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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
Two weeks ago I received an email from Daniel J. Lakemacher, who is applying to be administratively discharged, by the Navy as a Conscientious Objector. To honor, and hopefully draw attention to his refusal I am reprinting his blog posts describing the twists and turns of extracating oneself from the machine. These posts were originally posted to warisimmoral.com
Saturday May 30 (Days 25-28) Unexpected validation
If you're wondering about my count of the days since I filed my request, I accidentally fell behind by one day over the last weekend. This past Thursday and Friday were actually Days 25 & 26, and this weekend is then Days 27 & 28. Monday will resume my regular schedule.
Continuing on timing, I've been told to expect that this process will take months. For example, during my interview by the Chaplain, he made, what seemed to me, a loaded statement that the decision-making process for my request may take so long that I would be at the end of my "contract" anyway. A noteworthy aside is that he failed to mention the three years I would still be forced to spend in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) even after my "active duty". Don't be fooled, anyone who enlists does so for 8 years, whatever portion is not listed as active duty is spent in the the IRR.
In any case, I informed the Chaplain that I was undeterred by the potential time-frames involved, and I stated that I ultimately want to do what I believe is morally right, despite what may seem more pragmatic. I also commented that I already felt emotionally much better having made my decision and taken action. I've related to a number of friends that I've experienced an increased self-acceptance and satisfaction in life since I aligned my beliefs and actions by filing my request; however, I was unaware that others less close to me had also noticed a definitive change.
A couple weeks ago, I paid for Kinko's to make spiral-bound presentation booklets containing the online version of my application and a preface that is a slight modification of my "Reflections on GTMO" blog post. I'm continuing to pass around these folios to a variety of individuals on the Navy base who I think will be interested.
After reading it, one such person asked to speak with me privately. A little background is that she was one of the first people I worked with in the Navy. We met in late 2005 and have intermittently talked when we see each other at the base ever since. In addition to thanking me for sharing my thoughts and beliefs, she said that reading what I wrote finally gave her the information to make sense of what had been going on with me.
Quite surprised, I asked what she meant. She began by telling me that she's always appreciated me as a uniquely nice person and therefore has valued even our casual friendship. She went on to say that because of this, she's perhaps been more perceptive and interested in me that I've given her credit for. Completely intrigued as to where this was going, I urged her to explain.
According to her, she discerned a couple significant shifts in my overall demeanor and mood in the years we've known each other. Upon first meeting, she expressed that she generally knew me as hard-working and happy go-lucky; however, she claimed it was obvious to her that something had changed with me upon my return from GTMO. She stated that she didn't feel that she knew me well enough to appropriately broach the topic, but she said that, in my eyes in particular, she could see something was deeply bothering me. Then "a couple of months ago", she noticed another change. This she described by saying it looked as if I'd finally found peace about whatever it was that had been troubling me. By my sharing my request and some of my other written thoughts, she felt emboldened to talk with me about it. She concluded by saying that although a belief in God works for her, she was sincerely happy for me, and she was glad to have finally made sense of what it was that had been going on with me over the past 18 months.
I was awestruck by her insight, as well as her acceptance. Nevertheless, the conversation was still not complete, as she continued it by expressing that she would like to speak on my behalf, not about what it was that I believed, but about how she's known me as long as anyone in the Navy has, and she's convinced that I have authentically changed. My wonderment turned to gratitude, and I thanked her profusely for everything from talking to me to her willingness to be a witness at my sometime-coming "informal hearing".
Although my ultimate hope is that by making my conscientious objection as public as possible I will inspire others to do the same, I can think of no better secondary achievement than that which took place in the above conversation.
Thursday May 28 (Day 24) Ordered not to die ... at least by suicide.
Yesterday I overheard a radio news commentator mention that the Ft. Campbell, KY army base has had 11 suicides since the first of the year. This alarming loss of life by suicide caused me to look for further information, and I was literally shocked to discover that the senior commander of the base, Brigadier General Stephen J. Townsend, held a "Suicide Stand-Down" (a mandatory training that effectively halts regular operations of a base) from which CNN quoted him as follows:
"If you don't remember anything else I say in the next five or 10 minutes, remember this -- suicidal behavior in the 101st on Fort Campbell is bad," Brig. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend told his forces. "It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our army and our country and it's got to stop now. Suicides on Fort Campbell have to stop now."
"Don't let yourself, your buddies or your families down," he said, ending his comments by repeating, "This has got to stop, soldiers. It's got to stop now. Have a great week."
I ask you to consider his words in light of the fact that he is likely the highest ranking person who will ever be physically seen by the masses of people who were mandated to listen to him that day. In other words, within the strictly authoritarian hierarchy that is the military Chain of Command, he is the top level of what is actually visible to the vast majority of those below him. Secondly, bear in mind this one quote from the book Suicide Science, in which the chapter title Shame, Guilt, and Suicide alone is telling:
"Theory and emerging empirical research indicates that feelings of shame are more prominent than guilt in the dynamics leading up to suicidal thoughts and behaviors."
Although CNN interviewed a few mental health experts about how such "guidance" may have been ineffective, I'm more interested to hear what message you think was received by the soldiers if they did exactly as their General ordered. What might they be thinking and feeling if, in the wake of the 11 suicides that prompted the special meeting, they remembered only that their General said, as regards suicide:
"It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our army and our country . . ."
Furthermore, what effect might it have had on the soldier who was earnestly struggling with thoughts of suicide, perhaps as an effect of the extreme cognitive dissonance required of any individual tasked with killing others for the sake of promoting peace, justice, and liberty?
Wednesday May 27 (Day 23) Sir! No Sir!
Although I still have no updates to offer regarding the progress of my conscientious objection, I'm encouraged by the new and different people I hear from almost daily as a result of this website. One of the more exciting contacts I've made is a gentleman who was discharged as a conscientious objector in 2001. I've exchanged emails with him about how the process went and also how he's been doing post-Navy.
Another individual, previously unknown to me, recently emailed an offer to help me find a job upon discharge, and in addition he directed me to the website where I discovered the documentary film Sir! No Sir!. For the more savvy film critics out there, be aware that this isn't a cheesy low-budget propaganda piece, but an award-winning movie that received two thumbs up from Ebert & Roeper.
A quote from the ... 2-minute trailer resonated deeply with my own sentiments about both the current wars of the U.S. military and all war in general:
"We truly believed what would stop that war was when the soldiers stopped fighting it."
Likewise, I truly believe that most of the individuals killing each other on either side of any war are not doing so because they actually want to or even because they think that it's right. Sadly they're risking their own lives and terminating the lives of others primarily out of a combination of extreme fear and programmed obedience.
The key then is to no longer allow government-sanctioned murder to masquerade as a matter of honor, duty, and sacrifice. Instead it is right to empower the individuals working for the military to recognize that they have the ability and the moral justification to stop fighting, regardless of what they may be "ordered" to do.
Tuesday, May 26 (Day 22) *Updated* Further Replies to "Obedience as Virtue
Noah Marsh also choose to address a specific remark of Jay's, and I wanted to offer his additional perspective to further the discussion. I sincerely hope to hear back from Jay, but in the interim I will seek to address other issues.
If reading the above sentences leaves you perplexed as to what discussion I'm referencing, please start by reading Day 19 - Obedience as Virtue. If you then progress through each subsequent day to this most recent update, it will hopefully all make sense. If you're immediately reticent to go backwards because it will involve more reading, fear not, there are only two additional posts between where I have directed you and the present. Noah Marsh
In his third paragraph, Jay Jones questions Dan's analogy of beating a child, i.e. spanking, by claiming, "It really doesn't hold water." First, I must say that analogies are never perfect. People select analogies on the basis of a dominant feature of correspondence important for the immediate point the author is making. Of course the analogy will not correlate perfectly in every aspect. With that in mind I still do not agree with Mr. Jones' claim, "It really doesn't hold water."
