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Troops in Europe, Mideast speak out on Sanchez’s criticisms

By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2007

Troops in Europe and Iraq sounded off Monday on retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s recent blunt comments criticizing the handling of the Iraq war and the media’s portrayal of it.

Some troops took strong issue with Sanchez’s comments.

“Does [Sanchez] sleep better at night knowing because he’s no longer a sworn soldier he can just vent, with the possibility that troops here and all over the world can pay for it?” Sgt. Brandon Culpepper, serving in Taji, Iraq, wrote in a letter to Stars and Stripes. “If he was able to bite his tongue during his career, why doesn’t he do the rest of us still serving in Iraq a huge favor: bite harder!”

Others were in agreement with Sanchez that there is no end in sight in Iraq.

“I agree with the ‘no end in sight’ statement because of statements published by the Bush administration in a document called National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” said Lt. Cmdr. Les Engle, a 16-year Navy veteran, currently the assistant transition officer for Navy Region Europe’s Strategy and Future Requirements, in Naples, Italy.

Engle cited the following passage from the White House document, published two years ago: “Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism,” reads the portion under a longer-term goal.

“Now, two years later, we are farther away from this definition of victory than ever before, and we continue to move away at an accelerating pace,” said Engle, 39.

Officials aboard the USS Kearsage, in the Persian Gulf, declined requests to interview Marines and sailors on the ship, saying the topic was “political” and unrelated to their mission.

Similarly, officials and soldiers in Afghanistan declined to comment and denied interview requests on the Sanchez situation, saying it was not germane to the fight in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Sanchez, the former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, slammed the handling of the war and gave a bleak assessment of the current situation in Iraq. He also criticized the media for its war coverage.

“There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight,” Sanchez told a convention of military journalists.

Sanchez commanded U.S. troops in Iraq from June 2003 to July 2004. During his 33-year military career, Sanchez also commanded both Germany-based V Corps and the 1st Armored Division. Sanchez specifically targeted the Bush administration in his comments Friday.

“From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration’s latest ‘surge’ strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize the political, economic and military power,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said he didn’t speak up sooner because generals take an oath to carry out the orders of the president while in uniform.

In Engle’s opinion, Sanchez shirked his duty as a military leader by not speaking up while in uniform.

“It is too bad that he did not stand up and give his best professional opinion regarding the war in Iraq while he was still on active duty,” he said. “I believe that senior military leaders have the responsibility to speak up when they see a ‘bad situation’ developing, instead of nodding their head, saluting and saying ‘Yes sir.’ ”

Sanchez’s comments drew criticism from some leading Republicans.

“I had meetings that Gen. Sanchez was present where he advocated the strategy that he now is so critical of,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I wish that he had given us the benefit of that knowledge at the time,” McCain said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CNN he was “astounded,” saying of Sanchez, “I appreciate his service, but Abu Ghraib got out of control under his watch, the war in general got out of control under his watch.”

Sanchez should have shared his opinion “when his word would have had a little more pull in the situation,” said Army Sgt. Melinda Patterson, with the 29th Support Group in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

“It’s not so much about putting the president down, but he was in the position to change something instead of keeping his mouth shut,” she said.

Criticism such as Sanchez’s should be made behind closed doors, said Air Force Master Sgt. Tracy Carpenter, flight chief of the 100th Security Forces Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England.

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, however, comments like that should be made directly to the person they are addressed to, not in a public forum,” he said.

“It could be detrimental to our troops on the ground to show the insurgency that we’ve got strife amongst our top political leaders and military leaders. It makes them think that what they’re doing is paying off,” said Carpenter, who just returned from a six-month deployment to Iraq.

In addition to speaking bluntly about the Bush administration, Sanchez blamed the media for putting the troops at risk.

Sanchez said “parent media organizations” have political agendas that direct the news coverage of the war and in some cases put U.S. servicemembers in deadly situations.

He also singled out Stars and Stripes, saying he refused to talk to the newspaper during the last two years of his command in Germany, for its “single-minded focus on Abu Ghraib.”

Media outlets don’t put troops in danger when they concentrate on negative events, said a 26-year-old senior airman from RAF Mildenhall, who wished to remain anonymous.

“It’s not what the media puts out, it’s how [people] feel at that time,” said the senior airman, who added that he sees positive stories in newspapers as well. “Some people might think something is good or bad, and I’ll read it differently.”

Stars and Stripes reporters Sandra Jontz, Sean Kimmons and Charlie Reed contributed to this story.


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