Sunday, December 10, 2006

Daniel Smith vs "Nicole"

My hands and spirit have been too impaired these past few days to write. I'll give it a shot now anyway.

Ed and Shoshana commented to my post "Pay Up, Or Else" and I've been meaning to find the time and strength to respond. Truthfully, the Smith/Nicole case has caused me no little anguish and anger. I've been trying to find some sympathy for the accuser, but I find it hard to dredge up even a little. My wife and her friends outright disbelieve and despise her, so perhaps a little of their disdain has rubbed off on me.

So why don't they believe her? Because they know how things really work here. This is a nation of opportunists, and knowing that, and after watching the trial drag out month after month and hearing all the behind the scenes gossip about her and her "handlers," they believe she is a fraud. Maybe she is and maybe she isn't. The question for me is "Did the evidence show beyond reasonable doubt that Smith raped her?"

In most places in North America the answer would be no. However, in a simplistic place like this obviously a different answer could be and was derived. Not to mention that for hypersensitive "uppercrust" locals with their renowned inferiority complex this wasn't a matter of "he said, she said." No, for many folks hereabouts they saw the trial as "the bigshot USA vs the lowly Philippines." Truth and justice and gradations of those things got lost as Americans were shown that "you can't come in here and do anything you want and get away with it."

Evidently, Smith and company didn't see the conviction coming. The kid was stunned by the verdict because he thought that if he didn't see his actions as rape, and if there was no evidence of the same then he would certainly be found innocent. "Welcome to the Philippines Daniel!" Way back in September I saw an interview between Smith and a local news woman and I could tell he was convinced of his own innocence, and truthfully, I found him sincere. Again though, his fate was in the hands of a judge who had other things to think about besides reasonable doubt and truth.

The judge said he wasn't tampered with or "influenced" by anyone or anything. If you know anything about this place then you know that if people in high places are speaking, chances are high that they are lying. The only time they aren't spouting falsehoods is when they aren't speaking. The man was certainly told by his "masters" how his verdict should go. That is a guarantee. Smith was going to be found guilty no matter what.

Ed, you invoke hindsight and knowledge accrued from experience and sobriety. Both Smith and "Nicole" were drunk and sexually "revved" and very young. He acted like a cad, no doubt about that; and she, it seems, finding herself in disarray the next morning and in search of an "excuse" for her own misguided drunken behavior opted for accusation. (I've learned that folks around here are likely to fix blame on others before looking in the mirror). Once on "that road," she had no choice but to pursue it to the bitter end. And what an end it is....

Smith, in my opinion, is an asshole. He had sex with a young lady after having just met her, and did so in the back of a van while his buddies snickered away in the front seats. After done with the deed he simply dropped her off in a state of dishelvment on the street. Knowing that, even if she originally agreed to intercourse, he proved himself no gentleman. Then again, I was a marine, and knowing the prevailing disrespectful attitude towards women, would I allow any of my womenfolk to be around them during their partying episodes? The obvious answer is a resounding "Hell NO!"

By the way, the American military has more than learned its lesson. Even when there are hundreds of US servicemen in country, as there were last month, there is very little chance that any locals will see them, especially any single women. That's unfortunate since most of us are good guys who would never dream of doing anything close to what Smith did, rape or not. I've read lots of stuff online about how abusive we Americans are to young Filipinas and that is a load of crap. Lots of us have fallen in love with these girls, married them, had children, and took great care of them. My observation is that the men most likely to abuse "pinays" are "pinoys."

Getting into some of the more important "particulars" on the Smith vs Nicole case, supposedly there was bruising in her "nether" parts, which leaves doubt as to his claims that the sex was totally consensual. Just the same, that could be explained away from the heat of passion and from the awkwardness of the place. (not that I would know anything about something like that!) But, as Shoshana intimated, once a woman says the words "stop" or "no" then any continuance on the part of the man means a rape has legally occurred. Thing is, the other witnesses in the van including the Filipino driver said that no such words were uttered by her. Basically, the judge disregarded their testimony. It seems the judge felt that her level of inebriation all by itself meant that she did not have the ability to say no, therefore, Smith is guilty of having sex with an unconcious woman? Seems like a judicial "leap" to me. Then again, the judge wasn't there, so it looks like he used his "special omnicient powers" that judges here are apparently empowered to use when there are no eye-witnesses around to corroborate their verdicts.

Shoshana, rape is a strong word. Like most things in life, there are shades of gray in this case. The judge whopped this kid with the stiffest penalty he could muster, 40 years, basically a death sentence. The best Smith can hope for is a sentence reduced for good behavior, or perhaps an early out through suicide. For me, I would opt for the latter. I am sure he is strongly considering ending his own life about now. I hope he doesn't, because as long as their is life there is hope. Still, prisons here are some of the worst in the world.

Getting back to the judge, he is obviously a simpleton. That was my own judgment of him based on his hyperbolic description of "the crime," which he used to rationalize his ridiculously harsh sentence. A "good" judge is supposed to be thoughtful, thus, before levying such a terrible fate upon someone all extenuating circumstances are supposed to be considered. First of all, he believed nothing from Smith's side, while on the other hand he gave "Nicole" every benefit of the doubt. Smith has no record of ever having done anything violent to anyone before. In most "civilized" places to give 40 years, or life, as punishment, means the judge believes the convicted is likely to do the crime again, yet there is nothing on record or in Smith's demeanor that would lead to such a conclusion.

Smith's new legal team (he fired his original attorney) is now starting into the appeals process. Personally, from what I've seen and from what I know of the justice system here, unless his people pay someone off Smith is doomed.

To give this thing perspective, in the States virtually no one is even aware of this case. Here, everyone knows about it. Its a "little picture" event everywhere outside of the Philippines. Here, its not a case of a 21 year old American male who is supposed to have taken advantage of a 23 year old female. In the US it is at most a topic of passing human interest, while here, it is a subject of great interest all the way to the president. By the way, she's already expressed her "satisfaction" that "justice was done," even before all the appeals hoops have been jumped through. You can't tell me that after hearing the "top dog" voice such a thing that any appeals judge isn't going to be influenced.

After seeing all this played out, after seeing the extreme dislike and resentment displayed in much of the government for Americans, if I had my way, I would end all military affilation and aide to this place. Half of what we donate is pocketed anyway, and virtually none of our military consel is listened to or acted upon. The war on terror be damned. Who needs this shit?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Pay Up, Or Else...

