August 3

Harsh reality

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

August 3 Harsh reality Gun trucks Couple in Iraq Different opinion Help out with mail Thanks USO, Kid Rock Morale and welfareAugust 4 Mission comes first Wounded GI treated right Suggestions ludicrous Playboy not pornographyAugust 5 Rationing health care One-year deployment too long Luxuries response Freedom of pressAugust 6 Close to imprisonment Madness continues Someone to write to Bridge company helped, too Mail situation Badges for medicsAugust 7 Volunteers Child porn case True friends Arrogance and ignorance Paintball storyAugust 8 Whining is offensive 82nd Airborne the best Day at the beach Double standard USO showsAugust 9 Follow the oath Priorities wrong Working the mail Phone rates

It frustrates me that those who want to tell soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq to buck up are in the U.S. or Germany. None of them knows what it’s really like out here. I’m tired of people like the writer of the letter “Attitude appalling” (July 20) who say that noncommissioned officers’ attitudes out here are appalling. I’ll tell reader’s what’s appalling: The way officers, especially upper-level officers, have stripped NCOs of their ability to take care of their soldiers and give them direction. Why would the Army’s backbone, the NCO Corps, have its soldiers puzzled and perplexed at this deployment/war? It’s because the ones in power are the officers, and they’ve drawn us all out here into this conflict without a real mission just to fulfill their need for promotion or recognition.

There are thousands of soldiers in Kuwait who were never supposed to be here. My unit was told that we weren’t supposed to be here. We were told by a lieutenant colonel on our second day in country that we were supposed to demobilize and return home. We asked if we could return. He laughed and said, “No. We got you here. Now we will find something for you.” As with tens of hundreds of other units, we were without a mission. How do readers think our morale was as of day two in country, let alone all the other units that sat here waiting for a job but never got one? Like us, they are still waiting for a way home.

I feel bad for 3rd Infantry Division soldiers and everyone on this deployment. We got shafted by upper-level officers who don’t care about their soldiers’ well-being and are so selfish that they’d mobilize battalions and battalions of soldiers who are not needed and have no mission. Then those officers return home without their soldiers, who are stuck in country with new officers who want to get theirs and are thinking of themselves, not their soldiers.

It is so much worse. If I could only find the words to describe the harsh reality here in Kuwait and Iraq, I would. Politics and selfishness are at the lead of this nation-building operation, the complete opposite of all Army values.

So the next time anyone wants to slam NCOs or any other soldiers for the situation that we’re in, they shouldn’t blame us. They should look at the big picture and see what hell we live in out here. They have no right to sit in Germany or the States and judge us and our conditions.

Spc. Jason K. SappKuwait

Gun trucks

During the Vietnam War, U.S. armed forces had to deal with the same problem we have in Iraq — attacks on our convoys by small bands of guerrillas using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The solution was gun trucks. Trucks weighing 2.5 and 5 tons were modified with add-on armor, sandbags and increased armament. This was done locally in the field at first. Standardized kits were developed later.

This could be done again in Iraq with all the manufacturing and materials obtained locally. A sandwich of steel plates and ceramic floor tiles could be made to break up the jet from a RPG and be fitted to the doors of trucks and Humvees. Simple sleet steel or canvas roofs with sharp slopes over the open beds would keep grenades from being tossed inside the vehicles.

Master Sgt. Michael KalbfleischRamstein Air Base, Germany

Couple in Iraq

I’d like to comment on the story “Couple cross paths despite separation” (May 3). My name is Steven Torres. My wife Laura R. Torres and I are from an Army Reserve unit out of Reading, Pa. We’re in the 733rd Transportation Company under the 553rd Combat Support Battalion. We deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom on Jan. 21. My wife and I are even luckier than the couple in the article. She’s a mechanic and I’m one of the truck masters for the company. We see each other every day and even have meals together. We often talk about how lucky we are to be together, and we’re very proud to be serving our country together. We’re currently located at Forward Operating Base Speicher supporting the 4th Infantry Division.

Sgt. Steven TorresForward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq

Different opinion

This is in response to the letter “Teach Germany a lesson” (July 27). The writer listed a lot of different ways Germany should or could get “punished” because German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and certain individuals didn’t support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The writer said American restaurants like McDoanld’s should be closed, no American movies and CDs should be sold, etc.

I hope when the writer gets back to Germany he doesn’t drink any German beer, doesn’t visit Oktoberfest, doesn’t drive a BMW, Mercedes or Volkwagen, doesn’t drive on German autobahns, only shops on post, has no telephone (don’t want to support Deutsche Telekom), and doesn’t go skiing in Garmisch. After all, the writer wants to teach Germans a lesson. So why doesn’t the writer be a good example to us and start to boycott Germany first?

Just because a few Germans didn’t support the Iraq war doesn’t mean all of Germany should be boycotted. There is something called freedom of speech and being of a different opinion. What kind of world would we live in if we’d boycott or try to teach every country and every person a lesson that didn’t agree with our point of view?

Becky BrownGiebelstadt, Germany

Help out with mail

I’m currently smack dab in the middle of Iraq. Receiving mail is a great morale booster. But those complaining about the mail service have to take into account the amount of mail being sent to Iraq. Instead of complaining, how about using that energy to volunteer at the mail room? Bad-mouthing the mail handlers is wrong and very disrespectful to all the people who work those “extra” Saturdays to ensure we get mail.

I can’t believe all the letters complaining about slow mail service. What have the complainers done to help improve the system? Complaining doesn’t work. How about suggesting possible solutions? All the complainers seem to be experts. I appreciate every letter and package I get. I don’t care how late it comes. The fact is, it got to me.

