Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Military families feel disconnected from the larger community, according to a poll commissioned by a military family advocacy group.
According to the results of the poll, 94 percent feel that way. Blue Star Families released the results of the 3,000-person survey at a roundtable on Capitol Hill led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The roundtable -- meant as one way to bridge the gap -- included Blue Star Families, the National Military Families Association, Tina Tchen of the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as several members of Congress.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Veterans expressions of pain are not necessarily a political expression of anti-war, pro-war or neutral…
Thoughts expressed by this Marine Captain on the matter of veterans healing from their war experiences articulates much better than I some of the thoughts I have tried to express…
I have taken exception to the activism among some of the anti-war groups that are too quick to usurp the veterans' expression of pain as an extension and endorsement of the group's own dissent message.
citing excerpt from the article;
The crucial mistake being made, I think, by so many in the pro-war, antiwar and apolitical populations alike, is their assumptions that the outbursts of veterans are necessarily whole-hearted expressions of dissent. More likely, they are expressions of pain.
The Primacy of Healing: Politics and Combat Stress in America
By Tyler E. Boudreau | Truthout
I am a veteran of the war in Iraq. Like many, I came home bearing an unexpected skepticism toward our operations there and a fresh perspective on America's use of military power. And also like many, I found myself emotionally and psychologically harried by my experiences on the battlefield. But unlike many, I landed after discharge in a community where criticism for the war was both socially acceptable and, in fact, quite common, leaving me free to process a distress which was directly connected to US foreign policy. I was, literally and figuratively, right at home. So, I couldn't help noticing how the political dissent of my community was facilitating my mental healing. That has given me reason to consider all the ways in which politics has corresponded with and influenced the understanding and acceptance of combat stress. And while combat stress survivors have, in some ways, benefited from this relationship; they have suffered from it as well.
Combat stress has a stigmatic heritage, well-recognized now, but that was not always so. World War I was an era in which distraught soldiers were often labeled "men of deficient character"; and yet, the unspeakable carnage of its battles seemed to have offered latitude enough in the aftermath for the painful expressions of its veterans. But after the infinitely more popular World War II, veterans became known more for reticence than effusion and for a stoical veneer beneath which (we know now) a growing tumult was quietly raging. With the country so steeped in enthusiasm, it is not surprising that their invisible wounds went largely unnoticed. After all, with whom, in such a climate, might a veteran have shared his horrible stories?
Vietnam marked a new era for politics and for combat stress. The antiwar movement was never so vociferous, the veterans never so outspoken. And the term "Post-Traumatic Stress" was virtually nonexistent; it was not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980. Widespread criticism of the conflict changed all that. The antiwar movement did not merely give veterans room to recover; it created space in the American consciousness for the possibility that the experiences from war could, in fact, be psychologically devastating. This consequently opened the door to the study of combat stress. Today, after six years in Iraq (eight in Afghanistan), combat stress is nearly taken for granted as an innate component of war. And yet the stigma survives throughout the country, in the military, and even in the mental health field. Why?
The trouble with combat stress (and the traumatic accounts that go with it) is its tendency to call into question the morality of military action. Regardless of the policies, the objectives, or the administrations that enact them, war's essence is challenged outright by the mere existence of combat stress. Upon witnessing the sundered consciousnesses of so many returning veterans and hearing about all the horrible things they endured and committed, one finds it difficult not to conclude that the battlefield must truly be a horrible place. Of course, the justness of war is not defined by its casualties alone, but when the moral compasses of young soldiers are spun to the point where they find it difficult to bear their own skins (as we've seen expressed in the record suicides of late), it leads to a natural suspicion about the moral direction of the war overall. And that is precisely the problem. Like it or not, combat stress is, in its own way, a political statement. It is a silent judgment of war (and of society), and that is why the understanding and treatment of it remain perpetually stifled.
For instance, there has been recent discussion within the psychiatric community about reducing the criteria for post-traumatic stress in the pending DSM-V or restricting the types of events that might be deemed traumatic. The "disorder," some psychiatrists feel, has become too broadly defined, which has contributed to imprecise data collection. Their claim, in other words, is that too many people have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. This must be the only epidemic in human history whose remedy is simply to eliminate the symptoms by which one is diagnosed, thereby normalizing the condition itself, which, in this case, is the psychological effects of war.
This is reminiscent, I think, of Freud's famous study of "hysteria," in which he concluded that the young women suffering from the said illness had been traumatized by sexual abuse. But in noticing the massive number of hysteria cases throughout society, he suddenly realized the dark implications of his findings. The epidemic was rape, not hysteria. That was apparently too much to bear for Freud or for society. Shortly after publishing his conclusions, he recanted them all and drummed up a new theory: These women - the patients with whom he'd worked passionately for over a decade - were just plain crazy. The renowned doctor turned his back on his patients and on the truth, the hysteria was normalized, and the abuse carried on. Combat stress appears to be heading in rather the same direction.
