution.

Recounting a fallen Marine's last days

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

In the four months since the death of my son, Sgt. Matthew J. Fenton, from injuries suffered in Iraq, I have stated many times the horror of what I saw in the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.

I believe that the time has arrived to tell the whole story of his death and the carnage that was inflicted on some of his fellow Marines. I do not find this easy to do, but as the death toll and injured number continues to climb, I cannot sit silently.

On April 26, Matthew, 24, was the gunner on a Humvee protecting a Marine convoy on the outskirts of Fallujah. A suicide car bomber attempted to ram his Humvee, and he got off a few shots at the vehicle. From what I have been told it is common practice for these bombers to detonate their bomb if they come under fire. Matthew was the only Marine injured in the attack. Later that same day I received a phone call telling me that Matt was seriously wounded and that it was a head injury.

The next day we were informed that Matt had been flown to Germany. Matt’s mother, Diane, and I prepared to go to Germany. But in the middle of trying to get a flight, we received another call saying that he had stabilized and they were going to fly him to the United States. We were all lifted by this seemingly good news.

Diane and I flew to Washington the next day and were met by a uniformed Marine and driven to Bethesda. What awaited us there is still shocking to me now. We met with two doctors who laid everything out for us. Matthew’s injury was a devastating one. Shrapnel had entered his head just above his left eye and traveled diagonally through his brain and exited the right rear.

‘A nightmare’

Surgeons in Baghdad had removed two plates from his skull to help relieve the pressure from the swelling of his brain. The frontal lobe was destroyed, so they had removed it. It was explained that the frontal lobe is the center of personality and the place where someone is aware of themselves. The Matthew that we knew and loved was gone and would never come back.

As we struggled with that staggering news there was more to come. The shrapnel had done severe damage to both sides of Matt’s brain because of the angle that it traveled through. The brain can figure a way to control functions when one side is damaged, like in a stroke. But this was devastating news. The doctors told us that if this had happened in Vietnam, there would have been no surgery. If this happened in front of the best hospital in New York City, there would have been no surgery. His chances of ever having meaningful movement were less than slim.

Why, we asked was the surgery done in Baghdad? The answer, surgeons do whatever they can to keep a soldier alive. They do not decide life or death.

We were then led down a long hospital corridor toward my son’s room. This is the moment that I will never forget until the day I die. Just outside his room we were instructed that we had to don gowns, masks and gloves every time we entered the room. This was to prevent us from picking up bacteria that Matt may have brought back from Iraq and spreading it to other patients in the ward.

My shock was doubled upon seeing Matthew. He was unrecognizable. His head was completely swollen, like some cartoon character. There were maybe hundreds of metal staples in his head. There were of course tubes coming and going everywhere. There were drains running from the site of the surgery. And there was the ventilator. I immediately snapped at the doctors. Somewhere along the line I had been informed that Matt was breathing on his own. Nine years ago I watched my father die after having lung cancer surgery. He never got off of the ventilator, and I flashed back to that time.

Matthew was able to breathe on his own, the doctors explained. The ventilator was only assisting. His heart and lungs were perfect. There had been no damage to his brain stem, which controls involuntary actions like breathing and the heart beating. So there we were looking at our son, not recognizing him, not a scratch on him below his eyes. But his face and head mangled and inflated. This must be a nightmare, one that we will never wake up from.

What war leaves behind

For days we made that walk down that long hallway. It took some time but I finally was able to look at some of the other Marines on the ward with Matthew. I wish to this moment that I hadn’t. Kids with horrible injuries.

One had been in the ward for 11 months, after seven different brain surgeries. His wife refused to let him go. She was praying for a miracle. He had parts of his skull removed also, but all the swelling was gone now and his head had sunken in where they had been removed. He did not move at all.

Across the ward another Marine was in his third month, and his head was all sunken in. This is what lay ahead for Matthew also. Also across the ward was another Marine who was there only a few days before Matt. He was lucky, damage to only one side of his brain. I became friendly with his father, Jim, from Tennessee. One day there was an uproar from his son’s room and I looked over and made eye contact with Jim. Maybe an hour later we met in the hallway and he apologized to me. His son had opened his eyes for the first time and his family just responded. There was no need for an apology as I would have jumped for joy if Matthew were to open his eyes.

All that was left was to decide when the life support would be removed. That final decision rested in the hands of his mother. There was no disagreement on what course to follow, just when.

On May 3, the Marine Corps commandant presented Matthew with his Purple Heart. On May 4, I noticed that the swelling of Matthew’s head was going down. By the end of the day the indentations where pieces of his skull were missing were becoming noticeable. The next morning I was dreading what he might be looking like. And, yes, there was his head becoming very odd shaped.

