Some crummy old wine from Vleeptron:
Those who have not been soldiers tend to overlook the obvious about soldiers: They are as talented and diverse a bunch of men and women as civilians. In most wars most of them are just civilian "temps" forced into a few years of pretending to act and think like soldiers.
But in or out of uniform, they are pianists, singers, actors, baseball and football players, tango and ballet dancers, painters, dreamers, astronomers, mathematicians, writers, poets, chefs de cuisine, cowgirls and cowboys.
In a fascinating radio documentary about the US Navy aircraft carrier John C. Stennis -- a floating medium-sized city -- on war duty in the Arabian Sea revealed its bowels infested with amateur rock bands, rehearsing as far as possible from crew sleeping quarters, the music echoing down every corridor. Jimi Hendrix began his musical career playing guitar at military clubs at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. When not playing popular music, he spent his time jumping out of airplanes with full pack and infantry rifle.
Good writers. Some soldiers are good, even great writers. It would have been nice, it would have been very valuable, to have heard more from these two soldiers if they'd lived through the Iraq War.
The Associated Press (newswire USA)
Thursday 13 September 2007
[image] Olga Capetillo cries as she holds her favorite family snapshot of her son Sgt. Omar Mora with his daughter Jordan at her home Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 in Texas City, Texas. Mora, a co-author of an Aug. 19, 2007 New York Times op-ed critical of the Pentagon's positive assessment of the Iraq war, was killed Monday in a vehicle accident in Iraq that also claimed the lives of six other U.S. soldiers, and two detainees.. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
2 Soldiers Who Wrote
Op-Ed Died in Iraq
by Monica Rhor
TEXAS CITY, Texas (AP) — Two sergeants who helped write a New York Times op-ed article sharply critical of the Pentagon's assessment of the Iraq war were killed in a Baghdad crash this week, and one grieving mother wants the Army to explain their deaths.
"I want to know all the details of how he died. I want to know the truth," said Olga Capetillo, whose 28-year-old son, Sgt. Omar Mora, died Monday along with six other soldiers and two detainees. "I don't understand how so many people could die in that accident. How could it be so bad?"
Mora and co-author Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont., died Monday when their truck veered off an elevated highway in western Baghdad and fell about 30 feet, the military said. The single-vehicle crash also wounded 11 other soldiers and a detainee.
The military made no mention of hostile fire. A call to an Army spokesman seeking comment Wednesday was not immediately returned.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also said he was asking the military for details of Gray's death.
Since writing the critical Aug. 19 article with six other active duty U.S. soldiers, she said Mora had seemed increasingly depressed and withdrawn.
"I said to him: 'Son, I don't want you to have problems because of this. Hopefully, nothing will happen,'" said a grief-stricken Capetillo, speaking in Spanish.
The Times piece, called "The War As We Saw It," expressed doubts about American gains in Iraq. "To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched," the group wrote.
In the last line, the authors reaffirmed their commitment: "We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."
Another co-author, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head Aug. 12 while the op-ed was being written. The Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader flown to a military hospital in the United States and expected to survive.
Mora and Gray, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, joined the military out of a sense of duty and selflessness, people who knew them said. Both were married and leave behind young daughters.
Mora, a permanent legal resident, received his citizenship papers two weeks ago and was waiting to be sworn as a U.S. citizen when his deployment ended in November.
"My son gave his life for this country. He was proud of this country, even though he was not an American yet," said Capetillo, who emigrated from Ecuador when Mora was 2.
Yet Capetillo said Mora seemed to grow disturbed by the poverty and pain afflicting Iraqi children and often asked his family to send cookies and candies for the youngsters.
In April, he came home for two weeks to recover after his ears were damaged by a roadside bomb. Then in August, a friend died in Mora's arms, leaving a grim imprint, Capetillo said. An unusually subdued Mora had called his mother Friday, and the two spoke for what would be the last time.
"He was so quiet, as if he did not want anyone to hear him," said Capetillo, as family and friends encircled her in her Texas City kitchen. "I told him that I was counting the days until he would come home, that I would give him a big hug."
Mora told his mother that he was very tired.
"Maybe he had a premonition that something was going to happen to him, that he was not going to come back," said Capetillo, as tears moistened her face. "My son escaped death two times before. But this time, no."
Gray, who grew up on a ranch outside the town of 25 residents, graduated with a class of just 18 from Plevna High School. He and four fellow students joined the military, and news of his death spread quickly, school secretary Lynette O'Connor said.
