Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by William H. McMichael, was originally published by The Army Times, March 5, 2009
A Maryland state senator is pushing a bill that would require the governor to prevent the mobilization of the state’s National Guard for federal duty unless Congress has authorized the use of military force or issued a declaration of war.
The bill also would authorize the governor to ask for the return of deployed units in certain circumstances.
But unlike initiatives such as the multi-state “Bring the Guard Home” campaign that are rooted in anti-war sentiment, State Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr.’s bill aims to influence national policy and practice. Madaleno said he wants Congress to play a larger role in future troop deployment decisions, including determining whether the Guard truly needs to be part of any overseas military action.
“I think one of the lessons — certainly, of Iraq — is, ‘We gave this authority to the president,’ ” Madaleno said after a March 4 committee hearing on the bill in Annapolis, Md.
After the successful invasion, public awareness waned, which “allowed a policy drift,” Madaleno said. “And if you put in place certain additional checks, ... you potentially provide the framework for Congress to do something and remain engaged in the oversight of the conflict.”
The debate over which branch of government has the authority to declare war has continued for decades. World War II was the last conflict initiated by a formal declaration of war. Congress in 2001 gave President George W. Bush blanket authority to deploy troops in response to terrorist attacks or threats, clearing the way for Operation Enduring Freedom, and in 2002 authorized the use of military force in Iraq.
But many of the conflicts or military strikes of the past 60 years have been fought, at least initially, without the approval of the body with the constitutional authority to “declare war” — most famously in Korea, but also in Libya, Grenada, Panama, Operation Desert Shield, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Madaleno, a Democrat, said he supported the Iraq invasion, although he said hebelieves there were “serious gaps in how the war was prosecuted after ... the first six months.”
At the same time, he argued, “If we are actually going to be actively engaged in conflicts around the world for a variety of reasons, how do we create a political process that makes sure that the people remain engaged and supportive of the conflicts that we’re in? It shouldn’t just be the executive branch that is solely responsible for that decision-making. We have to create a political process that keeps the public engaged, informed, through their elected representatives.”
State Sen. George Edwards, a Republican, said he wasn’t familiar with Madaleno’s bill, but he indicated he would not be inclined to support it.
“Maybe there’s going to be times when something needs to be done without a declaration of war,” he said. “We’re part of the United States of America. We take things from the federal government, [like] when they want to give us this stimulus package money. The federal government buys most of our military equipment. When people join the Guard, they know the potential of being called up to active duty to protect the interests of the United States. I think it’s working fine just the way it is.”
The Maryland National Guard is staying out of the debate. “We have no position on this bill,” said Army Lt. Col. Charles Kohler, spokesman for the Maryland Guard. “Our job in the military is to follow the orders” of civilian leadership.
The Maryland Guard has about 300 troops mobilized and deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia, Kohler said. Over the 2007-08 timeframe, some 1,200 troops were deployed to Iraq, most with the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, in what Kohler said was the Maryland Guard’s largest combat-zone deployment ever.
About 5,000 troops serve in the Maryland Army National Guard, with another 1,500 in the state’s Air National Guard, according to Kohler.
Currently, 34,851 Army National Guard and Air National Guard troops, and 24,717 members of the four Reserve forces, are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas considered part of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the Pentagon.
Maryland is also home to a Bring the Guard Home campaign, which argues that the National Guard is unlawfully deployed because the aims of the war in Iraq outlined in the 2002 congressional authorization for use of force have been achieved and that the authorization did not provide for “an indefinite assignment of State Guard members to the National Guard of the United States.”
Despite the differing emphasis in his bill, Madaleno — whose photo and bill are displayed on the campaign’s Web page — said he wouldn’t mind if the Maryland group’s and others’ initiatives were also successful, as they would have the same effect.
“By doing it this way, I’m trying to take a slightly different tack than several other states, where they’ve focused solely on the resolution to bring the Guard home from Iraq now,” Madaleno said. “And I’m trying to refocus and broaden the debate a little bit: What are the lessons of this conflict that inform us for the next conflict?”
