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

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
      ( 2:19 PM )
Where Have All the Young Men Gone

We've lost three young men from our local area in the last week in Iraq. On Monday, a 19-year old Guardsman, Spc. Nathan Nakis, a student at Oregon State, was killed when his truck overturned. He swerved to avoid what he thought was an explosive in the road. Nine other soldiers were injured, some severely, in the incident. Last Tuesday, two boys from the area were killed in a similar situation, except Spc. Joseph M. Blickenstaff, 23 and Spc. Christopher J. Rivera Wesley, 26 were in a Stryker vehicle when it turned over into a canal and they were killed.

There appears to be some dispute over whether these are actually "combat" deaths. I don't really understand why any death in a war zone is not automatically a combat death - they wouldn't have died except for the war. But more specifically, the Stryker "accident" may not have been one:

The 25-year-old Army specialist died Dec. 8 in Iraq
after the vehicle he was driving was attacked by Iraqis,
said his uncle, Santa Rita Mayor Joseph Wesley, citing
Army officials who had spoken to the family...
"They met up with (enemies) from the other side and
all of a sudden they started firing," said Joseph Wesley,
who received the information from military officials. "The
vehicle he was driving got shot, and it flipped over."

It strikes me as unfair to the families and communities that must deal with the grief and loss of these young people who are dying almost every day over there and be told that it was a non-combat death, as if the deaths of their sons and husbands don't really count. What strikes me as even MORE unfair, however, is that these young people even have to be there in the first place.

UPDATE: It's not just dying that young soldiers must face, but indefinite trauma. This war has proven to be one of tremendous psychological damage - there are actually studies taking place on the inordinate amount of suicides happening in Iraq. A disturbing story I heard on NPR this morning confirmed some of my worst fears for these soldiers. It was about a young soldier who, back in November, after seeing the disfigured dead body of an Iraqi had a panic attack and asked for help. His comanders responded not so well:

After seeing the body, he said he had recurring dizzy
spells and vomited several times. He asked his unit
for help but his senior officer just gave him sleeping
pills and told him to go away.

He didn't receive any help for the true problem and he was unable to function well - he was sent back stateside and charged with cowardice. This is a charge that is punishable by death. The charges were later reduced to "dereliction of duty." He's been put on mop duty and shunned by everyone, labeled a coward. He might well have been able to perform his duties as an interrogator if he'd just gotten the proper help when he asked for it. It wasn't his intention to shirk his duties or not do his job - he wanted to, but he knew something was wrong and sought assistance. The military doesn't have time for panic attacks or stress or psychological trauma, which makes me not so surprised at the high number of suicides - especially in an arena where everything is so uncertain and anyone could be about to kill you at any time.

There is something archaic and wrong with this situation. I hope that the military will begin to see that there are other options than charging someone with cowardice and ruining his career when an obvious human trauma has occurred. You can expect men who train to be soldiers to put up with a lot - up to and including maiming and the deaths of their friends and possibly themselves, but must you demand they lose their humanity as well?

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