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July 6

'One-pay system' is best plan

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

July 6 'One-pay system' is best plan All is not well and good USO should dump Kid Rock An unexpected effect?July 7 What's the real story? Talking about the present Doha mailroom an example Freedom's needs come first Support group's role clear Your Money info incompleteJuly 8 More than child's play Barred from the PX Quit complaining about mail Shameful entertainment Have patience with mail A day of life in IraqJuly 9 Lack of help in time of need Shameful practices Celebrities' visits appreciated Societal engineering A request to help the children Choose content carefullyJuly 10 Not enough transition time More sources of support Commissary is a pleasure Different standards of living Disproportionate luxuriesJuly 11 No one forced to see show What about the nonspouses? Someone always has it worse Sainthood statusJuly 12 Focus on duties Cameras in mail Prudish attitudes Support for supporters Collection for troops Abus of animals

To revamp the archaic military pay system, we should incorporate the nontaxable pay allowances — such as food, housing and clothing — into the taxable “basic pay.” This “one-pay system” will substantially increase revenue for the government by raising the tax bracket for military personnel, reduce costs by simplifying the pay system and ensure financial stability for military members because, unlike allowances, “basic pay” will never be cut. This new pay system will also ensure military members receive greater raises, since increases are based on a percentage of basic pay.

For those who would criticize such an idea because of increase retirement costs, not to worry: The small percentage of military personnel who do stay in and become eligible for a retirement pension will be greatly outweighed by the enormous increase in tax revenue produced by the new military pay system. Nonetheless, the above concern will eventually become irrelevant because the current “Non-Contributory Military Pension System” ultimately will be replaced, in favor of the less-expensive “Contributory Pension System,” known as the Thrift Savings Plan. TSP was implemented last year as a supplement to the military’s current retirement plan. When this does happen, a substantial increase in basic pay and matching funds will be required anyway to make sure military members maintain their purchasing power.

Bob SeigelOkinawa

All is not well and good

I was deployed to Iraq in April; I left a pregnant wife behind and had no time line of when I might be able to come home. With hopes that maybe I’d be allowed a week or two of leave to see the birth of my first child, I put in my leave — only to be shot down the very next day.

In garrison it might take up to two weeks to receive a reply as to whether one was approved leave. So why are commanders so inclined to deny soldiers leave in one day?

My unit has no mission and hasn’t had one since we arrived in Iraq on May 22. If I had been allowed leave for even three or four weeks, I wouldn’t have missed anything and I would have been there to support my wife and embrace my son as his father. Instead, here I sit and wait for an unforeseen date to be able to return to my family. Meanwhile, in other units, soldiers are allowed leave to see their kids graduate from high school.

Does the Army really expect to keep alive the morale of a soldier and his willingness to fight with such circumstances? Heaven forbid someone ask me to re-enlist!

As an NCO I am supposed to be a leader. I am supposed to provide purpose, direction and motivation to my soldiers. But how do I motivate a soldier when I have no motivation myself? And how do I give a soldier purpose when I can’t see one for myself?

Maybe my vision is blurred by my anger, but I can’t see how any soldier could go on with thoughts such as mine running through his head every day. All I can picture is my wife sitting at home alone with the burden of raising our child by herself for an undetermined length of time. Nothing would put my mind more at ease than to be able to hold my son and not rely on pictures and five-minute phone calls.

It seems to me the Army puts on a big USO show for the soldiers and all is well and good. But not for all soldiers, and especially not this one.

Sgt. William A. HudginsBaghdad, Iraq

USO should dump Kid Rock

Kid Rock’s comments about turning churches into strip joints and smoking dope on Air Force One, as well as shooting the finger to the crowd, makes me wonder how we figure we are superior to the Iraqis (“USO tour cheers Baghdad,” June 21). I guess we’ll show them how they ought to live?

Funny what some people glory in. USO needs to dump this guy.

Capt. Tony HarkinFort Hood, Texas

An unexpected effect

The proposals being talked about, in which many jobs now being performed by military personnel would be turned over to civilians, might have an unforeseen effect. The jobs are mostly of the noncombat sort, meaning that they represent an awful lot of the only jobs currently open to women. Do we really want to do that? Just something to think about.

Daniel J. WojcikKaiserslautern, Germany

July 7

What's the real story?

After reading several letters of progressive one-upmanship about the letter on camp conditions, I feel there should be an effort to get to the crux of the issue. Why doesn’t Stars and Stripes task someone to do a series of articles on various living conditions and then print some official responses on identified issues?

For example, why does mail from soldiers take considerably longer to get home then letters sent to soldiers? Why are the copies of Stars and Stripes, and news we do get, several weeks old? Why aren’t there more operational MWR phones available north of Baghdad? Why, if the 4th Infantry Division is the “electronic division,” isn’t there more readily available Internet access for the troops? Why is AKO, often our sole conduit of communications, so clunky, slow, anecdotal, and can’t send or receive attachments reliably? How much bottled water should we be getting per soldier?

Why aren’t we seeing more variety of meals from the 14-day menu rather then more tamales? How many hot meals should we be getting and how often? Where and when will there be more dining facilities farther north? Who is getting ice and who isn’t? Why aren’t there more local purchase agents to supplement supply shortages, support local businesses, create jobs for locals and aid local economies? What is the plan for pushing “luxuries” up to the fighters?

