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June 29

Transformation plan

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

June 29 Transformation plan Learn and experience Running of the bulls story Army finance system AAFES disappointment 1st BCT has done its part Snail mail still important Can’t deliver good news Hard to make points in IraqJune 30 Deployments Stop loss Security system Harry Potter story Live the creed of the NCO Mail defense condescending Separation anxiety justified Tricare improvements notedJuly 1 War is last thing soldier wants Petty rules lower morale Better care for dependents Facts on fuel prices ‘Support’ in name onlyJuly 2 Aghast at Kid Rock trash Combat badges story Injured driver Family Readiness Group Create own entertainment| Jump through multiple hoops Stop loss not used as intended Know cancellation policy firstJuly 3 Dying in vain Tired combat veterans Give credit Mail system poor Anger and frustration What you make itJuly 4 Independence Day message Families are the heroes Widows being wronged Memorable support A solution to mail woes? A bigger problem than Iraq Some overweight GIs lack pride Camp Covington is right nameJuly 5 Freedom’s needs come first A day in the life of Iraq Support group confusion Have patience with mail Misleading articles Combat badge eligibility unfair

I’m a soldier in the U.S. Army, and I’d like to voice my opinion on Gen. James Jones’ plan to transform the U.S. military footprint in Europe. My name is Sgt. James D. Johnson. I’m stationed in Büdingen, Germany, and I’m currently deployed to Iraq.

My opinion is that a plan such as this couldn’t have come from a person who is happily married. The way the Army is today is very hard on marriages. Soldiers today are deployed often enough to all regions of the world. I see a lot of divorces in the military due to soldiers being away from their families all the time. It takes a strong relationship for someone to stay married to a soldier. I’m not saying that military life alone ruins marriages, but the majority of the time it does.

I’ve been in the Army for nine years and have been deployed to Kuwait, Bosnia, Korea and Iraq. I’ve been married for five years. At one point we almost divorced. It wasn’t due to a bad relationship. We had a great relationship. It was due to me being gone too much. We got it together and made our relationship indestructible. But not everyone can do that, which leads to divorces. With the way the Army is today, going with Jones’ plan would only increase the divorce rate.

Don’t think for one second that soldiers would overlook that. And don’t think for one second that retention rates and enlistments wouldn’t decrease due to this plan, because they would. Spouses of soldiers understand that their husbands or wives have to go to war when called upon. But they wouldn’t stand for unnecessary family separations due to this new plan.

Going with Jones’ plan would definitely be geared for single GIs. I thought that the military was more family-oriented. Military spouses know about the moves they have to make all the time when changing duty stations. They don’t mind leaving their jobs or schools to follow their husbands or wives to their new duty stations. Spouses would rather be with their husbands and wives than be away from them for six months or longer.

I really hope this plan doesn’t get accepted, because I really love the Army and being a combat arms soldier. But if this plan goes into effect, I’m going to have to say that I definitely love my wife and kids more. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. This is all my own opinion.

Sgt. James D. JohnsonBaghdad, Iraq

Learn and experience

I’m a wife, a mother of two and an early childhood professional. I’ve served as an active duty servicemember, home day care provider, and Child Development Center caregiver/supervisor. I currently work with young children and their families in a special needs preschool setting. I’ve been on both sides of the day care fence. I’m very familiar with the struggles and frustrations of a dual military/working family trying to raise children. I’m also in harmony with the challenges and rewards of the early childhood professional.

I was distressed by a letter writer’s justification for taking her child to the CDC on family days. She uses family days to do errands so she can spend quality time with her kids. I was unaware that parenthood had a “quality time” clause. I’ve always thought parenthood is a full-time responsibility that’s not entered into lightly or undertaken with the expectation that it’s someone else’s duty to care for a child because said person “is being paid to do so.”

More importantly, how does this writer expect her child to learn the life skills necessary to have a successful life if the child is only shown the “fun” or “qualitative” side of life? Chores and errands are often full of teachable moments. These priceless moments foster growth and development. Children need to be exposed to the events of everyday life to learn what’s expected of them and how they’re supposed to act and react. If the writer wants to spend “quality time” with her child, she should take advantage of every possible teachable moment. Take the child on errands and bring a book to read or a game to play to pass the time.

Another writer said that since she’s an active duty servicemember, she couldn’t take time away from her job because her child is sick. But she’s under the misconception that child care professionals can stay home with their kids on a whim. Most child care providers are rarely permitted the privilege of staying home when their children are ill. There aren’t any substitutes for a CDC provider. When providers are unable to work, co-workers have to compensate. So to ensure that the needs of the military are met, providers often obligate their military spouses or family friends to stay home with their ill kids.

