August 17

Shut out of movie

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

August 17 Shut out of movie Piqued at the thought AT&T made right calls in Iraq Absence from the family Gas prices not transparent Handle with careAugust 18 Different standards abound Send Iraqi army to Africa Enough of McNamara What’s causing the drought? A uniform look Should be home by nowAugust 19 Reality calls for more troops Find a new profession Citizen soldier’s plight An inspiring group of spouses Where is AFN? An unhelpful tacticAugust 20 Integration will be rushed Reservists deserve respect Taking care of each other Making a difference Complaining the American wayAugust 21 Let children be children Double standards Child pornography Desert-bound eventually Disgusted at group The right to be upsetAugust 22 Looted and lost mail Feeling like a draftee Bayonets can’t be removed Officer should resign Views strange, uninformedAugust 23 War is not summer camp Act like the best Water solution Bridge construction Leave denied

Recently I attempted to take my son and a couple of his friends to see the premier of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” at the Cineworld at Main-Franken Park in Würzburg. We had to go to the 11 p.m. showing because the 9 p.m. one was sold out. The movie was in the original version (English). The kids saw this as a treat. I informed their parents that we would be going and they said it was no problem. The kids range from 10 to 12.

After arriving at the theater at 10:20 because you have to be there 30 minutes ahead of time to keep your reservations, we bought our tickets and got our movie goodies. As we entered, the ticket taker informed me that German law says the kids had to be 16 to see this movie. I told him I’m their parent and guardian, but it didn’t matter. As he escorted us to refund our money, he said the police would shut down the theater if underaged people were in a movie that had age restrictions.

This is a country that allows any child at any age to buy cigarettes (the machines are on every street in every neighborhood), drink alcohol at 15 or 16 or go to any club at 16 that sells alcohol. But I can’t take my son and his friends to see a movie.

James HallGiebelstadt, Germany

Piqued at the thought

Say what? Did the author of “A peak experience” (Aug. 7 Stripes Travel magazine) really suggest that feminine hygiene accessories for a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro can be obtained through the GSA Federal Supply Service? Wouldn’t that be theft of government property? Surely the Stripes editors are not condoning such action. Then again, maybe they take home the pens and pencils at the end of the day.

R.M. SullivanKaiserslautern, Germany

AT&T made right calls in Iraq

On behalf of the AT&T Military organization, I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to the claims expressed in the letter “Phone rates” (Aug. 12). First, let me say that AT&T is proud of its record of serving America’s armed forces. We’re constantly working at ways to improve communications between the troops and their loved ones back home, something we have done in every war since 1914. So far, we have built approximately 29 calling centers since the end of 2002 in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan — making available close to 650 phones for our troops to utilize. We also have dispensed 619 mobile satellite phones in Iraq for troops unable to use the calling centers.

The writer is confused regarding the cost per minute of calls from Iraq on both satellite phones and calls placed from a call center. Calls from the call centers are as low as $0.375 per minute, while calls from the mobile sat phones are $0.90 per minute when using the Army and Air Force Exchange Service 200 unit prepaid card. Satellite phone rates are higher since they require connectivity to multiple satellite signals while the call center requires a dedicated satellite signal. AT&T provided the satellite phones as a mobile solution in order to provide service.

The decision to determine an area’s needs (call center versus satellite phones) was based on both the size of the force and its movement. The pricing for calls varies by country depending on both available infrastructure and bandwidth. Satellite phones were distributed among 22 military units located within Iraq and call centers were placed in Tikrit, Mosul, Babylon, Tallil and Al Asad as determined by V Corps and CFLCC.

AT&T is happy to report that the fifth call center in Tikrit, complete with 48 phones, went online on July 26.

Chuck RussoAT&T military market customer care managerMorristown, N.J.

Absence from the family

This is in response to the letter “Attitude appalling” (July 20) in which the writer seems to shun the author of “All is not well and good.” (July 11). He shares that he, too, has missed his firstborn child due to deployment — a very common situation among men who have either chosen or were forced to become a soldier, in both the past and present. Being a soldier should mean being on call for your nation and its concerns, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until separation from this way of life.

I am also a new father who has been a part of the pure havoc that most of our Army deployed in the Middle East has experienced personally or through fellow soldiers’ experiences. Whether the war was justified is above me as a soldier, but I stress that nothing either my unit or myself has come close to pardons me from my sons’s birth.

The writer of “Attitude appalling” states, “Who is the writer to question the decisions of the officers and NCOs in his command?” My answer is a man who feels and sees life past the military. A man who loves and places family first. Simply put, a LEADER in his family.

Who are these commanders the writer speaks of? Certainly not gods, but overpaid, often underworked people who make decisions sometimes based on the effects to their careers vs. weighing the facts and options.

Every soldier is fighting to protect and provide for his or her family or cause. There is almost no doubt in my mind that any soon-to-be-father would much rather witness his life evolve as new life is brought into his life — an event that will happen only once in a man’s lifetime — rather than join or return to the mission, be it war, peacekeeping or just a plain old field problems. All of which cause new fathers to miss their life-changing moments.

If family is important, then it is clear that false motivation is not an option. What the letter writer is requiring of any NCO in this situation is to simply put away any parental feelings and become a machine that chants, “Be all you can be!”

Obviously the letter writer puts his family on the backburner for loyalty to the military. It’s his choice entirely, and a position that many soldiers have taken as they miss births, birthdays, graduations and other special events of their children, friends and loved ones. Is this what the writer means when he talks about the Army value of “selfless service”? Does not serving in itself and giving up direct control over one’s immediate life to join others in an effort to deter war and contributing to winning wars satisfy the quota?