CW4 Wade NuquistTikrit, Iraq

Talking about the present

This is in response to the writer of “War is last thing soldier wants” (July 1). The writer seems so preoccupied with what he perceives as an insult to his beloved 1st Infantry Division and the integrity of the soldier who wrote “We can go” that he overlooked the whole idea of what the letter was about in the first place. The main idea of the letter was the plight of the soldiers who have been in Iraq since the beginning of the war, have done their jobs and deserve to go back home to their families.

In case the letter writer didn’t notice, the papers are full of stories and letters from battle-weary soldiers who have done what their country has asked of them, and now that the war is “over” want to return to their loved ones.

The letter writer goes on to give a little history of the Big Red One. Having read the history of the 1st ID, I agree that it is a history to be proud of. But we are not talking about World War I, World War II, Vietnam or even the first Gulf War. We are talking about the present and the fact that many of the soldiers in Iraq right now are from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions, who basically have not had any downtime from deployments to Afghanistan and Kosovo before that.

The 1st ID has historically been in the thick of things, but recent history shows that it has been, indeed, relegated into more of a peacekeeping force, both in Bosnia and Kosovo. Now that we are downsizing the number of troops in that area of responsibility, it seems only logical to place those soldiers where they could be used the most. With the motto of “No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great; duty first;” and the fact that it has seen action in Iraq before (in 1991), who better to rotate in? I think rested minds and bodies in an overly stressful situation as is going on in Iraq right now might just define the Army taking care of its own better at this time than how many scholarships (even though they are important, too) are being handed out.

Lastly, I take great offense at the letter writer’s assumption that the writer of “We can go” (June 25) is only looking for glory and medals. He doesn’t know the soldier or his motivation for writing the letter in the first place, but I do. He has experienced the loss of fellow soldiers, but of course he doesn’t talk much about that. And he has friends who have been in Iraq from the very beginning who are ready to go home, some to see their newborn children for the first time, some to tend to new marriages, and some who have been through back-to-back deployments. Is it really selfish to want to see them go home after a job well-done, even if it means it’s his turn to miss a few holidays, birthdays or anniversaries?

If anything, the writer of “We can go” wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are units ready, willing and able to take over the mission in Iraq. They only need get the word.

The only thing I really got out of “War is last thing soldier wants” is that the letter writer thinks that the 1st ID has earned the right to sit back and watch while the soldiers in Iraq trudge on without relief in sight.

Now that is really selfish.

Marie SamsSchweinfurt, Germany

Doha mailroom an example

It was to laugh out loud to read that we don’t need mail delivery to win wars. I’ve worked medical supply in Camp Doha, Kuwait, and now in Balad, Iraq. If soldiers in the field lack for items such as soap, toothpaste, lip balm, sunscreen, baby wipes, tissues, toilet paper, athlete’s foot powder or insect repellent, this is cause for an IG complaint. If PX support is lacking or absent, then the only way to obtain these items is care packages from home.

The command could repair the broken mail system if it wanted to, but I see no evidence that it cares enough to make it happen. I have access to e-mail, so it isn’t too bad that I have received none of my packages or letters since arriving in theater March 22.

The mail clerks at Camp Doha keep their mailroom well-organized; they have no backlog of letters or packages that I could see. Why can’t all mailrooms be run as well as Doha?

Sgt. June MeichsnerBalad, Iraq

Freedom's needs come first

The writer of the July 1 letter “Army plan hurts families” feels that Gen. James Jones, the supreme allied commander, Europe, is off the mark in his plan to build an expeditionary force that would leave a smaller footprint in Europe while giving the European community the ability to respond quickly to a crisis. Not only would this decrease the number of U.S. troops permanently stationed in Europe, it also would allow the European Union to assume a greater role in its own protection as well as legitimize NATO as a regional body capable of reacting within and outside its borders.

The writer believes that Jones’ plan is a ploy to make his wife divorce him and to keep him from re-enlisting. If he joined the Army to find a happy marriage, he is in for the wrong reasons. The last time I checked, the Army could not reach its recruiting or retention goals as it was; therefore, I doubt that this plan could have any more of a detrimental effect.

As a 12-year veteran who was previously divorced, I can speak for the difficulties of military and married life. My first wife endured four deployments in a four-year span, but I doubt that led to the demise of our marriage as, ultimately, she did not have the same dedication to serving our country as I did.

I have been remarried for 18 months. I love my wife dearly and she has been very supportive throughout this six-month unplanned deployment. I am very certain that I have found a wife who shares my dedication to country and the Marine Corps, but if she did not, then I am sure that our ways would part.

Of course, we live in a free country that allows us to do that, one that has been protected by visionaries such as Jones, who put the needs of freedom in front of their own.

2nd Lt. Shawn A. RickrodeCamp Fox, Kuwait

Support group's role clear

The writer of the July 1 letter “‘Support’ in name only” is confused about the purpose of a Family Support Group. It is not the following: baby-sitter, surrogate parent, social worker, taxi service, loan agency, welfare agency or lending service. FSGs are for the purpose of supporting morale, answering questions, offering friendship and promoting efficient use of community resources.