Secondly, the justification for Mr. Jones' critique misses an important point of Dan's analogy. While there are instances in which a parent does tell a child not to do something for his or her own safety, e.g. not to touch a hot stove, the majority of the directives that parents issue to their children have no impact on a child's welfare - safety. For instance, almost every parent that I know has told their child not to color on the walls. When a child violates that edict, punishment ensues, often by "spanking." Why must a child not color on the walls? I may be wrong on this, so please correct me if I am, but Mr. Jones would say, "[Because,] no shit [the parent] knows better than the non-obedient child." What does the parent know better than the non-obedient child? Why does that knowledge mean the child should not color on the walls? Often times I believe parents' demand obedience from their children to avoid their own embarrassment (I have seen many parent-child interactions on public transit that demonstrate this). What is the difference from learning not to touch a hot stove by burning one's self and by beating? The latter attaches the pain to disobedience while the former attaches pain to the harmful act. I believe Dan's analogy was chosen intentionally (correct me if I am wrong on this as well), specifically for this reason. Dan's analogy hold's more water than Mr. Jones allows for.
POSTED BY DANIEL J. LAKEMACHER AT 7:16 PM
Those you might deem as taking a bad tact towards parenting (those that punish out of resentment) aside. What possible lesson could a parent be trying to impart by forbidding a crayon graffito? (Assuming that any parent may want to actually teach as opposed to simply guard and provide) Simple respect for personal property, not destroying what's not yours. A simple precept and in this case that respect can very well lead to that child growing up more the individual.
Now as for the whole hot stove/"beating" analogy: You can punish children after the fact because they can associate the two. While it is true that you're not supposed to punish a dog after the fact due to their inability connect the punishment and the action. However, at a young age, humans are of a high enough cognitive function that they can associate a response to the action after the fact. Children aren't Chihuahuas.
It seems that the underlying motive stems from an aversion to spanking. Would you be ok with punishing said crayola kid in some other means? Or of you the type that would do nothing but scrub the walls? Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment can be done without it stepping over the line of “beating”. I'm not going to get into parenting, its another topic. However, whatever your take on parenting, simply protecting your child is doing them a disservice. Dan's analogy asks the question: "Think for yourself; did your very first lesson involve learning that disobedience would result in physical pain?" There are a couple of flaws in the question. First, it assumes that the first lesson is the one you remember as the first. Perhaps your parents tried many different ways to get to you not steal/wreck others stuff/run in the streets and they just didn't take. Second, since humans cannot remember pain, (if you could your leg would hurt when you thought of spraining your ankle) unless you have lasting mental trauma the effects of spanking today is paled by whatever lesson you learned. Once again, I'm not going to get into what lessons a parent might impart.
Now, the question comes to a head when you try to extrapolate that out to obedience in adults. Personally, I disagree with the amount and reach of our laws and gov't. Laws should be almost exclusively about protection and safety.
As far as Dan's admitted violation of other's liberty goes. I don't know exactly what he's referencing or what gains were made (or what the cost was). And I don't inherently worry about violating people’s liberty. Especially if those people were incarcerated in GITMO. Do I think that there might be some innocent people or those that really don’t pose a threat? Absolutely. Are there innocents in the US penal system? We all know there is. Is that reason to release them all? No. However both the current and previous administration simply can’t find other countries to take them.
"Enhanced Interrogation" works, sometimes simple incarceration works. Hell, sometimes torture works, as Sen. McCain admitted to during his GOP acceptance speech. I'm not advocating torture, it’s iffy at best. People tell you what they think you want them to say. Nor am I asserting that the US tortures: Water boarding is not torture; we do it to our own. I’ve been in worse situations and I’ve done it to good friends, with whiskey, forcing them not to spill any. That is far worse and it’s really not that bad.
MAY 30, 2009 12:17 PM
I believe Mr. Jones' critique regarding the "crayon grafitito" analogy I provided earlier flawed, but I will limit my conversation to the lengthier and,I interpret, more important of his responses. I must first say I found the comparison of a child to a Chihuahua very timely as my wife and I have begun the process of buying a dog, which includes reading about training methods. I appreciated the irony. The rest of Mr. Jones' post I found inciteful and not as apt to insightful conversation.
I must admit I was shocked by Mr. Jones' assertion that a child ought to be punished after having burned himself or herself on the stove, "You can punish children after the fact because they can associate the two...at a young age, humans are at a high enough cognitive function that they can associate a response to the action after the fact." I did not have punishment after the fact in mind when I originally asked, "What is the difference from learning not to touch a hot stove by burning one's self and by beating?" I imagined a parent telling a child not to touch a hot stove and then as the child reaches towards it, the parent swats the child's hand away and then punishes the child in some way (I will address forms of punishment briefly below.) The action is not touching the stove, the action for which the child is punished is for attempting to disobey the parent's command. Mr. Jones is correct, a child can associate response with action. Unfortunately, punishments connect response to disobedience and not the item or practice to be avoided. It is this protecting of the child that does them a great disservice (see Mr. Jones' post just beyond the middle of the second paragraph).
Why must the child be punished? Mr. Jones implies people punish a person in order to teach them a lesson. (This is not true in all cases, but I agree this is the most common function of punishment within a parent-child relationship and therefore will respond accordingly.) The child has learned not to repeat that same action via the burn. The child learns the lesson prior to any inflicted punishment (corporal or not). What added benefit is there then in the punishment? A child, without what Mr. Jones' calls trauma resulting, can learn his or her lesson without the punishment therefore punishment is not necessitated. This is what I hoped to emphasize. If Mr. Jones, or anyone else, can produce a situation in which a lesson can only be taught through punishment, I will concede that punishment is useful in some instances.
Regarding the usefulness of punishment Mr. Jones' claimed, "It seems that [sic] the underlying motive [for stems from an aversion to spanking." The child has done nothing wrong by coloring on the walls and therefore does not need to be punished in any form (e.g., timeout, grounding, spanking, etc.). The problem with punishment is not the corporal aspect. What is the purpose of punishment? I attempted to get at this in my earlier response and in this response as well. The reason I want to focus on this that Dan's post asks this very question (in not this way). Dan seems to operate from the assumption that the purpose of punishment is to reinforce obedience, nothing more and nothing less.
If you (anyone) can only respond to or think about one thing from this post I ask you to try and answer the question:
"What is the purpose of punishment and what are the best examples of punishment fulfilling this purpose?"
Tuesday, May 26 (Day 22) Further Replies to "Obedience As Virtue?"
The current discussion began as a result of my May 22nd post, available here, that critically questioned whether or not obedience should be valued as a virtue. It continued in the response of Jay Jones, who I will summarize as advocating that "to harangue obedience itself is a flawed argument," because "at some level, whether as a child to a parent, a lawbreaker to a police officer or a soldier to a superior, obedience is required." Jay also expressed that "To fret over “violating others liberty in order to obey someone else’s authority,” like I have done, "can be foolhardy". I encourage you to read Jay's thoughts in their full context here, and add to the discussion based on any of the comments or my original post.
Today's post comes as a result of two different replies to what Jay wrote. The first, from Matt Lakemacher, is written from the perspective of one who believes in God and states that, "Obedience has its place in a civilized society, absolutely, but sometimes the noblest thing that one can do is to be disobedient." Secondly, and in contrast to both Jay and Matt, Wes Bertrand wrote from the perspective that, "Obedience can't be a virtue for a volitional, conceptual organism, although religion and statism have always contended otherwise."
From this point forward I wish to let each party speak for themselves, and I hope that in reading this, you too, will be transformed from reader to active participant in this critically important discussion.
I do believe in a God, and yes at some point subservience is, as you say "logical." The hornet's nest of issues I have with religion and our culture, crystallized in the hymn "Trust and Obey" that I ironically quoted from, is when that subservience is blind, unthinking, and uncritical. It is this elevation of faith and obedience to the level of highest virtue that can lead to the mass murder of Jews just as easily as it can lead men to fly jet planes into skyscrapers (all in the name of religion). Obedience has its place in a civilized society, absolutely, but sometimes the noblest thing that one can do is to be disobedient. Understanding the difference between the authority of God and the authority of man's flawed attempts to understand Him is also critical. Lastly, my comment has everything to do with the previous post, as "sheep-like" following of authority has been a hallmark of organized religion since its inception, and is just as problematic as in cases where the authority in question is the government (or where it's impossible to tell the difference between the two).