Phase out family and you create time bombs. Nothing done by my unit in any way validates my absence from my family. It only validates agony and frustration — feelings I know are felt by not just me.

Sgt. Floyd L. Sturdifen Jr.Iraq

Gas prices not transparent

The recent series of letters about AAFES gas prices are not the first on the subject. While Maj. Gen. Kathryn Frost is certainly correct that AAFES fuel prices are a benefit compared to purchasing fuel on the local economy, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. I recall very well when AAFES announced about two years ago that it was changing the fuel pricing policy and began to base it on the Department of Energy averages from the previous month, plus each region’s incremental dispensing costs. What really made that noticeable was the major jump in prices that it caused immediately.

Regardless of the reasons for the change, it certainly diminished the value of the “benefit” to AAFES customers overseas. Over the succeeding months, U.S. average gasoline prices dropped dramatically, but AAFES prices remained frozen at the elevated levels. Although it may not have been the cause, the AAFES prices came down somewhat only after one of the most protracted series of letters to the editor I’ve seen in Stars and Stripes in 17 years of overseas assignments.

If prices are based on the previous month’s U.S. average, we are now paying nearly 20 cents a gallon more now than last month’s stateside average. If I understood it correctly, the whole point of the gasoline coupon system originally was that AAFES and military-affiliated personnel in Germany do not pay German fuel taxes. The coupons are a mechanism to control the sale of tax-free fuel to authorized AAFES customers to minimize abuse or black-marketing.

However, the stateside average includes federal, state and local gasoline taxes — which I don’t believe AAFES pays. And since AAFES doesn’t pay German gas taxes, I don’t understand why it is necessary to charge overseas customers the average U.S. price plus a premium of 20 cents. I should think that “each region’s incremental dispensing costs” would certainly be substantially less than either U.S. or foreign fuel taxes.

It would certainly be helpful if AAFES or Stars and Stripes could provide us a more thorough analysis of how the former and new pricing systems work, with charts showing a comparison of U.S. prices and AAFES overseas prices before and since this system went into effect. As “transparency” seems to be the watchword for government and business these days, this is an area that could use more of it.

Col. Russell ThadenHeidelberg, Germany

Handle with care

I am writing a follow-up regarding the mail system in Iraq. I have been deployed to the desert since early March and never have I seen such a messed-up mail system. A few of the packages I have received have been open when they reach me, due in part to the aggressive handling by the mail handlers in Kuwait or wherever the mail enters the theater. I have seen soldiers in my unit spend money to buy MWR-type items for themselves, only to find that when it reaches them it doesn’t even work properly. The mail handlers are doing a good job on getting the mail to the soldiers fast, but they need to work on mail care.

Pfc. Thomas G. O’Connor IIIIraq

August 18

Different standards abound

I am currently deployed to Iraq and have seen most of the country. In my travels, I see different uniforms for the same service — the Army. Some units wear T-shirts with [Interceptor Body Armor], some without a Kevlar on, some without IBAs on, some with boots bloused, some with boots not bloused, some in full uniform. These are all from the same Ivy Division.

When you go to Tikrit, the uniform commonly seen is [Physical Training gear], even though Tikrit is known for its mortar attacks. You go to Balad, also known for its mortar attacks, and you see soldiers wearing soft caps and some boots bloused and some not. Then you travel to East Samarra Airfield and you see soldiers in full uniform, with boots bloused, with Kevlars and a weapon at all times, except during PT hours.

My entire unit walks around with no clue of what is going on, because we get, “No information from higher,” as we are told. Yet, other units have division command sergeant majors brief them often on their happenings and future endeavors.

Also, while I was at Balad, two X-ray technicians from [Corps Support Command] (attached to the Ivy Division) were talking about the 15 days of leave they had taken when their children were born. Our soldiers don’t have that opportunity, even with a Red Cross message of complications during birth. And when asked why, the answer we are given is, “Because it was briefed before we deployed.” What is the Army’s regulation on leave while not in combat, but in a hostile environment? I could understand not allowing leave if we were doing something proactive.

As an E-5, I can make corrections for what I see wrong when I know the standard, such as if I were at Fort Hood. So, what is the standard? Or, more importantly, is there a standard here?

As a soldier, I feel there should be one standard across the entire rank structure, from general to private. And, of course, the mission should dictate the standard.

We are all here together, for one reason, doing the same general mission. So why is everyone’s standard different?

Sgt. Kevin D. BarwellEast Samarra Airfield, Iraq

Send Iraqi army to Africa

Let’s play connect-the-dots: Iraq had a huge army. Let us recruit and train them for peacekeeping in Africa. Seems like it could work.

Michael CokerMosul, Iraq

Enough of McNamara

How dare you print in a GI newspaper those “nice feeling” words of the man primarily responsible for the deaths in Vietnam of 58,000 American servicemen, and for the 2,000 missing, and 150,000 wounded? So now former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara says our “rules of engagement” must include supporting the World Court, crap that our president has rejected out of hand. It’s enough to make a man vomit when you place him in Guam in 1945, with Gen. Curtis LeMay, a true warrior responsible for bringing Japan to its knees after four hard years following Pearl Harbor. We dropped “the bomb” to save more than 1 million American lives and an estimated 3 million Japanese defending Kyushu and Honshu islands. So if we lost, LeMay would’ve been tried as a war criminal for firebombing Tokyo?