If the writer expects the FSG to provide rides to the airport, cater to pregnant spouses or offer to move her from one place to another, I can see why she is disappointed.

Army spouses have to be strong and they have to stand on their own feet. It is always nice to have friends to count on if you need help. Actually, I believe the solution to the writer’s problems is friends, not the FSG. Deployments are part of military life, and it’s difficult at best. But if the writer isn’t capable of dealing with a deployment, then she shouldn’t have married a soldier.

FSG members are volunteers. They do the best they can with the resources they have, and I don’t believe they should be criticized for not doing enough.

Debbie RayHohenfels, Germany

Your Money info incomplete

I find the Your Money section in Stripes often misleading — in particular, articles written by Ralph Nelson. At the very least, the same font should be used for the article and the disclaimer that follows. Yes, read the fine print.

Readers should be aware that neither Stripes nor Nelson will take responsibility for what he writes. I encourage all readers of these articles to read that disclaimer carefully.

Here’s a tip: All things being equal, the first $3,000 a year invested by military members should go into a Roth IRA, not the Thrift Savings Plan. Interestingly, Your Money articles never mention that. Don’t believe it? Find out. Ask any financial services professional why this is so.

Richard A. FitzpatrickLago di Patria, Italy

July 8

More than just child's play

In a story about yet another rock-throwing crime by American children in Darmstadt, Germany, the headline read, “German police detain four American kids in rock-tossing incident.” (July 2) Rock tossing? The story then said the children were, in fact, throwing the rocks. The writer played more word games by describing the rocks as “egg-sized.” It seemed as if someone was trying to minimize the situation by creating the imagery that this incident was a mere “egg-tossing” game.

This story went out of its way to minimize the seriousness of this form of child’s play. A spokeswoman for the 233rd Base Support Battalion said: “It’s an unfortunate incident, but nothing compared to the February 2000 incident,” and also, “We know it’s not unique to Darmstadt. German kids do it, too.” First, these acts were crimes, not incidences. These crimes, as we have seen from the one committed in February 2000, in which two German motorists were killed by rock-throwing American teenagers, have the potential for causing death. Second, it is foolish for a person to pardon or minimize the seriousness of a crime by comparing it to what others are doing.

The article ended with the typical statement of social helplessness and confusion: “… that doesn’t make this latest incident any easier to understand.” Anyone can see that these children threw rocks at cars from the overpass because they were not supervised and have not been taught the basics of right and wrong or the meaning of punishment.

More and more parents, especially in military settings, are allowing their authority to properly discipline their children to be taken away. Groups such as child protective services, social services or child advocacy are committing this disempowerment. They know the Army does not fully condemn corporal punishment (and rightfully so), but liberal child advocates are trying to change that attitude. They are trying to influence commands into believing that the proper administration of corporal punishment by parents is an illegal act as they use voodoo statistics and horror stories of real child abuse cases to support their claim.

Child advocates would serve a much better social function if they would stop trying to usurp parental authority. Instead, they should offer classes to parents on how to properly administer corporal punishment to children who misbehave or exhibit criminal behavior. Until the firm, loving and proper administration of corporal punishment is practiced by parents, we can expect juvenile crimes to continue and to increase in frequency.

Bill WillettHeidelberg, Germany

Barred from the PX

I am with the 82nd Airborne Division in Baghdad. I and three other paratroopers went to the AAFES facility on Victory Camp at Baghdad International Airport because we do not have a PX in our sector of operation. It is very rare that we get the chance to go to the PX. We arrived at 4:30 p.m., with no line of people waiting, and were met by two MPs. The MPs told us that we could not use that PX since we did not live at that camp, as ordered by the V Corps camp commander. With all my time in the Army, this was the first time I could not use a PX while on a deployment.

Staff Sgt. Jason A. DurrenceBaghdad, Iraq

Quit complaining about mail

Stop complaining about the mail in Iraq and Kuwait. I have worked at the Joint Military Mail Terminal in Kuwait since March 23, along with 22 other soldiers of my unit. We are accompanied by more than 200 other soldiers and Marines. All mail coming into Kuwait and Iraq must pass through the JMMT to be sorted to get to the correct APO or FPO. When the Army first started working the JMMT, people were working 12-plus hours a day in a 24-hour operation. The soldiers were working seven days a week, praying for a day off. Because of the long hours and the number of people involved in the operation, the mail is caught up and we are proud of the progress that has been made. We continue to work same-day mail and get the soldiers their mail as fast as possible.

Now that you know we are caught up, stop complaining about the mail in Kuwait and Iraq. We receive few containers per week from Germany APOs. I was personally involved in the offloading of a container that came from Germany recently, and it had mail dating to late March and April.

If you are stationed in Germany, stop whining and crying about the progress in Kuwait, because there is no mail coming from Germany that we are holding. If you want to complain to someone about the delay, you need to contact the supporting APO in Germany.

If you are trying to send mail to soldiers in Iraq or Kuwait and they seem to move frequently to different locations, your soldier needs to make sure that the chain of command contacts the supporting APO before so that mail can be forwarded. We can only forward mail to units that we know have moved. If we are not informed by the unit, how are we supposed to forward the mail?

