One Veteran's Voice

26 February 2006

Independence Day, 2004

Today, July 4, 2004, 2nd platoon’s Lieutenant was personally relieved of command by the brigade commander, Colonel Robert Abrams (for whose father, incidentally, the M-1 Abrams tank is named). The platoon leader’s crime was flying an American flag on the radio antennae of his humvee while driving through Baghdad. Colonel Abrams, passing the other way, noticed the flag, contacted the convoy via radio, stopped the convoy, and personally reprimanded and relieved the platoon leader on the shoulder of the Baghdad highway. One part of me can only laugh inside at my leaders, both the lieutenant, who should have known better--as there is a standing order against flying flags, and at the brigade commander, who relieved an able and fearsome warrior of his duties, sending him packing in shame, and probably terminating any chances that the army had of keeping him as a career officer. Lieutenant B., the officer relieved of command, is an intelligent and idealistic man, generally considered by the common consensus of the soldiers of Alpha company to be the most squared-away lieutenant in the company.

One soldier, upon hearing the news, was outraged, proclaiming, “What, are we supposed to be ashamed of our flag?” He has a point. In past wars, it was considered the greatest shame for a retreating army to lose its colors to the enemy. And now, in the 21st century, the United States Army not only does not carry into battle the colors of the nation every soldier is sworn to defend, but it disciplines those who try. On Independence Day, no less. Clearly this is a new kind of war.

I understand the reasoning behind the Colonel’s decision-- we do not want to be viewed as occupiers or usurpers, especially not after our formal status as occupiers ended when the Iraqi government was supposedly given sovereignty. But this begs the question-- if we are not an occupying army now, what are we? When I enlisted, I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I did not sign up to police the streets of Baghdad, or to help these people discovery democracy. To tell the truth, I don’t really care if the Iraqis ever experience democracy. If they wanted it so badly, they would have fought for it themselves. If there is a war against true terrorists here now, it is because we drew them to Iraq by our presence and actions. There are also terrorists in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, and every other country in this region. No stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were found, and there is no convincing evidence that Saddam’s regime collaborated with Osama bin Ladin in the attacks on 9/11. Iraq was not a significant threat to our constitution or way of life, certainly not more than North Korea, China, Iran, or Syria. What are we doing here? What am I doing here? These are the questions I keep coming back to, and keep putting aside. I just don’t know.

Other people here know that something is rotten, and Lieutenant B.’s actions were a protest of sorts against the contradictions of our policies. We are told in briefing after briefing that we are not only American soldiers, but diplomats for America. Lieutenant B. decided he’d rather be a soldier. Every enlisted soldier I spoke with was outraged and disgusted after hearing that Lieutenant B. was relieved for flying the flag. The junior officers, while publicly keeping with the party position, were angered as well. It’s hard to know what the senior officers think, they sit as aloof kings on high. Deep in their camouflaged hearts, I suspect they know, but they must take their orders, as well. Soldiers are many things, but most of them, at a gut level, cherish the ideal, however mythical, of the selfless patriot-- and most soldiers would argue that even in this age of cynicism and apathy, there is something good and true in the American spirit worth fighting for. We all volunteered, after all. Telling a soldier he can’t fly his flag creates, at worst, a mercenary, and more likely, a cynic.

Some colonel who tells me I can’t fly my flag can go to hell. Sometimes I can’t decide who I’d rather put a bullet through, a terrorist ruining my beloved homeland from the outside, or the mindless politicians ruining it from within. I have more respect for the enemy-- an al-Mahdi Army militiaman, fighting for what he truly believes against overwhelming odds with limited equipment and pay, than I do for members of my own chain of command. Many are politicians at heart, and not warriors.

Nothing since I’ve arrived here, even participating in the deaths of innocent people, has troubled me so deeply about this war. What are we doing here? Am I on a year long loan to the Iraqi people, risking my life for a populace who does not trust my country, or even want its help? Fuck them. Fuck the Iraqis. Fuck the idiots who put me in this situation. Fuck myself for putting me in this situation.