As for Vietnam, former President Johnson and McNamara tried to run a war they knew little about and had no training to do. What they did to Gen. William Westmoreland, those who preceded him and those who followed was criminal. We withdrew from Vietnam as a result of Washington’s surrendering the edge to the enemy. I heard my president, in 1965, speaking over the 15 radio stations of American Forces Radio, say: “We’re not out to defeat the enemy, we’re out to punish him.” How do you think that sat in the minds and hearts of the thousands of us over there when that same enemy was bound and determined to kill to obtain its objective?

We had enough of McNamara and Johnson in Vietnam. Both should’ve been hanged for treason.

Maj. John Canty (Ret.)Rota, Spain

What's causing the drought?

I love reading the letters to the editor that talk about the slow mail service in Iraq. We have all experienced it, but it is still fun to hear. I find the letters defending the mail system even more entertaining. For instance, in the July 8 issue a soldier defended the mail by saying how hard they work, how they work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and pray for a day off.

I have no sympathy. Soldiers in my company work at least 12 hours a day sitting in a guard tower or patrolling the nearby area. We haven’t had a day off in almost two months. Everybody has a sad story.

Back to the mail. For a while there was no mail at all. Then one day the mail caught up and it was great. Now, mail is questionable again. My family writes every day, and yet I haven’t gotten a letter in over a week. My company hasn’t moved, and our address hasn’t changed. So why the holdup? Why do we go through times of catchup with lots of mail every day, then a drought with no mail?

I guess all I can do is head out to my guard tower and hope that tomorrow ends the most recent mail drought. Today is July 19. Let’s see how fast the mail system is.

Spc. Eli EschenbauchIraq

A uniform look

I’m all for our Air Force brethren having a distinctive uniform (Air Force unveils proposed blue pattern for BDUs, Aug. 6), but I certainly hope they find a different cover style than the traditional eight-point Marine Corps cover pattern (“cover” means hat, for you Air Force guys).

USMC Master Sgt. W.L. WellmanCommando Camp, Kuwai

Should be home by now

I don’t want to bad-mouth anybody, but the problem lies with higher leadership. When soldiers complain, it shows that we are a smarter Army in some ways. It seemed that soldiers who could think on their feet were better, but yet they get punished. We know the war in Iraq ended quickly, but why are the soldiers who won it punished? The military should have had a rotation set up before the war because they knew it would end sometime. Soldiers who won and fought the war should have been replaced.

I am in Kuwait on Arifjan. We have it good here. I truly believe that soldiers in Iraq have things bad. I also realize others in some camps in Kuwait have things bad, too. I never felt I deserved anything more than them. The problem here is that we are all pretty much suffering from some of the same conditions. Soldiers can only physically and mentally last for so long. While those in Iraq suffer heat and fatigue with full gear, those in Kuwait suffer, too. Those in Iraq duck danger every day, which should be reason enough to rotate out. How much of a gamble does it take to put their lives in danger for so long until they are too tired to be effective?

After war, they can’t last more than a month up there. They could have been back in the States, recuperating perhaps to come back here for another tour.

Then you have troops in Kuwait. Soldiers in intense heat standing guard or convoy escorts still get worn down, maybe not as bad as in Iraq but surely enough to be ineffective in three months.

These are harsh conditions and most soldiers don’t have air conditioning. Missions, exercise, movies and swimming pools don’t magically take away stress. They help. The biggest thing that helps soldiers is home, and we should have rotated them back there by now.

Sgt. Doug NowickiCamp Arifjan, Kuwait

August 19

Reality calls for more troops

I am writing in response to numerous articles stating that we have enough soldiers and there is no need to increase end strength. This is the case only because of the continuous reliance on the Reserves. By having 60,000 Reserve soldiers activated on a continuous basis for rotational deployments, the actual size of the Army is 540,000 and not 480,000. To have an indefinite rotation requiring 100 reservists may give you a new Reserve soldier every six months, but the fact is you need 100 more full-time soldiers.

I am a reservist in Iraq, activated in January, and I have no problem pulling my year tour alongside my active counterparts. When my country called, I showed up. However, the fuzzy governmental accounting that says there is no need for additional soldiers when common sense says otherwise was burning out the Reserves before the war even started. If there is a continuous increasing reliance on reservists, you really need more people.

We have even been told that there aren’t enough military police to replace the ones currently deployed. In a civilian company when there are not enough employees for the next shift, red flags go up. In the Army you bury your head in the sand and say nothing’s wrong.

Afghanistan, Kosovo, Liberia, Iraq and Bosnia aren’t going away tomorrow.

People need to start seeing through the rhetoric, and see what the reality is. We need more people.

Spc. Michael KosinskiTallil Air Base, Iraq

Find a new profession

I am really disappointed in the outcry by my fellow soldiers deployed in Iraq. Maybe they need to be reminded that we get paid to come fight for our country when we have to.

I’m a 4th Infantry Division soldier and we found out that we were going to be deployed out here for a year. Sure, that stinks. No one wants to be in this hell hole for that long. But suck it up and drive on.

If this deployment is too rough for you or your family, I suggest you find a new profession after your current enlistment.

We’re American soldiers. Start acting like it.

Pfc. Raja PrabhalaNorthern Iraq

Citizen soldier's plight

I am here in Iraq for the second time. I served in Desert Storm on active duty with the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan., and now am here as a member of the Florida National Guard. There are different opinions about who should be here. I understand our obligation to serve our country. So, as reservists, we answered the call.