The soldiers in Iraq need to stop complaining as well. The JMMT in Kuwait is sending a convoy every day to Iraq JMMT. The convoys consist of seven to 10 trucks carrying two 20-foot containers that are so full they could not hold one more letter. If Iraq JMMT is not sorting the mail fast enough, that is not our fault.

To the readers who are sending excessive amounts of mail to soldiers, please consider that there are more than 100,000 soldiers who have friends and family also sending large amounts of packages daily.

I challenge any person or unit that thinks we are holding their mail to come to the JMMT and look for it. Some units have tried this, and they have failed. The reason: We do our jobs.

Spc. John Linzy StraderJoint Military Mail Terminal, Kuwait

Shameful entertainment

I am a bit flabbergasted at the gumption of Morale, Welfare and Recreation and its pitiful attempt at morale boosting by providing such entertainment as the girls who appear in Miller Lite beer commercials for our soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I am referring to the photo in the July 5 edition of Stars and Stripes where a soldier is grinning as he attaches a pin to Kitana Baker’s poor attempt at a blouse. I can only imagine the morale booster it gave the soldier’s wife.

What kind of message does this send to our deployed troops who are married, not to mention their spouses left at home, as they are provided with the opportunity to lust after other women? Why is this the entertainment that has to be provided? I have to say shame on MWR and shame on any married troops who got the opportunity to grope and took it.

Melissa MajorLakenheath, England

Have patience with mail

The Army and Air Force post offices at Camp Adder/Tallil air base are doing our best to serve our customers (soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors) on base, and are doing this while living in the harshest of climactic conditions. We empathize with many of your concerns, as we also have loved ones who are sending us letters and packages on a regular basis.

I challenge anybody who thinks that we are not doing our job here to come firsthand and see that our customers are our top priority. All of us have a part to play in helping the mail arrive faster to servicemembers (our customers).

Here are a few helpful tips to ensure mail arrives quickly:

• Clearly write the servicemember’s name, unit and complete address, to include the APO AE, on all mail items;• be sure units leave change-of-address cards with the post office before leaving any locations and notify the gaining post office of their arrival at a new location;• notify people mailing you letters or packages of changes to your APO AE whenever you move to a new location; and• expect some delays in mail when moving from location to location, as redirected mail takes time to catch up with servicemembers who are constantly “in transit.”

Spc. Tanya M. KellyCamp Adder, Southern Iraq

A day of life in Iraq

One day at Tallil, a beat-up air base abandoned by Iraqi troops, I met a Kuwaiti man named Al who was a civilian contractor working as a translator. We struck up a conversation while waiting for the miserable, sandy weather to lift. We talked of Islam, politics, life in Kuwait, and his travels abroad for college and work. Al gave his views on Saddam, and things in general. He answered my questions on Islam.

Before he left, Al translated the latest war news from his shortwave radio. The next day he returned and as we again waited for weather, he told me a very sad story of a local man and his daughter. Al had gone to a local Iraqi hospital only to find the nurses and the local man crying because the man’s 8-year-old daughter, who had been in the hospital for a while, had died that day. “The hospital did not have enough supplies or medicine to take care of her,” Al said. “I offered the man money to help, because I know he could use it, and it was all I could give. He refused, but I told him to take the money. He did not.”

My heart sank, as I thought of my own little girls who would be 8 in less than a month.

We sat in silence, trying to make some sense of it. As the day went on, Al was having trouble with his radio, so I offered to get mine. We headed down the flight line to another aircraft that had my radio. We stopped at 106, as I had heard they were transporting the local man and his little girl to Camp Dogwood. Al wanted to talk to the man again. We stopped at the ramp. I looked at Rob, in silence. We exchanged a nod, both knowing that the deceased 8-year-old girl was in a body bag 10 feet away. “Going to Dogwood?” I asked.

Rob simply stated, “Yeah, this sucks. I have that little girl on here, man.” I just shook my head. Not wanting to look at the body bag, I stepped up on the ramp and gave the local man a nod, to pay my respects in a way. Then I waited for Al, and thought of my own girls. No child should die for want for lack of medical care. At the same time, it was the third day we had been on a weather hold while my aircraft sat with an internal load of much-needed medical supplies for the CSH unit up north.

This was simply a day of my life spent in Iraq, not some sauced-up media concoction. Perhaps it will change some opinions of Saddam and his regime, or simply make some people think of all the things they take for granted.

Sgt. J. WhittakerBalad, Iraq

July 9

Lack of help in time of need

I have been deployed to Iraq since the war began as part of the Air Force Contingency Response Group out of Georgia. Last November, on my deployment to Kyrgyzstan, I fell in love with and married a local girl who became pregnant with my child. I left two weeks after our marriage to return to the States for reconstitution. It was then I started the paperwork with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to get my wife a visa to come to the States. That process takes a long time, and in the meantime my unit deployed to Iraq.