As far as e-mail and telephones, they’re nice extras. But what people must realize is that we’re in Baghdad. Electricity is out three-fourths of each day. CNN and Fox News have been more than willing to let soldiers use their phones when the power is on.

I thank all the great people who work long and hard to get us mail.

Staff Sgt. Sean D. FoxBaghdad, Iraq

Thanks USO, Kid Rock

I’m writing to respond to the letters bashing the USO for bringing Kid Rock to play for our soldiers in Iraq. Yes, Kid Rock may have talked/sang about sex and smoking dope and even gave the finger to the crowd. But at least he came out to entertain our soldiers and allowed them a few hours to forget that someone is out there trying to kill them every day.

That might not seem like much to those who aren’t here or those who are here but never leave the compound. But to those of us out there every day, those couple of hours were precious. I was working in a tower guarding our camp when the show was going on, but I know my platoon’s soldiers had a good time. It was all we heard about for a couple of days.

So Kid Rock and the USO should keep it up. It’s appreciated.

Staff Sgt. Travis P. SpearsBaghdad, Iraq

Morale and welfare

Whatever happened to the morale and welfare of soldiers? As a former Marine, I see the tremendous difference in training, discipline and “esprit de corps.” I’m a soldier assigned to the 180th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas, and I’m currently deployed to Iraq. In January my platoon and I returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Two months later our company deployed 141 of its 166 soldiers to Iraq. I was home on leave in San Diego, Calif., for a week and a half and was called back due to “preparation” for another deployment. We deployed a month later. I had asked for a measly 21 days of leave after a tough six months overseas to spend time with my family and friends, but was called back early to sit around until the actual deployment.

I’ve been in Kuwait/Iraq for a little more than four months now, and I’m extremely tired of the deployment and especially of my unsupportive company. In all actuality, our company has no mission here, so we’re just “here.” One would think the chain of command would realize that it has soldiers who really don’t need to be here, such as the Afghanistan personnel and those who are getting out within the next month or so. The ETSers are “scheduled” to leave in August, according to “word of mouth.” But if the Afghanistan personnel are sent home, the company would be below deployment percentage.

If the chain of command would take heed and be concerned about the morale of its soldiers, I’m sure that it would have a contingency plan to get us home. If it really wanted it done, I assure readers that it could get done. So while I’m here soaking up the blazing sun, hot air and dust of Iraq, the rest of the company is soaking up air conditioning in Kuwait, including the higher-ups like the company commander and first sergeant.

With a company and “leadership” like mine, it’s no wonder why soldiers have no morale and don’t want to re-enlist. I have a very negative attitude now, and I’ll continue to be that way because the company continues to be that way toward me and my peers. They don’t care, so why should I? I ask again, whatever happened to the morale and welfare of soldiers?

Spc. Darnell BelcherCamp Dogwood, Iraq

August 4

Mission comes first

This is in response to the soldiers who had less than kind words to say on television about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They complained about being out here for X amount of time and being given different dates for their return to the United States. Well, I’ve been out here in Kuwait for six months going on seven. While we’ve also been given several different dates of return, one thing that we were told even before we came here was that we should plan on being here for at least a year. In Vietnam a Marine’s tour of duty was 13 months. During World War II and Korea it was as long as it took to secure the theater for which they were responsible.

I don’t think Secretary Rumsfeld is sitting in his office trying to devise ways to screw us over and make us stay here longer just because he can. He was a serviceman himself, and I’m quite sure he knows of the hardships we go through. The bottom line is that mission accomplishment comes before troop welfare, period. I don’t like staying out here any more than those soldiers do. But I’m a Marine and I’ve been given my mission. I’m going to do my best to accomplish it, whether it takes seven months or one year and seven months.

Perhaps these soldiers are under the impression, as are some of our civilian counterparts back home, that a war can be successfully prosecuted and all the troops can be back home in six months. Well, we can’t. This thing is a bigger manpower and logistical nightmare than can be imagined, even on a small unit level. These soldiers should just ask their S-4s. I’d hate to imagine what it’s like trying to coordinate a return home for every single soldier, sailor, airman and Marine in the entire theater of operation.

And as far as having freedom of speech and thinking we should be able to say whatever we want whenever we want, those soldiers should think about this: They would not tolerate any of their privates questioning their decisions and asking them to step down as squad leaders or platoon sergeants. That’s especially true in a medium as widely broadcast as the national news. So these soldiers’ superiors should not be expected to tolerate it from any of them.

Sgt. Eric M. GrussAli Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait

Wounded GI treated right

I’d like to show my appreciation to the people at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and the military families of that area. I’m a soldier who was wounded in Iraq and medically evacuated to Landstuhl for medical care. When I arrived I didn’t have any clothes, money, wallet or ID card. I had nothing. Soon after arriving, I was given civilian clothes and shoes as well as a new ID card. The nursing staff and doctors were very professional. I could tell they cared about the jobs they had to do.

When I was being discharged and on my way back to Iraq, I needed a little cash. I called home and asked my mom to send me some money because my ATM card was still in Iraq. I was expecting a Western Union Moneygram from the States. When I went to the bank the Western Union machine was down and it was unknown if it would be up by the time I was going back downrange. I was leaving for Iraq in a couple of hours. I didn’t have any money.

I explained the situation to the women at the Rhein-Main bank and asked if there was anything I could do. Out of kindness, one woman gave me some cash until I was able to get some money from Western Union. I didn’t want her money, but she insisted that I take it and thanked me for the job we soldiers are doing in Operation Iraq Freedom. She then sent me to the USO inside the airport terminal, where an Air Force master sergeant did the same thing for me.

