In response to the July 21 letter “True service means a war zone”: Service to our country is far more than a combat patch. Has the letter writer fought his way through Fallujah, Iraq; hiked up and down mountains engaging Taliban; or defended against an ambush after an improvised explosive device attack? If he cannot answer yes to all three, then perhaps he doesn’t deserve a combat patch.

Maybe he is one of those individuals who never leave the relative safety of Bagram Air Field or Kandahar Air Field and participate in dodgeball tournaments or salsa night on the boardwalk and think that constitutes a combat patch because they deployed. Would he also award himself a Combat Action Badge for being within a mile of a rocket attack?

The only patch any of us should ever be concerned with is the one that says U.S. Army. When people thank servicemembers for their service they are not thanking us for what we are doing here, they are thanking us for our commitment to our country, our willingness to stand and defend those who can not defend themselves — and that goes far beyond combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

While I applaud that fact that the letter writer chose to serve, I do not know how he have made it this far; his comments are unbecoming of an officer.

Sgt. Donald Gruber

Kandahar province, Afghanistan

Unfair to link pay with effort

Regarding the July 24 letter “Contractors have fewer threats”: I am not just a contractor but have also deployed four times to Iraq as a soldier as part of my 11 years of service in the Army.

Equating pay and living conditions to the level of sacrifice is asinine. Most contractors are prior service and have worn the uniform in service to their country, waiting on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and willing to put their lives on hold to answer the call. That is sacrifice and selfless service, not how much they made while doing it.

Contractors are in every combat zone, away from their families and doing what they can to help the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines they are supporting come home alive and in one piece. I know of many contractors who have stayed in country for years purely because they would feel bad if they left before the job was done.

As for equating pay and living conditions with amount of sacrifice, which seems to be the focal point of the letter writer’s argument: Does that mean that the Army private the writer mentioned sacrifices more than the writer simply because he makes less and, if so, then why doesn’t the writer step up and offer him his paycheck in exchange? I am sure the letter writer, as an officer, has a much better living situation than the lower enlisted and even junior noncommissioned officers. So by his argument, his level of sacrifice is lacking.

Christopher S. Young

Forward Operating Base Payne, Afghanistan

Many just serving in new way

Regarding the July 24 letter “Contractors have fewer threats”: The greatest threat to contractors would be people with the letter writer’s thought process.

I’ve been employed in Iraq since 2007. I served my country faithfully for 22 years before becoming a contractor, so I know the hardships that servicemembers go through (since I was here for Operation Desert Shield/Storm). I’m sure most of the letter writer’s dreaded contractors have prior military service. (I can’t tell you how many current soldiers have asked me for employment assistance after they leave the military.)

So I call the captain’s BS and raise him four. 1. Not all contractors get wet CHUs (containerized housing units), so the letter writer shouldn’t put everybody in that group (our living conditions are the same as his.) 2. The meals we eat are the same ones the letter writer eats. 3. “Private vehicle”? What is that? Over here we have approximately 30 employees on my site and we share three small Nissans. There are no private vehicles. 4. Is the letter writer saying that contractors don’t know the meaning of sacrifice? In my time in Iraq I have seen maybe two articles on how many contractors have been injured or killed while performing their duty. Does that mean our families suffer any less than that of a fallen servicemember? I think not. There is no amount of financial compensation that can replace a fallen family member.

I will close with this: Nine out of 10 times if you were to attend the funeral of a fallen contractor you just might see a flag-draped coffin carried by a military burial detail who would then present a folded American flag to a crying wife, son or daughter.

Embly Thomas

Forward Operating Base Diamondback, Iraq

Not all GIs face same risks

I have to disagree with the author of the July 24 letter “Contractors have fewer threats.” He acts like every soldier at every contingency operating base/forward operating base risks life and limb outside the wire every day. Yes, there are a large number of soldiers who live outside the wire every day, and I salute them. Soldiers who push convoys are not normally part of that group. They make sure they get back to their bunks every night.