Obedience can't be a virtue for a volitional, conceptual organism, although religion and statism have always contended otherwise. Ask yourself why.
Ask yourself why one human being should obey another human being. We're not talking about doing some practical task for another who is unable or who has other things to do (as in the workplace). Obedience in the present context is synonymous with compliance, submissiveness, acquiescence, passivity, docility, deference, subservience, servility, subjection--in essence, one will bending to another's will.
Jay Jones apparently believes in the master/slave relationship as a way of psychological life, even though the result is psychological death. Most of the statements above seem to indicate that irresponsibility is something to aspire to, that irresponsibility should be considered a hallmark of good behavior. Well, you reap what you sow--children who fear authority won't think for themselves, will lack creativity and passion, and grow up to be masters of still more young slaves. But a leash is just a rope with a collar at both ends, you see.
To use concepts without understanding the nature of concepts spells intellectual--and thus moral--bankruptcy. It also spells the inability to grasp objective reality on one's own terms. Francis Bacon certainly got one thing right: "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." Notice that he didn't say "Humans, to be commanded, must be obeyed," for such a remark would have wreaked of illogic.
Unfortunately, due to the illogic of our present culture, most human beings, especially those who favor a second-hander's code of morality (master/slave relationships), are practically devoid of genuine self-esteem. To use reason in an independent fashion would require them to consider themselves worthy of the task, for no man who has worked on his self-confidence and self-respect would consider obedience a virtue.
Self-sacrifice reveals mind-sacrifice.
Rational animals would be wise to heed the words of philosopher Ayn Rand (via John Galt): "Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error. In place of your dream of an omniscient automaton, accept the fact that any knowledge man acquires is acquired by his own will and effort, and that that is his distinction in the universe, that is his nature, his morality, his glory."
In other words, swear by your life and your love of it that you will not live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for yours. Only then will you begin to understand what living as a rational animal entails--and that within each child resides the future of humanity (as Maria Montessori eloquently noted).
Self-responsibility and its Effects on Obedience and Aggression http://www.logicallearning.net/obedience.html
*Please be aware that while I highly value comments, they are moderated to ensure that this doesn't become a forum for personal attacks. If your comment doesn't post, please don't hesitate to email me
Sunday, May 24 (Days 20-21) One Answer to Obedience as virtue?
I would like to thank Jay Jones for making the second set of comments to the "Obedience as Virtue?" post. His remarks will serve as today's content, and I hope that they will stir further discussion of this question. I will be busy fulfilling the orders of the Navy to work today, and it will therefore probably be a few days before I can respond myself. In the meantime, please feel free to add comments to either myself or Jay, and I may even add your writing as a post. Without further adieu, Jay Jones:
"Ok, as for "Anonymous’" post. If you believe in a God, then subservience at some level is just damn logical. If not, well then there's a whole hornet's nest of issues you have with religion and, well, our culture. Yet none of them have much to do with this post.
But for Dan, I know that you've done more than enough thinking through of what you're doing. However, in arguing the merits or detriments of obedience, you overlook a couple simple truths. One, the vast majority of people are sheep, not those that would naturally lead. You’re in the Navy, you’ve seen this. People can be trained to lead, but most don’t naturally.
As for the whole corporal punishment analogy, it really doesn’t hold water. If your 5 year old does whatever it is that parents of 5 year olds don’t want them to do: Is it really worthwhile to try to confer with him on the level of self-actualization? No, you have to go down to his level to make sure he understands where you are coming from. I think it’s somewhat ironic that you juxtapose the relationship of a parent who really, by all accounts, no shit knows better than the non-obedient child. Honestly, what it seems you’re espousing is anarchy at the kindergarten level.
The same holds true with interrogation. You can start at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and work your way down. The best interrogators may be able to function in the top few levels. However, when it comes down to it, EVERYONE will respond to the lower two (safety, physiological). The question of the day falls into two parts: Where is the line where our society deems some practices, when put into common use, unethical. And, when and in what cases, are said practices allowed given the situation is considered dire?
But to harangue obedience itself is a flawed argument. As much as I think I could last and fare well in an anarchistic “society”. It’s not what I would prefer. So at some level, whether as a child to a parent, a lawbreaker to a police officer or a soldier to a superior, obedience is required. To fret over “violating others liberty in order to obey someone else’s authority” (not an exact quote, changed for tense) can be foolhardy. It is perfectly acceptable, in our society, to without trial indefinitely detain those who would be a harassment to the public. Don’t believe me? Go look at your local loony bin. There you will find dozens of people, never even accused of any crime, held against their will.
As for Milgram, people are sheep.
To be continued….
Tried to post before under a name, but I think anonymous is working. But my name's Jay Jones."
This article, by Tony Walter, was published in the the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Februuary 21, 2009
GREEN BAY — A Green Bay soldier told the Army on Friday that he won't go back to Iraq because he believes the war is immoral.
Spc. Kristoffer Walker, 28, was scheduled to board a flight Friday morning at Austin Straubel International Airport in Ashwaubenon to return to Atlanta, where he was scheduled to rejoin the 353rd Transportation Unit deployed to Iraq in October. Walker has been home on leave the past two weeks.
Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said Walker did not follow military procedure by filling out paperwork to list himself as a conscientious objector.
"His unit is counting on him," Banks said. "He's actually turning his back on his battle buddies. By just not reporting, you're letting down your teammates. When you raise your right hand to defend the country, you knew there was a time you could possibly be deployed."
Walker said he hasn't pursued conscientious objector status because it would be futile.
"The Army's definition is a little different than mine," Walker said. "The Army's definition is that you have to be opposed to war and all its forms. That's not me. I absolutely support using military force to respond or retaliate to attack. By their standards, you're not allowed to object to one conflict over another."
Walker enlisted in the Army in 2002 and spent a year in Iraq as an infantryman beginning in February 2004. When his initial enlistment ended, he joined the Army Reserve unit headquartered in Buffalo, Minn. The unit was activated in July and deployed to Samarra, Iraq, in October.
Walker said he has been seeking a transfer for several months, contacting elected officials and military personnel.
"Everyone drags their feet," Walker said. "I'm a little beyond frustrated. I signed up to defend the Constitution and defend the country against foreign enemies. But I'm not going to do something immoral and contrary to the contract I signed up for. It's really quite sad."
Walker said he sent e-mails Friday to his company sergeant and commanding officer in Iraq, but hasn't heard back from them. He said his wife received a text message from a member of Walker's unit in Iraq so he knows the unit is aware of his decision.
Banks said the matter still is in the early stages, but Walker's fate is in the hands of his active duty unit.
"He's put himself in serious danger of being a deserter," Banks said. "He's taking the wrong way to handle it and will probably face judicial punishment. But it takes 30 days for him to be declared AWOL. The Army says he's not violating any rules yet."
This testimony, by Michele Flournoy, was given on February 14, to The House Committee on Armed Services.
p>Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today about the readiness of the U.S. military and what can be done to strengthen our strategic posture. ... Since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the U.S. military has performed Herculean feats to protect and advance our national security. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world, they have conducted operations to defeat terrorism, counter insurgency, build the capacity of partners and restore security and stability. Having just returned from two weeks in Iraq, I had the privilege of witnessing a U.S. military that is the most experienced, adaptive, professional and capable force this country has ever fielded.
But more than six years of continuous, large-scale operations have also taken their toll on the armed services, their families, and their equipment. Multiple, back-to-back deployments with shorter dwell times at home and longer times away have put unprecedented strain on our military personnel. Near-continuous equipment use in-theater has meant that aircraft, vehicles, and even communications tools are staying in the fight instead of returning home with their units. Given the high tempo of operations and the harsh operating environments, equipment is being worn out, lost in battle, or damaged almost more quickly than the services can repair or replace it. And while this Congress wisely authorized an expansion of our nation's ground forces, recruiting and retention have become greater challenges for the services at a time when they need to attract and keep a larger number of high quality warriors.