Seven months into my wife’s pregnancy she lost the baby. Not wanting to distress me, she didn’t tell me for three weeks, when she finally broke down emotionally. I was shocked and immediately went to my squadron leadership to help get me to my wife. I was told to wait for an answer while it was run up the chain of command. Two weeks later the answer was no. They could not forward deploy me to her location where there is an air base or give me emergency leave. Their reason for denying leave was the fact she waited to tell me and was not under a doctor’s care at the time I requested leave.

So the fact that my wife didn’t almost die and her miscarriage at seven months went off without a hitch did not constitute an emergency. And leave to the area of responsibility where my wife was is not authorized for leave for DOD personnel not on official orders.

I am appalled by my leadership’s lack of assistance in my time of need. I am not a troop who tries to leave a deployment just because I don’t like it. There have been officers on past and current deployments who have been sent home just to see their children born. I am happy for them because I believe every man should see at least one of his children born. But it just says to me that my family is less important than an officer’s family.

Senior Airman Jonathon BlazeIraq

Shameful practices

I’m writing about the June 19 travel magazine promoting the bull run in Pamplona, Spain, and the bullfight, which follows it. Although the cruelty of that “festival” of torture and death for innocent creatures was pointed out, I think that a serious newspaper should take an ethical stand and make a strong denunciation of such shameful practices, unworthy of civilized countries, instead of a middle-of-the-road stand by printing a schedule of events and instructions for participation.

Carol E. NicholasTrento, Itay

Celebrities' visits appreciated

This is my fourth overseas assignment, and this is the first time I have felt the need to write a letter to the editor. It’s in response to “Aghast at Kid Rock trash” (July 2).

I’m not a big Kid Rock fan, or a fan of many of the musicians and artists who volunteer their time to visit troops overseas, but I still appreciate the fact that they do it. I appreciate that they could be doing other things instead of hopping from base to base to shake endless hands, perform endless concerts and make endless public appearances. If I don’t like who’s in town, I simply don’t go to the show.

I have enough faith in our troops and the values and codes instilled in them to know that listening to a little Kid Rock in the middle of war isn’t going to influence them negatively.

When are people going to stop complaining and appreciate the fact that we’re all different and enjoy different things? If we wait for “a little more wholesome entertainment that can be provided for our soldiers,” morale-boosting trips would never get off the ground.

Master Sgt. Debbie AragonNaples, Italy

Societal engineering

The pro-gay article on the unfortunate Canadian decision to allow gay marriages (June 25) was most disturbing — not so much the article itself, but the fact Stripes allowed the article to be published in such an embracing manner. As a reader and servicemember, I do not appreciate the societal engineering in which you are dabbling. Fortunately, U.S. military policy has kept its moral vision clear in its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

There will always be a disordered and immoral element to homosexual acts regardless of the many complex social, psychological and possibly genetic factors that may cause a person to be so oriented. Such acts can only offend the dignity of the human person. No state sanctioning of such acts can remove that moral dimension. There is a massive moral confusion today marketed by advocates of the Hollywood elite and homosexual community that argues race, creed and sexual orientation are equal. They are not, and if I were a minority, I would take great offense at the allegation.

While there is never a good reason to discriminate against someone because of race or religion, there are sometimes very good reasons to discriminate against someone who has made poor moral choices sexually. Normal people define themselves by what they do or by their marital status, but most homosexuals define themselves by their sexual choices.

One needs only to attend a gay parade to see how they force their own brand of morality on everyone else. What heterosexual runs around the country organizing a parade, cross-dressing or exposing their private parts to express the fact they are proud to be heterosexual? Obviously, someone who would do so is dealing with serious personal issues.

The U.S. military has fortunately led the rest of the world in its moral example by refusing to buy into the moral confusion that has plagued many, if not most, armed forces around the globe. It would be the undoing of our nation’s military might to liberalize its present policy. May God protect our nation from morally errant thinking people in positions of influence and power.

Capt. W.G. DraganKuwait

A request to help the children

I am deployed to Iraq and am seeking help for the many orphaned children here. They need clothes, shoes, toys and school supplies. We soldiers are asking our communities to please donate anything they may have. It does not have to be new. It could be the school clothes or Christmas toys that your children have already grown out of or are tired of. These children are so appreciative of anything they receive.

We are not asking for much. We would just like to put a smile on a child’s face and make their path to an education a little easier by providing them with paper, pencils and clothes to wear. The toys are just a little something extra. Anyone who reads this letter and would like to help, please e-mail me at kristy.moore@us.army.mil. Thank you from the soldiers in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Kristy MooreBaghdad, Iraq

Choose content carefully

My unit is deployed with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq. One of the daily “perks” is the Stars and Stripes. However, the issue of June 20 proved unpleasant after reading the Dear Abby column “Lonely wife tempted to stray.”

The letter to Abby talks about a military wife who has been separated from her husband and is considering straying. My unit alone has 106 men; 75 percent of them are married. After having read this column, many of them are probably worried about their own relationships, even though there is no true basis for worry. That is how it works during deployment; unpleasant stories such as this work their way into soldiers’ minds and eat away at them.

While the damage has already been done, I ask Stripes to think twice about publishing similar Dear Abby questions, keeping in mind your audience.

