...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
      ( 10:59 AM )
We Don't Feel Like Heroes Anymore

This letter appeared in The Oregonian yesterday. It was heartbreaking and infuriating to read the words of a soldier from our hometown. PFC Isaac Kindblade wrote in to tell us what it's really like for the soldiers there. I urge you to pass this letter on. Hearing real news from the real participants gives us a truer picture than the newsmedia ever could:

I am a private first class in the Army's 671st Engineer Company
out of Portland. I just wanted to let you know a little bit of what
we are up to, maybe so that you can have another opinion of
what's going on over here in Iraq.

We have been in country since Feb. 14 and were a part of the Third
Infantry Division's march into Baghdad. In fact, as a result of some
serious miscommunications, we were the front line of the charge
on two very distinct occasions.


A lot is being said about poor morale. That seems to be the case
all over the place. It's hot, we've been here for a long time, it's
dangerous, we haven't had any real down time in months and
we don't know when we're going home.

I think a big aspect has been the people here. When the war
had just ended, we were the liberators, and all the people
loved us. Convoys were like one long parade. Somewhere
down the line, we became an occupation force in their eyes.
We don't feel like heroes anymore.


The task is daunting, and the conditions are frightening.
We can't help but think of "Black Hawk Down" when
we're in Baghdad surrounded by swarms of people.
Soldiers are being attacked, injured and killed every day.
The rules of engagement are crippling. We are
outnumbered. We are exhausted. We are in over our heads.

The president says, "Bring 'em on." The generals say
we don't need more troops. Well, they're not over here.

It is a hollow feeling, knowing that this 20-year old and thousands like him are not only losing their youth in the hot desert, so far from home, but they are also feeling as if they have been abandoned by the very people who sent them there.

To read more from soldiers who are daring to speak out about what it's like for them over there, check out this at Guerilla News. It gives the link to Soldiers for Truth:

a revolutionary site allowing U.S. soldiers in Iraq to directly
communicate their plight to the world. Don't get the wrong idea.
This ain't no peacenik site. It's fervently pro-military, and
fundamentally pro-war. But it is increasingly anti-administration.
The site's spiritual leader seems to be retired U.S. Army Col.
David Hackworth, the self-described Most Decorated Soldier in
America. Hackworth can walk the walk. He was shot eight times
in Vietnam, and went on to write the so-called "Vietnam Primer,"
referred to as the military's bible on counter-insurgency warfare.

Here's an excerpt from one soldier's email before "Victory" was declared in May:

During the [March 30, 2003 terrorist] incident at UDARI
when a local was running over soldiers who were
standing in line at the PX with his NTV (non tactical vehicle),
a number of soldiers could not respond because they did
not have any ammunition for their assigned weapon.
[Between 10-15 personnel were injured in the incident.]

Yesterday, I had to turn in one of my two magazines for my
M9 [Beretta sidearm] because my unit didn't bring enough
magazines for everyone in the unit. So right now, I have to
venture off base camp with only 15 rounds of 9-mm. ammunition.

I have begged the command for some 5 tons to go out to TAA
Guardians and Spartans to pick up the bottled water that was left
behind when the 3rd ID departed for Iraq. The last time I was at
Guardian there was a minimum of 80 pallets of bottled water on the
ground. We seem to have deployed to this theater without the required
amount of transportation assets to support the fighting men
engaging the enemy.

Let's hope conditions have improved...though one doubts the amount of support truly needed for the soldiers is really getting to them. These men and women have lost time with their families, time on their jobs if they are reserve and guard, and just general time in their lives for having to risk every day in a situation that isn't getting better with the tactics our leaders insist on continuing to use. It's fine for us here to criticize the Bush administration and the Pentagon, but while we are doing so, I urge you if you have the time and resources (which we all do), sign up for Support a Soldier, or just ask around - I'll bet you anything someone you know has a loved one over there who could really use a paperback, a magazine, some kool-aid mix or just a note saying they are thought of.

Most of all, let's keep the pressure on to bring them home, or in the least, make conditions over there better for them.

UPDATE: Here's another lovely one sent to me by P: Some of the Army's Civilian Contractors are No-Shows in Iraq:

U.S. troops in Iraq suffered through months of unnecessarily poor
living conditions because some civilian contractors hired by the
Army for logistics support failed to show up, Army officers said.

Months after American combat troops settled into occupation duty,
they were camped out in primitive, dust-blown shelters ... The Army has
invested heavily in modular barracks, showers, bathroom facilities and
field kitchens, but troops in Iraq were using ramshackle plywood latrines
and living without fresh food or regular access to showers and telephones.

Even mail delivery -- also managed by civilian contractors -- fell weeks behind.


"We thought we could depend on industry to perform these
kinds of functions," Lt. Gen. Charles S. Mahan, the Army's
logistics chief, said in an interview.

One thing became clear in Iraq. "You cannot order civilians
into a war zone," said Linda K. Theis, an official at the Army's
Field Support Command, which oversees some civilian logistics
contracts. "People can sign up to that -- but they can also back out."

As a result, soldiers lived in the mud, then the heat and dust.
Back home, a group of mothers organized a drive to buy and ship
air conditioners to their sons. One Army captain asked a reporter to
send a box of nails and screws to repair his living quarters and latrines.

For almost a decade, the military has been shifting its supply
and support personnel into combat jobs and hiring defense
contractors to do the rest. This shift has accelerated under relentless
pressure from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
to make the
force lighter and more agile.


Last fall the Army hired Kellogg Brown & Root, a Houston-
based contractor, to draw up a plan for supporting U.S. troops
in Iraq, covering everything from handling the dead to managing
airports. KBR, as it's known, eventually received contracts to
perform some of the jobs, and it and other contractors began
assembling in Kuwait for the war.

It got "harder and harder to get (civilian contractors) to go
in harm's way," said Mahan, the Army logistics chief.

The Army had $8 million in contracts for troop housing in Iraq
sitting idle, Mahan said. "Our ability to move (away) from living
in the mud is based on an expectation that we would have been
able to go to more contractor logistical support early on," Mahan said.

Are we getting the picture yet?

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