It’s entirely possible that LCpl Smith actually raped his accuser. I don’t know—I wasn’t there. Marines, and other young men, have pushed themselves on young ladies before and this won’t be the last time, if that is indeed what happened. But the evidence that I read about used to sentence the 21-year-old to 40 years in a hellish Philippine prison cell probably wouldn’t have even resulted in a trial in most places in the US and Europe.

Still, I shrug, since many ex-pats living out here pretty much knew that Smith was considered guilty by most Filipinos in power long before the protracted trial ever even began. After all, it was imperative that they "show" the Philippine public that they wouldn't allow the United States to "push them around," irrespective of the facts and eye-witness accounts. So, if the life of a young marine had to be sacrificed to prove how unintimidated they are, so let it be done.

A blogger buddy, SF Forever, just informed me that these days, even in the States, men are being found guilty of rape for simply having sex when the woman was drunk during the “event,” even if it was for most of the night and even if multiple “events” occurred. Recent judicial rationale is that after a few drinks consent is no longer possible by the woman. It was the alcohol that said “yes,” not her. Having observed all that though, I have to snicker and roll my eyes at the official comments from Philippine government officials that the 40 year verdict is proof positive of the fairness of Philippine justice. What an ironic joke those statement are.

All the verdict really shows is that when one "plays the game" above board by not paying off witnesses, police, prosecutors and judges that the result WILL be jail time. That is standard knowledge among those of us who live here.

The verdict also goes a long way, I hope, in warning foreigners, especially sex tourists, not to come here, or to think twice before doing so. I live here mostly because my wife’s family is here, but most tourists come here because of the beautiful and “willing” women. A marine on leave for exactly that reason recently had to “acquire” his own Philippine justice when he brought a young lady from a bar to his hotel room. In short order a policeman knocked on the door, and upon entering, informed the man that the girl with him was just 17. The marine sex tourist had no way of knowing her “true” age, since all the girls working in the bar were “advertised” as being at least 18. If not for an extensive amount of moolah sent to him by family he would still be languishing in a local jail, probably waiting for more than a year for a docket date. Instead, he paid his “fine,” and without ever having to suffer through what passes for a trial in these parts, he is now safe and sound back where he belongs. His story is NOT unique and still the sex tourists come here, exactly like lambs to the slaughter. Idiots!

Here’s some cryptic advice for all you guys coming to the Far East to “meet” beautiful ladies: Go to Thailand.

Another American was recently released from the local “gulag” after a year behind bars. Imagine more than a dozen men crammed into a cell half the size of your bedroom. He too was accused on trumped up sex charges, but he refused to pay off the local officials, which would have easily “proven” his innocence. It seems he finally wore them down, because he was set free after it was declared that there was not enough evidence against him. So much for a speedy trial. By the way, other than the lack of a jury system, jurisprudence rules here supposedly mirror ours almost exactly.

And check out this scam. A retired American who has spent much of his life helping children and young people by schooling them in the martial arts was approached by the local gendarmes and informed that he should either pay up or be charged. Charged with what? Well, there is an ordinance that no foreigner is to provide money or free stuff, including karate classes, to minors without first getting written permission from parents. His protest that he was not aware of that law and that he would cease and desist immediately until he had the required permissions in hand was dismissed. He was given the choice of paying immediately or going through a long-drawn-out time in court, including possible pretrial jail time. He was also informed that he not tell anyone of this or all bets were off. Rather than calling their “bluff,” if it was one, he paid some big bucks. So, in this case a well-meaning permanent resident foreigner finds out the hard way what justice means in these parts.

Pay up, that’s what it means.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Letters from Bootcamp, Installment VIII (The Gas Chamber)

It’s been a while since I posted my last bootcamp letter, so here’s another. In it I describe what it was like training with our gas masks with real tear gas. It was a horrible experience to say the least, and I didn’t tell the fam about the DIs taking us back into the gas Quonset hut at the end of the training for some “SI.” Those bastards made us do jumping jacks, bends-and-thrusts and pushups. The deck was so slippery with snot and puke that our hands would not stay under us in the slickness. Most of the gas had dissipated, but enough was still in there that we could not really breathe well while we exerted. Still, I don’t fault our drill instructors for doing this to us. War is a lot worse and it certainly made us realize that no matter how nastily “uncomfortable” a situation is you can always keep going and take even more if necessary. My critique: it was good training, very worthwhile.
I went through similar training many times after that during my 22 years in the Air Force and it didn’t come close in “miserability” (is that a word?). The AF also provided me gas chamber training but it always seemed milder, perhaps less concentrated than what I received in the marines. I could almost breathe it in like "real air," while the version of gas I received in the marine gas chamber immediately caused a violent bodily reaction. As soon as it hit the airways and eyes my respiratory system refused to have any part of it.   At the end of the letter I remark about the African, Bayi, who broke the mile track record. I loved track and field and followed all the world’s best runners, especially the milers.
Aug 19, 1975 - Dear Folks and anyone else reading this letter:
Urgent: I’m down to my last few stamps, send some please. We’re not due another PX call for quite a while yet.

Yesterday the platoon went down to the phone center for a call. This time I was determined to get one through. I got in line in front of the booths and waited and waited and waited. Finally it was my turn. There was only one guy in the booth in front of me. Then the DI glanced at his watch and said it was time to go. So, no phone call. That means I won’t have a chance to make one now till 3rd phase, which starts about the beginning of September. Maybe it’s better that way. I won’t get so homesick. Actually, I haven’t been homesick since around 1st phase, back in July.
Today was the big day. I went into the gas chamber and died. All those stories I heard about it didn’t come close in describing what it’s really like. When I took that mask off, the first thing I noticed was that my eyes refused to stay open for more than a fraction of a second. My skin burned and itched and my nose and throat felt even worse, like the air was on fire. We had to recite our name, rank serial number and hometown and state. All 30 of us had to do it separately before we could leave as a group. The only thing that kept me running out was the thought of having to do it again until I did it right. Most of us we’re crying like babies and actually throwing involuntary tantrums. You can’t help it. The floor was covered with spit and saliva and puke making the footing very slippery indeed. We were the last platoon of the day. I spent most of the time gagging and dry heaving. You should have heard me burp when I came out of there. My lungs refused to accept the gas, so it all went into my stomach. Oh well, it only lasted for about 5 minutes and all of us survived. Chalk it up as another unforgettable experience. And I do mean unforgettable.

After noon chow we double-timed about 3 miles out to a range for a weapons demonstration. We saw mortars, anti-tank weapons and other very loud things in action. It was pretty cool.