Summer here is hotter than anything I could have imagined back in the states. I spent two summers in the field at Fort Hood, deep in the heart of Texas, but it did nothing to prepare me for the inferno that is a Baghdad summer. Life simply stops in the city during the heat of the day. People conduct their business early in the morning or in the evening, but from the hours of 11-4, the streets are empty. Why we even bother to conduct missions during this time is beyond me, but we do. Even the enemy is indoors, out of the sun. The tanks are unbearably hot during the day, and we try not to touch them if we don’t have to. If we do, we wear gloves. A sweaty hand is better than a burned hand. The Iraqi summer has about as much effect on day to day life as I imagine a Siberian winter must. It makes it incredibly difficult to do even the most routine tasks. During the day, while the Iraqis are sweating indoors, probably cursing us for the lack of promised electricity necessary for air-conditioning, the one amenity that makes my life tolerable, we torture ourselves by conducting business as usual. We truck ice across the city, from camp to camp, and climb ladders into guard towers to bake for six hours, wrapped in Kevlar, all the while chugging ice water to keep the body’s core from overheating. When the ice runs out, we get pissed. When the generators, air conditioners, play stations, and laptops go out, we get pissed. When I take my BDU top off while working on the tank, and start to loosen up and cool down. the Sergeant Major gets pissed and give me a lecture about uniform and discipline. Then he walks back in the direction of his air-conditioned office, issuing more “on the spot corrections” along the way. Now I’m pissed at the Sergeant Major, and at the army, and at the stop-loss that’s keeping me involved in this army and in this goddamn motherfucking shithole of a country, and in this soul-sucking bitch of a war that’s seeming more and more like a nightmare I can’t wake up from, and I’m pissed cause no one really seems to care, and most of all I’m pissed at myself because I can’t stop feeling sorry for myself.

“Fuck this place, man. Fuck Iraq. Fuck these Haji motherfuckers.”
“Yeah.” My gunner, working beside me on the tank, affirms the sentiment.
“Can’t wait till the next time one of �em takes a shot at me. I’m gonna blow his fucking head off and like it. This shit is making me crazy man.”
“I feel you. Fuck Iraq.”

I’m pissed at this shitty country, and at my shitty country. I can only begin to guess at who or what the Iraqis are angry at. According to Colonel Robert Abrams, the flag is one possible source of their wrath. The flag of my country is stitched on the right shoulder of my uniform, as per army regulations. The flag of my country is not flown from my vehicle, as per Army regulations. Maybe the Iraqis are angry at the hypocrisy. I know I am. Maybe just being in this place, this hot, stark, dusty, shitty, war savaged place, is enough to get anyone angry.

Why am I here? I volunteered for it.
Why am I angry? I volunteered for it.
Why are they angry? I am here.
When will we leave? When they stop hating us.
It makes my head hurt.

This whole place is simmering, and one day it’s going to boil over.

20 February 2006

Memorial Service (Journal Enry from Nov. 2004)

Bryan Freeman

Today I was forced to attend a memorial service for a civil affairs soldier attached to our battalion. He was shot in the head by a drive-by shooter. I didn’t know him, but a few guys from our platoon had worked with him before. I was angered by the service, almost identical to one we had several weeks ago for the three guys from B co. 20th Engineers. Basically, it consisted of us standing in formation while a bunch of VIPs flown in on black hawks hobnobbed up front, some smiling and catching up with their buddies. The theme from the movie “Platoon” was playing in the background on a PA system. I wonder who else saw the irony. At the signal, the VIPs take their seats and I remain standing at parade rest on the field, along with all of the other grunts. The chaplain gives the invocation. Most of the men around me bow their heads. I do not. A few men who knew the deceased give statements about him, about how he was a great soldier and a great man. Although I have no doubt that he was; I don’t feel like I know him much better after hearing them. The closest I get is when one of the speakers mentions that the deceased, whose name was Bryan Freeman, was nicknamed B-Free. Now he is.