The link between politics and combat stress is hardly subtle; it is intuitive. Articulated or not, people sense it. For example, across the country there have cropped up literally hundreds of grass roots organizations and projects formed to reintegrate veterans and help them through the process of coming home. And in nearly every one of them, you will find some disclaimer or note of vigorous neutrality. "This is about veterans, not politics!" they practically chant. The very presence of this message reiterated ad nauseam is enough to let anyone hearing it know that this absolutely is about politics and that politics are inextricably bound to healing. These attempts at nonpartisan reintegration are fashionable - even admirable - but sadly destined to fail on a large scale because communalizing healing is not possible without first communalizing war. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but communalized.
All the while that this effort to segregate the veterans from their wars goes on, the very same veterans will be searching for meaning behind their war experiences, and they will inevitably reach politics because, as Karl Von Clausewitz notoriously points out, "war is the continuation of politics by other means." Whatever conclusions veterans arrive at in the aftermath, one can be sure they will be politically charged. To deny the ruminations of veterans on the grounds of "nonpartisanship" is, for one thing, to ignore the old adage that silence is consent; and for another, it is to prohibit those veterans from processing a major element of their torment. On the other hand, to embrace their political outbursts too fervently or to focus too narrowly on the partisan weight of their every word is to lose sight of the central process underway. That is what is happening now across the country.
The insidious reluctance towards combat stress that one almost expects to find in the military has plagued the home front as well. In communities, which have adamantly supported the war in Iraq, returning veterans have found their ability to express pain often inhibited or even forcefully suppressed because it tends to sound too much like criticism. Those whose distress results from the danger they experienced or the death they narrowly escaped find at least some level of acceptance. But for those whose angst comes specifically from their deeds in war - from the violence they inflicted or from the deaths they caused - those veterans face a much stiffer resistance.
Members of my former unit hailing from various parts of the country have found themselves practically gagged by the pro-war culture of their own hometowns, leaving them no with way to process their pain and no way to heal. So strong is the intolerance for dissent, which their traumatic memories seem to represent, they are forced to process their pain through drinking, drugs, violence and a host of other illegal or self-destructive activities. These veterans come to understand one immutable truth: It is better to break the law than break the faith. If they turn reckless or criminal, they might do some jail time, but if they turn their backs on the war and on the troops, their former comrades, they will certainly face ostracism from their communities. And that is a far harsher penalty for anyone, let alone an unhinged combat veteran. Such patterns of emotional oppression must seem rather obvious to members of the antiwar community, who generally take the phrases "recovering from war" and "opposing war" to mean the same thing. In many ways, the two terms can be, and indeed are, synonymous, although not inherently so. The distinction may be slight, but I have found a great deal of misunderstanding can gather between them. Traumatic healing is not the same thing as political activism. They are driven by different forces, and so must be treated differently. This is a lesson that goes missed all too often.
When I first came home, I got involved with some activism, and I remember a friend said to me, "Be careful." I asked him what he meant and he told me the story of another outspoken veteran who'd been invited to an antiwar rally. "He was talking about his time in war. He was screaming. His eyeballs were red. He was foaming at the mouth. Everybody loved it. They hooted, and hollered, and called out his name. And when he was done telling his story, they just let him go home - by himself - and stew in all those juices." My friend shook his head disapprovingly and said to me, "Remember, the antiwar crowd cares about one thing - antiwar, not veterans." That may not have been an entirely accurate or fair assessment of the entire movement, but since coming home and having participated in a few rallies myself I've seen enough of the overzealous encouragement and standing ovations to confirm my friend's suspicion. On the other hand, having gotten to know so many of the people at those rallies, I suspect now that their oversight was usually not from being callous or manipulative, but from misunderstanding the nature of combat stress and the way it tends to surface itself.
The crucial mistake being made, I think, by so many in the pro-war, antiwar and apolitical populations alike, is their assumptions that the outbursts of veterans are necessarily whole-hearted expressions of dissent. More likely, they are expressions of pain. It just so happens that their context is political and therefore their vocabulary is political as well. And while these expressions may be more affirming to the Left than to the Right, they are, for neither side, exclusively political statements. I don't mean to invalidate the thoughtful contributions of veterans returning from war, including my own, just to point out that there is more going on in the consciousness of a combat veteran than politics.
The search, I would say, is foremost for some level of serenity. Any new ideology picked up along the way is a by-product of the process itself, and one which does not always endure. That's important to remember. Veterans' experiences in war are extreme; their emotions are extreme; so their views will often come out extreme as well, initially at least. But their political destinations remain uncharted because until their pain has receded their maps are incompletely drawn. For my part, I was reading a lot of radical texts when I came home from war and quoting a lot of radical thinkers. That's fine, I think, because radical politics is absolutely one of the products of war. It was an exercise of regurgitation, which had the cathartic benefit of purging a lot of my rage. But I wasn't doing any real thinking of my own. When I finally calmed down enough to contemplate the situation for myself, I found a place that was not exactly where I'd started out and not exactly where those of either political party might have liked to see me, but it was far more satisfying to me because it was a place of my choosing.
