An Open Letter to Our Leaders From an Iraq War Soldier
by Monica Benderman
12/22/04: -- I am writing to you because you have been elected to serve the people. I am one of those people, my family is one family in America. We are just a family, we care about each other, we work hard and we believe in good things. We have a modest income, not much, but enough to give us what we need. Like most American families, we struggle with the way things are these days. We try to justify that our votes have mattered, our voices are heard, our opinions count, all the while watching decisions being made, unable to recognize the “voice of the people” in the final outcome.
I have worked for years serving those whom I felt called to serve, our elderly. I have fought hard for them, to ensure that they receive the respect they deserve, not only from family, but from community as well. But now, I have left my fight for the elderly, to do what I can to help in a more significant effort.
My husband works with an equal amount of passion. Everything that he has been asked to do by his employer, he has done. Everywhere he has had to go, he has gone with the trust that the words of his employer are honest, and committed to his needs and the needs of his fellow workers. Lies. My husband has had faith in an employer who cares more about the American lifestyle than its people. My husband is an American Soldier. My husband deserves so much more than what he has been given in return by his country. I deserve more, my children do. The families of all the soldiers who have VOLUNTEERED to serve and now are asked to fight in a war that is not about defending this country deserve more. This country has disrespected them at every turn. This country has and is failing them. It is failing all who have given with faith, who have fought for the right thing, who have been led in their commitment with the false promises and empty words of our leadership. This is the fight I take on now, and my husband joins me. Now, I write to show you some of the specifics of the last year of disrespect that my husband and I have seen, as his unit has prepared for a possible return deployment to Iraq.
Our soldiers are putting their lives on the line. Our VOLUNTEER army is sacrificing its integrity to fight for a cause that has lost its meaning, in a country that did nothing to America before we chose to invade it and occupy it in the name of democracy. As they serve in the most dangerous situations, we hear how they are supported, how our government fights to give them everything they need. We see no pictures of the sacrifice. That is hidden, and our media is ordered not to show it. We see only words and videos of politicians speaking boldly about supporting our military, and honoring their service with all the best equipment, supplies, and motivation. We see nothing of the loss, the destruction: It is kept from us.
We have seen faulty leadership. We have seen a company commander who is not strong enough to understand that the men he leads do not “sweat the small stuff.” They have been in hell, and survived. The small stuff means nothing when you have a choice of fighting over petty paperwork issues or leaving for the day to spend time with your family. We have experienced this commander’s frustration repeatedly. When a Private 1st Class received a DUI one weekend, off post, this commander decided that he would punish his entire unit by forcing them to participate in training classes on their weekend, an illegal order that was promptly disobeyed by most of the NCO’s in the unit. There is an Army regulation that states, “extra training or instruction is used when a soldier’s duty performance has been substandard or deficient.” This company commander tried to threaten these soldiers with what is known as an “Article 15,” for having disobeyed his order. When the soldiers demanded that they be given a Court Martial so that they could defend their actions, the company commander withdrew from the fight.
In a later situation, this same Company Commander was quite irritated when a bag that he was to have prepared and maintained with his equipment could not be found. Many soldiers had observed the commander leave with his bag, and yet he insisted that he could not be responsible, that a soldier had taken it. He ordered the entire unit to stay at the Company headquarters until 10:30 at night, as discipline for his not being able to monitor his own equipment. Again, more than 15 soldiers appealed this order.
Military radios are a sensitive piece of equipment. They must be kept under lock and key when not being used, and in most units, they are kept in the Arms Room along with the weapons that the soldiers are registered to use. When there is a deployment, training mission, qualifying day, the soldiers must sign the weapons out of the room, and return them for verification after use. This procedure is also followed with the radios. Except in the situation of this particular unit. Radios have been lost, or missing on several occasions, because this Company Commander does not see the need to assign anyone to be responsible for them. When he discovers them missing, temper tantrums ensue, and soldiers who have had nothing to do with the radios are disciplined in his rage. But this Commander will not take responsibility for his actions.
Almost a month ago, this unit was sent to the rifle range for a weekend of qualifying. Supplies being what they are, the soldiers could not perform any night firings. There is not enough ammunition available. On Sunday, soldiers watched while their Company Commander prepared to qualify. He could not. It is required that a soldier fire a minimum of 26 rounds into the bulls-eye area of the target in order to qualify. This Commander could not get 15 rounds on the target, let alone near the bulls-eye. Finally, at the end of the day, the 1st Sergeant of the unit had to spot for the commander, and he returned a target with 29 rounds on the bulls-eye. The 1st Sergeant, when questioned by the Training Room NCO regarding the validity of the target, ordered that NCO to document that the company commander had qualified. The Training Room NCO refused the order, saying that the 1st Sergeant would have to accept that responsibility.