Letting go

I prayed that Diane would find the strength to let her son go today. I did not want to see him decline another day. Another day of watching his head sink into his skull. And neither did she.
Sometime around noon on May 5, Matthew was moved from the ward to a private room. Behind some curtains they removed the ventilator and most of the tubes. He was kept on the morphine, and we were assured he would not feel any pain. Now he was breathing all on his own. Diane got into the hospital bed with her son, and I held his hand and we all waited and watched for Matthew to pass.

But he would not go easily. After three hours of labored breathing, I asked the nurse if there was anything that she could do. No. I asked God to take him now. No. His mother told him to go. I asked him to go. Go to some peace. A half-hour later, he finally took his last breath.

This is the real story of the war in Iraq. We all know the numbers, and we all know the reasons that are claimed that we have to be there. But this is the reality: young, brave, patriotic men losing their lives for a cause that keeps shifting.

Every politician who supports the war should go to Bethesda or Walter Reed and see just what their support is costing in human life and suffering. And to everyone who opposes the war, don’t just sit back any longer. Someday you may be touched personally by some tragedy from this disastrous war, and it will be too late, like it is for me.

John Fenton lives in Little Ferry.

(my comment; John is a member of Military Families Speak Out; this account demonstrates why it is so relevant when military families exercise the courage to speak out . There is no point in continuing the invasion and occupation in Iraq one more day - Bring Them Home Now! )
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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Listen up! Inspiring speech of Lt. Ehren Watada, VFP convention, Seattle, Aug 12, 2006

video - Lt. Ehren Watada speaks at the Veterans for Peace convention about a new strategy to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In solidarity the Iraq Veterans Against the War stand with him. Seattle, WA, Aug 12, 2006, Veterans for Peace conference.

Part 1

Part 2

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Monday, September 4, 2006

Hiking at the Bowl and Pitcher

Here's Red running up the trail at our trip to Bowl and Pitcher
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Sunday, September 3, 2006

Change of course? Troops resisting deployments Iraq invasion/occupation

Who else is refusing deployment to Iraq now? Timeline of troops refusing deployment since the June 7, 2006 press conference of Lt. Ehren Watada in which he announced his intention to refuse what he discerned to be illegal orders to deploy to the illegal Iraq invasion/occupation with his Stryker unit.

June 2006 - Lt. Watada refuses to board plane to deploy to Iraq with his Stryker unit, Fort Lewis, WA.

June 2006 - Spc Suzanne Swift, served a year deployment in Iraq, decided to go awol rather than return to Iraq. Arrested June 11 in Eugene, Oregon and taken to Fort Lewis, WA where she is now confined to the base. She cites sexual harrasment and assault on her person by her 'superiors' (I'd hardly call them superior in matters of integrity).

August 2006 - Sgt Ricky Clousing, an Army interrogator who served in Iraq from December 2004 until April 2005; went awol for a year; press conference at Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle, WA, August 11, 2006 and from there turns himself in at Fort Lewis, WA.

August 2006 - Specialist Agustín Aguayo, 35, U.S. Army, stationed in Germany, filed for Conscientious Objector status refuses to deploy to Iraq a second time goes awol;
turned himself in to the Military Police on the base in Schweinfurt saying that he would not deploy to Iraq and would accept a court martial after several Article 15s (non-judicial punishment) for refusing to pick up his weapon. Instead, MPs followed him to his home to get his gear and prepare to deploy. Aguayo escaped and is currently Absent without Leave (AWOL) in Germany. He is originally from Los Angeles, where his family still lives.

August 2006 - Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson, served in a year deployment in Iraq invasion March 2003 - 2004; applied for conscientious objector status a few months before finding out his unit would return to Iraq; His request was denied and he was told his appeal would not be considered until his unit came back. He said he then fled during a two-week leave before the January 2005 deployment; went awol for a year and a half; turned himself in at Fort Hood, Texas August 2006.

August 2006 - on a different note; (get our troops out of there Now before we see more of this type of news reports) recommendation of execution (death penalty), if convicted, for 4 U.S. Army soldiers charged with murder in Iraq. In a report summarizing the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation, Lt. Col. James P. Daniel Jr. concluded that four members of the 101st Airborne Division deliberately killed the detainees and then tried to cover up by making it look as if the prisoners had attempted to escape. The four soldiers, Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker, Pfc. Corey R. Clagett and Spc. Juston R. Graber. At least 20 U.S. service members have been charged in connection with the deaths of Iraqis in the war. Most cases have resulted in acquittals or conviction on lesser charges. Military executions are rare. The last soldier to be put to death — for rape and attempted murder of a child while the soldier was stationed in Europe — was hanged in 1961.

The killing of the three detainees has raised questions that go beyond the four accused soldiers. The military is also investigating whether Col. Michael Steele, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade, encouraged unrestrained violence and condoned a culture of racism among his troops. Investigators have said that Steele handed out knives to his soldiers as rewards for killing insurgents. All four of the accused were members of his brigade.

At least 20 U.S. service members have been charged in connection with the deaths of Iraqis in the war. Most cases have resulted in acquittals or conviction on lesser charges.
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