The antiwar community has done well in providing receptiveness and acceptance for veterans expressing negative reactions to war and to the politics which drove them there. What they could do better is to not take those expressions too much at their face. (The pro-war and "neutral" communities could probably stand to consider this point, too.) For returning veterans, the healing process is the central activity on-going, not politics. They need time and room to speak their peace; they need the freedom to lash out verbally so they don't feel cornered into finding other, more destructive outlets. At some point most of them will emerge from the inner fray and be able to define more soberly their political disposition and place themselves in communities accordingly. Until then, compassion is required from all - compassion, which includes both tolerance and restraint, both letting politics in and simultaneously keeping it out, and having both the courage to acknowledge the intrinsic presence of politics in combat stress and the wisdom to recognize the primacy of healing.
Tyler Boudreau, a former Marine captain, is the author of "Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine." His web site is www.tylerboudreau.com.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Daughter and children have done an outstanding job of making the sacrifice without complaint, but I have seen the hard edges the toll has taken on them. The two younger children were 1 and 3 years old when he left for the first deployment to Iraq, and now they are 7 and 9 years old. For 40 months of their young formative years, he has been away and in danger, a danger which they are aware of and it has created for them an anxiety they can not well articulate except through fear and anxious-driven behaviors. I applaud their mother and her teen age daughter who have worked in harmony in managing the younger children through these anxious years.
My time of putting energy into activism towards ending the Iraq war and getting the troops home winds down with President Obama's declaration of ending Iraq war and drawing down troops - responsibly. Drawing down and withdrawing our military is a process that is done with an eye to reducing risks to remaining troops and takes time and I have no disagreement with that process. Recognizing that President Obama plans to put more troops into Afghanistan and that war front may escalate, I am disappointed with that plan. And after a 'dwell time' period at home with his wife and children, likely our son-in-law can figure he will have a deployment to Afghanistan - he has said as much.
But -- after six years of war in Iraq, eight years of war in Afghanistan, with the unmet needs of the service men and women coming home to their military families, and the unmet needs of military families who have sacrificed much for too long ...I want my energies to be directed in venues that will help put in place some of the much-needed resources for this generation of veterans and their families. I'm thinking that I want to shift the direction of this blog towards being a part of the bridge building that facilitates calling attention to needed resources, but I am also thinking that the name of the blog is perhaps too provocative - as I meant it to be when I created this blog. Perhaps it is time to retire this blog and begin anew with another blog.
I would like to give a shout out for a military family group that has already made contributions in representing some of the concerns expressed by this generation of military families. Many members are currently military spouses, and I think that gives their thoughts weight as among the representative voices of this generation's military families. See Blue Star Families.... their mission statement;
"Blue Star Families is a bridge between military families, the shapers of policy affecting military life, and our nation at large. Through outreach to our government leaders and local civilian communities, we strive to share the unique experiences of our military lifestyle and the pride we feel in our families’ service. By engaging our members and their families, we seek to gather our perspectives and opinions on all aspects of military life. We use this knowledge base as a voice of military families to inform the policy shapers and to support families, like ours, that have the honor of serving our country."
And see their blog Blue Star Voices.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
GI Suicides in 2008 Highest on Record
The Army is expected to release a report later today revealing the highest number of suicides among troops in nearly three decades, according to CNN.
The network reported this morning that the Army will confirm 128 suicides in 2008, along with 15 suspected suicides currently under investigation among active-duty Soldiers and activated National Guard and Army Reserve troops. The Army also will announce a study of Soldier suicides and links to post-combat stress, CNN says.
read more at Military.com
Army Report Notes 231 Shock Incidents
U.S. troops in Iraq suffered electrical shocks about every three days in a two-year period surrounding the electrocution death of a Green Beret sergeant, according to an internal Defense Contract Management Agency report obtained by the Tribune-Review.
The 45-page document -- a high-level request for corrective action generated last fall -- found that Texas-based military contractor KBR Inc. failed to properly ground and bond its electrical systems, which contributed to Soldiers "receiving shocks in KBR-maintained facilities on average once every three days since data was available in Sept. 2006."
The agency determined that KBR "failed to meet basic requirements to identify life-threatening conditions on tanks, water pumps, electrical outlets and electrical panels."
The report adds that government search results of a KBR-maintained database revealed that 231 electrical-shock incidents occurred in the period from September 2006 through July 31, 2008 -- indicating that the activity continued long after the death of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, who suffered cardiac arrest after stepping into his Baghdad shower on Jan. 2, 2008.