This same Company Commander and 1st Sergeant have asked the Training Room NCO on several occasions to “pencil-whip” the training reports that are being sent on to the Battalion Command. This is a new Company, and they are having quite a bit of trouble getting organized. The Battalion Command is never satisfied with the reports, and the numbers regarding soldiers’ training records. Rather than do what is needed to improve the actual training programs, this Company Commander files misrepresentations of facts.
After the initial experience of the Iraq invasion, the Defense Department determined that it was time to make the Army more streamlined and moveable. In January of this year, they took several units offline in order to redesign them. The Company that my husband was reassigned to was one of these new companies. There was talk about the change for several months, dates changed, soldiers changed. Finally, as the brigade was preparing for its rotation to the National Training Center in California, the Command decided it was time to make the change. All soldiers would travel to California with their original assignment and return as part of their new units. These changes are still trying to situate, and as a result, soldiers’ needs are still not being met. While in California, Company Commanders participated in “cat fights” over who actually commanded which units. These temper tantrums repeatedly flared up in front of the soldiers they were supposed to be leading. When the units returned from California at the end of June, there were no headquarters prepared for the new support units to report to or work out of. They set up temporary offices in old motor pools, with nothing but desks and chairs. There were no phones, no computers, no paper, and no idea whose command they fell under.
Now, almost 5 months later, when these soldiers should be concentrating on training, they are finally getting offices in shape, only to have to break them down to load them into Conex boxes to prepare for their possible deployment. The Training Room NCO finally received his laptop computer last month. His responsibility is to take care of all the training records, and qualification records for the almost 200 soldiers in his unit. In the office itself, there are now 5 laptops, with printers. There is only one printer cartridge, and it is in the office of the 1st Sergeant. He has a habit of becoming very upset when a report he has asked for is not on his desk, but when the Training Room NCO suggests that he has to use the 1st Sergeant’s printer since it is the only one with a cartridge, the response is that “no one is allowed in my office, or using my equipment.” There could be more supplies, if the Supply Sergeant could have been given access to an account to be able to purchase what the unit needed.
Three weeks ago, the 1st Sergeant ordered the soldiers in the unit to mark all the duffle bags that they would have to pack for deployment, and the markings were to be in Tan and Black paint. Unfortunately, the company had no money to purchase the paint, so part of the order was that the soldiers had to buy their own paint, paint their bags over the weekend and have them at the company the following Monday. What is wrong with this picture? Once again, most soldiers disobeyed what they saw to be an illegal order. The Training Room NCO reported the order to the Brigade Sergeant Major on that Monday, who informed the 1st Sergeant that he could not order soldiers to buy paint. His response, the Army had not given the unit any means to purchase what they needed. The Supply Sergeant was finally issued a debit card to use for Company purchases, unfortunately, he was not allowed to activate it for an additional week, and since that time it has been de-activated. In the meantime, it became time for the soldiers to mark these same bags with an additional marking, this time with large width bright orange tape. Once again, they were ordered to purchase the tape, for the Company had none to supply.
Interestingly enough, there are some supplies that seem to be in an over-abundance in the military. We are quite concerned with this matter, as we have seen this on more than one installation. The infantry soldiers spend about two weeks out of every month in the field training. During this time, they remain in the field, usually training sites that are in remote parts of the installations they are stationed at. While they are training, the support units bring all the supplies they will need out to the field in military semi-trucks. Supplies include army cots, food for every meal, canned fruits and vegetables, fresh produce, condiments, industrial sized cans of coffee, powdered creamer, etc., plates, napkins, cups, plastic ware, everything a soldier would need for a two week stay in the field. At the end of the training period, the semi trucks return to the garrison area and DISPOSE of EVERYTHING THAT WAS NOT USED DURING THE FIELD PROBLEM.
Army cots are disposed of, canned fruits and vegetables that could be returned to the storage building, unopened cans of coffee, paper products, EVERYTHING leftover is thrown away. This is taxpayers’ money, my money, our soldiers’ money, being thrown away.
The armored vehicles, Bradley fighting vehicles and tanks that our soldiers use are in no better condition than the organization. The waiting period for most parts is still longer than two weeks in most cases. The equipment is not to the standard that our government would like people to believe. Most of the equipment was damaged during the first tours in Iraq, as it was not made to withstand the heat and sand of the Iraqi deserts, and the waiting period for repairs in Iraq was so long that there were times when mechanics pieced parts together, to make the equipment last longer. General Sanchez himself wrote to our administration about the failure to provide adequate supplies for repairs of equipment and vehicles last February. Not much has changed. Civilians are responsible for much of the maintenance on the vehicles that are not deployed or being used in a training field problem. Civilians work 4 day weeks, and are paid 3 times what our soldiers are paid for the same work. Soldiers defer to the civilians in many aspects of vehicle services which makes it difficult for soldiers in the field and in combat to be able to deal with the repairs needed as efficiently and accurately as they could if they actually had to do the work offline as well. Commanders demand reports giving a 90% readiness on vehicles when that number is actually closer to 60%, and even at that, there are many vehicles with only partial system function.
