Guardian Unlimited - UK

Broken US troops face bigger enemy at home

A stretched Pentagon is sending unfit soldiers back to Iraq long before they are ready to serve again

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Saturday April 3, 2004

All Jason Gunn ever wanted was to be a soldier. He put on the uniform three days after high school graduation, and served six years with distinction. But in the last real conversation he had with his mother he swore he would never go back to Iraq.

The army specialist came within inches of death last November 15, when the Humvee he was driving hit a roadside bomb, killing his sergeant. The entire left side of Gunn's body was splattered with shrapnel, his elbow was shattered and, as he lay in the US military hospital bed in Germany, he was tortured by nightmares.

Late on March 23, Gunn told his mother, Pat, that his commanders were putting pressure on him to return to Iraq, but there was no way he was getting on that plane. A few hours later, he was airborne. This week, Gunn's distraught mother, who is herself a navy veteran, received a first official response to her demands to know why a soldier, who was being treated by military doctors for combat stress, was sent back to the war.

The note, which acknowledged Gunn suffered post-traumatic stress, said: "After discussion of his case it was determined ... this may be in his best interest mentally to overcome his fear by facing it. Therefore, he has been cleared for redeployment."

Gunn is not the only broken soldier being sent to battle. The Guardian has uncovered more than a dozen instances in which ill or injured soldiers were sent to war by a US military whose resources have been stretched near to breaking point by the simultaneous fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In its investigation, the Guardian learned of soldiers who were deployed with almost wilful disregard to their medical histories, and with the most cursory physical examinations. Soldiers went to war with chronic illnesses such as coronary disease, mental illness, arthritis, diabetes and the nervous condition, Tourette's syndrome, or after undergoing recent surgery.

One sergeant major was shipped out two months after neck surgery, despite orders from his military doctor for six months' rest. "The nurse told me to put my hands above my head and said you are good to go," he told the Guardian. A female supply sergeant said she was sent to Kuwait under medical advice not to walk more than half a mile at a time, or carry more than 50lb. Both had to be medically evacuated within weeks; the sergeant major required surgery on his return.

In some cases, the wounded were recycled with alarming speed. A mechanic, who suffered brain damage last June when his vehicle was hit by a suicide bus, was sent back to Iraq in October despite reported blurred vision and memory loss. He returned with his unit last month, and medical evaluations showed he had continued bleeding from the original head injury.

In Gunn's case, the determination to return him to battle is puzzling. His unit, the 1-37 Armoured Division, is due to return from Iraq in May. "They are sending an injured soldier back there for seven weeks. I can't for the life of me imagine why," says Ms Gunn. "They say they want him to go back and face his fears, but I just keep thinking what this whole thing will do to a person. What are they going to send home to us? Someone who is going to be on disability for the rest of their lives?"

All of the injured or ill soldiers knew of other unfit troops who were sent to Iraq last year, or have recently been redeployed. Some, who like Gunn suffered combat stress after sustaining serious injury, came under enormous pressure from their commanders to return to Iraq. Equally disturbing, a number of returning soldiers declared unfit for service told the Guardian the military had tried to force through their discharge to take them off the benefit rolls.

Such soldiers are almost never seen or heard from in a war now entering its second year, but their numbers are growing. The Pentagon's senior health official told Congress this week that the military had carried out 18,000 evacuations from Iraq of wounded or ill soldiers.

Disability claims

Meanwhile, 15,000 soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have filed for disability claims. Some 12,000 have sought medical treatment from facilities run by the department of veterans affairs. About 4,600 have sought psychological counselling. That demand threatens to overwhelm a veterans' healthcare system that has received no new funding since the Iraq war began.

The drain on combat-ready soldiers - and the costs of carrying those damaged by this war - are becoming logistical nightmares for military planners. The Pentagon has already been forced to extraordinary measures. Last year, it locked up the service contracts of National Guard members and army reservists, preventing them from leaving the military when their time is up.

Gunn's commanders seem adamant on keeping him. On Wednesday, Ms Gunn was forwarded a statement from her son. "It is my wish to be redeployed with my unit to finish my tour of duty with my unit here in Iraq," the statement said. "I feel that I am able to complete my mission here as well as any other duties assigned to me while on current deployment." It also said he had discontinued his prescription. Ms Gunn is convinced the statement was coerced.