Records show Maseth was electrocuted when he turned on the water that flowed through metal pipes. The Army Criminal Investigation Division recently determined Maseth's death was negligent homicide, rather than an accident as previously reported.
read more at Military.com
Body Armor Recalled by Army
WASHINGTON - Army Secretary Pete Geren has ordered the recall of more than 16,000 sets of body armor following an audit that concluded the bullet-blocking plates in the vests failed testing and may not provide Soldiers with adequate protection.
The audit by the office of the Defense Department inspector general, not yet made public but obtained by The Associated Press, faults the Army for flawed testing procedures before awarding a contract for the armor.
In a letter dated Jan. 27 to Acting Inspector General Gordon Heddell, Geren said he did not agree that the plates failed the testing or that Soldiers were issued deficient gear. He said his opinion was backed by the Pentagon’s top testing director.
Despite his insistence that the armor was not deficient, Geren said he was recalling the sets as a precaution.
Geren also said he's asked for a senior Pentagon official to resolve the disagreement between the Army and the inspector general's office.
read more at Military.com
Friday, December 12, 2008
Check it out. I am saving to read later when I have more time; you might want to take a look and read it - very up to the minute.
at CDI - Center for Defense Information; newly released to and for President-Elect Barack Obama’s consideration.
"America's Defense Meltdown"? (pdf)
What’s in "America's Defense Meltdown" is a new anthology that gives President-elect Obama and Congress direction and will guide the United States back onto the path of an effective defense at a cost a nation in recession can afford.
Author(s): Winslow Wheeler
I haven't watched this video yet either at GRIT TV with Laura Flanders website - it is where I found the info.
Michael Ware, CNN Correspondent, six years in Iraq. At HuffPo the title is 'Michael Ware's Tortured World; I Am Not the Same F---g Person'...which links to the original article at Men's Journal titled ‘CNN's Prisoner of War'.
Michael Ware speaks to what he has witnessed and experienced. He speaks to dehumanizing aspect of war, the war in Iraq in truth being now the war in Iran and was since beginning when U.S. troops crossed the Kuwait border, he speaks of how Obama can bring the troops home and it may be at the expense of mortgaging our foreign policy in the Middle East.
Read it for yourselves; a few of excerpts;
"It's my firm belief that we need to constantly jar the sensitivities of the people back home," he says. "War is a jarring experience. Your kids are living it out, and you've inflicted it upon 20-odd million Iraqis. And when your brothers and sons and mates from the football team come home, and they ain't quite the same, you have an obligation to sit for three and a half minutes and share something of what it's like to be there."
It's an obligation now owed to Michael Ware, too.
excerpt from Men's Journal titled ' CNN's Prisoner of War'.
This freedom has helped Ware stay a year in front of conventional wisdom. In 2003, while others were covering the conquest of Baghdad, he talked with Iraqi policemen and soldiers, the men who would become the insurgency. Then in 2004, when Donald Rumsfeld was dismissing these insurgents as "dead-enders," Ware was reporting on their strength after seeing their training camps firsthand. Two years later, Ware was branding the conflict in Iraq a civil war while the Bush administration boasted about the results of Iraq's democratic elections. This year his obsession has been the extent of Iran's influence over the Iraqi government.
"From the moment the first American tanks crossed the Kuwait border, America was in a proxy war with Iran," Ware says. "The Iranians knew it, but it took the U.S. four years to figure it out. Now the Iraqi government is comprised almost entirely of factions created in Iran, supported by Iran, or with ties to the Iranian government — as many as 23 members of the Iraqi parliament are former members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard."
excerpt from Men's Journal titled ' CNN's Prisoner of War'.
As uncomfortable as he is with the idea of his leaving Iraq, if Ware were setting policy, American forces would be in Iraq for a very, very long time. He shudders at the idea of massive American troop withdrawals. Horrific genocide, he predicts; worse than Bosnia. "John McCain said, 'The war's going so well, so why stop now?' I say it's going so badly that we have to pay the price to prevent what's to come."
"The successes in bringing down the violence are undeniable, yet America hasn't been looking at the price to deliver these successes. Obama can bring American kids home tomorrow, but are you willing to mortgage your foreign policy future in that region? Are you willing to walk away from a stronger Iran that is gaining leverage to be a nuclear power? Are you willing to accept your diminished influence in the Middle East? As long as the American public is willing to ante up, then you can bring them home."
excerpt from Men's Journal titled ' CNN's Prisoner of War'.
"Then, for the next 20 minutes," Ware remembers, "all of us just stood around and watched this guy's life slowly ebb away in painful, heaving sobs for air, rendering him absolutely no assistance or aid. If that had been an American soldier, he would have been medevacked out and in 20 minutes would've landed on an operating table. Once an enemy combatant comes into your custody, you're obliged by the Geneva Conventions to render that wounded prisoner all aid. Even I — with my rudimentary medical training, I don't think his life could've been saved — but even I could've eased his passing.