I was completely amazed. These people did this out of the kindness of their hearts. I don’t know if I will ever see these people again, but I really appreciate what they did for me at a time that I really needed it.

The people of these military communities make soldiers like me and others in similar situations feel great. I again thank the military personnel and families of these communities. They really made me feel welcome.

Staff Sgt. Monte WebsterIraq

Suggestions ludicrous

I sympathize with the writer of the letter “Teach Germany a lesson” (July 27). He’s in a miserable situation, risking his life for those who appreciate what he’s doing and those who would kill him for it. But his suggestions are ludicrous.

Closing down American restaurants like McDonald’s would mean financial losses for American corporations that own licenses for such chains. Refusing to export American-produced movies would mean huge losses for the movie industry. Studios count on foreign box office receipts, especially when releasing the “big pecs, big guns, big explosions” action movies — the ones the testosterone-based life-forms line up to see. Action movies do well internationally, owing to the lack of complex dialog to translate. The German movie industry (yes, there is one and it’s doing quite well) would step up to fill the void. Yeah, that’ll teach ’em.

Not releasing CDs by American artists would hurt the music industry. But as greedy as they’ve become, that’s OK by me. American artists who would refuse to tour here would punish no one but themselves and their American fans stationed here. And in case the writer hasn’t noticed, plenty of American musicians have spoken out against our military action in Iraq, as is their First Amendment-guaranteed right. (Please note that I said against our military action, not against our military itself.)

Just as I don’t want to be judged solely by the decisions of my nation’s leadership, it’s patently ridiculous to assume that all Germans are in agreement with their leadership. If U.S. Army Europe and U.S. Air Force Europe decide to move their bases east, so be it. But the “I’m taking my toys and going home” and “you’re not my friend anymore” mentality is that of a 3-year-old.

I’ll concede one point to the writer: I wouldn’t watch a German movie dubbed in English either. I’d watch it in German with English subtitles.

Elisa MartinKaiserslautern, Germany

Playboy not pornography

I’m responding to the letter “Playboy model inappropriate” (July 13). I was at the show in Baghdad to which the writer referred. It annoys me that the USO takes the time and effort to schedule a concert and all people can say is that they’re upset at who was invited to come. The USO is doing a wonderful job. We soldiers deployed to Baghdad are on the whole greatly appreciative of its efforts.

While the writer was correct in saying that pornography is documented in many sex crimes, he was incorrect in comparing Playboy to pornography. Webster’s dictionary defines pornography as “the presentation of sexually explicit behavior.” All photos in Playboy are classified by the U.S. military as art. None of the women in Playboy are engaged in any sexually explicit acts. Nudity in and of itself is not a sexual act. That’s the reason AAFES doesn’t sell magazines like Hustler or Penthouse. Those are indeed pornography.

Before people attack an organization for its efforts to make our lives better, they should take a step back and do some research into what they’re complaining about. If Leann Tweeden’s presence honestly offended the writer that much, why did he even show up?

Sgt. James HendrixBaghdad International Airport, Iraq

August 5

Rationing health care

The military promotes “free” health care as a benefit when recruiting. The public perceives this as worthwhile and looks upon military families with envy. But readers should remember what grandmother said: “Nothing is free in life.” The same can be applied to this “benefit” for military members and their dependents.

My husband began having neck and shoulder problems two months ago and made an appointment with the on-base family practitioner. He was prescribed some medications and physical therapy. After a couple weeks of more narcotics and physical therapy, he visited the doctor again and specifically asked for an MRI. Instead, he was given a different narcotic and told to continue to take medication.

After seven weeks of asking for help, a nurse practitioner made arrangements for my husband to receive an MRI. The MRI showed what could have been diagnosed early on had the doctor felt my husband was “worth the cost” of an MRI in the beginning. A neurosurgeon diagnosed him with one “severe” herniated disc and one “moderate” herniated disk in his lower neck. The only option at this point is surgery.

Recently I, too, had some medical oddities happening, including severe headaches. After running some blood work to rule out a few things, I was told by my doctor (the same one who rationed the MRI with my husband), “Do I give you an MRI when there aren’t very many indications, or do I spend the money on someone else who might have more indications?” Simply said, I was not worth the cost of an MRI, even though the doctor had not addressed the cause or source of my headaches.

Five years ago we were met with another set of doctors in the U.S. who also had the bottom line in mind. They decided to forgo a Caesarean section during the delivery of our second child. My daughter died two and a half years later from complications caused by that fatal decision, and she struggled for every single breath of her short, painful life. Was her life not worth the cost?

That’s the “free” health care. What a benefit. If this was the first time it had happened, I may have blown it off as bad luck. But as infrequently as we are sick, I’m always amazed at the rationing of tests in the name of saving an almighty dollar.

This Russian roulette system of “practicing” medicine is not acceptable for military members who spend months deployed away from their families and are ready at any moment to put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and the principles for which America stands. Substandard health care should not simply be accepted because it’s “free.” Our military members and their families are a valuable asset and should be invested in wisely.

Kirsten ReedRamstein Air Base, Germany

One-year deployment too long

Why would anyone think it’s OK to deploy a GI for a year? Who’s excited about that? I’m not convinced that this is good news for anyone, especially anyone already deployed here in Iraq. Yes, we’ve all been asking for a date of eligibility return from overseas or to know when we’re expected to leave. But a year? That’s a year away from home, away from my family, and away from my life. It’s not acceptable.