1st Lt. Carol E. SchwarzCamp Warhorse, Iraq

July 10

Not enough transition time

In reference to the stop-loss policy affecting deployed Army soldiers to Operation Iraqi Freedom: We were recently told by our battalion commander that the Army’s policy for returning soldiers affected by the lift would consist of our new Army-directed ETS date minus four days to travel from Iraq to the States; 30 days for decompression; seven days to clear the service; plus the amount of leave days earned while on deployment. All of this adds up to about 51 days. This is a slap in the face of the soldiers, and their families, who have not only served their country honorably for many years, but also continue to support the mission in Iraq.

This Army policy does not allow sufficient time for a soldier and his family to successfully transition from military to civilian life. It also does not allow returning soldiers time to take the leave earned prior to deployment.

I am one of many soldiers who has had his life and his family’s life put on complete hold so I can support the mission in Iraq. Not only have we all missed key moments in our families’ lives, we’ve also lost the opportunities that we set up prior to deployment, which included jobs and places to live. We are now forced to set up new plans — in 51 days, when it took us more than eight months to set up the initial plans.

Why are we being punished for honorably serving our country?

All we are asking for is a little more time to adjust and transition — for both us and our families — even if it is simply the leave days we have earned and have a right to.

Sgt. Jeffrey ShermanCamp Adder, Iraq

More sources of support

Because I have been a Family Readiness Group leader for past two years, I feel compelled to respond to “Where’s the support?” (June 26). The writer refers to the lack of assistance her friend received from the family support group when she needed a ride to the airport. I agree that her rear detachment commander should not have agreed to take her if they had no intention of doing so, but I want to address a few points about what a FRG can do.

The writer asks, “What’s the purpose of an FSG?” — which actually is an outdated term, although some people still use it. A few years ago Family Support Group was replaced by Family Readiness Group to emphasize the need for the self-sufficiency and readiness of each family member. The basic purpose is to provide family members with information about the unit and the services available in the community, so they can accomplish a task themselves, not expect the FRG to do it for them. There is no official literature stating that FRGs are required to loan money, provide baby-sitting or pet sitting, pay bills or run a taxi service. In fact, during our numerous training sessions, FRG leaders are encouraged not to do those things. We are here to direct our members to the community resources that can assist them, not to duplicate any of those services.

Of course, some FRGs do more that that. I have happily driven members of my own FRG to the airport, but it is by no means a requirement. Let’s not forget that an FRG is a volunteer-run organization. FRG leaders and volunteers often go above and beyond the normal call of duty to assist family members, sometimes at great personal sacrifice of their time. Although my co-leaders and I always try to work with our family members, I encourage them to foster relationships with their fellow FRG members and neighbors, so that they will have support when they need it. Trading favors with a friend is always preferable to asking the FRG to do everything for you.

If your friend feels she is not getting what she wants from her FRG, consider this: Maybe her FRG leader is feeling a little overwhelmed. Sometimes spouses become FRG leaders because they feel like they have to, not because they have the time or the skills. I encourage her to get to know the leader, bring some suggestions to him or her and, most important, volunteer to help see those suggestions through.

Suzanne ForrestHanau, Germany

Commissary is a pleasure

We have been shopping in the Mannheim, Germany, commissary for more than 30 years. I would like to take the opportunity to say what a pleasure it is to shop in this well-arranged store. And approaching the commissary compound makes one feel like you’re entering a park. The well-kept grounds with beautiful flowers and shrubs make you really feel welcome. The layout of the store is well-planned and it is easy to find what one needs. The management is very friendly and always interested in further improvements. There is always an open ear for new ideas, and new items are immediately ordered on request. The employees are friendly and helpful.

Thank you for a job well done.

Ursula E. MountWeinheim, Germany

Different standards of living

A recent story about the living standards of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance/Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority (ORHA/ OCPA) personnel working in Iraq quoted one person: “Sometimes our families worry because the Internet is down up to 48 hours and we cannot contact them.” I am a military police soldier deployed in Baghdad and I found this comment somewhat appalling.

ORHA/OCPA has access to phones and Internet, and they consume three hot, square meals a day. Before they complain about their living conditions, maybe they should try ours. ORHA/OCPA needs to wait four weeks to call home for five minutes, hoping that the answering machine doesn’t pick up. ORHA can move out of Saddam’s palace and relocate to a roach-infested cigarette warehouse in Saddam City, where we reside. And they should sleep only two to three hours a day, pull a 12-hour shift patrolling the streets of Saddam City, and then wait to receive 2-month-old mail. I will not even go into the fact that more than 120 soldiers are on constant standby to provide security escorts for them.

ORHA/OCPA needs to wake up and smell our rationed water before complaining. They should take a brief look at the thousands of soldiers fighting for their freedom and security.

Spc. Michealla D. OliverIraq

Disproportionate luxuries

I am writing in response to “No need to scream for ice cream” (June 30). I am not currently on tour in the desert, but my husband is. I think it is nice that the Air Force has all the luxuries of air-conditioning, bedding and self-serve ice cream machines as mentioned in the story; however, I think it is totally disrespectful to even think about using these when there is not enough for the military as a whole. Something is definitely wrong with that picture.

There are soldiers who barely get water to drink, let alone a hot shower every day. Although I’m sure these comfort items provide great morale for the Air Force, they are not the only servicemembers serving there.