The writer also must not understand the difficulties surrounding an ill child in a CDC setting. A caregiver can’t provide the one-to-one attention that most ill children crave. It’s very unsettling for the caregiver and the child. An ill child also poses a health risk to other children. But there’s another option. Some child care providers have “mildly ill” care in their homes. This one-to-one interaction benefits the ill child, reduces the caregiver’s stress and promotes a healthy environment for the remaining children.

It’s important everyone remember that caregivers are humans, too. They’re usually selfless people whose own families suffer from their absence. Because of the nature and importance of their jobs, they’re often judged more harshly than others.

I ask readers not to judge another’s situation unless they’re willing to put themselves in that situation.

Dawn CusterRamstein Air Base, Germany

Running of the bulls story

I was very disappointed to see the article “I came; I saw; I ran for my life” (June 19) about the running of the bulls. That Stars and Stripes would promote an evening in the bullring where bulls are repeatedly stabbed and bled to weaken them so that bullfighters can sever the animals’ spines while they’re fully conscious is not something I thought Stripes would be anxious to glorify.

Because Stripes’ readers dedicate their efforts toward saving others, can they truly support this sport, which turns the slaughter of bulls into “entertainment”? Just because those that need protection in this case are animals, does that mean we should turn a deaf ear to them? Or even worse, enjoy the spectacle of their exploitation and abuse?

How about supporting Spain’s many other enjoyable tourist attractions such as the annual La Tomatina. It’s a weeklong festival in Buñol renowned for its food, fireworks, wild parades and grand finale, the world’s biggest food fight. Residents toss tomatoes at one another, not spears at animals that had no choice in the matter.

Before any readers call me culturally insensitive or draw my attention to more important matters such as the welfare of our hardworking soldiers in Iraq, would any of them willingly let people do this to their pets just for fun? Would it be all right if someone went “just to watch”?

Angela SuttonGrafenwöhr, Germany

Army finance system

I’d like to comment on the Army’s finance system. I’m a military spouse. My husband has trusted me to handle all of our finances and bills since we were married. He’s been deployed to Iraq for two months. I have power of attorney. I also have an emss/mypay pass code that was given to me by my husband. The pass code allows me access to our Army finance account to get his Leave and Earnings Statement or to change our direct deposit. I’ve also been toting a letter officially signed and stamped by our lending company requesting that an allotment be stopped.

I’ve been told that the finance office doesn’t like spouses. But because my emss/mypay pin code doesn’t allow me to stop an allotment, I decided to try to convince the finance office that I was worthy to be seen. I took the materials listed above and showed them to the person in charge. I was told that my power of attorney had to be “special.” My power of attorney includes in writing the phrase, “Giving and Granting unto said attorney, full power and authority to do and perform all and every act, deed, matter, and thing whatsoever in and about my estate, property, and affairs as fully and effectually to all intents and purposes as I might or could do in my own proper person if personally present.” I must need to be an Army lawyer to see where it says “except the finance office” in the above statement.

Now I have to send my husband a letter with the information. It will take a month to arrive. Then my husband will have to trek out into the Iraqi desert to find the finance office and stop this allotment when he could be looking out for his comrades.

I understand the need to protect soldiers from any financial dangers. But I don’t see the potential harm in adding $300 a month to my husband’s account instead of overpaying a lending company and waiting for a refund check. If I really wanted to mess up my husband, I could go onto emss/mypay and have his direct deposit changed to my personal bank account.

Could someone please write “common discretion” into the finance office as standard operating procedure?

Heather SlickFriedberg, Germany

AAFES disappointment

I drive a diesel-powered car and depend on coupon books to get fuel off post. AAFES failed to put a single diesel fuel pump at any stations where I live. I’ve already learned to deal with that, but I’m having a hard time swallowing everything that’s happening locally.

I try to keep a small reserve of coupons, so it was no big deal when I tried purchasing more and was informed that none were available. When my reserve finally ran out, all I could then purchase were books of 25 liters. Oh well. At least I had coupons, I thought. But to my surprise they were all one-liter coupons. So I’d need to fill out 70 coupons every time I filled up. What I can’t accept is that when I filled up at a BP station on the autobahn on my way to a real base exchange at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, (to purchase goods unavailable or out of stock locally) is the surcharge for using so many coupons. I doubt that was figured into our cost of living — or the fact that the Ramstein BX had plenty of normal coupon books and nobody at customer service had heard of a shortage.

I hope those responsible for this “challenge” for me are fired and have nightmares about killer coupon books. I have to drive two and a half hours to purchase fuel coupons until somebody does their job.