Veterans' advocates say Gunn's saga reflects a pattern in the Pentagon's dealings with casualties of the war: send them back to battle fast or get them off the military's books before their ailments drive costs up. "This is a particularly stressful time for the military because they have been committed far far beyond their capability, and that is the reason there is such pressure," says Stan Goff, a veterans' activist and writer. "The numbers are becoming more and more important. They have got to keep more bodies in theatre."

Battle readiness barely registers. Veronica Torres, a supply sergeant with 27 years service, was sent to Kuwait four months after toe surgery, and with previous injuries that restricted her movement. "Could I run? No. Could I jump in and out of trucks? No. Could I march a mile or two? No," she says.

She was there less than a week before reporting to sick bay. After being medically evacuated last July, she was diagnosed with diabetes and fibromyalgia.

Others who were evacuated for injury or illness say their real war started on their return - with the military bureaucracy.

Gerry Mosley, 49, a first sergeant in a transportation unit, was injured jumping off a truck that came under fire. By the time he was medically retired on March 17, he was taking 56 pills a day for shoulder, back and spinal conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Parkinson's which was not diagnosed when he was shipped out.

Mosley also developed an abiding anger against an institution he served for 31 years, accusing the army of trying to shirk responsibility for his condition now he was surplus to requirements.

"I went to Iraq and fought the enemy, not knowing I was going to come back to the United States and fight a bigger enemy," he says.

So... You Want to Go to War? - Introduction
Introduction by Jackie Patru
"Are you sure? You're willing to risk your life for. . . what? For whom? Your country needs you? To do what? To massacre innocent, defenseless people? Why? Is your country at risk? Or do you have your country confused with the corporation in Washington, D.C... the U.S. Government, Inc.? Are you willing to forfeit your life and possibly your soul in blind obedience to the government? Are you willing to become a human guinea pig to the Military/ Industrial/ Pharmaceutical complex? You will ... if you go to war.

Watch out for this school note: Grades 9, 10, 11, 12
It is a wide and deep river of paper, and in the currents it would be easy to miss the school notification required under Sec. 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Think of this notification as the dangerous undertow in the river of paper from your local schools. It is the one required under the "Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students" section of the "No Child" law.

We have assembled the items below into two categories. Those that are now a part of human history, and those incidents that fathers, mothers, sons, daughers, brothers, and sisters are currently living. Our purpose is to compare the abuses of our men and women in uniform from the past, to the present day reality that nothing has changed.

Think long and hard about whether to send your children off to war. For whom, and what purpose, will you allow your children to spill their blood?

Throughout History

An unblinking look — in words and images — at the reality of warefare. From an excellent website called the Memory Hole.

U.S. Admits It Tested Nerve Gas on It's Sailors
The Guardian — "The US has admitted that it deliberately sprayed nerve gas on its sailors in the 1960s as part of a series of tests... The Pentagon started releasing the previously classified information... after being pushed by a Democrat congressman from California, Mike Thompson. [who said] "We now know that our military personnel were exposed to Sarin gas and VX nerve agent, which are both lethal, and other agents that are known carcinogens."

Hundreds Died of Cancer After DU Bombing
ABC News — "Cases of cancer have been reported among Italian, Belgian, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese soldiers who served a peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo... Some of the victims had worn flak jackets made from shells with depleted uranium (DU), he told Reuters in an interview."

USS Liberty - Did Israel Commit One War Crime to Hide Another?
By James M. Ennes, Jr. - Survivor: "When the Liberty was attacked, Captain Joseph Tully in the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga received the ship's call for help and immediately sent jet aircraft to her assistance. Tully's jets were recalled almost immediately by orders from Washington. As a result, American jet fighter support was withheld for more than 90 minutes. By then the damage was done and 34 men were dead or dying."

Refusal To Investigate Israel's 1967 Attack on USS Liberty
Wisconsin state legislator, Marlin Schneider, was very naive when he agreed to sponsor a resolution calling for an investigation into the murder of U.S. sailors on orders of the Israeli government. He was sacked as assistant Democratic leader, removed from a leadership position and warned to: "beware of massive political contributions against me and even potential assassination."

Female Sergeant Dead From Anthrax Shot
Retired Air Force LTC Redmond Handy, who resigned his officer's commission rather than participate in what he calls a "terrible crime against our men and women in uniform," warned "there are others currently at risk because of this flawed vaccine. I'm afraid SGT Larson's death won't be the last," he told "When will the Pentagon end this madness?"