This article, by Joseph B. Frazier, was distributed by the Associated Press, February 11, 2009
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon National Guard has written to 433 of its soldiers to say they may have been exposed to a toxic, carcinogenic chemical at an Iraqi water pumping plant shortly after the war began.
Guard spokesman Maj. Mike Braibish said three companies of the 162nd Infantry Battalion were deployed in Kuwait, and the troops were sent, about 50 at a time, into Iraq to escort employees of Houston-based KBR, which was inspecting oil facilities.
He said no symptoms indicating exposure have been reported to the Oregon Guard.
“That doesn’t mean they won’t be,” Braibish said Wednesday. “Some may have been treated by the Veterans Administration, and we don’t know about it. It’s a possibility.”
U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota say there are unanswered questions about the exposure of U.S. troops to the chemical hexavalent chromium at the Basra water plant in 2003.
Bayh first raised concerns about the Indiana Guard. In a letter to the Pentagon on Tuesday, the senators mentioned Oregon troops.
They say KBR allowed soldiers to be exposed to the chemical for more than two months even though KBR knew the site was contaminated. KBR has denied it knowingly harmed troops or was responsible for an unsafe condition.
The senators also say that Indiana National Guard troops didn’t learn of possible exposure until they saw KBR workers wearing special clothing and that Guard troops from Oregon, South Carolina and West Virginia haven’t been told they may have been exposed.
Braibish said 433 letters were sent earlier this year. He said 18 were returned as undeliverable.
“We have the responsibility to let the soldiers know what we know,” he said.
He said Oregon troops did the guard duty for six to eight weeks in 2003, and then the Indiana National Guard took it over.
Each Oregon soldier may have gone into the area four times but not necessarily to the water treatment facility at Basra, Braibish said.
They would go into Iraq and return to Kuwait each night, he said.
He said Indiana troops went to the same locations each day and may have stayed at the facility at times.
The company closed the site in summer 2003 for “remediation,” or to fix problems, he said.
In October 2003, the Army started studying hexavalent chromium levels at the site.
Braibish said a key to determining exposure would be concentrations of the chemical before “remediation,” which KBR may know but which the Army does not.
“There are three factors,” Braibish said. “Time, or duration, frequency and concentration.”
“We know the duration and frequency,” but not the concentration levels before KBR tried to fix the problem by covering the area with gravel and asphalt, he said.
He said KBR did not report concentration levels and was not required to do so in its contract.
Based on the data they could get, Braibish said, Department of the Army investigators concluded that exposure levels did not exceed OSHA levels and were not substantial.
“I believe we made a good faith effort,” Braibish said. “The challenge is that we don’t know the concentration. Does KBR know?”
He said symptoms can include respiratory problems, torn nasal membranes and, in severe cases, various forms of cancer.
Hexavalent chromium is used, among other things, as an additive to dyes, paints, inks and plastics, and as an anticorrosive surface coating.
The following report, was originally filed by CBS Nwews, December 22, 2008
The military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root, known as KBR, has won more than $28 billion in U.S. military contracts since the beginning of the Iraq war. KBR may be facing a new scandal. First, accusations its then-parent company Halliburton was given the lucrative contract. And later, allegations of shoddy construction oversight that resulted in Americans getting electrocuted. Now, some other American soldiers say the company knowingly put their lives at risk, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian exclusively reports.
In April of 2003, James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard arrived in Southern Iraq to take command of more than 600 other guardsmen. Their job: protect KBR contractors working at a local water plant.
"We didn't question what we were doing, we just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR," said Battalion Cmdr. Gentry.
Today James Gentry is dying from rare form of lung cancer. The result, he believes, of months of inhaling hexavalent chromium - an orange dust that's part of a toxic chemical found all over the plant.
At least one other Indiana guardsman has already died from lung cancer, and others are said to be suffering from tumors and rashes consistent with exposure to the deadly toxin.
"I'm a nonsmoker. I believe that I received this cancer from the southern oil fields in Iraq," he said.
Now CBS News has obtained information that indicates KBR knew about the danger months before the soldiers were ever informed.