Kelly RayStuttgart, Germany

1st BCT has done its part

As a member of the 1st Brigade Combat Team and the 3rd Infantry Division, I can honestly say that it’s time to bring us home from Iraq. We’ve accomplished our mission and then some. Now we’re once again the spearhead, but for peacekeeping. I’m fully aware that 1st BCT has not been in the area for as long as other units. But we all took part in combat, and now many of us are finding it hard to deal with the locals and each other.

As a leader, I’m finding it even harder to keep morale up due to rumors of return dates and false information. Now we’re being told that we could be here until September. And if we do go home before then, we can expect a trip to Egypt at the end of this year.

I think a lot of people will side with me when I say that we need to have some well-earned time with our families and loved ones. Taking care of soldiers is an aspect of our jobs as leaders that some have forgotten about.

This shouldn’t sound like I’m complaining. Rather, I’m voicing my opinion as to what I’m seeing. Morale is at an all-time low and some commanders are trying to fool themselves. It’s time to get us home.

Staff Sgt. Robert GasmanIraq

Snail mail still important

I’m currently deployed to Iraq, and I, too, believe the mail system is messed up. To wait a month for a package or a letter from a loved one is ridiculous. Mail is the biggest morale booster for any servicemember serving in this type of situation. Morale is what keeps all these servicemembers’ heads high. Many of my soldiers are down, mainly because of the mail problem and not really the environment that surrounds them. It’s hard for me as a noncommissioned officer to keep their morale up when the mail problem is present. They know that their families and loved ones are writing to them.

Writing letters is our only way of communicating. I just don’t think anyone cares about mail anymore because now there’s e-mail. But I do. My family members rely on old-fashioned mail and don’t do everything electronically. Are they wrong for doing that?

The Military Postal System is all to blame. But the units as well should be blamed. Some units I know just leave mail at the camps where it flew into and let it sit there for about a week. That’s a shame and it’s wrong. Something should be done about that. I love what I do in the military and I love my country and fighting for its freedom. But I think we should get mail support.

Sgt. Antwane BrooksIraq

Can't deliver good news

This letter is a test. Taking into account that it’s an Army-Post-Office-to-Army-Post-Office letter, my guess is that it took about 20 days for Stars and Stripes to receive it. Imagine a non-APO-addressed letter mailed from here in Iraq. It might get to a loved one in the United States in about 45 days. Not four or five days, but 45!

Recently rumors have been floating around that Camp Webster has no mail while Camp Dogwood is sitting on it. This rumor was apparently confirmed by the May 20 letter “Right route victim of red tape.” Further rumors suggest that there are working hours for the postal workers. Hours? In a war? I don’t really do anything after 7 p.m. But if I have to work at 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. to accomplish a critical mission (such as transporting enemy prisoners of war or escorting food, ammunition or water), I’m fully expected to do so, and I gladly accept my mission. I’m here to do a job at any time of the day in any conditions. Time doesn’t restrain me or my fellow soldiers.

I thank Stars and Stripes for printing our mail concerns so it may be brought to light that morale rides deftly in the hands of postal workers, or dare I say nonworkers. I’ve suggested that our mail handlers be sent to help sort the back “retro” mail. Did they listen? Who knows? I know that my letter mailed from England on April 6 has not yet arrived. I know my packages mailed in late April have not arrived. I know the mail I’ve sent since April 19 has not reached its destination.

So what’s the holdup? Retro mail. Mail sitting in connexes at a camp in Iraq waiting to go forward or backward that is at the mercy of the 9-to-5 day. Again, hours are not for war-critical tasks.

Further intervention is necessary to stem the likelihood of catastrophic consequences when some soldiers are affected by negative morale. Readers should write their members of Congress, get as many people as their time allows and shout to the masses. They should advertise our plight.

Sgt. Brad HintonIraq

Hard to make points in Iraq

I’m currently deployed to Iraq and have been here for about 90 days now. I’d like to thank Stars and Stripes for keeping us informed on what’s going on in the world. I just learned that the Lakers lost.

Anyway, many of us E-4, E-5 and E-6 promotables are wondering what the Department of the Army and all its personnel are thinking when they constantly raise points for promotion. I don’t know how any of us here can make points. I’m a mechanic, and my points are constantly high. I guess the reason is that the Army doesn’t need mechanics. (But I don’t see how. We are short about six mechanics.) Anyway, I hope someone in the Department of the Army will read this and hopefully get all promotables on deployments promoted.

Spc. Chris MutaiIraq

June 30

Deployments

I want to talk about how our leaders think and how they treat our soldiers. Let’s talk about all the many deployments soldiers have to endure before it all stops. I’ll use myself as an example.