I’ve included in this letter an article and some stamps I want put in my room please. The article I took out of the LA Herald Express I found this Sunday in the squad bay. It really surprised me that Bayi’s mile record was broken so quickly and so much was taken off of it, about 1.5 seconds…Outstanding!
Love, Phil

P.S. Don’t forget those stamps. I won’t be getting any mail calls here at ITS, but keep sending them anyway. We’ll get them back at MCRD pretty soon anyway.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Take Up Chanting

It is possible for foreigners to do business here, but from what I’ve seen, two or three things must be kept in mind before you try. The most important is to have a pre-programmed sense of humor, and to bolster that you just might want to take up chanting.

Case in point: a Scandinavian buddy recently started a club down in Balibago. With years of club management experience in Europe he has lots of know-how on how to succeed in that tough racket. A basic business requirement, among a score of others of course, is electric power to your establishment. He went to the power company and paid his 12,000 peso advance. A month after he opened and still no electric bill had arrived. He sent his secretary down to the company looking to pay for whatever electricity he had consumed. Their response was noncommittal, a typical “we’ll get back to you shrug.”

Two days later they turned his power off. He went back down to the company and learned he owed them 8,000 pesos and could get no adequate answer as to why they blacked him out. Evidently someone just decided to pull the plug. It took several more days to get the power turned back on. When I saw him he was so mad he could hardly contain himself. I just told him, “My hats off to you for even trying man. Better you than me.”

Check this out: when I moved in to my rented house a few years back I couldn’t get them to turn power on to my place because they said the previous renter still owed for three months. Excuse me? So what does that have to do with me? Perhaps they thought I would go ahead and pay the previous occupant’s bill to expedite my service.

I guess you have to be from here to fathom the thought process behind the actions, but I don’t think I’ll ever live here long enough to get the proper insight. In the end it all works out, but in the meantime… take a tranquilizer and enjoy the balmy weather.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ask the VA about "Under Other than Honorable" Discharges

This is the last (famous last words!) in my series of posts that really started with my “Humanize Basic Training;” progressed through my on-going series “letters from bootcamp;” continued in the same vein where I opined in “End Ugly Training” that perhaps USMC “attitude shaping” might actually contribute to ROE violations in the battle areas; and finally, my previous piece titled “PTSD Vets in a Catch 22.”

Some might say I’m beating a dead horse with this stuff, but I think it’s important to keep banging this drum. Those against the war I’m sure point to this stuff as more evidence that we shouldn’t be fighting it in the first place. Funny how you don’t generally hear that same opinion by those actually doing the fighting. That either speaks to the apolitical professionalism of our modern war fighters, or it means those closest to it realize that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Regardless, once again the VA is doing its part to “shaft” veterans, but in this case they do it with the unwitting help of the USMC. When marine combat vets’ PTSD causes them to self-destruct, which is a common symptom of PTSD sufferers, the “Corps” comes down hard on them, giving hardly a break even to those men who served with distinction in the war. As
USA TODAY writer, Gregg Zorova, points out in his article below, policy makers in the marines are proud of their “higher than the Army’s disciplinary standards” and have no problems at all discharging “bad actor” marines under “other than honorable conditions.” But because of articles like Mr. Zorova’s, questions are at last being asked in Marine circles concerning the fairness of this inflexible policy.

Zorova writes that the VA has the latitude to grant benefits eligibility to veterans with “other than honorable discharges” as long as their service was otherwise “honest, faithful and meritorious.” (To see the exact CFR 38 verbiage go to this site). The problem stems from when the Corps ruthlessly punishes “imploding” PTSD suffering marines without also recognizing the probable underlying cause of the misbehavior, but it isn’t ONLY the Marine Corps that is guilty of blunt unfairness here. Once again, the pitiless bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration takes this mean-spirited ball and runs with it.

From experience, I can tell you that ANY veteran with a discharge characterized as “other than honorable” will be immediately denied benefits by the VA upon application. I can see it now—as soon as the initial rater sees those words on a DD214 a glowing smile creases merciless lips, the rater STOPS reading the claim form, and a “denial template letter” is immediately printed and sent out to the abject applicant. The VA does this EVEN if provided a copy of that section in their own procedures manual covering exactly when a generally discharged veteran should STILL be eligible for benefits. It’s just a part of their “silly games” policy of “deny now and make the veteran prove it later, MUCH later.” It’s frustratingly time-consuming, and I can tell you that there are no PTSD sufferers out there emotionally and mentally capable of going through it alone.

If anything, the very act of going through the protracted VA appeals process causes so much anxiety and anger that a veterans’ already tenuous mental condition becomes even worse from the anguish of it; and believe me, it IS pure torture. Many veterans who most need the help are too messed up, too filled with seething self-destructive anger or devoid of any feeling at all, to even ask for claims assistance from Veterans Service Officers as provided through such as agencies as the VFW, DAV or American Legion. Not only that, but well-intended laws are currently in place that prohibit lawyers from getting involved UNTIL almost the end of the appeals process. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter, because unless a veteran WANTS help, no one else can help him anyway. Once again, the VA is just fine with that, since as I’ve said before, it’s all about money with them.

I have a feeling that the Marine Corps will eventually respond to pressure, will do the right thing, and start granting fair-minded leeway to their PTSD misbehaving marines who, until the experience of combat, served “honestly, faithfully and meritoriously.” I have no such similar hope that the VA will also change their callous ways spawned from misguided “bean counting” and start doing the right thing by using the fair discretion afforded to them by their own code to grant full benefits to veterans whose lives were basically destroyed by the trauma of combat.

Once again its time for our legislators to legislate VA responsiveness and responsibility and force them to actually do the things they were created to do—to serve those who served.

NOTE: (I really hope some hard-assed fellow veteran pipes up with comments on how they went through a lot worse and never abused drugs and alcohol or got into fights when they returned from war. I have some rejoinders and some stories all lined up.)


Troubled troops in no-win plight

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Chris Packley returned from Fallujah in 2004 a top marksman on a sniper team showcased in the Marine Corps Times for its 22 kills.

"I was exceptionally proud of that Marine," says Gunnery Sgt. Scott Guise, his former team leader.

He also came home with flashbacks — memories of his friend, Lance Cpl. Michael Blake Wafford, 20, dying on the battlefield. Packley says he smoked marijuana to try to escape the images. He also left the base without permission. "I wanted out," Packley says.