The battalion commander, who, judging by his remarks, had never spoken to the deceased, makes a statement about how great a soldier he was, and about how important the civil affairs work he was doing is for the people of Iraq and the success of our mission. Doesn’t he know that our mission has failed? The mission has crashed into the freaking mountain and there are no survivors. The mission is at the bottom of the fucking Marianas Trench. This soldier is dead, shot to death by the very same people he came here to help. They have spoken, and they don’t want his help. He won’t be able to give it to them anymore, anyway.

After the speakers, the chaplain addresses us again, this time giving a lesson from the book of John. Something about looking for the good in bad situations. Then they play taps and give the deceased a 21 gun salute, and the VIPs salute a pair of the dead man’s boots, rifle, and helmet. Then we, the soldiers, salute the same en masse. Then we leave. I tell a few of the guys, in jest, that I hope if I bite it that they won’t make a bunch of people who didn’t know me stand at parade rest for an hour on my account. I wonder if any one of my friends here would have the balls to speak the truth if they were called on to say a few words about me at my memorial service. I’d hope they would say that I didn’t really believe in what we are doing over here but I did it anyway because it was my job, that I didn’t die doing what I loved, that I didn’t die for the Iraqi people, that I didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice, because to make a sacrifice, you have to do it willingly-- to sacrifice your life for a cause, you have to go in knowing that you will die, or at least that there is a very good chance that you will die-- that I didn’t want to be here, or in the Army anymore, and that it was a god damn shame. Or would they just call me a great soldier and a great guy, salute my rifle, and go to dinner chow? I feel guilty, like I should feel more for the poor bastard who was killed, but I just don’t, and can’t. At some point, you just stop caring, unless you know the person. Every single young man killed over here is a wasted life. And there are many more who come home maimed for life.

I hope I don’t have to attend any more memorial services.

15 February 2006

"It never got weird enough for me."

Sorry for the shortage of posts. It's been a busy and weird week.

Got hit by a truck the other day in downtown Columbia. A Dodge Ram 2500 series. I was riding my week old bike northbound on 9th street, and as I approached the intersection of Locust I saw the truck pull up to the light, headed south. He stopped like he saw me, and was yielding to me, since we both had green lights, but when I was about thirty feet from the intersection, at the end of a long downhill slope, probably hitting about 20mph or so, he suddenly makes his left turn. Pause for about a 1/4 second reaction/shock time. Holy shit he's going to t-bone me. Slam on the breaks, not hard enough, veer right, and smash into his right quarter panel. The world spun, and I wound up flat on my back. I popped up almost instantly-- my adrenaline level was REDCOM 1, and I started running down Locust screaming at the truck to stop. He pulls over, and this sheepish, boyish faced, bespectacled, 19 or 20 year old redneck wearing a camo trucker hat steps out. I was panting from the bike ride and trembling from the shock of just getting hit by a truck, but the anger was pretty much gone when I realized he was scared shitless already. So I looked over my bike, the only damage was to the left handlebar, and weighed my options. I asked him if he saw me at all, he said no. Filing a police report would have been an hour long ordeal, and I didn't feel hurt, so I told him to be more careful and took off. Aside from a few bruises and the loss of a little skin on my hand, I was unscathed. I'm a little more careful now at busy intersections.

The vice president shot a man. I feel kind of sorry for the guy-- I mean, it was a mistake. He finally wised up and talked about it on, big surprise here, FOX news. He seemed genuine enough. He should have issued a statement much, much sooner. What world are we living in when a small Texas newspaper is the first to break the story that the Vice President of the United States has shot a man, albeit accidentally? By trying to sweep all the mistakes under the rug, even the innocent/tragic ones such as this hunting accident, it only reinforces the growing opinion that these guys have major issues with things like truth, and public accountability for mistakes. Resign guys. Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Chertoff-- you've all had a great run of it, but it's time to fess up to the music. The lawbreaking, negligent, lying, corrupt music. Who's gonna be the last one standing when this crazy game of musical chairs is over?

Not Paul Hackett. I'm angry at you Paul. Run as an independent Paul. What the fuck, Paul?
Mr. Hackett said he was unwilling to run for the Congressional seat because he had given his word to three Democratic candidates that he would not enter that race.