"Instead a towel was laid over his face, making his breathing much more labored and painful, the taunts continued, and we just sat around and watched him die.
"And for some bizarre reason, it was just me and this platoon of soldiers, and I was able to see the dispassion of these kids in the way they just watched his life slip away. I was filming and worrying about the best composition of the shot, and I realized that I too was watching just as dispassionately. There's no blame to be laid here. That guy was a legitimate target who was rightfully shot in the head. But it made me realize, just once more, that this kind of dehumanization is what happens when we send our children to war."
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
She really did. She phoned on Veterans Day. I was sitting at my desk in my home in my lounge around the house clothes, working on my laptop. The dawning of the fullness of the recognition that I was on the phone listening to Michelle Obama, who will very soon be the First Lady hit me like a ton of bricks and blew me away. Wow, I'm on a phone call with the First Lady -- how cool is that!
Actually, it was a conference call, listen only, that Michelle Obama made on Veterans Day to Blue Star Families 4 Obama, to thank them for their pro-active help in the campaign, to thank them for their sacrifices as military families. We are a Blue Star family and I had joined the BSF4O group during the campaign at my mybarackobama campaign site.
So no, it was not a personal call specifically to me, and I was having a little fun with the first part of this post. Still, I was surprised at my own reaction and recognition -- this really is Michelle Obama, she really will be the First Lady, she is talking to us on a phone conference call, talking about her daughters, getting them into schools, getting ready for the inauguration. It had a surreal feeling to it for me. I am not used to being on a phone call from the First Lady and well, the Vice President -- an earlier conference call I got to participate in (listen only) with Joe Biden.
If I were to be on a phone conference call with President Elect, Barack Obama, based on my reaction to Michelle Obama's phone conference call, I'm sure my reaction will cause my heart to beat faster.
Towards the end of the campaign, I was on a listen only conference call from Joe Biden that he set up via his email listserv. He had just concluded his speech in Tacoma, WA, thanked us and was encouraging the many of us on the conference call to get out there and keep working, and not to take anything for granted.
The audacity of hope..boy, am I feeling it!
Returning wounded Iraq veteran, and now Director of the Illinois Dept of Veteran’s Affairs, Tammy Duckworth who lost both legs in combat in Iraq war with President Elect, Barack Obama on Veteran’s Day 2008; ceremony of placing the wreath on Bronze Soldiers Memorial.
link - more photos and article
Monday, November 10, 2008
Released in 2008, the film ‘Crawford’ produced/directed by David Modigliani is a documentary/biography of the small town of Crawford, Texas before George W. Bush arrived at their doorstep, during the time of his Presidency. (And now after as new President-Elect, Barack Obama, is preparing to assume the office of President of the United States). The film,’Crawford’ is put together in a way that shows the residents of the town, their lives, and the impact of what happens to the town and their lives when George Bush moves to their town to set up his ranch in his campaign for President.
The video is embedded below, obtaining it from and assuming that Hulu has necessary permissions to share it online. If the video does not work at my blog, you can view it where I did, online at his link – Hulu.
I jump ahead of the film, to my own personal experience of Crawford, Texas. Of course, part of the Crawford experience is that month of August 2005, when Cindy Sheehan parked herself in Crawford outside the President’s ranch during his vacation. For perspective as to why Cindy decided to make her stand at that time, remember that President Bush took vacation shortly after one of his press conferences in which he identifies the deaths of troops in Iraq as having given their lives for a noble cause.
Remember that at that time, 23 marines from the Lima Company alone had been killed in Iraq in 2005, 20 were killed over 2 days in August 2005 – six on Aug 1, and fourteen on Aug 3. Cindy, mother of Casey Sheehan, soldier, who was killed in Iraq April 4, 2004, deliberately went to Crawford almost immediately after the noble cause statement to ask George Bush personally ‘What Noble Cause?’ . While the film does not elevate this period of the George Bush ranch in Crawford experience,the film attempts to show the impact on local residents.
I was part of that story, part of that August 2005 experience of Crawford. Since I was not or did not consider myself to be a ‘peace activist’ prior to the Iraq war but chose to present as a military family trying to speak out to a new young generation of military families, the perspectives I have of my own experiences among the peace/activism communities has it’s own unique flavor. My experience of Crawford, Texas, Camp Casey, August 2005 is colored by my experiences growing up as what is affectionately callled a ‘military brat’ on military bases in between the Korean Conflict (war) and the Vietnam war, my experiences as a military wife of a young husband, drafted and deployed to Vietnam, my experiences living in the ‘military culture’, my professional career employment in the social services field during my adult years as a civilian employed in state level public sector, and my inexperience with the culture of peace/activism communities.