Security on our military installations has deteriorated in the last 8 months. It was about that long ago that our government decided to contract the security of the military installations to private security firms in an effort to free more soldiers to train for combat. Prior to that time, soldiers were assigned periods of gate duty, and routinely patrolled all access points to each installation. As a rule, all personally owned vehicles of military members and their families must be registered on post and bear a decal indicating this. When vehicles approach access gates, each is stopped, decals are checked along with military identification cards of all vehicle occupants. If someone does not carry a military ID card, they may present a driver’s license for identification purposes. All vehicles that do not bear a military decal must be stopped, and vehicle registrations, insurance cards, and driver identifications are verified and a temporary pass to the installation is issued. No vehicles carrying any weapons are allowed through the gates, and any trucks and trailers must pass through a separate gate equipped with x-ray machines. There should be routine safety checks of vehicles, in which a vehicle is stopped and searched inside and out, to deter any who might consider passing through the gate with contraband items. Since the civilian contractors have taken over, security checks at these gates have become quite haphazard. There have been many times when guards merely hold ID cards, and don’t even look to verify the information. There have been times when trucks have been allowed to pass through without security checks. Last month, a soldier was shot and killed on Ft. Stewart, in the evening of a weekend night, the victim of a drive by shooting. This is appalling, and un-nerving. The security guards were obviously not doing their job. This weekend, we carried a rifle, in a case, across post to the rifle range on the other side of the installation. We placed the rifle case in the rear of the truck, in the open, and drove through the gate. No one even questioned the rifle. They looked briefly at our ID’s and let us through without one glance at the rifle. These are the people that our government has hired to secure our military installations.
Soldiers are being told how lucky they are and how much they are going to love being in Iraq. They are being told that they will have air conditioning, and heat, and larger cots. They are told that the meals they will have will be almost like home, and that there will be internet access in Iraq, so that they can take college courses for military credit while they are there. They have very low morale now. The chaplain here works overtime, and it is difficult to get access to him. He spends so much time counseling soldiers to prepare for this deployment. Their way to boost morale is to assure the soldiers of how much they will have over there, and how good it will be. After all the misrepresentations they have already experienced, and with leadership being what it is, how can they trust anything now? The war was based on misrepresentations, and the manipulations are continuing. Today brought a briefing from West Point cadets to the enlisted soldiers. The briefing was on “Selective Perception.” Veteran soldiers from this Iraq war, were given a lesson by students who have yet to see a battlefield, on how to alter the reality of what these soldiers see in combat. They are being taught to recreate their reality, the reality being shown the American public is being created by politicians, and somewhere in between, the reality is that soldiers are dying, civilians are dying, and a country is being destroyed for no good reason.
The story of this war is no different at any level. In the grand design, it was destined to fail before the invasion happened. The government of America is failing to support the service of our military men and women, and it is denying the sacrifice of those same soldiers and their families in the manner in which it leads the American people. When the American people are shown the truth of the sacrifice our soldiers make, when they are told the truth of the manner in which our government fails to support those soldiers, and their families, when they see the destruction that this war has actually caused, in vivid Technicolor reality, then, perhaps the war will be called to a close, our soldiers brought home where they belong, and Americans will come together in strength against this ever happening again. The discipline of our leadership is a farce, the support of our leadership is a farce, and the truth needs to be shown to everyone who can make a difference.
The illusion is that the war is going well. The illusion is that our soldiers are strongly motivated and emotionally prepared for what they have volunteered to face. The illusion is that we are actually giving the Iraqis their freedom. The illusion is that we in America have that freedom to give. The illusion is that we are taking care of those who are making the greatest sacrifice. The illusion is that our government cares about any of the humanity involved in this war. The illusion is that this war is right.
The truth is different: When the passion and commitment of our government equals the salary they have voted for themselves, when the campaign promises are no longer forgotten after the elections, when I can look a senator in the eye, or a president, or a secretary of defense, and know that he will remember words he spoke to me in the truth of his actions, THEN AND ONLY THEN, will our government begin to come close to deserving what all of our soldiers and their families have sacrificed in the name of freedom for America. Then the illusion may begin to fade and truth become strong. The war is wrong. Our soldiers are not receiving the support they and their families need. There is incredible waste in the military process, beginning with lives, and ending with honor. We, as Americans, cannot give the Iraqis their freedom. Freedom is earned, and it is the Iraqis who will have to do the fighting, if it is truly freedom that they want. Until America leaves Iraq to the Iraqis, and brings its soldiers home, freedom cannot begin to materialize for the Iraqi people. Soldiers are dying, civilians are dying, and America is the perpetrator. The only support that we should be giving our soldiers now, is in bringing them all home, where they can defend what is their duty to defend... their families, their country, and their honor. Someone has to be strong enough to stand against the illusion and tell the truth. And Americans have to be strong enough to bear witness to what they are told.
Sgt. Kevin and Monica Benderman . 3rd Infantry Division -- Ft. Stewart, GA Email -
See also http://www.mfso.org/main_f.html
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)