"The party keeps saying for me not to worry about those promises because in politics they are broken all the time," said Mr. Hackett, who plans to return to his practice as a lawyer in the Cincinnati area. "I don't work that way. My word is my bond."

Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report, said that part of what made Democratic leaders nervous about Mr. Hackett was what had also made him so popular with voters.

"Hackett is seen by many as a straight talker, and he became an icon to the liberal bloggers because he says exactly what they have wished they would hear from a politician," Ms. Duffy said. "On the other hand, the Senate is still an exclusive club, and the party expects a certain level of decorum that Hackett has not always shown."

Mr. Hackett was widely criticized last year for using indecent language to describe President Bush. Last month, state Republicans attacked Mr. Hackett for saying their party had been hijacked by religious extremists who he said "aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden."

Though Republicans called for an apology, Mr. Hackett repeated the mantra of his early campaign: "I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it."

Once again, the democrats seem to me to be intentionally sabotaging themselves. The party of principle created in the 1960's has become the party of in-fighting pussies. If Bush were a Democrat the Republicans would probably have him impeached by now. Impeachment doesn't get done by talking nice about admitted criminal acts by the president. Sorry. The truth hurts, America. Paul Hackett knows, and got stomped by his own party for the kind of straight talk that could actually energize the lethargic democratic base. So instead of Hackett the democrats front
Representative Brown, a seven-term incumbent from Avon, has a far better chance of toppling Senator DeWine.

"It boils down to who we think can pull the most votes in November against DeWine," said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "And in Ohio, Brown's name is golden. It's just that simple."

Mr. Fern added that Mr. Brown's fund-raising abilities made him the better Senate candidate. By the end of last year, Mr. Brown had already amassed $2.37 million, 10 times what Mr. Hackett had raised.

It's the money people. Mr. Hackett, I urge you to run as an independent in the senatorial election. Fuck the republicans. Fuck the democrats. They both voted for war, and what's worse, many democrats did it knowing that it was a disaster waiting to happen, but the polls, hey, the polls win. Money wins. Principle can still win. Step up, Paul. Don't quit, Paul.

What's gonna go down next? Still hasn't got weird enough for me...
The news is bad today, in America and for America. There is nothing good or hopeful about it-- except for Nazis, warmongers, and rich greedheads-- and it is getting worse and worse in logarithmic progressions since the fateful bombing of the World Trade Towers in New York. That will always be a festering low-watermark in this nation's violent history..
HST May 10,2002

RIP Hunter, you would have loved to see this shit.

07 February 2006

Danish Cartoons Start WWIII

Another post on cartoons. I truly don't see what the big deal is with cartoons. From the Joint Chiefs to muslim clerics, people around the world seem to have forgotten that cartoons are, by definition, ludicrous caricatures. They might make you think, laugh, draw, even get angry and offer an opposing view-- but kill, burn, riot? No cartoon has ever moved me that much. The clerics need to get off the high horse and start directing all the energy into something constructive. If they want to protest, nonviolence ends up working a lot better, in the end. If they want to protest something, how about the occupation of Iraq, and not a stupid cartoon. It's laughable, until one realizes that people have actually died as a result of these cartoons. What a waste.

My friend Ray offered these insightful words via emaillist. Ray is from Indonesia, the largest muslim country in the world.

I think a lot of it stems from the difference in free-speech tolerance level between here and in the Muslim world. Christianity in the West has been on the defense against secularism for so long that some people begin to accept the criticism and the ridicule of religion as a given. In the Muslim world, on the other hand, criticism and ridicule against Islam is a rare event and very frowned upon, to say the least. Such criticism is far in between, and the perpetrator is harshly punished. I think these Muslims are offended because of two things: the Prophet, being with the Koran the most visible symbol of the religion in the Muslim world, is being drawn (which on the theological level really is bad enough, trust me) and he is ridiculed in public. The reactions from the Muslim world, such as boycott of IKEA and other Scandinavian stuff in the Middle East (apparently they think the Scandinavia only consists of Denmark), are not out of the ordinary.