When I was on active duty, I was guilty of looking down on reservists, too. Once again, we have proven the active duty wrong. We only work at our jobs for one weekend a month, but we take our jobs very seriously. We make up a great percentage of the total armed forces. My hat’s off to the military, because together we make it happen. We let the world know why we are the greatest force around.

Improvements have been made, such as Internet and satellite phones, but we still need such improvements as fair treatment for all soldiers, whether active duty or Reserve. We are not always treated equally. For example, if we have a pay problem, active-duty finance cannot help us.

The reservists have stepped up to the plate and now it is time to return home. Many of us are losing money, and it can’t be OK to say, “Well, your family will be all right.” We just want a time frame of when we will leave.

I am a career soldier and going to war is not going to change that. We love our jobs — both of them. We the citizen soldier just want to go home, and we will be ready for the next time.

CW2 Anthony ThompsonIraq

An inspiring group of spouses

I just want to say how impressed I am with the spouses of the 94th Engineer Battalion in Vilseck, Germany. Their soldiers have been deployed since January, and do not know when they will come home. This seems like a good reason to be irritated, but this is the most inspiring group of spouses I have ever seen.

They get together on a regular basis, whether for information distribution, or just to hang out. They take care of each other — sharing meals, visiting hospital patients, filling in as labor coaches, baby-sitting, watching movies, shopping. I have been around them when they are in groups, and you cannot tell which rank “applies” to which spouse.

As individuals, they are as impressive as they are in a group. One lady who is busy raising two boys organizes a regular ladies night out bingo and plans a weekly playgroup for preschoolers. Another wife is a one-woman relief agency. She has a knack for knowing when someone might need free time, and is always there to babysit or bring a meal to someone who needs a break. Of course, everyone has bad days, and these folks are no exception. When one of them is down, the others are there to lift her up. And the next day she is the shoulder for someone else to cry on.

I hope that the next time my husband is deployed, I follow this example and live up to the standard they have set. And to all the Wolverine soldiers in the desert, send your spouses a letter and tell them thank you. They are representing you well and you should be very proud.

Angela TabatVilseck, Germany

Where is AFN?

I have been stationed in Iraq for several months and would like to know why we don’t have American Forces Network in the Middle East.

AFN’s purpose has been to boost morale by bringing a welcome voice from home, carrying news and current events, as well entertainment and sports. It also serves to carry military information to troops and Department of Defense civilians over a wide area in the event of an emergency.

I think there are more than 200,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Kuwait. Our British allies have far fewer numbers here, but they have been listening to British Forces Broadcast System since before the onset of hostilities.

I would think there are enough soldiers here to justify the significant costs of setting up a radio station operation. These are the best troops in the world, and they deserve it.

1st Sgt. Bruce SandsCamp Bucca, Iraq

An unhelpful tactic

Some servicemembers in Iraq believe it’s all right to criticize Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because the Constitution gives them the right of free speech. It always amazes me how people who want to do something that’s overall harmful justify their actions by quoting the Constitution.

Consider this: Does freedom of religion mean one can sacrifice virgins if that is their religious belief on the way to appease the gods? Does the right to bear arms mean one can carry his own shoulder-held missile launcher? Does the freedom of speech mean one can yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, thus causing panic, injury or possibly death by stampede?

The answer to all these is obviously no. Common sense and reasonableness must come into play.

So it is with criticizing military leaders. Criticizing the defense secretary is overall harmful because it affects the morale of the troops and it gives encouragement to the enemy, causing our mission to be extended, rather than curtailed. If we want our troops to come home, we need to get behind our leaders, give our full support to get the job done, and then go home. Quoting free speech to justify criticizing leaders during military actions is not at all helpful.

Tom DriverCamp Monteith, Kosovo

August 20

Integration will be rushed

The tragic slayings of spouses at Fort Bragg, N.C., got me thinking about the Army’s new program to help redeploying soldiers adjust to home life. I am currently deployed to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division. Those of us who will be PCSing from here are given only 30 days before our scheduled return to the States to go back to Germany to empty houses (because our spouses have hopefully shipped all of our household goods by then).

In this time, our vehicles must be cleaned and shipped; we must clean and clear government housing; we must clean and turn in TA-50s that have been through countless numbers of sandstorms. That’s a lot of cleaning and clearing.

So at what point will I receive my series of physical and mental tests and attend question-and-answer sessions on family reunions and suicide prevention, among other topics? During this time, soldiers are to report for duty for half-days. This process goes on for several weeks and is designed to integrate them gradually into home life. All in all, that is a pretty busy 30 days.

I feel confident that my family and I will be able to adjust, as this is my third deployment with 1st AD, but for younger soldiers who have never deployed before this seems like an awful lot of things to get accomplished in 30 days. It sounds as if soldiers are going to be rushed and pushed out the door to their next duty station instead of being “gradually integrated.”

Under normal conditions, a PCS in any family’s life is a stressful event. Add to that the return of a soldier who has been in a combat zone and it can become a recipe for disaster. The answer I’ve been given, when I asked my chain of command about this, is that you can “voluntarily” extend for 90 days upon your return to Germany. In my situation, if I were to do this, by the time I get to my next duty station I would have only two months on post before my re-enlistment window opens. Two months on post isn’t enough time to get into housing and have my furniture delivered. I re-enlisted for this assignment over a year ago. I guess I wasted that re-enlistment.

Now when soldiers ask me what I think about their re-enlisting, I really don’t know how to answer their question. But all of this goes back to the 1st AD’s generous 30 days of “gradual integration.”