Good job to all the troops who are on a real hardship tour.

Spc. Colleen L. BruttonDarmstadt, Germany

July 11

No one forced to see show

Obviously the writer of the letter “Aghast at Kid Rock trash” (July 2) had a problem with Kid Rock being on a recent USO tour in Iraq and doesn’t care for Kid Rock or his lyrics. He doesn’t have to. But many servicemembers and I like and come to have a deeper respect for people such as Kid Rock who come to dangerous locations just to entertain us. We love it and really appreciate it.

The writer said, “I’d like to think that both of these professional soldiers committed to Army values were aghast at such trash being spewed by an artist known for this kind of ‘entertainment.’ ” The writer was referring to Kid Rock saying, “If I was president, I’d turn all the churches into strip clubs,” and his reference to “smoking a joint on Air Force One.”

Come on now. Isn’t this the whole reason we’re over here to begin with? To uphold the Constitution and defend the freedoms that are our God-given right as Americans? Was the writer saying that we should censor what soldiers are listening to now?

No one was forced to go to the USO show. They wanted to. And we all loved it! The writer also said, “Why don’t we just get Eminem to come and ‘entertain’ our troops with ethnic and racial slurs.” Whatever. Ask most soldiers, and they’d love to see Slim Shady come out here.

A heartfelt thanks to all past and future USO entertainers. Thanks so much for coming here to entertain us. We’ll always remember their selflessness.

Sgt. Jennifer E. LyonsCamp Arifjan, Kuwait

What about the nonspouses?

I want to say something about the letter “What you make it” (July 3) about the Family Readiness Group. I’m not a military spouse. I’m engaged to a soldier downrange. We don’t even count for FRG. We get information only if one of the wives lets us know.

So it’s not only what we can do for the FRG. It should count us in, too. We want to be a part of all that. We love our soldiers as much as the wives do and we support them as much as everybody else. But we get no help when we are down, worried and alone because we aren’t military spouses. Somebody should help us, too. The soldiers count on us, but who can we count on?

Yasmin SchollWiesbaden, Germany

Someone always has it worse

I enjoy reading letters from soldiers complaining about not having four sets of desert camouflage uniforms, three hot meals a day, Internet and, of course, mail. But I still haven’t seen a letter written by a soldier in the Spartan Brigade. The Spartans, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, have been deployed now for 10 months and were the brigade that took Baghdad in hours. They were supposed to be home by now, but they are in Fallujah because someone had to go. In Fallujah, the Spartans found themselves living in conditions that would make a homeless person shudder, but they worked to make it better with little to no resources.

These Spartans don’t have all the great facilities as soldiers do in Camp Doha, Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad and the Kuwaiti camps. Instead they deal with heat, dust, dogs, Iraqis and uncertainty. Several times they’ve been told to “be prepared to deploy” and had it revoked. Do they write letters about not having an extra set of DCUs, USO shows, e-mail or air conditioners? No. They just want to go home.

The men and women who complain about conditions in Kuwait and Iraq need to look at the Spartans and the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division and realize that someone will always have it worse than them.

Capt. Blaine ThorkildsonFallujah, Iraq

Sainthood status

An Iraqi political scientist, Saad al-Jawaad, speaking about the Iraqi people living in despair, was quoted in a recent story as saying, “He has nothing left to do but carry arms and defy the people who are here occupying his country and doing nothing for him or his family.” For crying out loud. If women are from Venus and men are from Mars, this guy’s from Pluto!

The dictator is gone. The country is free. The guy could decide to carry a shovel or a paintbrush instead of an AK-47. He could mount a cement mixer on the back of his Toyota pickup instead of a machine gun. He now has the ability to choose, and he’s not choosing to get together with his neighbors and rebuild. He’s destroying instead and blaming it on someone else. What are we supposed to do? Drop off a refrigerator full of food, a closet full of clothes and a checkbook with a fat balance in it? Heck, I’d like somebody to do that for me.

Instead of thousands of these guys turning out for demonstrations every day, what’s wrong with forming committees and work groups to start putting that place back together the way they want it? If we leave, in a couple of months they’ll be crying in the U.N. and saying, “America deserted us again. Now we have gangsters, warlords and terrorists running the country. We need America to come back and kick them out, too.”

Sooner or later the Iraqis, Palestinians, Israelis, Liberians, Somalis, Congolese, etc., are going to have to grow up and take responsibility for their own destiny. All this crying that “America has to do something ...,” gets really old to a guy who watches the flag-draped body bags coming off the planes in Delaware. I believe we’ve already done a lot more than the rest of the world combined, and I’d nominate all who have served in this effort for sainthood.

Dennis E. O’NeillNaples, Italy

July 12

Focus on duties

I’m deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Platoon Scorpions, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. I’ve been in theater for more than eight months. I’m writing this in response to the many letters sent by servicemembers deployed here. I’ve noticed a trend that the people writing have only been here for a couple of months at most and they’re complaining.

I feel a sense of anger when I read these letters. Where do they get off complaining about not seeing their families for a month? How can they complain about not getting the chance to use a satellite phone every few hours? They also complained about how the mail system doesn’t work. My unit is still getting mail dated in March!