Depositions from KBR employees detailed concerns about the toxin in one part of the plant as early as May of 2003. And KBR minutes, from a later meeting state "that 60 percent of the people … exhibit symptoms of exposure," including bloody noses and rashes.
Gentry says it wasn't until the last day of August in 2003 - after four long months at the facility - that he was told the plant was contaminated.
"We would never have been there if we would have known," Gentry said.
A new internal Army investigation obtained exclusively by CBS News says the Army's medical response was "prompt and effective." But even after a briefing Monday, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh says that KBR has a lot to answer for.
"Look, I think the burden of proof at this point is on the company," Bayh said. "To come forward and very forthrightly explain what happened, why we should trust them, and why the health and well-being of our soldiers should continue to be in their hands."
In a statement, the company told CBS News: "We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition."
The company says it notified the Army as soon as it identified the toxin.
Still, some Indiana guardsmen say they only just learned of the risk.
"I didn't know I was exposed to a deadly carcinogen until five years later when I received a letter," said Indiana National Guardsman Jody Aistrop.
This is far from the first time the multi-billion dollar contractor has been accused of questionable conduct at Iraq. In addition to convictions for bribery, it's alleged KBR provided contaminated water to troops. The company denies all charges.
"It's going to cost American lives, I'm afraid," Gentry said. "I love them. I love my men so much."
So much so Gentry says he will urge each and every one of them get tested for the cancer that he fears is taking his life.
This report, by Libby Lewis, was originally broadcast on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, June 18, 2008
Men have been going off to war and coming home since time began. Every veteran must reckon in one way or another with the gulf between what he's experienced and what the rest of us have not. That gulf has meant the ruin for a lot of men, and also for some women.
Well, now a group of Iraq veterans is trying to bridge the divide. They're talking to communities, colleges and police about what it's like to come home from war. NPR's Libby Lewis has this report.
LIBBY LEWIS: These were Michael Hawley's first days out of Iraq.
Mr. MICHAEL HAWLEY (Iraq War Veteran): The first night, I caught the clap. The second night, I got in a fight with a white rapper and his posse. My friends and I got clubbed. Third night, nothing happened, but I was still out. And the fourth night, I impregnated a 38-year-old grandmother.
LEWIS: Hawley's at the police station in Granby, Connecticut with four other war veterans. They're talking to officers around here who work together as crises negotiators. The instigator here is Jay White. He's a counselor at the VA's Hartford Vet Center. He served two tours in Iraq. He wants to reach the people on Main Street who deal with trouble - like police and emergency rescue people - because trouble is the way many war veterans have dealt with the gulf between them and us. Jay White looks out at the police officers in Granby.
Mr. JAY WHITE (Counselor, VA's Hartford Vet Center): As you'll hear from these guys, it's a volatile crowd. And the varying ages, varying degrees of what people saw in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they're coming back to Connecticut.
LEWIS: Why should police and the rest of us need to know what's in these guy's heads and what happened to them so far away in the past? Author William Faulkner knew. He put it this way: The past isn't dead. It isn't even past.
Take Jesse Cohen's first encounter in combat in Iraq. It keeps coming back in the middle of the night here in suburban Connecticut. Cohen's telling these police officers, these strangers, what he hasn't told anybody else before.
Mr. JESSE COHEN (Iraq War Veteran): My girlfriend, she hears me talking at night. And often I have to wake up, change my clothes, take a shower, 'cause I'm drenched in sweat. And it's like I'm there again.
LEWIS: In his dream, there's a line of white dots that grow larger and turn into trucks, then a firefight, and brain matter on a windshield.
Mr. COHEN: And this time, it's more traumatic than it was the first time. 'Cause the first time, it was like a video game. I'm like, oh, wow. Cool. This happened. And it doesn't hit you until you're back here, and you're just like, wow, everything just downloaded and you're just trying to process it.
LEWIS: These are regular guys. They went to Iraq for the same reasons men have always gone to war: to do the right thing for their country, or to get ahead in life, or to prove themselves to themselves. Three of them served together in the Connecticut National Guard. Before they went, their idea of war was from the movies or video games.