Staff Sgt. William WatschingerCamp Dogwood, Iraq

Reservists deserve respect

I feel Army reservists are treated separate but equal. They tell us we volunteered just like active duty; however, once reservists are activated we have the following inequalities:

• See a slow start to war-zone payments and tax-free benefits, supposedly because of a different pay system.• Not allowed to retire or ETS on time or the same amount of time as active duty.• Not allowed to have allotments taken out of our paycheck.• Cannot participate in the savings plan through automatic deductions. We have to write a personal check each pay period.• Not compensated with extra money after ETSing if extended past that date.

Also, personnel action memos discussing ETS or retirement mostly have a clause at the bottom stating that either reservists aren’t included or it does not apply.

These are just a few of the problems from higher-ups. I’ve had people ignore me once I’ve told them I’m Reserve. I am proud to be an Army reservist. I’ve served my country for 10 years, and I deserve respect.

Sgt. Teena HorneCamp Webster, Iraq

Taking care of each other

In this day and age when the Army’s slogan is “The Army of One,” I have to beg to differ. It’s catchy, but not true. I have been in the Army many years and the best slogan is “Be All That You Can Be,” the teamwork concept. We all work together.

For example, while leading a convoy of heavy equipment transports south of Baghdad International Airport, my driver and I were hit by two IEDs that crippled the truck, the trailer and us. My unit sought refuge from a Bradley tank. When all was safe, I sent the remainder of the convoy south to finish the mission. The military police were the first on the scene, providing security and assessing damage. Then they escorted us to their compound at Camp Graceland for refuge and to do battle damage assessment.

We were next moved to the compound of the 407th FSB, 82nd Airborne Division, 2nd BDE, where they took us in and made us at feel at home, feeding us at their chow hall, giving us water, making anything we needed available and accessible. They outright took us in as one of their own while we waited for our unit to pick us up.

Special thanks go to 1st Lt. Mixon and to Sgt. Robertson of operations for helping us out in our time of need and to all 82nd personnel involved. We are in this war together and examples of this camaraderie are few and far between. But however long we stay in Iraq, we need to stick together and take care of one another.

Staff Sgt. Ronald J. GallegosCamp Victory, Kuwait

Making a difference

My daughter, Alessandra, attended Patrick Henry Elementary School in Heidelberg, Germany, from kindergarten through fifth grade, and it was a wonderful experience. Faced with the transfer to middle school, however, she asked to attend a host nation school. We supported her decision, and in March 2002 she completed her Abitur at the Edith Stein Gymnasium in Speyer. We realized as her graduation approached that if she wanted to be competitive at a U.S. college, particularly at her first choice, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, she would need some of the guidance counseling available to her contemporaries at Heidelberg High School.

We made an appointment with Ms. Gourdine of the Heidelberg staff, who welcomed Alessa with open arms, offered her encouragement and laid out in detail the challenges. She offered advice, gave tips and even called the academy’s admissions office. The admissions committee, though impressed with Alessa’s background, had reservations because she lacked the traditional American high school diploma. But they did the next best thing: They sent her to the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., as one of only 41 applicants to receive such an appointment. Alessa successfully completed the course and reported for induction into the Coast Guard Academy on June 30 as a member of the Class of 2007.

My family and I firmly believe that this happy set of circumstances would never have come to pass without the enthusiastic and wise support that Gourdine provided. She really made the difference.

John J. TwomeyMannheim, Germany

Complaining the American way

I tried to keep my mouth shut about all the complaining from soldiers in the Iraq region, but enough is enough. Am I for or against all of the complaints? You bet I’m for the complaints. Why? Because it’s what we Americans do best: We complain. It’s like some unalienable right that we have as Americans — right up there with baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.

If any person in the States started getting their mail 30 to 40 days late, I’ll bet they would complain. Every complaint made by our soldiers is legitimate. All of these so-called old-timers and gung-ho patriots need to chill out, because if no one complains then how do we fix things that are broken?

Stephen P. MaloneKaiserslautern, Germany

August 21

Let children be children

I was recently handed an informative letter from a town meeting that said children under a certain age/grade level were not allowed outside to play without parental supervision. If they did, the MPs would be notified, along with the Base Support Battalion command sergeant major. The reason: child neglect.

What happened to the days when children could go outside without the government getting in the way of it? What happened to the days the government left parenting to the parents?

I know some parents let their children go out from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., then proceed to take naps, close the windows, turn up their TVs or music. However, not all parents are like this. For instance, I set the alarm on my child’s watch for every 30 to 40 minutes. He knows to check in when the alarm sounds; and I know when he is supposed to check in. I also holler out my window during this time (I apologize to my neighbor) so I can see he is OK before it’s time for him to check in. He also always has two or three buddies with him.

Often I will go out and sit with my child. When I’m inside, I have my TV low and my windows open so I can hear him. He knows to yell “Fire!” instead of “Help!” if someone tries to grab him so he attracts attention. He knows the general safety rules and knows that adults don’t ask children for help. I trust my child. If I catch him doing what he shouldn’t, I punish him.

I will not make my 7-year-old stay indoors every day during the summer. I do not find my actions as neglect or negligent. Children are children only once. Childhood should be that of fun, not the government dictating what they can or cannot do. Children make mistakes, and like us they learn from them.

Even though we are military families, one thing is for sure: Children aren’t little adults nor are they soldiers. And they shouldn’t be forced to act like either, regardless of where they live.