Korean "Police Action" - American Soldiers Betrayed
From our How Wars Are Made section
"The enemy then contacted and relayed these battle plans to their communist forces in the field. The enemy knew when to move from an area and when to attack our smaller fighting forces. They knew beforehand when we were coming and how many of us there were. They knew everything about us all the time – 24 hours a day!!!"

It continues today

Pentagon Eyes Mass Graves (for U.S. Soldiers)
From our Iraq section.
Denver Post:
"The bodies of U.S. soldiers killed by chemical or biological weapons in Iraq or future wars may be bulldozed into mass graves and burned to save the lives of surviving troops, under an option being considered by the Pentagon."

Talk of War No Deterrent for Some Looking to Military
NY Times — "Mr. Moran's former school friends also had something else to say in light of the military buildup in the Middle East: They said, "'Oh yeah, you're going to go die over there,' " he recalled. "But I was going to die over here, too, So it doesn't really matter. As a teenager, it's more of a risk to be in the streets."

"U.S. Undergoes Rapid Military Expansion" - Who Will Protect America?
USA Today — "The United States is rapidly increasing its military ties with nations large and small, thanks to the war on terrorism. . . "Overall, the American military global presence is more pervasive today than at any point in American history,": John Pike, military analyst in Washington. . . A recent Pentagon paper identifies vital American security interests in almost every part of the globe, with the notable exception of Africa.

Soldier Sues Military Over Extended Service Order
"This lawsuit seeks to stop the forced retention of men and women who have fulfilled their service obligations. When their period of enlistment ends, they should be entitled to return to their families", said attorney Michael Sorgen. The "stop loss'' order means soldiers who otherwise could leave when their commitments expire will be compelled to remain until the end of a year-long overseas deployment and up to another 90 days after returning to their home base.

Maimed in Iraq, then mistreated, neglected, and hidden in America
Go ahead, guys and gals, sign up! Join the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. Join the National Guard so you can be sent to Europe to disarm the Bosnians. Become an Iraqi 'Liberator', so you can kill and die for the New World Order.

Unfit Soldiers Returned to War
Guardian, UK
"A stretched Pentagon is sending unfit soldiers back to Iraq long before they are ready to serve again. Soldiers went to war with chronic illnesses such as coronary disease, mental illness, arthritis, diabetes and the nervous condition, Tourette's syndrome, or after undergoing recent surgery."

Soldier Suicides in Iraq Increase
Associated Press
"A U.S. commander warned troops Thursday to watch their friends because suicides are on the rise."

Army to Recall Former Military Members
From our Iraq section
"The Army is preparing to notify about 5,600 retired and discharged soldiers who are not members of the National Guard or Reserve that they will be involuntarily recalled to active duty for possible service in Iraq or Afghanistan...."

US Army forces 50,000 soldiers into extended duty
The U.S. Army has forced about 50,000 soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints ended under a policy called "stop-loss," but while some dispute its fairness, court challenges have fallen flat. ...With yearlong tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, some soldiers can be forced to stay in the Army an extra 18 months.

Thousands of US troops evacuated from Iraq for unexplained medical reasons
From our Iraq section
September 2003

"At no point in the last six months have the American people been told that for every soldier who has been killed in Iraq, at least another 15 have fallen so ill that they had to be flown back to the United States."

Iraq War Vets Struggle to Adjust to Lost Limbs, Flashbacks
"Unlike the young draftees of earlier wars, many of these men and women are older, with families. For them, this morphing from a fighting machine ducking bullets into a mommy or daddy packing school lunches presents a special challenge. This time the government tapped the National Guard and the Reserve to augment regular forces. Some returnees-proportionately many more than in Vietnam-have left limbs and slices of sanity on an urban battlefield as strange as the Iraq war itself."

Depleted Uranium: Dirty Bombs, Dirty Missiles, Dirty Bullets
"...eight out of 20 men who served in one unit in 2003 U.S. in Iraq now have malignancies. ... 40% of the soldiers in that unit have developed malignancies in just 16 months. targets the DNA. Marion Fulk, a nuclear physical chemist retired from the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab and formerly involved with the Manhattan Project, interprets the new and rapid malignancies in soldiers from the 2003 war as 'spectacular ... and a matter of concern'."

Google Video: Veteran Who Served in Iraq Tells of U.S. Atrocities
Jesse McBeth is with a group called Iraq Vets Against the War. In this video, he tells of the horrors being committed against the Iraqi people. Jesse says the people being called "insurgents" and "the enemy" in Iraq are only trying to protect their families against the invaders.

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