As for those who say that all the GIs here are motivated and have high morale, all I can say is that they don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the GIs. Either that or they aren’t here. I want to hear what soldiers really think who just came back from deployments and are now scheduled to come to Iraq for a year. I’m sure there are some soldiers in Iraq who have high morale. But the continuous beating from the conditions, the heat, the Department of Defense and the Army will soon strip that away from them as well. Sometimes soldiers reach their limits and have enough.

I come in contact with numerous soldiers, officers, junior leaders and senior leaders on a daily basis. The conversations are all nearly the same: about getting out of the Army, out of Iraq or finding ways to prevent it from happening to them again.

I also wonder why no one can tell GIs what’s going on. If we’re two weeks from completing a mission, why can’t someone tell me today what’s happening with me and the unit? Are commanders asking questions or waiting for information to be volunteered? It seems to me that a lack of direction and purpose leads to a lack of leadership and motivation.

Since GIs are expected to stay in Iraq for a year when the few airmen here are on 120-day rotations, what’s the plan to send GIs back to the U.S on leave to visit their families and try to hold their lives together until the deployment is complete?

The benefit of this deployment for the average soldier is invisible. I understand the benefit to our nation. If I’m asked to give 100 percent, why does it always seem that the return is only about 5 percent? Why is everything such a secret? And is anyone really in charge? I can’t tell. Who can answer these questions?

Sgt. 1st Class Darren GaddyIraq

Luxuries response

This is in response to the letter “Disproportionate luxuries” (July 10). The writer complained about Air Force “luxuries” for folks in Kuwait and Iraq. Perhaps the writer misunderstood why the Air Force is consistently ranked higher than its sister services in all things morale-wise. The Air Force seems to understand what it takes to make its folks happy, deployed or not. The happier the airmen are, the better the morale, the better the work, the faster the job gets done, and the sooner everybody comes home to real luxuries.

I’m truly sorry that Army folks don’t have air conditioners in their tents, enough bedding to go around, or ice cream makers. But the writer should understand that the Air Force gets a certain amount every year to spend in the Department of Defense budget, as does the Army. The Air Force spends it on what their folks want. The Army seems not to do so, even though soldiers are sent to far worse places, far more often, and for far longer than their Air Force counterparts.

I suggest the writer send a series of letters to Gen. John Abizaid, Gen. John M. Keane, and her elected officials. While it’s horrific to think that U.S. Army folks aren’t getting the basics for their job in Iraq, it isn’t the Air Force’s fault. And it isn’t the Air Force’s duty to spend its funds in a way the letter writer and the rest of the Army feel is appropriate.

The writer and her husband willingly joined the Army, not the Air Force. As such, they should complain to their service about their treatment, not harangue their sister services for better treatment.

Rhianna M. SchoonoverRAF Croughton, England

Freedom of press

I’d like to comment on the letter “BBC news” (July 23). The writer, who’s in Baghdad, said he’s tired of the British Broadcasting Company bad-mouthing our country and the commander in chief. He also said he sincerely hopes that AFN can get a radio station set up soon so “we can listen to some unbiased news that isn’t clouded with righteous arrogance.”

What the writer is hearing from the BBC is freedom of the press. One of the world’s largest and most respected networks has found out, after supporting the efforts of the U.S. military, Tony Blair and President Bush, that the reasons for starting the Iraq war may have been based on lies. They are doing investigative reporting much like ABC, CBS and CNN.

Doesn’t the writer want to know if his comrades died for weapons of mass destruction or oil? What’s wrong with interviewing the fallen, not just the victors? Is the writer afraid to hear what a war does to men, women, children and communities? The fact that the writer only wants to listen to AFN’s “unbiased” reports shows me that he has a lot of the “righteous arrogance” that he accused the BBC of having.

Klaus D. PaulVogelweh, Germany

August 6

Close to imprisonment

I want to express to readers the psychological war that grips us now in Iraq. I’m a Gulf War veteran with 15 years of service. I’m stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and have been assigned to the 2/20th Field Artillery (Multiple Launch Rocket System). Since deploying in March with the 4th Infantry Division, we have not fired one rocket or missile. We’ve done nothing but patrol local towns and cities, and sit around wondering when we’ll go home. Although 4th ID units took part in the actual conflict and some battles were very intense and bloody, most division soldiers didn’t fight in the war.

It would upset me greatly if I were redeployed before those units that were here before me and took part in the fight. Like those in the 3rd Infantry Division, we ask ourselves daily what we’re here for, but no straightforward answers are ever given. Our mission has never been clearly defined. After patrolling a town or city for two or three weeks, we move and leave the townspeople unprotected and vulnerable to any group of armed militia that may come along. What’s the point in helping these people if we leave a short time later and allow their homes and lives to be torn apart again?

The troops in my unit and several other soldiers I’ve met are psychologically drained because our current situation is monotonous and boring. There is almost no information flow as to what’s going on with the redeployment scheme and where we fit into it. Morale dips lower each time we miss a redeployment date. There have been two so far.

I’m no hero and deserve nothing for my participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But what we all deserve is a clear-cut, concrete answer to when we can go home. Everyone in this theater deserves that. The hierarchy of command is so secretive about everything. They only help in bringing down the spirits and morale of their soldiers. I’ve never been a prisoner, but this deployment is as close to imprisonment as I ever want to be. Even incarcerated people know when they can go home.