Mary Anne McDonaldKitzingen, Germany

Double standards

I was shocked to read that 1st Lt. Andrew Rutan was able to keep his career after being found guilty of possession of child pornography (“Officer punished for possessing child porn,” Aug. 1). If he had been an enlisted soldier, the court-martial would have been carried out, he would have been sentenced to time in jail, forfeiture of all pay, lost his commission, and given a bad-conduct discharge. Instead, he gets to keep his rank and career and has received a slap on the wrist by paying a fine for one year. Basically, he loses a special pay — not a big loss for a person in his position.

I’m disappointed in the military justice system, as well as the chain of command during the time of the investigation. Why? Because this “outstanding” soldier was assigned to help our family with four daughters before and during a deployment, knowing full well that he was under investigation.

I hope the Army looks a little more closely at who it’s keeping in the ranks, whether officer or enlisted, and changes the way it punishes offenders by making sentencing even across the board. No double standards!

Marla CastroIllesheim, Germany

Child pornography

Unbelievable! We outprocess people from the military on driving under the influence, theft, adultery, drugs and other charges, but we will keep someone who collects child pornography and let him remain an officer.

His squadron commander brags that one of his best men is a child pornographer: Now that is something to tell headquarters about. Why doesn’t he invite him over to baby-sit his children or grandchildren? After all, he is one of the commander’s best men.

The article mentions he was naive, after downloading 320 sexually explicit pictures of children. The only people who are naive are the ones who would follow him unhesitatingly into war.

CTR1 (SW) Michael A. SullivanNSGA Pensacola, Fla.

Desert-bound eventually

There is a growing resentment among servicemembers in Iraq and Kuwait toward ranking Army officers and civilian leadership in Washington. The author of “Harsh reality” (Aug. 3) is correct in his assessment of the growing concern. Morale is uncharacteristically low in the wake of what was a very successful war. Nor can it be denied that several units were mobilized to the region without a mission and now are waiting in the desert, untasked and desperate for a trip back home.

The question is whether this resentment comes unfounded. Are the commanding officers, the government bureaucrats or both to blame?

I’ll admit that the United States rushed into this war. I believe our diplomatic efforts before the war were half-hearted, at best. In addition, I believe our motives for war went well beyond national security concerns and altruistic desires for a liberated and free Iraq. (Why else would President Bush be so eager for armed intervention in Iraq, yet reluctant to commit troops to Liberia?)

Hidden agenda aside, the United States was right to take a hard line against Saddam, even though I believe there were clear alternatives to fighting. The reality is that Iraq is now every servicemember’s responsibility and it is crucial that the job gets done right. Otherwise, we’ve only given terrorism a new breeding ground. Whether we were supposed to be here or not, focus among those of us in uniform needs to be maintained.

If lower-enlisted and NCOs are frustrated, it’s likely the result of anxiety over extended deployments or uncertainty about redeployment dates. To suggest that career ambitions among higher-ranking Army officials has anything to do with that is a gross generalization.

If the Army is guilty of anything, it is calling up more support units than were actually necessary. If that’s the case, try to think of it this way: We were all bound to come to the desert at some point. Better now than later.

Pfc. Jed B. ClarkeKuwait

Disgusted at group

I am so disgusted with the group Military Families Speak Out, which has started a “Bring Them Home Now” campaign (Aug. 14), that I don’t even know where to begin. I do understand that all families want their servicemembers home safely. But they knew what they were getting into when they signed up. This isn’t a picnic, and you can’t whine and cry when things don’t go as planned. No American wants anyone to lose a family member or for any more of our sons and daughters to be injured.

These parents should have realized that they wouldn’t always be there to wipe their children’s noses or kiss the boo-boos. At some point you have to stand up and be counted for your actions; and while it appears your sons and daughter get this, you don’t. You can’t support our troops and cry fraud at their commander and chief at the same time. Obviously, you need a lesson in commitment, honor and courage.

Brenda AnkeriteWoodstock, Ga.

The right to be upset

The writer of “Mission comes first” (Aug. 4) mentioned the varying length of tours of duty during the Vietnam War, World War II and Korean War. But that was then. Times have changed.

Soldiers have every right in the world to be upset about dates being changed for their homecoming. Soldiers also have the right to express how they feel.

Alicia HartsfieldHanau, Germany

August 22

Looted and lost mail

This is another letter about the mail here in Iraq, but with a sad twist.

Complaints about the mail being slow are valid. I just received a package that is four months slow. Mail delivery has improved, but if a unit moves often then its soldiers have to be patient. The mail has to find them.

My complaint is not with mail delivery but with the people who handle it. I believe that the majority of mail handlers are honest professionals. It’s that 10 percent I’m concerned with.

My mail was delivered without its original contents. Instead of the items that were supposed to be in it there was a letter from another soldier to his wife. For some reason my items were removed and someone else’s letter was inserted. I can do without the items sent to me, but some soldier has not received his wife’s letter, and that’s wrong.

From looking over the letter I know that the soldier is with an Army signal unit here in Iraq. His wife’s name is Sara Moreno. I won’t recover my items, but I’d like to return the letter to the soldier or send it on to his wife. I’d appreciate any help or suggestions.

Spc. LeRon ParkerAr Ramadi, Iraq

Feeling like a draftee

I’m a Chinese linguist in the National Guard who has been deployed in Iraq for the last six months. My End Time of Service date was Feb. 24, 2002 — more than 18 months ago — and I didn’t extend my enlistment. Members of my unit still don’t know when we’ll be going home. So under the current stop-loss rules governing Reserve Component units, I’ll have to continue to serve for the entire time that my unit is deployed. My ETS date was two days after the stop-loss began. Originally it was indefinite, but it was later modified to last only 12 months.