Last year he got his wish and was expelled from the Marine Corps. As a consequence, he lost access to the free counseling and medication he needed to treat the mental wounds left from combat, according to Packley, his former defense lawyer and documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Scores of combat veterans like Packley are being dismissed from the Marines without the medical benefits needed to treat combat stress, says Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who supervises the legal defense of Marines in the western USA, including here at Camp Pendleton.

When classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arise — including alcoholism and drug abuse — the veterans are punished for the behavior, Vokey says. Their less-than-honorable discharges can lead to a denial of VA benefits. Vokey calls it a Catch-22, referring to the no-win situation showcased in Joseph Heller's 1961 satirical war novel Catch-22.

"The Marine Corps has created these mental health issues" in combat veterans, Vokey says, "and then we just kind of kick them out into the streets."

Characters in Catch-22 were caught in a contradiction. They could be relieved of dangerous flying missions if crazy. But if they claimed to be crazy, they were deemed sane for trying to avoid danger and had to keep flying.

In Iraq, Marines who perform well in combat can be lauded for it. But if they develop PTSD, they can be punished for stress-related misconduct, kicked out of the military and denied treatment for their illness.

In recent months, the Marine Corps has begun investigating the matter, identifying 1,019 Marines who may fall into this group since the war in Iraq began. All served at least one year in the Marines and one tour overseas before being discharged for misconduct.

"We're digging down into the data sources we have to try and come up with answers," says Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marine Corps' combat stress programs. "That it happens at all is obviously not ideal."

He says each case will be examined to learn whether the Marine suffered combat stress and whether that might have contributed to the misconduct.

The results could help the Marine Corps flag combat-stressed Marines and help them avoid getting into trouble, Nash says.

More aggressive about PTSD

The military has moved more aggressively in this war to educate and treat combat stress than in previous conflicts. Mental health teams have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers and Marines are asked about their mental and physical health before and after their tours.

A 2004 Army study showed that about 17% of combat troops suffer PTSD, a rate comparable with Vietnam-era stress among such troops, says Joseph Boscarino, a senior investigator with the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Danville, Pa., who has conducted extensive PTSD research on Vietnam veterans.

Vokey and his lawyers say they are convinced, based on reviews of medical records, that combat stress was a major factor in the misconduct cases. They argue that either the Pentagon or VA should revise its policies so that these combat veterans are not stripped of the medical care they need to get better.

"People would be appalled if the guy came back and he had lost a leg, lost a limb, and then we say, 'Oh, you had a DUI (driving under the influence), so you're going to have to give your prosthetic back,' " says Marine Capt. James Weirick, a former member of Vokey's staff. "But to a great extent, we're doing that with these people."

Packley, 24, received an other-than-honorable discharge. According to a VA document Packley's mother, Patricia, shared with USA TODAY, the department acknowledges he has PTSD but denied him benefits in July.

"You go to war and they can't even help you with the problems you get from it," says Packley, who now does state highway construction in Joliet, Ill.

He says he has been off anti-anxiety, anti-depression and sleep medications for months because he cannot afford it. "I'm just so stressed," he says. "It doesn't take much to get me almost panic-stricken anymore."

Heroes in trouble

Marine Capt. Mike Studenka, who supervises a law office located amid infantry battalions at Camp Pendleton, says he sees about 40 Marines each month who are in trouble. About a third fit the profile of combat veterans with impressive records who suddenly have drug or alcohol problems and face dismissal and loss of benefits.

"You have guys coming in this building who are, no question about it, heroes in everything that they have done in the past," Studenka says. "You have them saying, 'I just need to get out. I want out.' That breaks your heart."

The Marine Corps says post-traumatic stress disorder is no legal defense to misconduct and that discipline must be maintained.

"PTSD does not force anyone to do an illegal act," Nash says. "The consequences to the Marine Corps of not upholding those standards of behavior would be a much greater tragedy. It would dishonor all those Marines who have been injured by the stress of war but who have not broken the rules."

Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen who get in trouble can receive one of four discharges. The lightest is a general discharge, often described as "under honorable conditions," in which recipients remain eligible for most VA benefits.

More serious misconduct can lead to an other-than-honorable discharge or, worse, a bad conduct discharge. A serious felony results in a dishonorable discharge.

The law prohibits a veteran from receiving the full spectrum of VA benefits — such things as health care, insurance and home loans — in certain cases, such as those involving deserters, conscientious objectors or those who receive dishonorable discharges.

But the VA has discretion to grant full benefits in other-than-honorable or bad conduct discharge cases. It can still deny them if the agency decides the underlying misconduct was "willful and persistent," a largely subjective decision, VA official Jack McCoy says.

Statistics from 1990 through September show that about eight out of 10 veterans who received bad-conduct discharges were turned down when they sought benefits, McCoy says.

Few exceptions

Even if the full package of benefits is denied, the VA can still grant health care for specific war-related injuries such as PTSD. Gary Baker, director of the VA's health eligibility center, says that in his 20 years of experience he has seen this exception granted fewer than six times.

The VA offers temporary counseling, but no medication, for veterans who are appealing their discharges. Counseling ends if the appeal fails. Vokey argues that the VA could relax its practices and treat veterans who are discharged for PTSD-related misconduct.

Mental health experts say this problem almost certainly occurred in prior wars. But combat-induced mental disorders and how they may contribute to bad behavior were not as well understood.

The issue exists today in the Army but to a lesser degree, says Army Lt. Col. John Wells, a former supervising defense lawyer. Combat-stress cases involving misconduct are handled in informal ways that often do not lead to a loss of benefits, Wells says.

The Marine Corps, by comparison, prides itself on its strict standards.

"We take discipline infraction very seriously," says Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman. It prosecutes about the same number of troops as the Army each year for misconduct, though it is only one-third the Army's size.

The Marine Corps also does a disproportionate share of fighting and dying in Iraq, making up 20% of U.S. ground forces while suffering 30% of the casualties. More than 10% of American troops who died in Iraq were Marines from Camp Pendleton, which has lost almost 300, more than any other military base.

Marine Corps statistics, though incomplete, show PTSD cases doubled from about 250 in 2003 to 596 in 2004, and then doubled again to 1,229 in 2005.

Although Marine Corps officials say the service has come a long way in recognizing and treating PTSD, they acknowledge that it still struggles to provide treatment resources and to overcome the stigma against those who suffer mental health problems.

"There might be some commanders out there who aren't really willing to accept that there is such a thing as post-traumatic stress syndrome," says Marine Col. Hank Donegan, a military intelligence officer at Pendleton.