I came down on orders for Korea in January 1998 with a report date of May 1998. My wife was five or six months pregnant, so I requested a deferment. It was denied. My wife later went into the hospital under emergency conditions, and our baby was born before I got back to the U.S. on 24 days of emergency leave. I had only been in Korea for five days.

I returned to Korea to complete my one-year tour with no leave. I then PCS’d to Fort Bragg, N.C., in May 1999. When I got there, I jumped right into preparing for a Bosnia rotation. This included many trips to Ft. Stewart, Ga., the National Training Center and of course individual training. And that’s not to mention that I had an advance course to attend and I underwent serious knee surgery. So I missed another birthday of our second child. That was three in a row. I have an 8-year-old son as well as my now 5-year-old daughter. I was in Bosnia from September 2000 until April 2001.

I returned from Bosnia and three months later set sights on yet another foreign land, Egypt, for 18 months. So that took me to January 2003. In late January, I got back to the U.S., outprocessed and moved four shipments of furniture. My family was in Texas and I was in North Carolina putting our house on the market. I finally arrived in Houston late February to spend my last 10 days with my family before heading to Ft. Hood to find housing for my family. I was told there was a one-month wait for housing. By now it was mid-March. I arrived to my unit, and my newfound leadership said, “You have 30 days to get your family and finances together before being deployed to Iraq.” I had not found a place for my family to stay. Do readers call this taking care of troops?

So here I sit in Iraq in a unit with which I have no job because I’m not school trained to be a part of it. Where does it all stop? Needless to say, I’m not the only person, even in this unit, who’s undergoing these stresses. And readers want to know why the Army has a high divorce rate? Now they understand.

Sgt. 1st Class Carl McGilbertIraq

Stop loss

I’m a soldier and I’m inquiring about stop loss. Stop loss is for sustaining military forces in time of need. As a soldier I understand this policy. But since stop loss was officially lifted on May 27, isn’t it a priority to return those who were affected back home?

Personnel like me who were affected by stop loss were caught off guard when it was activated. Stop loss was issued on Feb. 15, exactly one week before my unit departed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. I obviously wasn’t prepared to deploy and neither was my family. One week isn’t sufficient time to prepare for a real-world deployment.

Prior to stop loss, I was placed on rear detachment because my expiration, term of service date was May 26. A Military Personnel Center message was issued prior to stop loss that said deployed personnel who were supposed to ETS would be returned 30 days prior from the original ETS day for transitional purposes. The next day MILPER came out with an update saying that instead of 30 days, personnel would be returned home 60 days prior.

Because of this message I was placed on rear detachment because if deployed, I would have returned in March and been in theater for a month. My unit felt that it would be a waste to send me since I’d only be there for a short time. Therefore, the decision was to keep me in the rear. Obviously my unit prepared to deploy without me in attendance, but instead brought me along due to stop loss.

I’ve been in theater for almost three months. My days are repetitious. All there is to do are tasks that need to be done for the sake of sustaining daily life, including taking out trash, getting Meals, Ready to Eat and water, etc. I do nothing related to my primary military occupational specialty or hardly anything constructive relating to the military. My days consist of waking up just to wait for the day to end. I promise this is no exaggeration.

I could deal with being on stop loss if I had a purpose. But obviously I haven’t any purpose here. No chain of command can justify my complaints if I’ve done nothing for almost three months. I’m sure there are other unlucky soldiers in the same situation. I just hope and pray that someone with a voice will inquire about this issue for me and for the thousands of soldiers in theater who are being held back from their families and from living life itself.

Sgt. Frank T. ColomaIraq

Security system

I moved to a controlled three-year tour in June 2001. I bought a home and had a security system installed by Guardian Security, which falls under Morlyn Financial Group. Recently, the opportunity to retrain became available and I was approved. This being the case, I was scheduled for technical school and received orders to PCS. I notified Morlyn Financial Group that I needed to cancel my service and offered to provide a copy of my orders. But I was told that despite an official military move, I was bound to a three-year contract. I had one year of service left on my contract. I pursued the issue with the base legal office. Because no actual military clause was mentioned in the contract, all legal could do was send a letter on my behalf to the company. This had no effect on Morlyn’s policy.

As a military member, I took for granted that the security service contract would be no different than a cell phone service contract or an apartment contract. I believed that even if a military clause was not actually printed in the contract, a copy of my official orders would be enough to release me. But this is not the case. Morlyn Financial wrote back to me and stated quite boldly that if I didn’t pay the balance for the next year it would assign my case to debt collectors and take legal action against me. Not wanting to have a negative effect on my credit, I paid the balance.