Aaron Jones is a beefy guy with tattoos all over his arms. He takes the police officers back to his first day in Iraq after training. He hears a noise...
Mr. AARON JONES (Iraq War Veteran): I walked outside, and there's my platoon sergeant laying with a hole in his shoulder. Turns out he had one his head, too. I didn't notice that, the way he had fallen. And he pretty much died in my arms as I was dragging him to the bunker.
LEWIS: Patrick Montes helped Jones pull their sergeant's body inside. Two days later, they lost their buddy Felix Delgreco in an attack. He was 22.
Mr. PATRICK MONTES (Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan): I did the math in my head. I was like, wait a minute. There's 120 of us, and there's 365 days. And we've been here three days, and we're down two, and we have two wounded. And so, you know, you kind of do the math, and you're like, yeah. What's the point? I'm not going to make it.
LEWIS: Montes was lead gunner for their team. He made it, and he served a second tour in Afghanistan. Here in Granby, his eyes are constantly scanning the room, the windows, the door.
Brian Bartman was there, too. He looks like preppy in a buttoned-down shirt and sports jacket. But every now and then, he holds his pen like it's a weapon. He talks about the ways they dealt with war, like playing video games just after an ambush.
Mr. BRIAN BARTMAN (Iraq War Veteran): I can't wait to go back and play Halo. Let's go. Well, it's life saving over there, because you can get through these traumatic events and then go back to talking about insignificant stuff again. It doesn't work well with normal life.
LEWIS: Normal life? Talk about a mind warp. Here's Jesse Cohen.
Mr. COHEN: For us to come back into civilization, where everyone's just driving along, not a care in the world, just oh, I got to make to work on time or I got pick up my kids and this and that...
LEWIS: Cohen says he couldn't deal with it.
Mr. COHEN: I'm, like, driving around like a maniac. I had a heavy foot for a while. I was - I had a lot of road rage.
LEWIS: Police around the country said they're seeing more dangerous driving and road rage by Iraq veterans who've come back. Connecticut crises negotiator Brian Callany(ph) says it's important for law officers to understand these guys, especially for worst-case scenarios, like a hostage situation.
Mr. BRIAN CALLANY (Crises Negotiator): With the Iraq war and the horrors that these - a lot of these young men are seeing without any life experience, the chances of becoming a target group for us to have to deal with as a negotiator is probably better than 50-50.
LEWIS: Aaron Jones came home injured and alone, without his buddies. First thing, he found out his wife was with another guy. He had to move back in with his parents to help him through back surgery.
Mr. JONES: I came from a very religious family, where what's PTSD? Go to church and pray. I just wasn't really - I wasn't really willing to do that. I got back to being religious when I was in Iraq, and I probably would've stayed that way, except for when I came home, it felt like the whole world just fell out from underneath me.
LEWIS: Jones had a lot of guns, and he clung to them when he got back. One day, he pulled a .45 on a guy who was bugging him for change. He didn't pull the trigger, but he got a huge rush.
Mr. JONES: And it sounds messed up, but I wanted so bad to kill somebody when I came home. And I don't know why that is. I'm not a psychologist. But I didn't do it over there, my guys had. And I wanted to prove I could do it.
LEWIS: And Jones said he really gets how some guys fall into domestic violence. His wife leaving him chewed him up on the inside.
Mr. JONES: One of the things that you hear a lot about is domestic, with guys coming home. I can see how very easy it was, 'cause I wanted to just destroy her, and definitely wanted destroy the guy that she was with.
LEWIS: Jones didn't explode. That's because he stumbled on counselor Jay White at the Vet Center, when he was looking for a VA home loan. He's been going there ever since. All of these guys drank like crazy when they came home. They talked of benders that lasted weeks, lots of bar fights and driving drunk, and a constant train of abnormal thoughts. Patrick Montes got locked up for assault and public drunkenness and other charges. He says he mouthed off to a Hartford police officer who told him to move his car.
Mr. MONTES: I think I said the f-word, too. I can't remember - not at him, just saying like all right, right, we'll F-ing move.