At the same time, the United States must prepare for a broad range of future contingencies, from sustained, small-unit irregular warfare missions to military-to-military training and advising missions to high-end warfare against regional powers armed with weapons of mass destruction and other asymmetric means. Yet compressed training times between deployments mean that many of our enlisted personnel and officers have the time to train only for the missions immediately before them--in Iraq and Afghanistan--and not for the missions over the horizon.
These just-in-time training conditions have created a degree of strategic risk, which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted in his recent posture statement. As we at the Center for a New American Security wrote in our June, 2007 report on the ground forces, the United States is a global power with global interests, and we need our armed forces to be ready to respond whenever and wherever our strategic interests might be threatened. The absence of an adequate strategic reserve of ready ground forces must be addressed on an urgent basis.
U.S. Military Readiness Today
Readiness is the winning combination of personnel, equipment, and training in adequate quantity and quality for each unit. Each of these components of readiness has been under sustained and increasing stress over the past several years. For the ground forces, the readiness picture is largely--although not solely-- centered on personnel while the Navy and the Air Force's readiness challenges derive primarily from aging equipment. The Army continues to experience the greatest strain and the greatest recruitment challenges.
Stresses on Personnel
Due to the high demand for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army and Marine Corps personnel are spending more time deployed than either they or their respective services planned. Dwell time for the Army is now less than a one-to-one ratio, with 15 month deployments matched by only 12 months at home. The Marine Corps rotates units into and out of theatre on seven-month schedules. Numerous conversations with soldiers in Iraq suggested that while their commitment to the mission remains extremely high, the extension of tours beyond a year has had a negative impact on their morale and their families.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the nation cannot sustain today's operational tempos at current force levels. Getting back to a one-to-one ratio between time deployed and time at home in the short term and eventually a one-to-two ratio would require either an increase in troop supply or a decrease in troop demand. As we "unsurge" back down to 15 brigades in Iraq, we can expect to see deployments shortened to one year for Army units. Growing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps will also help to reduce the strain, but it will take time to recruit, train and field the additional personnel.
Meanwhile, there are signs that the stress of repeated deployments is taking a human toll, especially on the Army. The year 2006 saw the highest suicide rate in the Army since 1980, and that number jumped another 20% in 2007. We also know that repeated tours in Iraq increase a soldier's likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, and indeed, cases of PTSD have risen dramatically. The rates of alcohol abuse, divorce, desertion, and AWOLs among Army personnel are all increasing.
While all four services have met their recruiting targets in recent years, they have had to take some rather extraordinary measures to do so. Each service has relied increasingly on enlistment bonuses to attract the shrinking portion of young Americans (only 3 in 10) who meet the educational, medical and moral standards for military service, including $13,000 Initial Enlistment Bonuses for the Air Force and a $40,000 enlistment bonus for Naval Special Warfare and Special Operations recruits. The Army has faced the greatest challenge in recruiting. Since missing its 2005 recruiting target by a margin of 8%, the Army has taken a number of steps to bolster its accessions and meet its annual targets. However, some of these have proven worrisome, most notably increasing the number of waivers granted for enlistment by 18% (1 in 5 accessions now requires a waiver) and accepting a larger percentage of recruits who lack high school diplomas. The number of moral waivers (for things like criminal history) increased 160 percent since 2003.
The Army is also facing some serious retention challenges as it sustains an unusually high operational tempo while simultaneously converting to modularity and growing its force. While company grade loss rates have remained fairly stable in recent years, there are some worrisome signs. Approximately half the officers from the West Point classes of 2000 and 2001 have left the Army, with many citing the strain of multiple, back-to-back deployments as a top reason for retirement. Meanwhile, the number of officers the Army needs has grown by 8,000 since 2002, with 58% of this growth in the ranks of captain and major. A particular gap for the Army is at the level of majors, where 17% of spots are empty. As the Army expands, it will need to retain a higher percentage of its experienced officers to lead the force. To decrease the historical loss rate of company grade officers, the Army is offering unprecedented incentives to those who agree to extend for 3 years, including choice of one's post or branch/functional area, attendance at a military school or language training, attendance at a fully funded graduate degree program, or receipt of a $35,000 critical skills retention bonus.
When the Army's rotation and retention figures are compared to those of the Air Force, whose 120-day rotation cycles help to ensure personnel stability and retention, it is possible to imagine the relief shorter deployments and longer dwell times could provide to the nation's ground forces.
Compressed, Narrowed Training
Shorter dwell times and longer deployments for the ground forces in particular have compressed the time available for unit training. While the Army and the Marine Corps report that all units deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan are ready for their missions, the compressed time for training reduces opportunities to prepare for the full spectrum of operations. The Marine Corps has reported that it is so narrowly focused on skill sets required for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom that its ability to provide forces trained for other contingencies and mission sets is limited. For example, Marine Corps Commandant General Conway has stated that the Corps is only training for the terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving them under-prepared to take on missions in other environments.
With a 12-month dwell time that is compounded by personnel turnover, institutional education requirements, and equipment either returning from or deploying to theater, Army units are racing to get certified for their next deployment. While home- station training and exercises at the major training centers are evolving, the ability for units to train for the full spectrum of operations is limited by time. This same compressed timeline is leading to the overall stresses on the force.
Aging and Worn-Out Equipment
A large proportion of Service equipment suffers from loss in battle, damage, and extreme wear and tear. Equipment scarcity has lead to the widespread practice of cross-leveling: taking equipment (and personnel) from returning units to fill out those about to deploy. Some 30% of the Marine Corps' equipment is engaged overseas and does not rotate out of theatre with units. The Marines and the Army have also drawn increasingly from pre- positioned stock around the world. So far, these measures have met readiness needs in theatre, but they have also decreased readiness for non-deployed units and impeded their ability to train on individual and collective tasks. Even those deployed are at increasing risk that the equipment they have becomes unusable: Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan is wearing out at almost nine times the normal rate.
The problem of aging equipment is most acute for the Air Force, whose aircraft average more than 24 years of age. As one example, the Air Force is flying 5O-year old KC-135Es that rolled off the assembly line as early as December 1957. The Service has been conducting combat operations in the Gulf for 17 years, patrolling the desert skies and now providing the wartime logistics lifeline to the battlefield. The same seventeen years have seen underinvestment in modernzation and recapitalization of the tanker fleet--a financial burden that snowballs with every year. The long-term readiness of the Air Force is declining while fleet age and cost per flying hour (CPFH) are rising. More than one in ten of approximately 5,800 aircraft inventory is currently grounded or restricted due to safety concerns such as structural issues, cracks, and other deficiencies. Only two in three aircraft are ready for flight today.
The Reserve Component: Unique Challenges
Recently, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves released its findings, many of which deserve emphasis in any consideration of military readiness. The Reserves comprise 37% of the Total Force and their battle rhythm has accelerated enormously since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001. Each of the National Guard's 34 combat brigades has been deployed to Operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom, and 600,000 selected reservists have been activated. I can personally attest to the dedication of deployed National Guardsmen, who put themselves in harm's way to protect our group in Iraq.
Cross-leveling is especially acute for the reserve units, which do not possess equipment at authorized levels. The Army National Guard lacks 43.5% of its authorized equipment, while the Army Reserve does not have 33.5% of its authorized levels. The Commission found that spending on the National Guard and Reserves "has not kept pace with the large increases in operational commitments," making it unlikely that the Reserve Component will be able to eliminate its equipment shortfalls any time soon. Additionally, a dramatic shortage of personnel-- including 10,000 company-grade officers--has meant that the Reserve Component has had to borrow people from other units along with equipment.
The bottom line of these most recent findings is that while the Reserve Component is intended for use in overseas operations and homeland defense, it is not fully manned, trained, or equipped to perform these missions. The gap in reserve readiness creates a significant and littlenoticed vulnerability in both domestic disaster response and readiness for operations abroad.