I spoke to a public affairs representative who suggested I tell my story to the Family Support Center so new arrivals could be briefed to be wary of entering into a home security service contract. I want to get this information out to the military community so no one else has to learn this lesson the hard way. I can’t speak for the policies of all security services, only that of Guardian and Morlyn Financial Group.

I recommend that servicemembers who enter into a security service contract get something in writing to exempt them from the full contract terms in the event of a military move. If affected by an unexpected move, taking this precaution may prevent servicemembers from having to pay a lump sum for a service they’ll never receive.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle KingPeterson Air BaseColorado Springs, Colo.

Harry Potter story

I want to express my displeasure with the very large Harry Potter spoiler in the story “Character dies in new Potter book” (June 20). Right there in the headline it said that one of the main characters in the book dies. This was just plain rude to anyone who was hoping to read the book without any preconceived notions about the plot. Most places will at least give a warning before running a spoiler instead of making the spoiler the headline.

Aaron BurgsteinRamstein, Germany

Live the creed of the NCO

This is in response to the June 26 letter “Be realistic on mail in country.” I wonder if the writer’s even bothered to read the creed of the noncommissioned officer. Never mind reading the whole thing. I wonder if he even knows the first sentence: “No one is more professional than I.” It dictates that we NCOs don’t air our dirty laundry. That’s unprofessional. That’s right, mail is slow. That’s right, parts are slow in coming, and so are many other things. I know because I was there until just recently. But that’s what happens in war. Things aren’t perfect. That’s why most NCOs are noted for their ability to adapt and overcome in difficult conditions.

Issues such as how many ambulances and aid stations are down should not be broadcast to the world via Stars and Stripes. Instead, the writer should take up these issues with his chain of command and NCO support channel. I was appalled at the writer’s lack of professionalism as he listed the various classes of supplies that he doesn’t have or is short of. Doing so may very well be an operational security violation. I strongly urge the writer’s chain of command to counsel this junior NCO on what is and is not appropriate to announce to the world about his unit during a war.

How can the writer say: “No one is more professional than I” while whining in front of his unit, his fellow NCOs and, worst of all, his GIs. I think the writer needs to read the NCO creed again and the tenets of professionalism that it outlines. He needs to live the creed not just when everything is going smoothly, but even in difficult times.

Master Sgt. W. Lee EbbsHeidelberg, Germany

Mail defense condescending

This is in response to the June 3 letter “Mail pales in comparison.” I noticed that the letter writer lives in Germany. He’s not in Afghanistan, Israel, Kuwait or Iraq. Although the Consolidated Mail Room and Army Post Office are friendly and courteous, this doesn’t help the fact that delivery to servicemembers in these countries is not in any way prompt.

Everyone is unpleasantly surprised when, after two months of deployment, servicemembers still have received no packages and very few letters. This is due to our friendly and courteous CMR and APO.

I’d also like to know just where all of our servicemembers should go to have access to e-mail or newspapers in the middle of the desert. Our servicemembers are quite busy fighting for our country and rebuilding a war-torn nation. A little moral support from home, through the mail or by any means available, should be accessible and easy for servicemembers and family members. It’s unfortunate that every deployed unit doesn’t have a “great” home page like the 1st Armored Division does.

I don’t think this problem’s been created by one person slacking in his job. It’s many people. How about all the time the “training” holidays give soldiers to sit around and not deliver mail to our deployed soldiers who work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, continuously for months?

As for the additional duties for mail handlers who are “in theater,” they are “in theater!” They’re still enjoying the comforts of home. They enjoy going home to their families at the end of the day, and they still receive their mail each day. Thanks for working those “extra” Saturdays.

I and everyone else are disgusted that the letter writer had the audacity to respond so arrogantly.

Jennifer McCraveyHanau, Germany

Separation anxiety justified

I was deployed to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Qatar from September to December of 2002. I was subsequently reassigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion in January and told that the battalion was on alert for deployment. I deployed with the battalion in April and am currently in Kirkuk, Iraq.

In February I submitted my resignation and requested a separation date of Dec. 31, which was approved. Prior to deploying, my battalion commander said that he’d do everything he could to send me home with adequate time to outprocess from the Army and take all of my accrued leave, which will be 97 days by December. The 4th Infantry Division’s policy is to send separating soldiers home 30 days plus any accrued leave days prior to a given soldier’s separation date, or 90 days prior to a given soldier’s separation date if that soldier has 60 days or less accrued leave days. The 555th Engineer Group has generously added five travel days to the division’s 30 days. My travel days will be Aug. 22-26. My outprocessing days will be Aug. 27-Sept. 25. My accrued leave days will be Sept. 26-Dec. 31.