LEWIS: At the police station lockup, Montes handed over his wallet and keys. He was taking his laces out of his shoes when one of the officers saw his military ID and said...
Mr. MONTES: This is not Baghdad anymore. There's no dead babies here. And I - it took every ounce of strength in me to not clock him. I continued to take my laces out of my shoes...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MONTES: ...and I was like, here you go.
LEWIS: Montes can laugh about it now. A prosecutor threw the charges out. And he's back with his buddies in Connecticut.
The Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan hearings organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will begin on March 13th. During the four day event, scholars and most importantly, veterans and civilians with personal experiences of war, will attempt to educate the American public about the nature and the reality of the Bush Administration's alleged war against terrorism. There will be those, no doubt, some veterans themselves, who will be offended by these hearings and will regard the testimony given by these courageous individuals as unpatriotic, un-American, unsupportive of the troops, perhaps even as treasonous. Such condemnation and opposition to Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan is unwarranted and misguided, perhaps, for some, a remnant of a deep seated resentment regarding earlier Winter Soldier hearings in which veterans testified regarding their experiences fighting the war in Vietnam.
It is not the purpose of Winter Soldier to malign or disparage America, but to begin a dialogue regarding the morality, legality, and necessity of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To tell the truth about war does not diminish this nation. If anything, it affirms America's greatness, and the commitment of its citizens to truth and justice. With the war in Iraq entering it's sixth year with no end in sight, it is time, long past time, that all Americans at least become aware of the nature of war and of its cost in human lives and national treasure.
Neither is it the purpose of Winter Soldier to diminish the efforts and sacrifices of members of the military. To tell the truth about war, though difficult and disconcerting, will ultimately prove uplifting and curative as the legacy, dignity, self-respect, and integrity of our servicemen and women, rests not upon fantasy, lies, and fabrications but upon their commitment to America and to freedom. Though veterans must accept some personal responsibility for their actions, all who supported the war or did nothing to stop it must share culpability. Most blameworthy, of course, are those political leaders, whose misguided policies, incompetence, and paranoia ultimately makes killing, dying, and grieving inevitable.
Winter Soldier is a wakeup call to all Americans that our nation is in peril and that what threatens the fabric and foundations of our way of life in these dangerous times is not some amorphous, enigmatic horde of bloodthirsty terrorists. Rather it is the assault upon truth, individual freedom, and the values of justice and morality we hold sacred. Further, Winter Soldier is an admonition that to avoid hypocrisy, we must have the moral courage to look at and to judge our own behavior with at least as much honesty and scrutiny as we view and judge the behavior of others.
Unfortunately and tragically, perhaps war is a reality that will not soon go away and sacrifices on the field of battle will again be required. However, by demanding truth and recognizing war as it truly is, we will begin to resolve the divisiveness that plagues our nation, and provide veterans and devastated families the opportunity to heal and to achieve some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Further, we will ensure that war remains a means of last resort, that no other person will again have to kill, die, or grieve the loss of their son or daughter for a cause that is misguided, and, perhaps, most important, that those who dare to initiate such wars and connive to use deception and myth to encourage participation and support are held responsible for their crimes against humanity.
Is it truly support, therefore, to remain silent when our troops are placed in harm's way unnecessarily, to kill and be killed subject to the whims and ineptitudes of our political leaders? Who can dispute that sending inadequately prepared National Guard troops into combat and then failing to provide them with body and vehicle armor is unconscionable and criminally negligent. The fact that so many of our heroic sons and daughters are languishing abandoned, their emotional and psychological injuries untreated, and their needs ignored, is a national tragedy and disgrace. The fact that America has become isolated in the world, respected no longer for its ideals, but feared for its brutality, no longer admired for its values of justice and freedom, but hated for its hypocrisy and intolerance, should bring a tear to the eye and anger to the heart of anyone who truly loves America. Such outrage requires, no demands, the true patriot, the Winter Soldier, to embrace truth and to cry out in condemnation and protest against this corrupting and disgracing of America by those political leaders and their coconspirators who cherish not our values and way of life but only wealth and power.