The Bottom Line
The readiness of the U.S. military is just barely keeping pace with current operations. In the Army, the only BCTs considered fully ready are those that are deployed or are about to deploy.
The fight to recruit and keep personnel, and the need to repair and modernize equipment also means that building and regaining readiness is becoming increasingly costly. The Army is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on advertising designed to attract recruits.
Meanwhile, it has estimated that it will need between $12 and $13 billion per year to replace lost, damaged and worn equipment for the duration of the war in Iraq and beyond. The Marine Corps requested nearly $12 billion for reset in FY2007. Bringing the National Guard's equipment stock up to even 75% of authorized levels will take $22 billion over the next five years. In the current budgetary environment, services are also struggling to balance resources between reconstituting current stocks and modernizing for the future.
Army Chief of Staff General George Casey testified before this committee last September that Army readiness is being consumed as fast as it is being built. He went on to say, "We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies." His statement remains true today.
This new version of Have You Forgotten was posted to the IVAW website, by Evan Knappenberger, February 1, 2008
I hear people saying we need war
I say ain't nothin' worth killin' or dyin' for
What about your guilty blood-stained dirt?
What about your bloody star-stripped shirt?
They say that Iraq has wronged us
Before you start singing
Let me ask you this, Patriot:
Have you forgotten how things were before
droppin' shells, peddlin' death
on Beirut miles away from shore?
Have you forgotten our own shame in this?
Everything we got was took
all we brought was guns and fists.
And you say disregard moral calculus.
Have you forgotten?
They wave a picture in your eyes of death
And an Eagle with ribbons in his mouth
As if that will make a difference to someone
Or the ghosts of families' entire lives undone
Some say our country provoked this fight
After My Lai, God, I'd have to say their right.
Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your buddies die for bullshit
Our moral high-ground blown away?
Have you forgotten when we raped their land?
We said we're here to free you
What didn't they understand?
We vowed to liberate them with democracy
Have you forgotten?
I used to be a soldier
And went away to war
And you can bet I had no good idea
Just what were fighting for.
Have you forgotten all the people killed?
Yes, the million Iraqi graves that we helped fill?
Have you forgotten about our nasty sins?
All the dirty lies that we told
To wage war for foreign gold
Don't you try to talk about Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?
Soldiers from Fort Drum are bearing a disproportionate burden of the costs of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the mental health care system at Fort Drum is not meeting the demands of this burden.
Of all U.S. Army divisions, the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York, has been the most affected by our country’s crushing recent deployment cycle. Since September 11, 2001, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) (1) is the most deployed brigade in the Army, having recently completed its fourth tour (the Appendix contains the 2nd BCT’s post-9/11 deployment history). In all, the 2nd BCT has been deployed for more than 40 months since 9/11. (2)
Compounding the difficulties facing members of the 2nd BCT is the Army-wide problem of inadequate dwell time (i.e., the time between deployments to readjust, rest, retrain, reconstitute, visit family and friends, and integrate new unit members). None of the 2nd BCT’s three dwell periods has risen to the Army’s traditional goal of a 2:1 dwell time to deployed time ratio for active Army units. One of the dwell periods for the 2nd BCT was only six months, after having been deployed to Afghanistan for eight months and before being deployed to Iraq for another 12 months. Fortunately, Army leadership—most notably General George Casey, Jr., the current Chief of Staff of the Army—has been vocal in stating that the problem of inadequate dwell time must be fixed. In his words: “…it’s so important to extend the time that they [Soldiers] spend at home… [Current deployment policies are] not something that we can sustain over time, and that’s one of the key elements of putting ourselves back in balance, to get to 18 months or so dwell [time]…” (3)
Further complicating the challenges facing members of the 2nd BCT is the regrettable decision, announced in April 2007 by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to extend Army tours in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. Soldiers from the 2nd BCT noted the greatly dispiriting effect of this policy shift, which was announced shortly after the BCT had passed what it assumed was its half-way deployment mark. Mental health experts have informed Veterans for America (VFA) that “shifting the goalposts” on a Soldier’s deployment period greatly contributes to an increase in mental health problems within units.
Finally, the intensity of the combat experienced by the 2nd BCT is remarkable. During its most recent deployment, 52 members of the 2nd BCT were killed in action (KIA), 270 others were listed as non-fatality casualties, and two members of the unit remain missing in action (MIA). When compared to all who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the intensity of combat for the 2nd BCT is quite clear. On their most recent deployment, members of the 2nd BCT were more than five times as likely to be killed as others who have been deployed to OEF and OIF and more than four times likely to be wounded. This level of combat will bring with it considerably higher rates of mental health challenges for members of the 2nd BCT than other units that have served in OEF and OIF and will merit considerably closer attention by Army and Pentagon leadership to reduce the likelihood that these Soldiers are failed by the already-overburdened mental health treatment system. The 1st BCT of the 10th Mountain Division is also among the most deployed Army brigades. Being heavily deployed is nothing new for the 10th Mountain Division. In the 1990s, units from the division were also among the most deployed in the Army.
In recent months, VFA has been contacted by a number of Soldiers based at Fort Drum who are concerned about their mental health as well as that of members of their units. For this reason, VFA launched an investigation of conditions at Fort Drum, focusing especially on the mental health treatment capacity there and the needs of Soldiers who have served in combat.
As discussed in a recent VFA report—Trends in Treatment of America’s Wounded Warriors (4) — VFA has visited every major military facility in and out of the United States. Our work has revealed a military mental health treatment system that is under severe stress. Leaders of the military mental health treatment system have taken steps in recent years to warn DoD leadership of the magnitude of the crisis that is brewing in this area, as well as steps that need to be taken to manage, if not avoid, this crisis. VFA is proud to work with those who have given these warnings—as well as with a group of bipartisan allies on Capitol Hill and responsive leaders in the Pentagon and on military bases—to create a world-class system for treating combat-related mental health issues. Given the magnitude of the challenges facing Soldiers who been in combat— as well as their families—there remains a great deal of work to be done, but VFA remains quite hopeful that with the considerable attention that has been placed on the needs of our honorable servicemembers that progress will continue to be made toward this goal.
The Challenges at Fort Drum—and Beyond
Generally speaking, winter conditions at Fort Drum are dreary, with snow piled high and spring still months away. More than a dozen Soldiers reported low morale, frequent DUI arrests, and rising AWOL, spousal abuse, and rates of attempted suicide. (5) Soldiers also reported that given the financial realities of the Army, some of their fellow Soldiers had to resort to taking second jobs such as delivering pizzas to supplement their family income. More than six years after large-scale military operations began in Afghanistan and, later, in Iraq, a casual observer might assume that programs would have been implemented to ensure access for Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division to mental health services on base. Unfortunately, an investigation by VFA has revealed that these brave servicemembers who recently returned from Iraq must in fact wait for up to two months before a single appointment can be scheduled. In short, access to care for our returning warriors at Fort Drum is woefully inadequate.
Given the great amount of public attention that has been focused on the psychological needs of returning servicemembers, a casual observer might also assume that these needs would have been given a higher priority by Army leaders and the National Command Authority—the two entities with the greatest responsibility for ensuring the strength of our Armed Forces. These needs have long been acknowledged but there has been insufficient action.
Shortly after Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began, the Army fielded the first Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT). This first team has since been followed by three others that have all released reports. The most recent of these reports, MHAT IV, was completed in November 2006 and released to the public in May 2007. MHAT IV found that the percentage of Soldiers with “severe stress, emotional, alcohol or family problem[s]” had risen more than 85 percent since the beginning of OIF. (6) Even more disconcerting, MHAT IV found that 28 percent of Soldiers who had experienced high-intensity combat were screening positive for acute stress (i.e., Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD).(7)
Further highlighting the shockingly high level of mental health problems of returning combat Soldiers, the Department of Defense’s Task Force on Mental Health reported in June 2007 that the psychological needs of combat servicemembers and their families was “daunting and growing.” (8) The Task Force released findings that showed that more than one-third of members of the active Army who returned from combat experienced some mental health problems. (9) The Task Force also noted that the Army had far too few qualified mental health professionals and that the future of Army mental health care was bleak. In addition, MHAT IV found that Soldiers who had deployed more than once were 60 percent more likely to screen positive for acute stress (i.e., PTSD) when compared to Soldiers on their first deployment.(10) Psychological injuries have been described as the “signature injuries” of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for good reason.