Out of the 30 days I’m allotted to outprocess, there are only 20 working days. (I’m assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash., which takes a four-day weekend for Labor Day). If I don’t complete outprocessing within the allotted 30 days, I’ll have to eat into my accrued leave days to complete outprocessing. I’ll then have to sell back any accrued leave I’m not able to take before my separation date. The Fort Lewis separations branch requires 30 working days minimum to outprocess. Outprocessing includes receiving preseparation counseling at an Army Career and Alumni Program Center, utilizing ACAP services, Army physicals, Veterans Affairs physicals, dental exams and equipment turn-in, as well as processing through the numerous installation offices to include finance, legal, personnel, movement and transportation, etc. The medical and dental appointments backlog is three to four weeks.

My son will be 17 months old on July 2. Out of those 17 months, I will have seen him for just more than six months due to numerous deployments. My wife’s been running the household, caring for our son, and taking night classes so she can get a better job. I feel I’m entitled to take all my accrued leave and enjoy as much time with my family as possible. The limited amount of time allotted to outprocess will cause undue stress on me and my family members at a time when they will require a great deal of my attention after having been deployed as often as I have been.

The Army, the 4th Infantry Division, the 555th Engineer Group and the 14th Engineer Battalion are doing a great injustice to all soldiers separating from Iraq. We won’t be afforded the same opportunities as soldiers who didn’t deploy and are separating from the Army. We’re being used and then kicked to the curb to fend for ourselves in order to transition to a civilian career.

Capt. Immanuel B. SamsonKirkuk, Iraq

Tricare improvements noted

This is in regard to the June 12 story “Survey: Airmen say AF a good place to work.” We appreciate that Stars and Stripes reported that, overall, members of the Air Force are pleased with their health care. On behalf of the many Tricare health care providers and support staff, I’m gratified that the men and women of the Air Force are pleased with their health care and its contribution to their overall satisfaction with their quality-of-life priorities.

When the Military Health System began Tricare eight years ago and the subsequent decision was made to add Tricare For Life for retirees more than 65 years of age, we knew there were many factors that needed to be addressed and services that needed improvement. With each passing year we’ve made great strides in improving Tricare services. Our goal is 100 percent satisfaction. While we’re not there yet, I’m delighted that the trend continues toward our objective, with a noted increase in satisfaction since the 2000 Chief of Staff Air Force Quality of Life Survey of Air Force people. When compared to the 2002 survey results, there is a notable increase in enlisted family health care satisfaction and a significant increase in officer family health care satisfaction.

The Military Health System is making every effort to ensure continuous growth in customer satisfaction. Trends indicate these efforts are paying off.

Maj. Gen. Leonard M. RandolphActing chief operating officerTricare Management ActivityFalls Church, Va.

July 1

War is last thing soldier wants

I was really astounded by the letter “We can go” (June 25). The writer is with the 1st Infantry Division. It appears to me that the writer is more interested in earning a chest full of metals and becoming a “war hero” to the folks back home than anything else in his bid to go to Iraq. If he really wants to go, all he has to do is submit a request through channels for assignment to a combat zone. I’m sure there’s some people there who would gladly change places with him.

But before the writer does that, maybe he needs to grow up just a little more. The last thing in the world that a real soldier wants is a war or to be on the receiving end of a bullet. I wonder deep down how many times the writer has actually heard the thwack of a bullet as it collides with a human body.

To me, the writer’s remarks regarding the Big Red One (“1st Peacekeeping Division”) were a slap in the face to every member who went before us, every current member of the division and those who will follow. Maybe what the writer needs to do is actually sit down and read the entire history of the 1st Infantry Division. He should read about the first death of World War I on Oct. 25, 1917, the 22,300 casualties that followed on the beaches of North Africa and Normandy, and the 21,300 casualties in World War II, as well as the too numerous battles of Vietnam, which claimed another 2,000 lives.

Maybe the writer should also attend a funeral or two and see what it’s like to actually lose a family member or friend in a hostile fire zone. Then the writer should take time out to reflect on the words that the division lives by daily: “No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty first.” He should try to live by those words, as every former member still does. The writer’s final act should be to apologize for his reckless letter and selfish quest for glory. He should think of the men of his unit who do not want to go to war and who have families that they wish to stay with. He should be grateful for the lives his unit will not lose. And as far as the Army taking care of its own, trust me, it does, and so does the 1st Infantry Division. Look at the list of scholarships it has given out.