The film does justice to one of the many considerations I had when I was at Crawford. How does this tiny town cope with having such high profile people make their mark at Crawford? How does the town deal with and cope with the polarized, political battle of opinions here at home on the Iraq war which I believe came to head at Crawford during Camp Casey in August 2005. Now that I actually do live in a small town, and it is a new part of my life experiences, I wondered how the people in the town where I live would react should something similar happen in their town and lives.
Whatever came after the August 2005, Crawford, Texas, Camp Casey experience, I will always credit Cindy with bringing to head the public discourse which at that time had been embroiled in political limitations to the language of what constitutes patriotism, the flag, and support for the troops. The public political discourse needed to happen and the shift in the political discourse because of that month of August 2005 in Crawford that gave voice to the many-faceted feelings and opinions of the war in Iraq needed to happen.
It opened doors within the public Iraq war political discourse that had been previously deliberately slammed shut. And I would offer those doors were slammed shut with deliberate forethought and premeditation so as to confine, undermine, and squelch any opportunity of public dialogue or public dissent. For myself, an ordinary person living an ordinary life, my experience of August 2005 in Crawford, Texas was extraordinary and has marked me indelibly.
But August 2005 is not the point of this film, it is a part of the film, as it is a part of the Crawford experience. The film is presented in a way that does not favor opinions about the Iraq war, about George W. Bush, but brings to bear the experience of both along with other experiences that often times typifies small town America. The ending of the film shook me up – was something I did not know and was very unsettling.
I hope you’ll watch the film. It is not a trailer, but the full length film, 1 hour and 15 minutes, so recommend watching it when you have some time to watch it.
Excerpt of one review of the film ‘Crawford’ by Joe Leydon at Variety
By JOE LEYDON
David Modiglinai's "Crawford" offers an evenhanded and occasionally poignant account of the impact on the citizenry of the small Texas town chosen by President George W. Bush to be the site of his so-called "Western White House." Filmed over several years, docu plays like a rise-and-fall drama populated with colorful, contrasting characters who have profoundly mixed feelings about being used as props in Bush's political stagecraft. After a spin on the fest circuit, pic might get limited theatrical play before pubcast and/or niche-cable airdates.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Via TBO.com Tampa Bay Online
WASHINGTON – It takes a brave soldier to do what Army Maj. Gen. David Blackledge did in Iraq.
It takes as much bravery to do what he did when he got home.
Blackledge got psychiatric counseling to deal with wartime trauma, and now he is defying the military's culture of silence on the subject of mental health problems and treatment.
"It's part of our profession ... nobody wants to admit that they've got a weakness in this area," Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America's two wars.
"I have dealt with it. I'm dealing with it now," said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. "We need to be able to talk about it."
As the nation marks Veterans Day on Tuesday, thousands of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with anxiety, depression and other emotional problems.
As many as one-fifth of the more than 1.7 million who have served in the wars are estimated to have symptoms. In a sign of how tough it may be to change attitudes, roughly half of those who need help are not seeking it, studies have found.
Despite efforts to reduce the stigma of getting treatment, officials say they fear generals and other senior leaders remain unwilling to go for help, much less talk about it, partly because they fear it will hurt chances for promotion.
That reluctance is also worrisome because it sends the wrong signal to younger officers and perpetuates the problem leaders are working to reverse.
"Stigma is a challenge," Army Secretary Pete Geren said Friday at a Pentagon news conference on troop health care. "It's a challenge in society in general. It's certainly a challenge in the culture of the Army, where we have a premium on strength, physically, mentally, emotionally."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked leaders this year to set an example for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: "You can't expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won't do it."
Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist heading the defense center for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, is developing a campaign in which people will tell their personal stories. Troops, their families and others also will share concerns and ideas through Web links and other programs. Blackledge volunteered to help, and next week he and his wife, Iwona, an Air Force nurse, will speak on the subject at a medical conference.
A two-star Army Reserve general, 54-year-old Blackledge commanded a civil affairs unit on two tours to Iraq, and now works in the Pentagon as Army assistant deputy chief of staff for mobilization and reserve issues.
His convoy was ambushed in February 2004, during his first deployment. In the event that he since has relived in flashbacks and recurring nightmares, Blackledge's interpreter was shot through the head, his vehicle rolled over several times and Blackledge crawled out of it with a crushed vertebrae and broken ribs. He found himself in the middle of a firefight, and he and other survivors took cover in a ditch.
He said he was visited by a psychiatrist within days after arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He had several sessions with the doctor over his 11 months of recovery and physical therapy for his injuries.
"He really helped me," Blackledge said. And that's his message to troops.
"I tell them that I've learned to deal with it," he said. "It's become part of who I am."
He still has bad dreams about once a week but no longer wakes from them in a sweat, and they are no longer as unsettling.
On his second tour to Iraq, Blackledge traveled to neighboring Jordan to work with local officials on Iraq border issues, and he was in an Amman hotel in November 2005 whensuicide bombers attacked, killing some 60 and wounding hundreds.