The Great Needs of the 2nd BCT
When VFA visited Fort Drum shortly after the 2nd BCT returned from Iraq, we found that even in the early days of the brigade’s return stateside some Soldiers requiring mental health treatment had to wait up to two months for a mental health appointment. This alone was greatly troubling, but VFA further feared that wait times would increase dramatically once the members of the 2nd BCT returned from block leave around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Generally speaking, members of the 2nd BCT were anxious to return home immediately after their deployment ended, which would further decrease the number of Soldiers manifesting and/or admitting symptoms of combat-related mental health problems. During VFA’s visit, Fort Drum officials stated that they were hoping to bring additional mental health specialists to the base, but given the harsh winters in the Fort Drum area and the considerable distance from major metropolitan areas, the officials admitted the considerable difficulty in recruiting mental health professionals.
In early January 2008, about two months after the 2nd BCT returned from Iraq, three Army psychiatrists from Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) were assigned to Fort Drum on a temporary basis to treat the large influx of Soldiers requiring mental health care. Along with the three psychiatrists on base, these doctors are working to greatly reduce the wait time for Soldiers requiring mental health care. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary fix, as the Walter Reed-based psychiatrists will likely return to Washington, DC, within a few weeks. Fort Drum will again be left with the task of treating thousands of Soldiers with far too few mental health specialists. (11) In addition, for those servicemembers who were initially treated by psychiatrists from Walter Reed, their care will suffer from discontinuity, as their cases will be assigned a new mental health professional on subsequent visits. (12)
One challenge facing Fort Drum Soldiers is the absence of a hospital on the base. To augment Fort Drum’s mental health treatment capabilities, Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, NY, provides in-patient mental health treatment for some Fort Drum soldiers. (13) In the past year, Samaritan has increased the number of in-patient beds in its psychiatric unit from 24 to 32 (14) — an increase of 33 percent. One concern identified by VFA in a recent conversation with a leading expert in treating combat psychological wounds is the sense that military commanders doubt the validity of mental health wounds in some Soldiers, thereby undermining treatment prescribed by civilian psychiatrists. In the estimation of this expert, military commanders have undue influence in the treatment of Soldiers with psychological wounds. Another point of general concern for VFA is that Samaritan also has a strong financial incentive to maintain business ties with Fort Drum (as will be discussed in the Recommendations section of this report, this dynamic deserves greater scrutiny). VFA’s work across the country has confirmed that Soldiers often need for their doctors to be stronger advocates for improved treatment by their commanders and comrades. For instance, Soldiers need doctors who are willing to push back against commanders who doubt the legitimacy of combat-related mental health injuries.
A general challenge faced by Soldiers at Fort Drum returning from combat is that self-reporting and/or self-referral are the two most common means for Soldiers with combat-related psychological injuries to come to the attention of mental health professionals on base. That is, when Soldiers return to Fort Drum, they are given the opportunity to complete a health screening questionnaire known as the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA). (15) The PDHA (DD Form 2796) contains a number of questions, some of which are focused on the mental health needs of troops. Soldiers wishing to conceal their mental health problems can easily do so by providing false information to the questions posed. (16) A number of variables can lead to such an outcome, including the considerable stigma against mental health treatment within the military and pressure within some units to deny mental health problems as a result of combat. In addition, a number of Soldiers interviewed by VFA stated that they had provided inaccurate answers so that they could quickly depart the base for leave. Others stated that they did this so that the paperwork process for leaving the military would not be slowed. Finally, some Soldiers who had been in the military for more than a decade stated that they did not wish to disclose possible postcombat mental health problems for fear that it would reduce their likelihood of being promoted. Adding to the complexity of this situation, some military mental health providers have argued that a number of Soldiers fake mental health injuries to increase the likelihood that they will be deemed unfit for combat and/or for further military service. For all these reasons—and, doubtless many more—the military should shift from a system that relies upon self-referral and should instead transition to a system where everyone receives proactive mental health care treatment. Basic requirements for such proactive care include face-to-face interaction and follow-on treatment, if needed, with the same mental health care provider if possible. A pilot program that could serve as a first step toward a new model of mental health care treatment is found in the Recommendations section of this report.
In meeting with Fort Drum Soldiers, VFA found a number of disconcerting examples of inadequate mental health care at Fort Drum. Some Soldiers reported that the leader of the mental health treatment clinic at Fort Drum asked Soldiers not to discuss their mental health problems with people outside the base. Attempts to keep matters “in house” foster an atmosphere of secrecy and shame that is not conducive to proper treatment for combat-related mental health injuries.
VFA was also told of some Soldiers seeking treatment after normal base business hours for mental health problems at a hospital in Syracuse, more than an hour’s drive from Watertown, rather than at Samaritan Hospital because they feared that Samaritan would side with base leadership, which had, in some cases, cast doubt on the legitimacy of combat-related mental health wounds. In one case, after a suicidal Soldier was taken to a Syracuse hospital, he was treated there for a week, indicating that his mental health concerns were legitimate. Unfortunately, mental health officials at Fort Drum had stated that they did not believe this Soldier’s problems were bona fide.
Another problem in post-combat mental health care faced by Soldiers at Fort Drum—as well as elsewhere in the Army—is the lack of confidentiality of information. If a Soldier seeks mental health treatment, this information is to be released to only a small number of that Soldier’s commanders. Unfortunately, some Soldiers at Fort Drum described a pervasive lack of confidentiality for those seeking post-combat mental health treatment. Such a lack of confidentiality greatly undermines the efficacy of the mental health treatment being received.
Despite these examples, Fort Drum leaders— especially Major General Michael Oates—deserve commendation for setting the tone at Fort Drum that psychological wounds will be treated as legitimate combat wounds and that Soldiers should not hesitate to seek out such treatment. In addition, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated that he will not allow the U.S. military to fail servicemembers in the aftermath of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as occurred after the Vietnam War. (17) Unfortunately, as both the DoD Task Force on Mental Health has reported and VFA found during investigative work at Fort Carson, Colorado, stigma often stands in the way of Soldiers receiving the mental health treatment they need. Signs of such stigma are still found at Fort Drum among some leaders of sub units within the 2nd BCT, such as at the company level. VFA encourages General Oates to continue his aggressive program of outreach to demonstrate the legitimacy of psychological wounds. When necessary, he should make it clear to commanders who violate his overall guidance that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Fort Drum is fortunate that the New York Congressional delegation takes wounded warrior issues seriously. Officials from the offices of both Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton were very receptive to the information unearthed by VFA, building upon the leading work that both senators have already accomplished to ensure that wounded servicemembers and their families receive the assistance that their honorable service merits.
In conclusion, VFA stands ready to continue to work with leaders at Fort Drum, as well as those who have been placed under their command, to ensure that the considerable psychological needs of those who have seen combat on behalf of our nation receive high-quality care. VFA respectfully requests that the Army consider taking steps to give the members of the 2nd BCT more rest. This unit has served its country ably; it is now the country’s turn to show its gratitude by allowing the unit more time at home so that members can “reset” mentally.
VFA RECOMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVING POST-COMBAT PSYCHOLOGICAL CARE
Establish a pilot program for the 2nd BCT of the 10th Mountain Division that would create a more proactive mental health care treatment regimen before, during, and after deployment. This would include comprehensive one-on-one counseling for servicemembers; sophisticated brain scanning technology to assist in differentiating between neurological injuries such as mild traumatic brain injuries and psychological wounds such as PTSD; more attention devoted to the needs of spouses and dependents of combat Soldiers; face-to-face screening for all members of the unit immediately before redeployment, immediately after return to Fort Drum, and face-to-face screening every 30 days thereafter for three years.