This and most of the camps in Iraq are civil support (CS) or combat service support (CSS) units with very few (if any) soldiers leaving the wire at all. I have been in Iraq more than seven years at four different camps, and I am the camp manager for my company at this camp (and have been at two other camps). Neither myself nor any of my personnel has ever lived in a wet CHU (containerized housing unit). I spent the first 15 months in a tent. Myself and two others here were in Vietnam, something the letter writer likely has no clue about. (By the way, I retired 21 years ago from the military.)

One other thing: While the letter writer goes home after about 10 months, the majority of my people have been in Iraq providing him with communications for more than two years, many four, five, six or more years.

Richard Martin

Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraqر

Contractors pay dues too

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding what contractors are, what we do, what we have. It is incorrect to compare the sacrifices or benefits of all of us to an Army private, as the author of the July 24 letter “Contractors have fewer threats” did. I make a significant amount of money, because I have almost two decades of professional civilian experience in my job and a college degree, and am willing to come out here. I am also prior enlisted in two branches of the armed forces (active-duty Navy and Army), with service spanning nearly a decade.

My combined experience is about 26 years’ worth of my profession, military and education. Does the private that the letter writer cited as an example have this?

I pay a ton of taxes out here. In comparison, the letter writer’s income is tax-free, he gets hardship pay, hazard pay, etc. I don’t have a wet CHU (containerized housing unit), but I do have a roommate. I don’t have 24/7 medical/dental coverage, but I do have housing to pay for back in the States whether I am there or not. I don’t have a personal vehicle (most of us don’t), but we do share. Last time I checked, indirect fire was at about the same distance from the letter writer’s CHU as it was mine.

I miss my wife and children just like the active duty and reserve troops do. I eat the same food, use the same showers, have the same laundry — and did I mention I am unarmed? The letter writer’s blanket generalization of contractors is erroneous and divisive at best. One team, one fight.

William M. Nett

Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq

Ailments still prolong wars

Regarding the July 22 article “Study: Iraq, Afghan wars triggering lung ailment”: The expression “they ain’t seen nothing yet” immediately comes to mind for the doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who conducted this study. Wait until they see the thousands of respiratory cases they will find over the next 10 to 30 years among the U.S. military personnel and contractors who were stationed for even a few months at Kandahar Air Field, and during their entire posting here were inhaling the cloud of ground stone dust that continually hangs over the base.

In his book “The Peloponnesian War,” professor Donald Kagan tells the story of a Spartan elder who warned his neighbors that “their children would still be fighting” that war long after they were dead. Some 25 years later, Kagan relates, that war still not over, the Spartans were comiserating over how right that elder was.

More than 2,500 years later that Spartan elder’s warning is still prescient. The total health care costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — monetary, psychological and emotional — to vets, their families, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American health care system are yet to be seen, or felt. Until now, we have seen only the “tip of the iceberg.”

Craig Cotora

Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan

Paddy Graydon rides again?

I read the July 25 Reporters’ Notebook “Tale of donkey-borne IED gives dark laughs downrange” with great interest. As to the question the reporters posed in the first paragraph — “Who would load a donkey with explosives and send it tottering down the road, an unwilling, unwitting suicide bomber?” — the true answer is much more interesting than fiction.

The story of Union Capt. Paddy Graydon was perhaps the first documented use of a donkey-borne explosive device. He thought of and implemented the scheme during the Confederate invasion of the New Mexico Territory during the Civil War. On Feb. 20, 1862, during the Battle of Valverde on the Rio Grande, Graydon used two mules loaded down with several boxes of 24-pounder howitzer shells. He and the mules crossed the Rio Grande during the night, he lit the fuses and got the mules moving toward the Confederate encampment.

The plan was going well until the mules decided to follow Graydon, who then started running, as did the mules. The resulting explosion did not harm Graydon or his men, but the mules weren’t so lucky.

While the donkey-borne explosions didn’t affect the outcome of the battle the next day (a draw), it was a creative tactic.

A lot of what is old is new again.

Lt. Col. Andrew Taylor

Yongsan, South Korea

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