Vokey and his staff agree that many troubled Marines should leave the Marine Corps, for their sake and that of the Corps. To strip them of benefits is wrong, they say. "It seems to me our country has bought that problem and we ought to fix it as best we can," says Melissa Epstein, a Los Angeles lawyer and former Marine captain on Vokey's staff.

A medal winner's trauma

One of those PTSD cases involved Ryan Birrell, 24, who served as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. After his second tour, in 2004-05, he received the Bronze Star with a "V" for combat heroism.

The citation described five separate episodes of valor, including one morning in February 2005 when Birrell organized the defense of a fog-shrouded observation post in Husaybah that came under multiple attacks by insurgents and suicide car-bombers. A wounded Birrell rallied his troops, tended to casualties and directed fire, often while exposed to enemy gunfire.

"Sgt. Birrell reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest tradition of the Marine Corps," his citation reads.

After coming home, Birrell took an assignment earlier this year as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and his life began to fall apart.

Diagnosed with PTSD, he suddenly demanded a divorce from his wife, abused alcohol and methamphetamine and left his base without permission, say Birrell and Weirick, then his lawyer.

Kicked out of the Marine Corps with an other-than-honorable discharge, he lived in Tijuana, Mexico, for months, often homeless.

"What brought me down there was how the streets were kind of like being in Iraq — that kind of turmoil-type stuff," Birrell says now.

Birrell says that in Tijuana, he could fill his head with thoughts of where to find food or shelter.

Growing tired of that life, he finally called his parents and they brought him to their home in Las Vegas last month. "Life is great," says his mother, Kim Lukas, who says she's ecstatic to have him home again.

For Birrell, who now lives in Torrance, Calif., insomnia is back. "When I do sleep," he says, "I'm constantly waking up from dreams, constantly tired throughout the day." His nightmares are of war. He visited VA offices Tuesday asking for benefits despite his other-than-honorable discharge. Birrell says he needs treatment for his PTSD. Weirick fears they will turn him down regardless of his battlefield heroism.

Lukas says that makes her angry. "He's done two tours over there, and God knows how many lives he's saved," she says. "He's going to need the care."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Vets with PTSD are in a "Catch 22"

The article after this
post covers a subject
very near and dear to
my heart—veterans
suffering from mental
conditions such as
Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder or PTSD.
Here’s the thing, many
mentally ailing vets
just aren’t getting
the help they need.