Provide considerably more funds to Fort Drum for mental health treatment, given the incredible burden shouldered by units of the 10th Mountain Division.
Establish a special oversight panel to ensure that combat-related mental health treatment at Samaritan Medical Center is not negatively influenced by commanders or funding sources.
The Army should create a publicly available database showing the fatality and casualty rates for units that have served in OEF/OIF. This will help outside organizations have a better understanding of the needs of these units and what might be done to improve their post-deployment mental health treatment. At present, the Army releases this information in a piecemeal fashion.
In addition, the Army should maintain a public database of the number and percentage of Soldiers from a unit that have deployed multiple times. This will provide a better picture of the challenges facing members of units—and the resources required to address their post-combat mental health challenges. Again, the Army currently releases this information piecemeal.
Post-9/11 Deployment History of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 10th Mountain Division
Note: Dates are approximate
Afghanistan: December 1, 2001 to April 5, 2002 (five-month deployment) Dwell-time: Under 13 months
Afghanistan: May 1, 2003 to December 15, 2003 (eight-month deployment) Dwell-time: Six months
Iraq: June 14, 2004 to June 23, 2005 (12-month deployment) Dwell-time: 13.5 months
Iraq: August 9, 2006 to November 8, 2007 (15-month deployment)
52 killed in action
270 wounded in action
Two missing in action
There are approximately 3,500 Soldiers in the 2nd BCT.
In its most recent deployment, the 2nd BCT sustained fatality and casualty rates that appear to be considerably higher than other units that have recently served in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Army does not maintain a database that is available to the public with comparative fatality/casualty figures of units that have deployed. This matter is discussed in the Recommendations section of this report.
Veterans for America tried to determine the validity of these claims but did not receive data from the Fort Drum Public Affairs Office.
Office of the Surgeon, Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), “Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV, Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07, Final Report,” November 19, 2006, accessed at: www.armymedicine.army.mil/news/mhat/ mhat_iv/MHAT_IV_Report_17NOV06.pdf, p. 19.
According to MHAT IV, “acute stress” is synonymous with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, MHAT IV, p. 19. Data from MHAT IV, p. 20.
It should be noted that this rate is for all members of the active Army, including Soldiers who have not seen highintensity combat.
MHAT IV, p. 23.
In a classic case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” it also bears noting that the Walter Reed-based doctors temporarily assigned to Fort Drum left crucial positions at Walter Reed, in some cases creating gaps in coverage and discontinuities in care for severely mentally wounded Soldiers at Walter Reed, the Army’s most sophisticated psychiatric treatment facility.
12 A general concern raised by Soldiers at Fort Drum was turnover of psychiatrists, which creates a lack of continuity of care.
Fort Drum Soldiers with the most complex mental health needs are handled by the in-patient facility at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC.
Norah Machia, “SMC mental health unit expansion is approved,” Watertown Daily Times, June 8, 2007.
If they so choose, Soldiers can refuse to complete the PDHA.
In addition to the PDHA, Soldiers are requested, but not compelled, to complete the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) (DD Form 2900) between 90 and 180 days after deployment.
We all remember it too well: mold on the walls, leaky ceilings and veterans held in areas not fit for human habitation. It was a travesty and an insult. I hoped our federal government would turn the corner.
But last week we saw two distinct reminders that we still have a long way to go as a government, a nation and as a society when it comes to giving our veterans the dignity and respect they deserve.
First, the Bush Administration began arguing in federal court that veterans have no right to mental health care:
Veterans have no legal right to specific types of medical care, the Bush administration argues in a lawsuit accusing the government of illegally denying mental health treatment to some troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The arguments, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, strike at the heart of a lawsuit filed on behalf of veterans that claims the health care system for returning troops provides little recourse when the government rejects their medical claims.
The 2007 study by the consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. found that 18 percent of the veterans who sought jobs within one to three years of discharge were unemployed, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year. Many had taken advantage of government programs such as the GI Bill to boost job prospects, but there was little evidence that education benefits yielded higher pay or better advancement.
The report blamed the poor prospects partly on inadequate job networks and lack of mentors after extended periods in war. It said employers often had misplaced stereotypes about veterans' fitness for employment, such as concerns they did not possess adequate technological skills, or were too rigid, lacked education or were at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The report went on to urge the federal government to work with the private sector to encourage hiring and "re-branding" of vets.
Last year, I worked with State Rep. Jeff Barker to pass a similar program in Oregon, giving vets priority in hiring for public service jobs. But it's clear that much more must be done.
The federal government should be doing all it can to support our troops when they return home.
Increase funding for mental health services to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. An estimated one-third of those veterans suffer mental health problems.
Implement proper screening and treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury for returning veterans. The signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is TBI. An estimated 300,000 vets may return home with some form of this injury.
Fully fund the VA health care system. Veterans are often forced to wait months for an appointment to see a doctor. They must sometimes travel great distances for care because there are too few facilities to provide effective treatment. The disgraceful conditions reported last year at Walter Reed Medical Center are symptomatic of a system-wide problem that must be addressed immediately.
We have a commitment to the men and women who have served this country in the Armed Forces. They left our shores to fight overseas for us. The absolute least we can do is fight for them when they come home. We can and must do better
The following two posts were originally published February 8th and 11th on Jason's Iraq Vacation. He just found out that with 40 days left in his tour of duty he is being reassigned and is to say the least unhappy about it.
Monday, February 11
Reassignmenmt is it true?
"Yes, it's true. [slight pause] This man has no dick."
Ah, nothing like a quote from Bill Murray in Ghostbusters to lighten the mood.
Yes, I am being reassigned with under 40 days left in my deployment. No, I don't know what my new job for 30 days will entail. No, I don't have confirmation that my redeployment wont be delayed. On the bright side, I get to hang out with all my IRR buddies for the next month and I will be doing something different, which should make the clock race towards my finish.
Friday February 8
"For who? For what?" No, this isn't Ricky Watters after the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Bucs in '95. It was me, after the latest episode of "but, Life's Not Fair!" In that episode, I learned that despite being about 40 days from going home, I am being reassigned to the IZ!
Apparently, my superhuman bitterness has not prevented people from thinking highly of me because I was supposedly requested by name. Go ahead and laugh - I did. You might ask what I'll be doing, or why they chose me so close to redeployment, or if this means I will get extended. You might even say "What could you possible get accomplished in 30-40 days?" I said all of those things and got the Army's equivalent of "because I said so" in return.
So stay tuned for the next episode of "but, Life's Not Fair!", where maybe some of these questions will get answered!
This article, from the Associated Press, was published in The New York Times, February 12, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) -- National Guard and Reserve troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan make up more than half of veterans who committed suicide after returning home from those wars, according to new government data obtained by The Associated Press.
A Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of ongoing research of deaths among veterans of both wars -- obtained exclusively by The AP -- found that Guard or Reserve members were 53 percent of the veteran suicides from 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, through the end of 2005.
The research, conducted by the agency's Office of Environmental Epidemiology, provides the first demographic look at suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who left the military -- a situation that veterans and mental health advocates worry might worsen as the wars drag on.
Upon learning of the VA's findings on Tuesday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars called for the Pentagon and the VA to combine their efforts to track suicides among those who have served in those countries in order to get a clearer picture of the problem.
''We're very concerned for the overall well-being of our military men and women as well as our veterans and want to know, is there a growing problem that needs to be addressed by both the (Defense Department) and the VA?'' said Joe Davis, the VFW's public affairs director. ''To fix a problem, you have to define it first.''
Military leaders have leaned heavily on Guard and Reserve troops in the wars. At certain times in 2005, members of the Guard and Reserve made up nearly half the troops fighting in Iraq.
Overall, they were nearly 28 percent of all U.S. military forces deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or in support of the operations, according to Defense Department data through the end of 2007.