Staff Sgt. S.A. MorganIraq

Madness continues

My name is Staff Sgt. Roger Anderson. I’m a member of the 1166th Military Police Company out of the great state of Alabama. Today is Friday, July 17, another hot day in Iraq. It’s been strange for me since day one of this deployment because it happened so quick. We were mobilized to Fort Stewart, Ga., on Feb. 10 and were treated like inmates for the almost two months that we were there. We weren’t allowed to leave post, and when family members came to see us we had to sit out under pine trees and look at each other. I don’t think it was fair because our family members were driving as long as eight to nine hours one way to visit us.

On March 28 we left Fort Stewart with orders to go to Camp Doha, Kuwait. But instead we went to Camp Arifjan, where we lodged for an entire month before leaving for Baghdad without any orders.

Now that we’re here in Iraq, the madness continues. We still have no mission, and soldiers’ morale and welfare are at their lowest. One question on all of our minds is, are we legally supposed to be here? We have no Morale, Welfare and Recreation support, and can only use the phones at battalion every four days. We are quickly approaching 180 days of being deployed, and as of yet no one can even tell us when we’re going home.

Staff Sgt. Roger B. AndersonIraq

Someone to write to

I don’t really have any complaints or worries to address in this letter. Rather, I just need someone to write to other than my parents. Stars and Stripes is doing a great job of covering the goings-on in Iraq and back in Germany. As a member of the 1st Armored Division, it’s important to me to read a little about Germany from time to time. It’s just a little touch of home, especially for those married people whose families are waiting for their loved ones to return to Germany safe and sound.

I’m a single soldier, so I’ve chosen to write to Stripes for the lack of anyone else to write to. I just need something to do between all the patrols, guard duties, and details that are thrown my way every day.

Thanks a lot, Stars and Stripes. Stripes is on point for the nation!

Sgt. Jeremy S. ToneyIraq

Bridge company helped, too

This is in regard to the article “Mending Iraq with tools, not weapons” (July 18). I was offended because the article made it sound as if the Seabees were the only ones who did a majority of the work on the Zubadiyah Bridge. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The 1437th Multi-Role Bridge Company, a Michigan National Guard Unit out of Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., played just as important a role but received no credit. I feel a great journalistic injustice was done by only referring to us as soldiers.

Our boats were more than crucial in putting pontoons in place. We also set up interior and exterior bays to transport Seabees’ equipment to the opposite shore. This saved them from driving one and a half hours to get there. Our bridging expertise was crucial during certain phases of the process. Our welder had to fix one pontoon which was punctured by a forklift operator. He also had to cut anchor chains on the floating buoys to make way for the bridge. As the unit’s bulk fuel specialist, my job was to fuel the Seabees’ welder, crane and other support equipment.

I don’t take anything away from the hard work the Seabees did. But the reporter could have taken the time to give credit by unit to the Marines who provided security and the 1437th MRBC.

Sgt. Mark J. HoustonIraq

Mail situation

I know everyone is sick of reading about the mail situation in Iraq. I am, too. That’s why I’m writing with the hope that I may be able to help fix the problem.

Recently I received a package from my mother. Upon opening it I found a note from a customs inspector who checked my package. It was so messy that no one in my unit could read it. I also found that one of my magazines was missing and several newspapers were ripped up.

Today was my phone day. I called my mother and told her about the package. It turns out that she didn’t send me some of the things that were in the box, such as a VHS tape from a church at Fort Hood, Texas, and some audiocassette tapes. Nor did she have any idea how a torn latex glove wound up in the package.

I’m not really upset about this, but I feel sorry for the soldier whose stuff I received. I just think that it’s time the military fixes the mail service and gives units a date when they can expect to go home. How is it that a military that takes over a country in three weeks can’t fix the mail system in four months?

Sgt. Chris SmithBaghdad, Iraq

Badges for medics

This is in response to the letter “Combat badges story” (July 2). I have to agree with the writer about who is awarded the combat medic badge. I’m also a medic who’s currently serving in an aviation unit in the 4th Infantry Division. I’ve been attached with many other units and have flown on many missions in which I’ve had to return fire.

We no longer fight countries that follow the Geneva Conventions. Medics get fired at while rushing to patients. Yes, we’re not infantrymen. But medics still dodge fire to save our patients. We also risk our lives conducting day-to-day operations such as guard duty, roving guard duty, convoy supports and flight patrol medical support.

Infantry medics or not, we’re all combat medics. Many medics, male and female, have put their lives on the line. Why can’t we get our respect, too?

Spc. Patrick YsaquirreIraq

August 7


I’m writing in response to all the controversy about staying here in Iraq for up to a year. My unit, the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade from Vicenza, Italy, is slated to stay here until April 2004. Am I happy about this? No. Yet a recruiter didn’t march me away to the Army at gunpoint. I’m a volunteer. I’m here because of a choice I made. When I was a drill sergeant, I used to ask, “Is there anyone here who did not volunteer?” Nothing but silence.

I hear people say that “we were lied to” or who ask, “Why is this taking so long?” Why? Because war, multiethnic cultural changes, and 30 years of living under an oppressive regime takes time to change. Do I like it here? No. Do I want to see my wife and kids? Yes. Are they happy about me being gone for 13 months? No. But I volunteered. They understand that.

When I start to feel sorry for myself, I think of the book “Band of Brothers.” They stayed away from family and friends a lot longer than 13 months. How about one year in Vietnam? Or how about a year in the trenches of France in World War I? And they were ordered by law to do it.

I’m an Airborne Rifle Company first sergeant. We parachuted into northern Iraq on March 26. We opened the northern front. No one is mandated to become a paratrooper. We’re volunteers. How did I know my men would follow me out of the plane? Once again, volunteers.