How do I know all this? I’m a former combat veteran with the 1st Infantry Division. I served two tours in Vietnam. I’ve been a member of the Society of the 1st Infantry Division for the past 35 years, and I’m now a life member of the society.

Any time the letter writer wants a history lesson about the Big Red One, he should come see me. I’ll be glad to enlighten him. I live in Germany, still serving my Army and my country.

Walter J. IrwinLudwigshafen, Germany

Petty rules lower morale

Is the Army shooting itself in the foot? The Army’s push has been to recruit college-bound students, thereby showing a desire to build more intelligent and independent soldiers. Yet the Army continues to issue rules and regulations that question the intelligence of those soldiers.

For instance, the Army should be using its time to gather essential mission information and disseminate it to the battalions and companies that require it before devoting its time to enforcing Army fashions and how soldiers dress around their tents. The troops recognize with regret the wasted time and energy used to enforce these low-priority issues.

Enlisted soldiers have also recognized during the deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom that Army doctrine and standard operating procedures have been ignored and eliminated. Rather, rules and guidelines change daily.

The morale of Army soldiers is low. They continue to be bombarded by petty rules and quick-tempered demands that change constantly. Either the Army thinks soldiers are inept and stupid or it just doesn’t care about soldiers. The deployment has proven to be both disheartening and disappointing. How will these soldiers describe their experiences here in Kuwait to their friends, families and classmates? To what lengths will the Army go to retain soldiers and recruit new ones who are knowledgeable of the current deployment experience? And where does this place the future of the Army?

Spc. John A. KrumKuwait

Better care for dependents

I’m writing about the medical options we have here in Baumholder, Germany. I’m a military wife with a husband who has been deployed to Iraq for almost two months. Our 6-year-old daughter is facing surgery to have her tonsils removed. Given this bad news, I was told to call Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. After calling and being switched to another line to make her an appointment, I was then told that dependents were not being seen at that time. So I was referred back to the Baumholder liaison office.

Finally I was referred to a doctor on the economy. I had the options of Ramstein, Kusel or Idar-Oberstein. After making an appointment at Idar-Oberstein, I found that my daughter would be staying there for a week. I don’t doubt that the doctor will take good care of my daughter, but my daughter doesn’t speak German. One would think that the military would be prepared a little better to take care of dependents while my husband is putting his life on the line in Iraq.

I’m wondering how my husband will feel when he finds out. I have five children in all. Two are going to the States for a visit. How can a basically single parent take care of a child in the hospital and two at home for a whole week with no family to help? I could understand a couple of days. But a week with doctors and nurses who can’t speak English well is very scary for a 6-year-old girl.

I’m wondering if anyone can look into this so that no one else will have to face this kind of thing alone while their spouse is thousands of mile away and can’t come home to help. I’m wondering if anyone else has faced this kind of situation. Any comments or information would be helpful.

Corina ParadeeBaumholder, Germany

Facts on fuel prices

As promised, I was able to obtain a copy of the AAFES-Europe bulk fuel contract through the Freedom of Information Act. All readers should be aware of the following facts: AAFES sets its overseas fuel prices on a monthly average for each grade of gas, plus local dispensing costs based on the continental United States Department of Energy’s monthly price survey. Fuel prices for locations that don’t have fixed cost contracts will change on the first day of each new month. Military and government purchases are based on AAFES cost prices, whereas the rest of us pay the additional local dispensing overhead.

The bulk fuel supplier is ESSO Deutschland, and it has a five-year contract. Some highlights worth noting are that AAFES doesn’t pay for the printing on fuel coupons, AAFES doesn’t pay for the delivery of bulk fuel, and AAFES receives a discount for early payment. AAFES also enjoys the benefits of supplier price promotions. Shouldn’t these benefits be carried through to local consumers with price reductions?

There are also two programs that I didn’t know exist. First, AAFES was to develop and implement a gas card program to replace the current fuel coupon redemption. This program was scheduled for release in spring 2002. Has anyone been issued a gas card? Second, AAFES was to sell bulk heating oil through a local supplier directly to the community. This program included competitive market prices with free home delivery. Has anyone bought heating oil from AAFES?

All of the facts above were supplied by AAFES. I’d like to know AAFES’ response to the status of the gas card and heating oil programs.

Doug DorrerPirmasens, Germany

'Support' in name only

It seems that no one cares about family members left behind when our soldiers deploy. Recently an American friend of mine whose American husband is deployed in Iraq was going to visit her family in Australia and needed to find transportation to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. She called rear detachment at least a week ahead of time and was assured that there would be no problem. She left message upon message starting four days before her flight for an update with no return call. The day before she was to leave, she desperately called our Family Support Group leader and was told that she needed to call a taxi.

