Saturday, September 29, 2007

Young, Brave and Vulnerable, with no Advocates

September 30, 2007

Weary G.I.’s in Iraq Are Ready for a Rest, but Are Hardly at Ease

MAHMUDIYA, Iraq — On bases big and small south of Baghdad, the scrambled reality of war has become routine: an unending loop of anxious driving in armored Humvees, gallons of Gatorade, laughter at the absurd and 4 a.m. raids into intimate Iraqi bedrooms.

This is Iraq for the 3,300 soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division’s Second Brigade, and many have bitterly come to the realization that it now feels more like home than home will.

No other brigade in the Army has spent more days deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. And with only a few weeks to go before ending their 15-month tour, the soldiers here are eager to go. But they are also nervous about what their minds will carry back given the psychic toll of war day after day and the prospect of additional tours.

Heartache can be heard in the quiet voice of Specialist Gerald Barranco-Oro, who at 22 is on his second tour of Iraq and will leave for home without two close friends who were killed May 19.

There are other losses, too: for fathers like Staff Sgt. Kirk Ray, 25, whose 2-year-old daughter screams when he calls because “she doesn’t know who I am”; and for those who must detach to keep going, like Specialist Jesse Herb, 20, who casually mentioned recently that the ceiling above his bed was dented with the bone fragments of a lieutenant who shot and killed himself there a few months ago.

“Every day I wake up,” he said, “I see little pieces of his head.”

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22, 20 and 25 year-olds on their second tour?

At least they have the assurance that when they get home, the VA will have totally screwed up whatever physical and psychic help they need, because the military never expected the rate of wounded returnees.

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the former a veteran himself and the latter a dodger with 'better things to do' than Vietnam, kept telling themselves it would be a cakewalk.

We are five years into this war and the chaos of war in Iraq is expected by the troops, but our hospitals and therapy centers are still understaffed, underfunded and grindingly committed to paperwork. The chaos of return to a dysfunctional and bureaucratically snide (no other word comes to mind) Veteran's Administration is unconscionable.

Our president just asked Congress for another $140 billion--not enough in there to take care of wounded kids and fathers and mothers of kids. But then, unlike Vietnam, this is a war fought by other people's children--a war with no advocacy.


* For more in-depth articles by Jim on Iraq War, check out Opinion-Columns.com