As I watch my company conduct raids, patrol streets, conduct traffic control points, escort VIPs, do community improvement and run police stations, I can’t help but be amazed at the ingenuity and daily acts of valor these men perform every day. Even when they’ve been wounded, their spirits were high. I’m not saying paratroopers don’t complain. But when it comes to taking ownership of orders, rucking-up, and executing the mission, they are the best I’ve ever seen.

1st Sgt. Richard W. WeikKirkuk, Iraq

Child porn case

One wonders if the term “military justice” is an oxymoron. Stars and Stripes ran the story “Officer punished for possessing child porn” (Aug. 1) about 1st Lt. Andrew Rutan receiving a monthly fine and reprimand for possessing child pornography. Stripes also ran the story “Double standard claimed over anthrax” (Aug. 2) about soldiers who are doing jail time because they refused to take an anthrax shot.

The images that Rutan, a West Point graduate, had on his computer were graphic enough to cause jurors to look away when they were shown in the courtroom. Yet Rutan’s attorney apparently was able to convince the court that Rutan thought this was “art.”

How will Rutan lead troops in the future? I hope his soldiers keep an eye on him when he’s around their children during organizational days.

Testimony was provided that Rutan is an “outstanding soldier.” A good soldier is a well-balanced soldier, not one who likes to look at naked little girls. Child pornography is not a victimless crime. The children in those images are victimized each time they’re viewed. That Rutan remains in the Army as an officer is shameful.

Brian OldenWürzburg, Germany

True friends

This is in response to the letter “Teach Germany a lesson” (July 27). I’ve been in Germany for almost four years now with the 1st Infantry Division, and I’ve seen a great deal of the country’s people and culture. I’ve been to countless partnership events where I’ve witnessed a bond and strength between American and German soldiers which is unparalleled anywhere else. I’ve seen our key leaders and our young soldiers work side by side to defend the rights and freedoms of each other. I saw Würzburg’s Fire Brigade lay down wreaths of sorrow on Sept. 11, 2001. I’ve seen what true friendship is, and Germans are our best allies.

Sometimes friends disagree, but when it comes down to it they stand by each other. Around the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom I received countless e-mails and letters from Germans who I’d never met. They said that they stood by their American brethren and that they hoped we stayed safe. This is the character of true friends.

So Germans don’t want to go to war. Fine. Who does? There isn’t a single sane person who wants war. Unfortunately, not all leaders recognize that war must take place to have peace. As America stepped forward to make the world a better place, I knew that the Germans would stand by us.

The letter writer wants to isolate Germans by taking away American movies and establishments. The writer wants to isolate Germany? Then Americans should give back their German wives and children and ban hard-working German-Americans who helped build our nation along with other races who were fleeing persecution.

Some of us want to persecute from afar. When we decide that we’re so high and mighty that we can hurt others by taking away our ideals, then we ourselves have destroyed what we stand for: freedom and choice.

I’m a Mexican-American and proud of where I come from. I have German family in the States. North, south, east and west, there’s not a place in Germany where I don’t have friends. There are two Germans who I consider parents who I love just as my own. I would lay down my life for this country as well as for America because I know these people would do the same for me. So the writer should think about that the next time he wants to hurt our German allies.

Cpl. Jared LueraWürzburg, Germany

Arrogance and ignorance

I have one thing to say to the writer of the letter “Teach Germany a lesson” (July 27): It seems arrogance, ignorance and stupidity know no boundaries.

Frauke M. BellStuttgart, Germany

Paintball story

I’m a petty officer 1st class currently stationed in Rota, Spain, who is the only American on a Spanish paintball team that competes internationally in Europe. In my years of playing, I’ve made every effort to properly educate and introduce people to this wonderful sport. I even organized the first-ever paintball event on board Naval Station Rota Spain. I’m thrilled each time I see paintball associated with the military.

So readers can imagine how excited I was to see the story “Paint wars” (Aug. 3). I was thinking how great it was that paintball and the military might again be publicized in a positive light until I opened to the first page of the article. What was the first thing I saw? Someone playing in a sleeveless shirt. What made matters worse is that he’s an E-6.

Paintball’s biggest problems are image and negative publicity. Everybody in the sport can be obeying all the rules and laws and minding their own business. But when we get that one person who wants to do something stupid, then that’s all we hear about. Then all of a sudden paintball gets outlawed, as it has been in too many places already.

Naval safety requires those playing paintball to wear long sleeves and pants, among other things. And here we had a petty officer first class, a supposed leader, in the biggest picture with the article showing everyone how he plays paintball.

In my opinion, no publicity is better than negative publicity. If this is any reflection of what Stars and Stripes plans to print in the future concerning paintball, please don’t bother.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ernie TorresRota, Spain

August 8

Whining is offensive

I’m a Marine stationed in Al Kut, Iraq. I’m also a Reserve Marine. I’m continually amazed by recent letters from various military personnel complaining about their conditions. The letter “Support us” (July 27) was amazing and offensive to any war- fighter. It said, “We have soldiers here who merely raised their right hands for college money and instead have M-16s and have been sent to war.” Imagine that! Joining a warfighting organization that’s mission is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, and then being asked to do just that. I agree that certainly does not sound like raising a right hand for college.

For those who believe that’s why they joined the military, therein lies the problem. They didn’t raise their right hands to go to college. They raised their right hands to have the honor to serve in the finest fighting force the world has ever seen. They raised their right hands to serve wherever, whenever and in whatever conditions to get the mission accomplished.

Do these writers think our leadership is unaware of the problems and aren’t attempting to solve them as fast as they can? Of course they are. In the meantime, we’re all living in less than desirable conditions.