I knew what kind of commitment I made when I joined the National Guard seven and a half years ago, and I’ve taken that commitment seriously. I was also very aware of the kinds of sacrifices made by many servicemembers in every branch, so I was also willing to make sacrifices. With this in mind, I continued to serve in the Guard, waiting until I could honorably complete my obligation and ETS from it. My wife and I changed our plans to move to another state so I could fulfill this obligation.

But after this additional year of service was almost up and I was three weeks away from my prolonged ETS date of Feb. 24, 2003, my unit was activated and I was told that a new stop-loss policy had come out making all Reserve soldiers deploy with their units for the entire time that their units are activated.

Because soldiers in every branch have had to shoulder such a heavy burden over the past few years, I was willing to share some of it. But currently the stop-loss policy has been lifted from active duty sevicemembers (except for two military occupational specialties), and only the Reserve Component’s stop-loss remains. This means that an Arabic linguist in the regular Army having the same MOS as I do could leave tomorrow if that was his or her ETS date. But I, as a Chinese linguist serving in the Middle East, still cannot, even after serving an additional 18 months of a six-year contract and having more than two and a half years of active-duty time.

This is not right or equitable. The commitment that reservists make is just as binding and demanding as that of the regular Army. We get less money for college, fewer benefits and usually a longer contract. Yet we have to juggle our military obligations with the high-stress demands of the civilian work force. We don’t have the safety net of the regular Army. Therefore, it’s unreasonable to demand from us greater sacrifices than what is expected of full-time soldiers.

I have the utmost respect for my fellow regular Army soldiers. But it’s time to fully acknowledge the role that the Reserve and Guard play and begin to address the issues affecting us. Now that the Army is no longer subject to stop-loss, reservists shouldn’t be either.

I’m beginning to feel like a draftee. My patriotism is slowly being eclipsed by the overriding feeling that I’m being abused by my government. What’s the point of even having a contract if it’s so open-ended and changeable that the government can do whatever it wants with us and doesn’t have to uphold its end of it?

I don’t know if this letter will do anything to impact policy change, but I just wanted my voice to be heard so that others are aware of the situation.

Sgt. Timothy A. GriswoldIraq

Bayonets can't be removed

A recent story in Stars and Stripes stated or implied that U.S. servicemembers could retain or ship/mail out of the U.S Central Command area of responsibility non-issue bayonets (Iraqi bayonets). This is not correct. Whether sheathed or not, bayonets may not be mailed from the CENTCOM AOR.

Under General Order 1A, servicemembers are prohibited from retaining nonissue weapons for personal use or shipping them out. CENTCOM considers bayonets to be weapons, so if they haven’t been issued they are prohibited.

Moreover, the Coalition Forces Land Component Command — the command responsible for postal and customs services for Operation Iraqi Freedom forces in Iraq and Kuwait — also prohibits the personal retention or shipping/mailing of nonissue bayonets.

As a judge advocate general who works with this issue on a daily basis, I can tell readers that the article has caused much confusion among troops who now think that the bayonet policy has changed. It has not. Nonissue bayonets have always been prohibited.

Capt. James E. Pietrangelo IIKuwait

Officer should resign

I’ve just finished reading the article “Officer punished for possessing child porn” (Aug. 1) about 1st Lt. Andrew Rutan and his punishment, if one can call it that. I’m still shaking my head.

First Lt. Rutan should do the honorable thing and resign from the Army. If he doesn’t realize his career is finished after a conviction for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, someone should tell him. In the military, reputations precede and follow. If and when the day comes when 1st Lt. Rutan becomes a company or troop commander — which I hope never happens — how would his soldiers, especially those with children, feel about having him as their leader and someone who they’re supposed to respect? Is this an example of the “West Point Protective Association” in action?

First Lt. Rutan doesn’t belong in the Army or anyplace where there’s the slightest possibility of his being in contact with children.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher LarsenFort Des Moines, Iowa

Views strange, uninformed

This is in response to the strange and uninformed views in the letter “USO should dump Kid Rock” (July 8). The writer should bow down and thank Kid Rock or any performer who travels to these Godforsaken locations to perform for U.S. troops.

As for smoking a joint aboard Air Force One, let’s face it: we twice voted in as president a draft dodger/dope smoker who cheated on his wife named Bill Clinton. Kid Rock did bash Clinton and the Dixie Chicks for their actions. He also praised us troops as well as George Bush for a job well done. I get the feeling that the writer’s views were purely those of a Clinton/Al Gore lover, which doesn’t surprise me.

As for turning churches into strip clubs, that’s freedom of speech, as well as Kitana Baker’s blouse. This is what America is about — the freedom to do and say what we want. As for flipping the finger, that clearly says that we don’t take crap from anyone, which is the United States through and through.

William CarrollIraq

August 23

War is not summer camp

I’m a soldier with B Company, 724th Engineer Battalion. I joined the National Guard in November 2002. I graduated Basic and Advanced Individual Training on March 13, 2003. I was deployed on March 15 with no warning. We got to Kuwait in May. We made our way north around a month later. It’s now August and we won’t be leaving until February 2004.