Gray's relatives said the he felt so strongly about the Army that he reenlisted two or three years ago. He loved being in uniform, and they said writing the op-ed piece must have been a difficult decision.
"I thought it was pretty brave of them to do that," said Marge Griebel, who is married to Gray's grandfather. "It is good that some of us people back here can hear some of those things. They must have put a lot of thought and time into that letter before they put it out."
Griebel called Gray a hero and said the family was grief-stricken.
"It was something they knew could happen, but they just kept praying that it won't," she said.
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Associated Press writer Matt Gouras in Helena, Montana contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The New York Times
Sunday 19 August 2007
The War as We Saw It
by Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance Gray, Jeremy Murphy
August 19, 2007, Baghdad, Iraq -- VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.
However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
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Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.
Tuesday 11 September 2007
Comment by Wiliam C. Martel, Assoc. Professor of International Security Studies, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts USA
How to think about conditions in Iraq, General Petraeus' testimony before Congress, and what we need to do next
The Iraq war is the most critical foreign policy issue facing the American people. For moral, political, and strategic reasons, we cannot afford to suddenly, prematurely withdraw U.S. forces without plunging Iraq into a genocidal sectarian war for which we would be responsible.
For the first time, there are tangible signs of progress.
First, violence is down across Iraq, as virtually all studies show. In General Petraeus' testimony yesterday, his chart "Iraq Violence Trends" shows less violence in Baghdad and several provinces. The number of "High Profile Attacks" is down. Overall, the number of daily attacks against US/coalition forces and Iraqi civilians declined between August 2006 and now.
Here at home, violence in Iraq is the primary measure used by policymakers and citizens to judge conditions in Iraq. With the US troop surge, there are signs -- tentative, but nonetheless promising -- that something positive might be happening in Iraq.
Second, when we compare General Petraeus' briefing to Congress with other studies on Iraq, the differences are not significant. Despite differences -- reflecting disagreements about data or interpretation -- the general consensus is that violence in Iraq is down but still too high, the surge in US troops has helped, while political progress by the Iraqi government remains disappointing.
Third, signs of progress in Iraq give us an opportunity to end political warfare at home. While progress is less than what everyone wants, it provides the basis for a consensus among warring US political factions. For the good of the country, Democrats and Republicans must forge a national consensus on Iraq.
Morally, we cannot leave Iraq without being responsible for a sectarian bloodbath. Politically, we cannot abandon a state to which we committed ourselves. Strategically, we cannot afford chaos in the Middle East, which produces 20 percent of the oil we use every day.
Where do we go from here? With signs of progress, the right thing is to give Iraqis a "decent interval" for reconciliation. We must end America's national spasm of partisan politics and do the right thing for Iraq.
e-mail to Professor William C. Martel, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts USA
Is it of no consequence to you, or have you disciplined yourself to be blind to the dimension of our soldiers and Marines -- what they are, or should be, worth to the nation, and what they must endure -- in the coming years, and for the rest of their lives, if they live -- if our councils analyze the Pollyanna side of the Petraeus surge report as you have?
Did you serve? I did during Vietnam. Scholars like you helped scoundrels prolong the national agony, and bring the uniform death toll to 58,000. Are the friends I lost just sentimental ephemera to you? Are you a scholar our corridors of power should heed, while our soldiers and Marines are just inconsequential losers?
Doubtless you work hard to research and reach your policy conclusions. But you could research the dimension you seem so heedless of, any day of the week, within an easy drive from Boston, by attending the funeral of one of my neighbors' children returned in a coffin from Iraq. The family would not mind if you came to pay your respects. There you could add human grieving and loss to your understanding, and it might color your bloodless analyses.
I would not have minded my service if we had learned something from Vietnam. But again our Best and Brightest from our finest universities urge America to prolong a scoundrels' and liars' blunder war. Others risk, suffer for a lifetime, and die while you advise America to give war a chance.
Soon my town's winter homeless shelter will re-open, and as in past winters I have served the shattered from Vietnam and then from Desert Storm, I will begin to serve young men and women who stagger in at suppertime from the meatgrinder of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not long from now, some of them who might have been spared by a merciful quick end to this meaningless catastrophe can credit their ordeal to your wise counsel.
These are real people, and each of them has as much right to live, and to be spared suffering, as you.
SP5, US Army 1969-1971
Army Commendation Medal
Unlike these guys, with their service and risk, you play war poker with other peoples' chips.
Does it Matter?
by Siegfried Sassoon
from "Counter-Attack and Other Poems," 1918
Does it matter? -- losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter ? -- losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter? -- those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.