The Marines in our infantry battalion didn’t join the Marine Corps to go to college. They joined the Marine Corps to destroy the enemies of our country, bring stability and security to the people of Iraq and whatever other missions are assigned by higher headquarters. We didn’t join to make public complaints because conditions aren’t exactly good or to our liking.

Our advice to those who constantly complain about their conditions are simple: 1) They should talk more to their chain of command and help them make conditions better; 2) Suck it up and act like professionals regardless of their conditions; and 3) If they still believe they joined a warfighting establishment with the primary goal of going to school or something other than warfighting, and warfighting is just too hard, they should consider long-term employment elsewhere.

This kind of whining is offensive to the servicemembers who are completing their missions every day without complaint.

Robert W. JohnstonChief Warrant OfficerAl Kut, Iraq

82nd Airborne the best

This is in response to the story “Army: Iraq deployments a minimum of a year” (July 24). To suggest that the 82nd Airborne Division is the only unit that will not pull a one-year rotation is pure nonsense and staggeringly ignorant. The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (325th Airborne Infantry Regiment) has been in the region since mid-February and in Iraq since late March. It will not rotate out of Iraq until sometime next January.

Redeployment in January will probably mean arriving home in mid-February of 2004. Is my math wrong? Does that not equal 12 months? But maybe we’ll get lucky and get home a few weeks short of a year.

Upon arriving home, we’ll again assume our role as the nation’s 911 force. Please tell me what other unit in the conventional Army constantly provides a task force that’s ready to deploy within 18 hours? We can accomplish this because we spend month after month on two-hour recall, bags packed and ready to go. This requires soldiers to sacrifice visiting family on long weekends and forgoing many of their favorite leisure activities.

Our brothers in the 3rd (Panther) Brigade will be here shortly. But just in case anyone thinks they’ve been having a good old time at Fort Bragg, N.C., they’ve been on two-hour recall since we left in February. Now they’ll come here, less than one year after returning from Afghanistan.

I’m sick of hearing other units criticize the 82nd Airborne. Some soldiers like to trivialize our role in the war simply because most of them don’t have what it takes to serve in the 82nd. They can call us prima donnas if they like. But knowing one’s unit is the best and not being afraid to show it is called pride. Maybe other units should go get some.

Staff Sgt. Daniel StoberBaghdad, Iraq

Day at the beach

A recent Saturday dawned bright and sunny, a perfect day for the beach. I loaded my chair and beach umbrella into my car and headed out for the American Beach run by Camp Darby, Italy. Last year my wife and I paid almost $200 for a seasonal rental of two chairs and an umbrella. But it never gave us complete shade and we were gone for 30 days leave this year, so we didn’t renew.

It costs $6 per car for entry and parking at the beach. Since I was alone on this trip, I decided to park on the street and pay the walk up fee of $2. I found a spot on the beach away from and behind the first rows of rental chairs and set up. I’d been there two hours when a lifeguard came over and told me the only chairs and umbrellas allowed were the rentals.

I found this hard to believe. I can’t bring my own? I checked with the beach manager, and he said it’s the unwritten policy that only rental sets are allowed at $6 a day. He also said they don’t post this information because a list of all the prohibited things would be too long.

Tim EdwardsLivorno, Italy

Double standard

This is concerning the story “Officer punished for possessing child porn” (Aug. 1). 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. If he’d been an enlisted GI, a court-martial would have been carried out and he’d have been sentenced to jail time, forfeiture of all pay, lost his commission, and been given a bad-conduct discharge. Instead he gets to keep his rank and career. He received a slap on the wrist by paying a fine for one year. Basically, 1st Lt. Rutan loses his special pay. That’s not a big loss for someone in his position.

I’m disappointed in the military justice system and the chain of command during the time of the investigation. Why? Because this “outstanding” GI 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 more closely at who it keeps in the ranks, be they officers or enlisted, and changes the way it punishes offenders by making sentencing even across the board. No double standard!

Marla CastroIllesheim, Germany

USO shows

This is in response to all the people who’ve been sending in negative and derogatory letters about USO directors and organizers concerning their choice of entertainers for the shows. Plain and simple, they should get over themselves. Instead of complaining, they should be thankful that people out there care enough to put together something that big for us.

They don’t approve of the Miller Lite girls, Kid Rock’s lyrics or a Playmate being brought over for a show? That’s their right. Here’s a novel idea: They shouldn’t go to such shows and let those who are interested enjoy them.

I’m sure that back in the day there were plenty of people who didn’t care for Bob Hope. But nobody complained then and nobody should now. If some people don’t like the entertainers, they shouldn’t go. The last time I checked, attendance at these shows is not mandatory. Nor do the shows prevent people from going about their daily routines. These people should get off their soapboxes, dry their eyes and get over it.

I applaud the entertainers who’ve taken the time to visit deployed soldiers. I hope they come back for future rotations. My hat is off to those in the USO who’ve had any part in organizing any show. I thank them very much and I hope they’ve seen the impact their efforts have had on the military.

Staff Sgt. Ryan B. ThomasBaghdad, Iraq

August 9

Follow the oath

This letter is directed to all the U.S. servicemembers who have been so visibly criticizing the war in Iraq, their deployment lengths, and a lack of compassion by their chains of command.

Perhaps we can put our wartime situation in perspective by thinking of all the Vietnam, World War II, and Korean War veterans who were left to fight endless wars. Sometimes they were away from home for two years at a time. They never complained to the media about how horrible their conditions were. They accepted their conditions, fought courageously for their country, and won the rest of us the freedom to whine about the status of our country. This message goes out to those servicemembers who use the media as their soapbox. They should be ashamed.