In every Stars and Stripes since I joined, there’s been a letter of complaint. Well, I’d like to tell all the writers to stop complaining about everything. We’re at war, not summer camp. Servicemembers signed on the line and raised their hands for whatever reason. No one wants to be here. When they complain, they should think about all the people who fought before us. Do the complainers think those people had DSN lines, air conditioning, and a constant supply of mail?

It’s really sad to read so many higher-ranking members whining about whatever. They should think of all those who gave their lives in so many wars before this one. So in the words of another soldier before me, suck it up and drive on!

Pfc. Joseph MurphyIraq

Act like the best

I’m writing in regard to all the soldiers complaining that they aren’t able to go home when they thought they would. The last time I checked, this was a volunteer Army, unlike it was in some of our past wars. For instance, in World War II soldiers didn’t leave the theater until the war was over. In the Vietnam War, soldiers had to stay in country for one-year tours, not by choice but because they were drafted.

The complainers sound like members of a Boy Scout troop at summer camp for a week who miss their mommies and daddies. If someone twisted these soldiers’ arms to sign on the line, then they might have a reason to whine. But now they have to earn their college money and they don’t like it. This goes to show that American society has gotten used to handouts. This is not a welfare line. These soldiers need to buck up and do what American taxpayers are paying us to do whether they like it or not.

It’s understandable that these soldiers miss their families. I have a family that I haven’t lived with for almost two years. But this doesn’t give soldiers the right to talk to the media and express their opinions on our leadership. They are giving the enemy one more tool to help their cause. If the enemy sees that our soldiers are against the mission or even thinks they might be against it, the enemy knows the American people will follow. Then we just might leave Iraq to them. And then the soldiers who have already given their lives and the ones who will unfortunately give theirs as we carry out this mission will have done so in vain.

I’m not ready to do that. We run around beating our chests and talking about how tough the U.S. military is, and when it’s time to put up or shut up we act like a bunch of spoiled kids. These soldiers need to stop crying and drive on. We are the best, so let’s act like it.

Sgt. John F. ObenraderMosul, Iraq

Water solution

I don’t know what’s harder: weaning my 2-year-old son off his baby bottle or weaning an Army soldier off his water bottle. My son cried for a little while, but he learned to adapt after a few days. Privates first class — and plenty of their leaders — have had a more difficult time. “Where’s my water bottle?” “I only get two water bottles a day.” “People are fainting from dehydration.” “Waaah.”

When first preparing for water distribution in the Baghdad International Airport area, our support operations section initially planned to be self-sufficient by June 1. By then, the theater would no longer issue bottled water because reverse osmosis water purification units, water buffalos, and other water distribution assets would be in place.

But some higher-ups, knowing that soldiers liked bottled water and trying to make them more comfortable, decided to continue distributing bottled water. This has been at no small expense and has been a massive logistical nightmare. But hey, anything for the Joes, right? But once again, something intended to be a morale booster has fed the ever-present, overdeveloped sense of entitlement that defines the character of many of today’s soldiers.

We won World War II, and if readers can believe it, we did it without a single plastic bottle of water. If my assumption is correct, we even had GIs survive in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, and they made it without bottled water.

Nowadays if soldiers don’t have bottled water, they’re going to die of dehydration. Heaven forbid a soldier dig through ye ol’ rucksack and find the one-quart canteen, or even better, the improved two-quart canteen, and fill it and refill it with water from a water buffalo or a five-gallon jug. In fact, plastic water bottles are refillable, too. Then a soldier can drink to his heart’s content. If it takes someone with more rank than a private first class to come up with that idea, we’re in trouble.

I have no problem providing support to all of my customer units. And if I could, I’d flood them with a deluge of bottled water. I will also never take away a soldier’s final right — the right to complain. I could simply say what I occasionally have to tell my 2-year-old son, which is, “Buck up!” But a dumb complaint with a more-than-easy solution deserves a response. So those complaining about bottled water should find their canteens. I promise they’ll survive.

1st Lt. Nathan E. HenryLog Base Seitz, Iraq

Bridge construction

This is in response to the nice article “Mending Iraq with tools, not weapons” (July 18). It was about the bridge built in Zubadiyah during the last two weeks of June.

I’m a member of the 1437th Engineer Company, a multirole bridge company from the Michigan National Guard. Our guard unit was activated in January in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After being sent to Kuwait in March, our bridge company was attached to the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

The point of this letter is to report a misrepresentation in the article. Our bridge company was tasked with using our MK2 assault boats to aid in the construction of the bridge and its pontoons. We aided many of the Seabees with the construction of the bridge sections. Our boats and skilled engineers were not credited for the work we did.

With all due respect to the 133rd Battalion of Seabees, our little MRBC from Michigan did just as much work as the Seabees with zero recognition. We realize that we were simply tasked with this job versus volunteering. But how are we supposed to show our grandkids this article and tell them we were there? Many of us aren’t even going to cut out the article, and we all worked very diligently toward the bridge’s completion.

Spc. Nicholas HuyckCamp Tarawa, Kuwait

Leave denied

I’m a U.S. soldier in Iraq serving my country. I received a Red Cross message that said my great-grandmother, who raised me all of my life, passed away. My higher headquarters did not send the message all the way down the chain. My company had to go out on its own to retrieve my message. After three days my leave form was sent in, and the day before my great-grandmother’s funeral I was denied leave. I was not given a reason. Why? This woman was the biggest factor in my life. She encouraged me to join the Army.

We defend our country every day, and we should have the opportunity to go home and take care of our families and loved ones when they need us. We’ve earned that right at least.

Spc. Alanda DavisIraq

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