They go it alone while they are in
service, and then once they are out,
the Veterans Administration (VA)
starts in with it’s stupid games. I know
of this from the guys who have suffered
through it, having heard it from them as
I try to get them the help they need
post service. The points brought out in
Kathleen Parker’s article below only begin
to touch on the problems.
 Since my discharge, from what I’ve seen,
I swear that the armed services and the
VA must be in collusion to deny vets the
help they need to recover and maintain
through the tribulations of their mental
issues. It starts on active duty.
Troops still in service don’t dare report
to Mental Health if they feel they are
having a problem. They know that the
second they do that their careers are
effectively over. This is not a rumor.
It is true. Mental health specialists in
the hospital corps like to advertise that
receiving treatment won’t be career
threatening, but that is utter bunk.
 In any other venue what happens between
patient and “shrink” is confidential,
however, in the military no such confidentiality
exists, even though they claim otherwise.
The very second a military psychiatrist
or psychologist feels that a patient’s condition
is at odds with a security clearance, or
if suicidal ideations are involved, no matter
how fleeting, the patient’s superiors
are informed. At that point it’s all over,
especially if the patient has any rank at all.
So, they suck you in, lie to you, and then
they spit you out. I have run into several
discharged servicemen who have gone through
this career meat grinder still bitter
over the experience. The word gets out, so
as long as folks have intentions of continuing
in uniform they don’t dare get help.
 Ms. Parker states that many of today’s combat
vets will end up on the streets and I believe
that’s true,especially now that the VA seems set
on denying veteran’s claims for help outright,
thus forcing ex-servicemen to medically prove
that they have a mental condition and that the
illness was caused by their service. Should
be easy right? Wrong! As I continue to think
about what I’m going to write next I feel anger
building inside my chest and flowing out to my
stiff arthritic fingers trying to type out my
 Without someone with experience to help them
“navigate” the unnecessarily convoluted VA claims
system, such as a Veterans Service Officer like me,
albeit a volunteer one, most vets with mental a
nd emotional problems do not have a snowball’s
chance in hell to “win” the support they need. It’s
a “Catch 22” situation—an adequate mental capacity
is necessary to negotiate a complicated VA
claim, and most of them are complicated, but
many veterans are just too emotionally fatigued
to fight it out, or can’t wait for the months
and even years it can take for the VA to finally
make the award.For me, it’s maddening!
 I’ll be honest. I have a hard time dealing
with some of these disturbed veterans myself.
Many of these guys are mad at the world and
most of the people in it, including with me.
Understandably, they are especially angry
at the Veterans Administration. Then again
some are too drugged up to be angry. A huge
percentage of foggy-minded vets go through
life never seeking help because of the very
nature of their condition. I can assure you
that these are the VA’s favorite type of
veterans—those that quietly suffer without
seeking any help from anyone, and they are
the men who end up on the street, homeless
and forgotten.
 For the VA, it’s all about money. It is a
soulless institution totally consumed with
the “bottom line.” It is for this reason
that I get so angry at the very politicians
responsible for sending veterans into harm’s
way in the first place, who should be going
out of their way to intervene and make VA claims
easier for those suffering veterans. Members
of one particular political party, recently
voted from power, seem very intent on reducing
the costs incurred by the VA to treat and
compensate veterans with disabilities, a fact
that I find very disconcerting since I’ve mostly
voted for that party. And now,the GAO has also
been hounding the VA about cutting costs, which
is not surprising since the GAO hounds everyone
about watching their pennies. That’s what they do,
but the VA gleefully uses every GAO recommendation
as a mandate to screw veterans. From what I’ve
been observing, I have more than enough reason to
detest the whole lot of them!
 None of those fiscal realities means anything
to veterans with PTSD and chronic depression
lost in the VA claims procedures shuffle.
While the VA struggles to stay within its under
funded budget,partly by strictly enforcing their
eligibility requirements codes, many mentally
challenged vets are too emotionally ruined to
do what’s required of them to “win” their cases.
Even with my four years of experience, I have
had a hard enough time helping my guys manage
their applications to success.
 Kathleen Parker is absolutely correct that a
nonpartisan effort by Congress needs to happen
to make it easier for vets to get the support
they need. I’ve never been in combat, but from
the men I’ve helped who have, I know that the
experience is ruinous. We owe it to them to do
whatever is necessary to compensate and care
for them. The fact that I have to do what I do
before my guys can “beat” the VA at their silly
games is a national travesty.
 Veterans need more than applause 
By Kathleen Parker  
 The next time you pass a homeless man on the street, you might
ask in which war he served. In the next several years, chances
are good that he (and increasingly she) will say
Iraq or
 That grim prediction is based on several facts: One in three
adult homeless males is a veteran and 45 percent of those suffer
from mental illness, according to the National Coalition for
Homeless Veterans.
 A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine,
meanwhile, found that one in four veterans of
Iraq and Afghanistan
were diagnosed with some kind of mental health problem.
 And those are just the ones who found their way to a VA hospital.
Many don't. Returning veterans are either embarrassed, untrusting
of government, frustrated by bureaucratic gridlock, or simply
incapable of navigating the system.
 With large numbers of troops likely headed home in the next year,
the U.S. faces a tsunami of psychologically and emotionally
damaged veterans who have no place to go. Those who don't find
the support they need may end up on the streets.
Or in prison. In 1998, an estimated 56,500 Vietnam War-era
veterans and 18,500 Persian Gulf War vets were held in state
and federal prisons, according to the 2000 Bureau of Justice
Statistics report, ``Veterans in Prison or Jail.''
 Obviously, not all were model citizens who turned to crime
because of their war experiences. One in six of incarcerated
veterans was not honorably discharged from the military. But
the report says veterans are more likely than others to be in
prison for a violent offense.
 Families of veterans aren't surprised. Men and women trained
to survive in a war zone bring those same skills home and find
themselves unable to function in an alien environment.
 Readjustment symptoms include hyper-vigilance, insomnia,
irritability, exaggerated startle response, withdrawal, isolation,
depression and anger. An act-first-think-later approach to problem
solving may keep one alive in combat, but it's not helpful to
family harmony.
 Cynde Collins-Clark — none other than Oklahoma's 2006 Mother of
the Year — has experienced these problems firsthand. Her son,
Joe, left for
Iraq at 19 with the Army Reserve and returned a
year later 100 percent mentally disabled by post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Unable to work, Joe
lives at home with his mother, a licensed professional counselor,
and his stepfather.
 Collins-Clark has her son's permission to tell their story in
hopes of helping others. She's especially concerned about those
who will be overwhelmed by a system that even she finds
challenging and maddening. She wonders how a young wife with
small children copes with a sick soldier without any help.
 The biggest problem is simply not enough qualified counselors
— and not enough government funding to meet current needs.
Those needs have grown exponentially, as the number of vets
seeking treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues
doubled from 4,467 to 9,103 between October 2005 and June
2006, according to a report last month by a House subcommittee.
That's just the beginning of the wave building now.
 The Senate last year passed a bill to increase funding for
veterans' mental health programs. Specifically, it would have
increased the number of clinical teams dedicated to the
treatment of PTSD and allowed licensed mental health counselors,
as well as marriage and family therapists, to work at the VA.
The House, however, failed to take action.
 Even without additional funding, the Department of Defense
could help by increasing access to mental health care for
military personnel and their families. Currently, individuals
on TRICARE, the military's health insurance program, can seek
counseling from licensed practitioners only after referral
from a primary physician.
 This process is often too cumbersome for people suffering
mental problems, says Brian Altman, legislative representative
for the American Counseling Association. Also, physicians
untrained in post-combat symptoms frequently misdiagnose and
fail to send patients to counseling.
 A veteran's wife testified before a VA committee last year
that her husband, Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, was treated for
everything from back pain to erectile dysfunction rather than
PTSD. Pelkey finally was diagnosed properly by a civilian
therapist — one week before he killed himself.
 There can be no more shameful legacy of any war than ignoring
veterans' needs. As Republicans and Democrats vow bipartisan
cooperation, they have no greater priority than to simplify
veterans' access to mental health services.
 Meanwhile, citizens can help. Russ Clark, a Vietnam Marine
vet and minister who counsels veterans through Point Man
International Ministries of Central Ohio, says he'd like to
see community-based ``Welcome Home'' programs in every
village, town and city in America.
 Veterans don't necessarily need a parade, he says,
but they do need acknowledgement, affirmation, counseling,
jobs and housing.
 And a parade wouldn't hurt a bit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Marine Intel Officer in Al Anbar Writes Home

A buddy emailed the following letter to me called “A Marine Intel Officer in Al Anbar Shares Some Thoughts.” I suspect the authenticity of everything I read, but this feels pretty genuine. I’m going to post this today, and in the next day or two I’m going to post an article or two about what is happening psychologically to many of our military people when they return after the stress of a tour or two or three from the war zones. Daniel, the marine who shares his thoughts below, provides an interesting personal perspective of the war. You can tell he hates the “bad guys,” and that he’d rather be at home with his family, but you can also sense that he loves being a marine and being around other marines in combat. That his other marines feel similarly is attested to by the high reenlistment rates he mentions. As I said before, people for the most part don’t join the marines for an education or to learn a skill—they become marines for the challenge, and there is no greater challenge than war. For all their faults, there is no purer warrior than a “leatherneck.” Some of this stuff is funny—like when his guys arrest and bring in a truck load of Iraqi midgets for interrogation. You could never write that into a movie script—no one would ever believe it. I’m also impressed with his comment about the courage of the local Iraqi cops who continue to step forward and serve as fast as the insurgents can mow them down. And Dan talks about the Iraqi mayor who turns the tables on a half-dozen insurgents who kidnap him with the intention of torturing and beheading him. Instead, the brave mayor manages to snatch up one of their automatic rifles and kills them to a man. There isn’t a fighting man anywhere that doesn’t appreciate that kind of bad-assed bravery. Enough Iraqis like that mayor and those courageous cops, and as long as “cut-and-run Pulosi” doesn’t have her way, and we just might be able to give the country a chance to stand up on its own against the jihadists. For the Iraqis' sake and ultimately for ours, I hope so.

All: I haven't written very much from Iraq . There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.

Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in
Iraq . These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.

Worst Case of Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was déjà vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.

Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Most Profound Man in
Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

Worst City in
al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad . Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.

Bravest Guy in
al-Anbar Province - Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How'd you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who's just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.

Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - It's a 20,000 way tie among all the Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be their last - and for a couple of them, it will be.

Best Piece of
U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.

Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.

Worst E-Mail Message - "The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat." I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood - there's always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.

Biggest Surprise - Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are. - and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp . . .

Greatest Vindication - Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can't buy experience.

Biggest Mystery - How some people can gain weight out here. I'm down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?

Second Biggest Mystery - if there's no atheists in foxholes, then why aren't there more people at Mass every Sunday?

Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.

Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.

Most Memorable Scene - In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after six months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past - their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.

Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate
- Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.

Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss - Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.

Worst Smell - Porta-johns in 120 degree heat - and that's 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.

Highest Temperature - I don't know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.

Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in
Iraq . Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in
Iraq , not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted.

Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers - all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.

Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.

Biggest Ass-Chewing - 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn't figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in conveying his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.

Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of
Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.

Worst Sound - That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.

Second Worst Sound - Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads. They'd about knock the fillings out of your teeth.

Only Thing Better in
Iraq Than in the U.S. - Sunsets. Spectacular. It's from all the dust in the air.

Proudest Moment - It's a tie every day, watching my Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by my guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn't be able to work so well, but they do.

Happiest Moment - Well, it wasn't in
Iraq . There are no truly happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.

Most Common Thought - Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don't write more. Yep, always thinking of home.

I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I'll try to write again before too long - I promise.

Semper Fi,


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Killology versus Spirituality, Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet?

I received an offline email in response to my last post, “Ugly Training, End it NOW.” I think it’s from an old Air Force squadron mate. Hopefully he won’t mind me excerpting part of it now, because he makes some interesting assertions that I’d like to address.


Is that you GamPat? If so, I wondered when I was ever going to hear from you again. Glad to see your still out there kicking around my friend. I miss those fascinating stories you used to tell on night shift.

Nahhh. I buy very little of the stuff you claim. Christian upbringing notwithstanding, the reason men didn't shoot, or didn't shoot "well," is because of the lack of thorough "realistic" training. The Corps has rarely had a hard time with this, but the marine’s success with producing "dead eye shooters” is not due to instilling a beastly nature in its troops. Not shooting one's weapon has been a problem of the “average” infantryman at least since the phenomenon was first documented in the American Civil War. Men would load and load and load and never shoot. It’s because they trained mostly to load, and then didn't fire that load in a realistic setting in training. It wasn't part of the "numbers" to aim at a human being and pull the trigger. The result was they “froze” and couldn’t do it in real combat. No, fear is what causes men not to engage the enemy, not the supposedly inhibitive presence of values and principles. But fear can be overcome through muscle memory—not by simply promoting bloodlust and meanness, although on some level I'm sure that can also be effective. The problem is we CANNOT fight an insurgency with simple rampant bloodlust. It’s just not allowed, as PFC Jodka and his mates have learned.

Marines will never have a problem getting their riflemen to kill. Few people join the USMC for the GI Bill or to “see the world.” I joined, and many like me did as well, because of the desire to be a marine just like John Wayne was in the movies, and I KNEW and I understood that killing was likely a part of the bargain. But I never saw John Wayne kill because he enjoyed it or with any bloodlust involved, and I certainly never heard him say degrading things about women and girls. My idealistic “John Wayne Bubble” was soon burst; however, when I joined the Corps and was literally shocked by the things I heard said and pushed on me as my new "marine-way normal." For instance, how would constantly haranguing me about f*****g my mother (literally), or my sister or a baby, make me more willing to kill? It wouldn't, but it would serve to undermine baseline principles when constantly bombarded with that kind of profound decadence. And keep in mind that that sort of profane talk continued around me throughout my entire 5 years as a marine. Why is it like this? I asked then and I still ask.

I agree that men who have been schooled their first 18 years of life with the Judeo-Christian concepts that killing is against God's law MUST be "taught" how to make themselves do otherwise. So be it. Just the same, all that can be instilled without completely giving in to the "animal" within. Pat, I'm sure you were around Marines, but not as much as I was. The culture in the USMC is startling to those who haven't "grown up" in it. What a relief it was for me when I joined the AF. It felt like I was back in civilization. I hate to say it, but there were very few "noble acting" people in the "green machine," not even me. Those that were continuously upright in their actions and words seemed to be in the minority. For a while I caved in to the wantonness myself. I was just a kid and wanted to belong, so there it is. I observed a culture of brutality, perversity and incivility—when I was in we called it "hate and discontent," but there was more to it than that.

What I am saying is that the obscene bloodthirstyness that you say is necessary for marines and soldiers to be effective fighters, according to this study that you quote, probably needs a paradigm shift, especially when fighting police actions, which is what an insurgency mostly is. I think this shift can be done by the Commandant coming out and declaring that officers and NCOs from now on are expected to comport themselves civilly at ALL times, and that they will be expected to expect the same from THEIR men and women. Is that possible? I say yes, but because it will mean changing a foul culture born of tradition it will take many years for it to reach fruition. So, the sooner he starts the better!

But you know how I know it IS possible? Because when I was a Marine Embassy Guard we were "forced" to act like "normal" people at all times and we were forbidden to allow ourselves to "revert" to our old marine selves. Most of us who got through the MSG School did that just fine. We watched our language and behaved 24 hours a day like gentlemen (mostly!); otherwise we were relieved from duty and sent back to the FMF. Marines are expected to follow orders after all. Underneath the “civilized” veneer we were still "professional" marines and we were always ready to go into action, but under the stricter rules of the State Department. Based on my experiences as an MSG there's no reason we can't turn out "professional" fighters and still allow them to maintain their ethical foundation. In reality, that is EXACTLY what we DO expect from them. What is happening to PFC Jodka is a case that proves that point.

What you seem to be claiming is that we can't have it both ways. Pat, do you really believe we cannot field an army and a marine corps without allowing the troops therein to maintain a modicum of basic decency and moral underpinnings? It seems to me that we need to get the psychiatric, psychologic and chaplain communities involved with developing the training so that we can still turn out trigger pullers and bayoneteers that will fight our wars without "going too far" and committing atrocities like the one that started this conversation. And as I intimated above, a new culture of civility and decency should be "encouraged" to continue throughout the Fleet long after bootcamp and specialty training is completed. The conversation quoted in the AP article between Jodka and his marine squad mates tells me that the crap I used to listen to is still rampant in the ranks. I can’t imagine John Wayne talking like that. It’s too revolting and indicative of underlying indecent values. People’s actions tend to reflect their speech and vice versa. We ARE what we say. THAT is mostly my entire point here. My time in the marines makes me to this day mindful of my speech, because I NEVER want to talk like that again.