I agree that there are problems that will need to be addressed upon our homecoming. But it disgusts me to hear people whine to the papers about a seven-month deployment and being taken away from their civilian jobs. Their vociferous outbursts embarrass them, their units, their service branches, and their country. Have they ever considered the fact that our enemies love to hear stories about how much the American military hates its conditions?

Servicemembers should follow the oath that they swore to uphold and stop embarrassing their own generation. We’re here to do a job, and until we’re finished we may need to stay. They all signed up. They all owe their loyalty to their country. They shouldn’t ever forget that!

Ensign Jason C. GoodwinCharlie Surgical CompanyAd Diwaniyah, Iraq

Priorities wrong

This is in response to the letter “Check priorities” (July 30). The writer was responding to the letter “No phones, Internet” (June 23), which was written by a GI complaining about conditions in Iraq.

Maybe the writer of “Check priorities” should check his own priorities. It’s because of GIs coming home in caskets that every soldier out there should have every possible comfort. Should these guys risk their lives and then have to just grin and bear it?

The writer of “No phone, Internet” knows that every day he can leave his base and die. He wants to speak with his family as much as possible because it might literally be his last chance. The writer of “No phone, Internet” has his priorities straight. He went to Iraq to defend his family. But he was duped into a war to defend his family from a country that wasn’t even a threat to its neighbors. Now he’s out there playing bullet magnet in an utter madhouse of a country to accomplish what? Where’s the Sept. 11, 2001, connection? Where’s the weapons of mass destruction?

Before the war protesters said they supported the troops but not the war and that our soldiers should stay home. Now when I hear all of this “shout down anyone who doesn’t pull the party line” talk, I can only think that the protesters were right.

I have an idea. Why don’t all the people who supported the war and the troops get guns, get on a plane and show the whiners in Iraq how it’s done? If they’re all so tough and can take it, they should prove it.

I support our troops. When the threat is real, then I’ll gladly support them and the war they fight in any way possible, including listening to their complaints and “misplaced” priorities.

This war is a sham. It was set up on shabby intelligence and had poor post-war planning. The servicemembers out there are real. They aren’t the problem. They’re professionals. The writer of “Check priorities” supports the troops? Then he should treat them like it and get his priorities straight. The writer should give up some of his comforts and do what he can for our troops outside of shouting them down when they have legitimate complaints.

Craig LittleRamstein Air Base, Germany

Working the mail

This is in response to the letter “Mail not to standard” (July 25). I’d like to explain why we receive damaged or soiled packages. Often packages aren’t packed well. Mail is loaded and unloaded numerous times before it reaches its final destination. It’s moved, shuffled, and jarred. Packages sometimes fall apart or are ripped open, smashed and soiled. I’m a postal worker, and I’ve received such packages. Do I blame other postal workers? Absolutely not. I know how it works. Packages damaged by wetness are usually due to the popping open of bottles or containers of shampoo, lotions, or drinks. To prevent this, tops should be taped and containers put in Ziploc bags. Packages should also be well packed and taped.

We’re working the mail as soon as it arrives. The volume of mail outweighs the number of hours in a day that we have to process it. All units must notify their servicing APOs if they move to a different location. We need to know where soldiers are. If they don’t tell us, their mail will be caught up in the system. Here in Kuwait mail has arrived from the U.S. in as few as five days. After reaching Kuwait, all Iraq mail takes an extra one or two days to be transported. On average, mail has been taking eight to 10 days to reach Kuwait. The mail is trying to catch up with those in units that have jumped from here to there. Those troops should be patient and tell us where they are.

My fellow soldiers and I love, support and thank our troops for what they’re doing. We’d never purposely damage, lose or steal anyone’s mail.

I was offended by the letter writer’s statement that, “After all, the mail isn’t shooting back.” He’s saying that his job is more important than mail deliverers. I believe every military occupational specialty is important. Some may be more dangerous and difficult, but all are vital.

The mail is a source of morale, and we’re doing all we can to get it to GIs. All the complaining is lowering the morale of postal workers who bust their butts every day. We’ll continue to process soldiers’ mail even though they continue to put us down. Why? Because it’s our job.

With all due respect, I think the letter writer should take the bar off his collar for a minute and think about my husband, my 3-year-old son and my 1-and-a half-year-old daughter who are at home waiting for my return and who I greatly miss. I don’t need people like the letter writer making me feel any worse than I already do. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I believe the writer should think about someone other than himself.

Sgt. Susan FaithCamp Virginia, Kuwait

Phone rates

I’m one of the lucky soldiers deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I’m writing about something that’s been bothering me and many of my fellow soldiers: phones. Why is AT&T charging so much for calls back to the United States? One would think that AT&T would give a discount to troops calling home, since if not for the military there would be no AT&T that would be able to charge such rates. We soldiers have protected the rights of companies to be open and free to be run the way they see fit.

But I don’t think that it’s fit to charge $15 for a 200-unit phone card that lasts for only 16 minutes of actual talk time. That’s approximately 93 cents per minute on the satellite phone that we’re able to use. While in Camp New York, we had a phone bank in a trailer and the rates were lower. How hard can it be to get those same phone systems in Tikrit, Mosul and Kirkuk? We up north seem to be getting left out. Seeing that the powers that be can’t figure out when anyone is redeploying, at least AT&T could improve morale by cutting down on the rates and stop trying to get even richer off soldiers deployed to protect their way of life.

Sgt. 1st Class Gerald L. Caddell, Jr.Tikrit, Iraq

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