They need to stop complaining. They seem to forget that some of us have it worse. As an infantryman, I’m proud of my unit. We don’t complain about what we don’t have, and we’re thankful for what we do have. These servicemembers also need to realize that without us they wouldn’t have anything that they have now. It was our hard work and dedication that made their safety and housing possible.

I was also angered when they talked about morale and coping with stress. In my opinion, they are lacking attention to detail. Do they realize that the recent USO concert was not attended by any of the remaining forward combat teams? Our morale and stress levels are bad. We have been here since the word “go.” Yet we don’t complain. Again, I’m proud of my unit. We only ask for one thing: a day to go home.

We rigorously trained for four months from the moment we landed in Kuwait. We were the spearhead of the assault on Baghdad and performed the immediate peacekeeping for more than a month without reinforcements. With our current mission in Fallujah and surrounding areas as well, we think if anything we’ve earned the right to see our families.

Overall, my message is this: stop complaining. There is an end down the road. These letter writers are here doing their duty. They should show how much of men or women they are, take what they’ve got and go with it. They should earn the right to be called heroes. The less they complain and the more they focus on their duties, the sooner this will be all over for all of us.

Pfc. Derek SmolosIraq

Cameras in mail

There has been a problem with the mail in Iraq since day one. We all know this and we also understand that there will be some problems because of the large number of soldiers coming into Iraq. I’ve been here since March 1, and we are just now getting caught up on incoming mail. The average incoming letter or package takes about 15 days to be delivered, as it did while deployed to Afghanistan. But our outgoing mail takes about 30 days to reach the United States.

To make things worse, we’re no longer allowed to mail home one-time-use cameras. We did this for six months in Afghanistan and again when we first arrived here. It was fine until now. We don’t have a post office nearby, nor do we have time to drive three hours to mail a camera. Why change in the middle of a deployment?

How do we fix this problem? Do we just forget it since it only affects the soldiers too far from division main? Why can’t we send cameras through the mail?

Master Sgt. Kerrie BlackSinjar, Iraq

Prudish attitudes

The letters “USO should dump Kid Rock” (July 8) and “Shameful entertainment” (July 8) complained about the entertainment provided to our deployed troops. I’m currently on my way to Iraq, and I’d like to add something to the discussion.

I’m stunned by the prudish attitudes displayed in these letters. The problem is not that we should remove entertainment options from our troops. Instead, we need to increase them. Anyone patriotic enough to volunteer to be taken to a relatively hostile location simply to brighten a day of our deployed personnel should be applauded.

The troops in most of our deployed locations are a long way from home and desperate for entertainment. Anything that can take their minds off the hard work and loneliness inherent in their situations is a bonus. More acts, not fewer, need to be provided for them.

And if one of these acts mentions an inappropriate subject or includes an attractive woman, then we should react as adults, not as easily shocked neo-Victorians sipping tea in a parlor.

Tech. Sgt. Bill MinnichRamstein Air Base, Germany

Support for supporters

I wish to turn around the words of the people who have written “Messages of Support” in Stars and Stripes and offer them support in return. I’m based at Fort Stewart, Fla., but have been deployed since Sept. 21, 2002. While we spent six months in Kuwait, family members sent love and support through simple letters. But once we crossed the border into Iraq on March 20, our whole nation took us under its wing to offer encouragement. The best examples I saw were in Stripes with the messages.

So now that we’re remaining vigilant in Baghdad, I offer hope and strength to families with soldiers waiting to come home — some of whom will return now and some later. I hope that all of them can keep the faith. I thank them for everything. They should know that we do what we do because of our love for America and its people.

Best of all, I have great admiration for those who wrote words of encouragement to all the soldiers. Most of us saw only one or two papers, and for that matter still do. But it kept me going to know that at any time I could open to a page that praised what we were doing when there was doubt. Thanks for being our rock while the troops made Operation Iraqi Freedom a success.

Spc. Jennifer NelsonIraq

Collection for troops

I want to let everyone know about the overwhelming response the Hainerberg Child Development Center No. 1 in Germany received from deployed troops for the magazines and books that were collected and sent to them. In April, our toddler and infant room decided to give something back to the troops for the Month of the Military Child, so we organized the literature drive.

Soldiers have written and e-mailed letters to the staff and children with their thanks and requests that we continue to send material. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without community support. The Dexheim and Darmstadt libraries donated books and magazines, and the Wiesbaden library continues to donate material each week. Thanks also to the Hainerberg Army Community Services building and Hainerberg Community Bank for displaying our collection boxes. And thanks also to those who donated reading material.

We will continue to support our troops in this way as long as the supply and demand are there. We appreciate everyone who has supported this literature drive. The soldiers also appreciate it.

Teresa RainsWiesbaden, Germany

Abuse of animals

The article “I came; I saw; I ran for my life” (June 19) about the running of the bulls was disgusting and offensive.

It’s disturbing that human beings can derive pleasure out of this barbaric, cruel and flagrant abuse of animals. This so-called “time-honored tradition” glorifying the sadistic mutilation of helpless animals needs to end.

The decision to run the article and graphic photos was a poor one.

Jacqueline DiazStuttgart, Germany

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