Blackledge got a whiplash injury that took months to heal. The experience, including a harrowing escape from the chaotic scene, rekindled his post-traumatic stress symptoms, though they weren't as strong as those he'd suffered after the 2004 ambush.
Officials across the service branches have taken steps over the last year to make getting help easier and more discreet, such as embedding mental health teams into units.
They see signs that stigma has been slowly easing. But it's likely a change that will take generations.
Phil Donahue has been passionate in making and promoting this documentary, giving considerable credit to Ellen Spiro for her untiring work on the film.
Quoting Phil Donahue; "Tomas Young is one of thousands of returning veterans forced to adjust to serious changes in their lives in the wake of this war, and it's critical that their stories get out there."
On a more personal level, I have seen the film, and while I did not personally meet Tomas, I am aware of him, spent some time in some of the same locations shown in the documentary. I recognize several of my military family colleagues shown in the film, was there with them at the time of this documentary filming. I feel as if I know Tomas, after all, he and other's like him are why I have committed these past almost six years as a military family speaking out against sending this young generation into an unwarranted war in Iraq.
I can't think of a more appropriate film showing on this Veteran's Day than one that acknowledges all of our returning and not returning Iraq veterans. While Veteran's Day is about all veterans of all engagements, I know the older veterans are honored and humbled to have this young generation of Iraq veterans acknowledged.
'Body of War' to air on Nov 11, 2008, 7 PM on Sundance channel.
See 'Body of War' website for more information, to purchase the dvd, and note that 25% of every purchase goes to Tomas Young.
Bill Moyers Journal
Longer version of Bill Moyers Journal featuring Tomas Young speaking engagement at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York
Friday, November 07, 2008
Obama Victory Alters the Tenor of Iraqi Politics, title of article at NY Times;
BAGHDAD — Barack Obama may have been elected only three days ago, but his victory is already beginning to shift the political ground in Iraq and the region.
Iraqi Shiite politicians are indicating that they will move faster toward a new security agreement about American troops, and a Bush administration official said he believed that Iraqis could ratify the agreement as early as the middle of this month.
“Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a powerful member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major Shiite party. “If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for this timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama.”
Mr. Obama has said that he favors a 16-month schedule for withdrawing combat brigades, a timetable about twice as fast as that provided for in the draft American and Iraqi accord.
Over all, however, there was a new tone of optimism. “The atmosphere is positive with the American attempt to preserve the sovereignty of the Iraqi nation,” the government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told the news channel Al Arabiya. He praised the inclusion of a new provision stating that Americans would not launch attacks on Iraq’s neighbors from Iraqi soil.
The Americans also added language to make explicit what kinds of troops would remain after the withdrawal in 2011, said a Bush administration official knowledgeable about the security pact. Those still in Iraq would be primarily trainers and air traffic controllers, the official said.
“There’s going to be a significant presence, but they are not going to be ‘combat’ forces,” said the administration official. The official said that the most recent talks with Iraqis had given American negotiators confidence that a final agreement was close.
Mr. Ameri, who is chairman of the security committee of Iraq’s Parliament, said that Iraqi politicians did appreciate the Bush administration’s commitment to Iraq. Signing the agreement while President Bush was still in office would be “a minimum sign of appreciation,” Mr. Ameri said.
Following through on his campaign promises, President Elect, Barack Obama and Vice President Elect, Joe Biden already have a strong sense of how they plan to end the war in Iraq.
Read the entire article by Jason Leopold at The Public Record.
also read it firsthand at and follow along at Barack Obama’s newly launched online ‘transition’ website change.gov – office of the President-Elect.
The president-elect said one of his first policy directives after he is sworn into office will be giving military commanders and the Secretary of Defense "a new mission in Iraq: ending the war."
On the SOFA; which needs to be worked out between the U.S. and Iraq by Dec 31, 2008 since that is when the United Nations mandate that allows foreign soldiers to operate in country expires
"Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel," his proposal says. "They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism."
The Obama team also said that a Status of Forces Agreement Bush is currently negotiating with the Iraqi government must be approved by Congress or must include input from Obama and his foreign policy advisers before being signed.
“The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq," according to Obama’s transition website.
"Obama and Biden believe any Status of Forces Agreement, or any strategic framework agreement, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases," states the proposal. "Obama and Biden also believe that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval. It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval—yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress.”
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
As I understand the SOFA (status of forces agreement), the urgency now underway is to come to a mutual agreeable agreement before Dec 31, 2008 as that is when the ?? ‘legality’ ?? of U.S. troops in accordance with UN mandate ends. The Iraqi government has not reached agreement with President Bush, and speculation is that Iraqis know there will be a new Administration after U.S. November elections and would rather wait and deal with the new Administration which will take office Jan 2009.