Many Guard members and Reservists have done multiple tours that kept them away from home for 18 months. When they returned home, some who live far away from a military installation or VA facility have encountered difficulty getting access to mental health counseling or treatment, activists have said.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the study's findings reinforce the argument that Guard and Reserve troops need more help as they transition back into the civilian world. The military's effort to re-screen Guard and Reservists for mental and physical problems three months after they return home is a positive step, Rieckhoff said, but a more long-term comprehensive approach is needed to help these troops -- particularly in their first six months home.
''National Guardsman and Reservists are literally in Baghdad in one week and in Brooklyn the next, and that transition is incredibly tough,'' Rieckhoff said.
The VA has said there does not appear to be an epidemic of suicide among returning veterans, and that suicide among the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is comparable to the same demographic group in the general population. However, an escalating suicide rate in the Army, as well as high-profile suicides such as the death of Joshua Omvig -- an Iowa Reservist who shot himself in front of his mother in December 2005 after an 11-month tour in Iraq -- have alarmed some members of Congress and mental health advocates.
n November, President Bush signed the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill, which directed the VA to improve its mental health training for staff and do a better job of screening and treating veterans.
According to the VA's research, 144 veterans committed suicide from the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, through the end of 2005. Of those, 35 veterans, or 24 percent, served in the Reserves and 41, or 29 percent, had served in the National Guard. Sixty-eight -- or 47 percent -- had been in the regular military.
Statistics from 2006 and 2007 were not yet available, the VA said, because the study was based in part on data from the National Death Index, which is still being compiled.
Among the total population of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been discharged from the military, nearly half are formerly regular military and a little more than half were in the Guard and Reserves, according to the VA.
Among those studied, more than half of the veterans who committed suicide were aged 20 to 29. Nearly three-quarters used a firearm to take their lives. Nearly 82 percent were white.
About one in five was seen at least once at a VA facility.
Last year, the VA started a suicide hot line. The VA and the military have also made other improvements in suicide prevention care, such as hiring more counselors and increasing mental health screening.
''The challenge is getting people to come to us before they commit suicide, knowing they can come and get help and knowing they have access to those resources,'' said Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman.
The VA study does not include those who committed suicide in the war zones or those who remained in the military after returning home from war.
Last year, the Army said its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per 100,000 troops, the highest level in 26 years of record-keeping. The Army said recently that as many as 121 soldiers committed suicide last year. If all are confirmed, the number would be more than double the number reported in 2001.
Some mental health advocates have complained that there is no comprehensive tracking in one place of suicide among those who served in the wars, whether they are still in the military or discharged.
In October, the AP reported that preliminary research from the VA had found that from the start of the war in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, and the end of 2005, 283 troops who served in the wars who had been discharged from the military had committed suicide.
The VA later said the number was reduced to 144 because some of the veterans counted were actually in the active military and not discharged when they committed suicide.
In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
In 1971, a courageous group of veterans exposed the criminal nature of the Vietnam War in an event called Winter Soldier. Once again, we will create a space for veterans to make their voices heard.
Once again, we are fighting for the soul of our country. We will demonstrate our patriotism by speaking out with honor and integrity instead of blindly following failed policy. Winter Soldier is a difficult but essential service to our country.
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan will feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in those occupations, giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.
The four-day event will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists to give context to the testimony. These panels will cover everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans' health benefits and support.
When: Thursday March 13 to Sunday March 16
For those interested in watching or organizing around the proceedings at Winter Soldier, there will be a number of ways to watch and listen to the event.
Live television broadcast via satellite tv, accessible through Dish Network as well as public access stations that choose to carry our broadcast - Friday and Saturday only
Live video stream on the web - Thursday through Sunday
Live radio broadcast via KPFA in Berkley California and other Pacifica member stations--Friday through Sunday
Liberation News Service, as early as November 1967, carried a list of known draft resisters in each issue. The Sir! No Sir! blog is proud to carry a similar list of active duty GIs who refuse to participate in the war machine. This list will not be complete, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that most GIs who split the military are anonymous until they surface, either in Canada or at a court martial hearing.
The Current List of Known Veteran and Active Duty Iraq War Resisters - Part 1
Agustín Aguayo (Seeking C.O. status)
Phil Aliff (Active duty member of Fort Drum IVAW)
Darrell Anderson (Refusenik in Canada, later discharged with less than honorable discharge)
Anuradha Bhagwati (Applied for C.O. status in Marine Corps)
Loren Barrett (Given 11 months in jail and a bad conduct discharge for "Deserting his unit the day before it deployed to Iraq")
Jonathan Barriga (Applied for C.O. status, current location unknown)
Dale Bartell (AWOL to avoid deployment ti Iraq, sentenced to four months in prison and Bad Conduct Discharge)
David Beals (Applied for C.O. status)
Kevin Benderman (Court-martialed for desertion for declaring himself a conscientious objector.)
Michael Blake (Discharged as a C.O.)
James Blanks (Refused deployment to Afghanistan)
Erik Botta (Appealed to federal courts to block the Army from sending him to Iraq on a fifth deployment was excused from active service after being found medically unfit. )
Ivan Brobeck (Refusenik in Canada, returned to U.S., court-martialed and jailed at Quantico, Virginia. He was released in February, 2007 with a bad conduct discharge.)
Peter Brown (Granted C.O. status)
David Bunt (Application for C.O. status rejected, discharged form military in 2005)
Thomas Buonomo (Granted early discharge, after calling for Dick Cheney's impeachment)
Nathan Burden (AWOL, Current status unknown)
James Burmeister (Refusenik in Canada)
Travis Burnham (Applied for C.O. status in January 2003, currently student at Humboldt State University)
Yitav Busira (Israeli Refusenik)
Chris Capps (AWOL in March 2007, discharged May 2007, founder of IVAW in Germany)
Sergei Chaparin (Granted discharge as C.O.)
Eugene Cherry (AWOL as result of PTSD, honorably discharged in July 2007)
Alton Christiana (AWOL, status unknown)
James Circello (AWOL, status unknown)
Travis Clark (Pledged to resist Iraq deployment in USA Today interview)
Justin Cliburn (Pledged to resist Iraq redeployment, current status unknown)
Clifford Cornell (Refusenik in Canada)
Justin Faulkner (Currently receiving treatment for PTSD)
Brad Gaskins (Tried at Ft. Drum for Going AWOL)
Jeffrey Gauntt (Refused deployment to Afghanistan)
Corey Glass (Refusenik in Canada)
Patrick Hart (Refusenik in Canada)
Andrew Hegerty (Refused deployment to Afghanistan)
Lisa Hayes (Honorably Discharged)
Derek Hess (Discharged for refusing deployment to Iraq)
Clifton Hicks (Honorably discharged as a Conscientious Objector)
Kevin Hicks (Honorably discharged as a Conscientious Objector)
Jeremy Hinzman (Refusenik in Canada)
Brandon Hughey (Refusenik in Canada)
Kyle Huwer (Honorably discharged as a Conscientious Objector)
Ryan Johnson (Refusenik in Canada)
Joshua Key (Refusenik in Canada)
Christian Kjar (Refusenik in Canada)
Ben Kogan (Israeli Refusenik)
Vincent J. LaVolpa (Application for C.O. status)
Calvin Chee Keong Lee (Application for C.O. status)
Blake Lemoine (Refused orders to Iraq)
Robin Long (Refusenik in Canada)
Phil McDowell (Refusenik in Canada)
Alex Messing (Israeli Refusenik)
Eilam Oren (Israeli Refusenik)
DeShawn O Reed (Honorably discharged as a Conscientious Objector)
Kimberly Rivera (Refusenik in Canada)
Suzanne Swift (seeking medical discharge, current status unknown)
Dean Walcott (Refusenik in Canada)
Ehren Watada (Seeking C.O. status)
Jason Webb (Honorably discharged as a Conscientious Objector)
Mark Wilkerson (Jailed for 7 months for refusing deployment to Iraq, active with IVAW)
Eli Wright (Active duty member of Fort Drum IVAW)
Lennox Yearwood (Threatened with discharge on the basis of behavior that, in their words, is "clearly inconsistent with the interest of national security.")