I enjoy criticism of religion (yeah, I'm a heathen), especially criticism of religious fundamentalists. So here, for your enjoyment, are the cartoons that the chickenshit US corporate ewwww we're scared media won't even put on tv for a few seconds. Damn our press sucks. Islamofascists take heed. Corporafacists take heed.

04 February 2006

Another incendiary Cartoon I found funny

03 February 2006

State of the Police State

Pig shoots American hero attempting to comply with orders. Hopefully, this so called 'officer' will be locked up with all the criminals he has put away. He'll have a lot of time to reflect on his trigger finger while trying to avoid being shanked by all the thugs doing life, who hate dirty cops only slightly less than pedophilic priests. Thank God the cop couldn't shoot, and Elio survived.

Cindy Sheehan, invited to the SOTU by a California politician, was arrested before the President's address by police. Rep. Bill Young's wife was also told to leave. Both women were wearing t-shirts with war messages. Rep Young's wife's shirt said "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom." Sheehan's shirt said "2245 Dead, How Many More?"

The archaic, unwritten, and unconstitutional charges against Sheehan of "demonstrating in the capital" were conveniently dropped after the TV cameras focused on the next big thing. The incident was given little MSM attention.

Instead of walking out in solidarity with the two women, democrats participated in the president's own political demonstration, at times applauding inane rhetoric and misleading characterizations of the war in Iraq. Democrats aspire to be the party of principle, but they have become spineless appeasers, afraid to stand up en masse when it really matters. I might be wasting my vote from now on, but a vote for either of the big two would be an even bigger waste. Watching the state of the union disgusted me. Bush disgusts me. Democrats disgust me. Send em all to Iraq. Every last smug, suited, swinging dick. Shit, send Hillary too. Strap em up with an M16 and turn em loose on the 'turrists'. Let them fight for freedom and democracy in Iraq, even as the concepts lose meaning at home. Freedom means letting them spy on us. Democracy means military occupation. What happens when the terrorists get elected? How does that fit into the neo-cons' vision of a democratic middle east? You want the state of the union, America? I'll give it to you--It's fucked. Unfucking it involves voting out as many career politicians as possible of both parties, impeaching the president, vice president, secretary of defense, and extraditing them to be tried as war criminals. I know it probably won't happen, but it's the right thing to do. America is not a facist nation. We don't attack other countries preemptively. That's the way it used to be, anyway.

Read this article if you still believe that President Bush gave America the straight scoop on Iraq before the invasion. Do you think he's giving you the truth now? Or maybe they're all just concerned with the upcoming elections. They should be. Vote out the corrupt. Vote out career politicians. Vote out spineless democrats. Vote out warmongering Republicans. Vote out the facists, or America is doomed. Bush's grandaddy made his money pandering to the Nazis. Bush made his money pandering to the people who attacked us on Sept 11. We are "a nation addicted to oil", and Bush is the pusher man.

Prayer Breakfast Video from C-SPAN (need REALPLAYER, this is worth your time, believe me

The cartoon that got the joint chiefs all worked up.

01 February 2006

Reply to the Security Management Office

Acting on the good faith assumption that your intentions are for the
security of our country, I have altered the three photos you mentioned
by number ( I can't find any pictures I have on flickr entitled "tank"
or "camp war eagle") to comply with whatever standards of operational
security are being used to screen my pictures, taken legally and with
the knowledge of command, published online as a civilian after my
discharge, and therefore protected by the 1st Amendment as part of a
free press. I understand, though, that we all must make sacrifices of
personal liberty in order to guarantee safety.


MR Van Reet

On 1/30/06> wrote:
> Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
> Caveats: NONE
> SGT Van Reet, I tried contacting you at your AKO and your MSN address with
> the below message last week.
> SGT Van Reet
> The 902nd MI at Fort Hood contacted me concerning some photos you have
> posted on A returning soldier likes to share memories with
> people, and in no way do we want to stop that. However, on the web site,
> there are five photos that expose weaknesses of our weapon systems. These
> photos are (tank, camp war eagle, 75862612, 74920791, and 75674977. I'm sure
> you can appreciate the need to keep vulnerable areas on our weapon systems
> from falling into the wrong hands.
> Thank you for your cooperation