What this means for the deployed troops in Iraq after Dec. 31, 2008 is that they need to remove or remain on their bases. Troops not on their bases and found to be committing a crime (this would be according to Iraqi definitions of a crime) would be subject to Iraqi criminal justice system. I don’t have much of an idea of what an Iraqi criminal justice system looks like, but I can take an awkward guess and it doesn’t seem very reassuring that our U.S. troops deployed by this President/Commander-in-Chief have much protection from Iraqi criminal justice after December 31, 2008.
Look, I get it that all sides have been subject to violence resulting in maiming and death on a massive scale and being concerned about this element in the duration of the now 6 year war in Iraq is but one of a continuum of ongoing concerns. But this is an Administration who has clearly demonstrated a total disregard for the status of deployed U.S. troops and the preciousness of life on all sides. I have no reason to have trust or confidence that this President will preside with enough prescience to adequately deal with this development, any more than he has demonstrated prescience to deal with the ongoing developments of the last eight years of his administration. He is more than likely willing to play out the time he has left in office and leave it to the next administration to resolve.
I do take some reassurance that the Pentagon, Generals, and chain of command understand the stakes and will advocate on behalf of the troops, and this development cannot wait until January; it needs attention and resolution now! With my son-in-law deployed in Iraq now in his second ‘stop-loss’, extended 15 month deployment, it is discomforting enough, but to think he may be at risk now as well to Iraqi sense of justice is frightening. With the complete injustice of this war and the Iraqi people having reason beyond reasonable reaction to hate America and American troops, I shudder to think……
Video below explains much better than my grasping at words. Please watch the video. Read more at the news source, The Real News Network here.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Excerpt from Article in Common Dreams:
Soldiers of Conscience: Opposing the Iraq War
by Jessica Mosby
The new film Soldiers of Conscience documents soldiers who, during the middle of their deployments in Iraq, became conscientious objectors. The documentary, which premiers on PBS as part of thePoint of View series this week, is not 86 minutes of liberal-biased, anti-war propaganda; it is a very thoughtful exploration of the moral debate about killing during times of war. Filmmakers Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan made Soldiers of Conscience with cooperation from the United States Army.
The ethical dilemma that anchors the film is blatantly stated in the first few minutes - "At some point, every soldier has to face the question: Will I be able to kill another human being in combat?" Until recent wars most soldiers were not willing to kill; during WWII the military found that 75 percent of combat soldiers did not fire at the enemy when given the opportunity. "Reflexive fire training" - a technique now taught during basic training wherein firing a weapon becomes second nature - has increased firing rates to almost 90 percent.
The photo Colin Powell referenced in his endorsement of Barack Obama. The photo of mother at her son's gravesite, a young man, 20 years old, killed in Iraq, awarded Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Emblem on his gravesite is not the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, but the Muslim Crescent and Star. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, Cpl., U.S. Army, Operation Iraqi Freedom, was an American who was 14 at the time of 911. He waited until he was of age to enlist in military to serve his country (United States of America) and he gave his life for his country...the United States of America.
excerpt from the transcript of Colin Powell endorsement speech on Meet The Press today
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
Video of Colin Powell's endorsement speech of Barack Obama at Meet the Press today.
There is much to be mined from Colin Powell's speech that might resonate more strongly with others. Colin Powell, with this reference, eloquenty elevated a truth and reality of the constancy of our country's relationship to the Iraq war. I wanted to take a moment to share in elegance that truth, that reality, amidst all the background noise of the Presidential campaign.
It is not useful for me to editorialize or restate using my lesser words that which Colin Powell has brought into perspective with his own words. I hope, readers, you will take time to listen to Colin Powell and hear the words for yourselves.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I would read articles, op-eds about Tora Bora in the years that followed (google Tora Bora). But it didn't quite ever come up again in the media as something in need of deeper investigation. Ah, but wasn't that true of so many things during that time period. A shaking, quaking media, either terrified or fooling themselves into believing the Bush Administration talking points they were fed was part of national security and oh - that whole 'patriotic'/not patriotic thing that went on in those early years.
'60 Minutes' segment, October 2008, titled 'Elite Officer Recalls Bin Laden Hunt, Delta Force Commander Says The Best Plan To Kill The Al Qaeda Leader Was Nixed'.
Shortly after 9/11, the Pentagon ordered a top secret team of American commandos into Afghanistan with a single, simple order: kill Osama bin Laden. It was America's best chance to eliminate the leader of al Qaeda. The inside story of exactly what happened in that mission, and how close it came to its objective has never been told until now.
The man you are about to meet was the officer in command, leading a team from the U.S. Army's mysterious Delta Force - a unit so secret, it's often said Delta doesn't exist. But you are about to see Delta's operators in action.
Why would the mission commander break his silence after seven years? He told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that most everything he has read in the media about his mission is wrong and now he wants to set the record straight.
(hat tip for getting my attention to this story goes to jimstaro post at VetVoice)