And what of spirituality and the lack of it in these “secular progressive” times? These days our "less religious" society "turns out" teens with a very limited morality set compared to just 30 years ago when I enlisted. Its old fashioned, but the fear of God is what keeps a lot of us on an ethical path, that and the fear of earthly punishment of course. Either way, these modern, less "Godly-minded" recruits are naturally more susceptible to the depravity that unfortunately IS the reality of the Corps. Most of us manage to hold on to our basic concepts of decency learned in our early lives, but now more often than not, kids of today raised with fewer moral boundaries are likely to "give in" to the depravity, especially in a stressful and violent combat environment, which ironically is exactly the place we EXPECT them to have the MOST control of their actions.

If this study that you quote is true, if we cannot train men to fight without “animalizing” them first, then we should never seek to punish them when they “go too far” as this squad surely did when they murdered the innocent Iraqi man. But I don’t buy that teaching a “pure kill attitude” is absolutely necessary for 90% combat efficiency. Part of the training should INCLUDE the maintenance of our spiritual aspect. My God, we should promote some form of spirituality, so that our men can come to grips with the internal turmoil that is sure to follow when they have to kill. We can’t just subvert their learned morality before graduating them to the field, as happens now, and THEN hope they are able to deal with the consequences later on their own. Otherwise, chronic depression, guilt and anxiety are sure to follow. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what is happening.

I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ugly Training, End it NOW

I just read the following AP article about an atrocity committed by a squad of marines in Iraq and it sickens me. I also found it disheartening because I was hoping that the “attitude shaping” that used to go on in marine training had changed from the way it was for me more than 30 years ago, but apparently it has not. For a slight taste of what I’m talking about read my “letters from bootcamp” series as well as my post titled “Should We Humanize Basic Training?”

Just two days ago a buddy of mine was over at the house, an army combat vet from the Vietnam era, and we talked of our similar experiences in training. His were 10 years before mine, but still they were comparable. Both of us were young innocent teenagers, unwise to the ways of the world, and we suddenly found ourselves in an ugly world of violent and foul language as well as vocalized perversity, all from the mouths of our superiors, people we were expected to respect and follow.

In my case, the marines who trained me seemed to think it imperative that we learn how to use derogatory language to express ourselves and that perversity and sadism were “normal.” At the time I had barely turned 18 years old and yet still I questioned the need for it. I suppose the idea is that young civilian kids need to be “hardened” into “killers,” but is this really the case? Can we not also train young men and women in the ways of combat without also brutalizing them and stripping away their moral values?

The wonder is that atrocities committed by US troops are still the exception and not the rule. The problem is that marines and soldiers are steeped in language and mindsets that promote brutality and indecent behavior and yet they are expected to act professionally in the field. Of course this causes confusion to young military minds. How could it not? When I read what happened to young private first class Jodka, its immediately obvious to me that this kid found himself conflicted and led astray by older brutally minded members of his unit.

An obvious problem is the fact that they murdered this guy in a roadside ditch irrespective to whether he was the enemy or not. That is against all the ROEs that I know of. Even if this guy was a throat slitting terrorist they did not have the right to kill him. Obviously we have a leadership problem here, but the problem begins long before the troops go into combat zones. It starts in basic training and the attitudes learned there are inculcated and continued from the top down and laterally among the troops themselves.

What’s missing is spirituality. For there is none of that taught or encouraged as part of most military training regimens. I’m not talking about teaching religion, but I do think that we should allow our young combat troops to keep a level of their basic humanity. Currently, training involves stripping away all the things we learned about right and wrong. I remember that it screwed me up and I’m not sure I ever recovered from it. It’s horrible to think that 18 years of Christian training learned in the home was so easily overturned in the course of three months, but I must admit that it happened. Is it still happening? Stories like the one below tell me that it is.

Marine Gets 18 Months in Iraqi's Death

By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A Marine private who pleaded guilty to reduced charges in the killing of an innocent Iraqi civilian was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in custody.

"You have a very fortuitous pretrial agreement," the judge, Lt. Col. David Jones, told Pfc. John J. Jodka III.

Jodka III was part of a squad of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman accused of kidnapping 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in the town of Hamdania, taking him to a roadside hole, shooting him and then trying to cover up the incident.

The military judge wanted to hand down a five-year punishment, but was bound by the terms of the plea deal. Prosecutors had sought 11 years.

As part of a plea deal, Jodka pleaded guilty Oct. 27 to charges of assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and prosecutors dropped other charges including murder and kidnapping. The deal required Jodka to testify. The judge said that if Jodka cooperates, he can receive a general discharge.

"I decided to plead guilty because in the end it was the right thing to do," Jodka said. "I had to weigh in myself the need for truth as opposed to the loyalty to the squad I had bonded with in Iraq.

The judge ruled after reviewing evidence including a video, made by the squad two days after the killing, in which the 20-year-old private participated in profane jokes about killing more people and car bombers.

The video showed Jodka and others atop a personnel carrier, possibly at dawn. It is not clear who is speaking at specific times.

A voice that appears to be the camera operator's says, "J.J., say what you know," and then, "You gonna kill some more (expletive) today?"

"Yeah," is the answer, apparently by Jodka.

Jodka earlier apologized to Awad's family, to his own family and to "my Marine Corps whose highest ideals I have failed to uphold."

Prosecutors say the troops intended to kidnap a known insurgent, but when they couldn't find him they seized Awad instead.

Under questioning by his civilian attorney, Jane Siegel, Jodka said he thought the man who was shot on the night of April 26 was a known insurgent. Asked if he would have fired had he known the man was not, Jodka replied: "Absolutely not."

Jodka described how, as the youngest and lowest ranking member of the squad, he looked up to fire team leader Cpl. Trent Thomas and squad leader Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for guidance and advice while in combat.

He said he had received little counterinsurgency training and said his squad's Arabic language interpreter had quit, leaving them unable to communicate with Iraqis.

Jodka was the first Marine in the case to get a plea deal. The Navy corpsman and two other Marines also have made plea agreements. The corpsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, was sentenced to 10 years in prison but will only serve one because of his plea agreement.

Jodka's mother, Carolyn Jodka, testified about the anguish of seeing her son brought to her in the brig in shackles, and asked the judge to consider her son's youth when sentencing him.

"I know this will shape his life," she said. "I hope it doesn't define his life."