What’s the purpose of FSG? I think the initials stand for Family Support Group, but I must be mistaken. This isn’t the only instance when I’ve experienced a lack of caring on the part of this group. I’ve heard time and time again about how Family Support Groups provide support to families of deployed soldiers.

My friend and I have been here since May 2002. The first call I got about FSG was when our husbands were deployed to Grafenwöhr, Germany, in March and were about to be deployed to Iraq. I didn’t receive a call when I was eight months pregnant and my husband was deployed to Grafenwöhr about whether I might possibly need anything or who I could call to drive me to the hospital if I went into premature labor.

When I mentioned to one FSG leader that I couldn’t attend a meeting because I was moving from Birkenfeld to Baumholder, was an offer of help extended? No. Not that I would have accepted. But it would have been nice to know someone cared.

Readers shouldn’t get me wrong. I don’t need my hand held at every step of my husband’s deployment. But during the two most stressful and challenging times in my life, it would’ve been nice to know that there was someone I could call for support if it was needed. It’s appalling that our particular organization has the nerve to call itself a Family Support Group when there is an obvious lack of understanding of the definition of support.

Tracy R. PoetschBaumholder, Germany

July 2

Aghast at Kid Rockk trash

This is in regard to the story “Kid Rock, Playboy bunny, NFL stars, Gary Sinise put on show for troops” (June 20). “If I was president, I’d turn all churches into strip clubs.” Is this the lyric sang by Kid Rock that caused Spc. Jerome Robinson of 69th Chemical Company, 1st Armored Division, to say, “This is worth it, definitely worth it. It changes the whole mood, and morale, it’s the highest I’ve ever seen it”? Maybe it was Kid Rock’s reference to “smoking a joint on Air Force One” that caused Spc. Richard Murray to explain that “I wanted to get the front row.”

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.” But then, according to the story, “the crowd loved it.”

Censorship of what goes on in private is one thing. But what went on in Hangar 42 at Baghdad International Airport, sponsored by the USO, was in diametric opposition to what we try to instill in our GIs. Sgt. David Whipp described it in these terms: “This is our release and our escape …” What? To condone religious intolerance and advocate illegal substance abuse? Why don’t we just get Eminem or Michael Moore to come and “entertain” our troops with ethnic and racial slurs or to slander our commander in chief? What kind of a message are we sending? Is the way we relax directly related to a public display of such incivility?

Article 117 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits the use of provocative speech and gestures. If a soldier flipped off his commander, it would be a bad thing. Kid Rock tells our soldiers that it’s just demonstrating “good ole American attitude.” Is that what it means to be an American? Where was the command presence at this point? Can anyone justify this as promoting Army values? How many of these young soldiers will espouse their undying support of these values when they appear before a promotion board? Were they maybe told to check their ID tags and values cards at the door and pick them up on the way out?

There must be a little more wholesome entertainment that can be provided for our soldiers. It’s not as though we are oblivious to the style of music and reputations of artists. And someone should explain to Kid Rock that an appropriate hand salute to soldiers in defense of freedom consists of more than one finger.

Chris StanleyKitzingen, Germany

Combat badges story

This is in response to the story “Infantrymen, medics awarded combat badges” (June 2). The article was correct in saying that only infantrymen and medics can earn the badges. But as a medic, I have three questions: What does the regulation say, who is eligible, and who authorizes it?

I find it difficult to believe that many medical personnel in both the 1st Infantry Division and 3rd Infantry Division received these badges. Yes, they treated patients. But were they under fire? Was the woman physician’s assistant under fire?

We were told that medics in field artillery, engineer, armor and fire support bases are not eligible. If medics go on patrol with these units — which are now conducting infantrylike tactics on patrol — and receive fire and casualties and treat them, shouldn’t they be eligible? Is the blood or job different?

I’d rather wear a badge knowing that I did what I was trained for and helped my fellow soldiers than a unit patch (and a combat patch at that) just for coming here. I could’ve bought a T-shirt instead with less of a political statement.

Sgt. J. McLaughlinBaghdad, Iraq

Injured driver

I get an old Stars and Stripes every few days, and I just read about Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau’s crash. I’m a NASCAR fan, and as any fan would know, Nadeau’s ride is sponsored by the U.S. Army. Nadeau might not be a soldier on the battlefield, but he does represent us during this patriotic time. Are we as the Army supporting him and his family, at least emotionally, in his time of need? I ask readers to please find his address, fan club or otherwise, so that we, his sponsors, may write him in support.

Sgt. Kevin F. KirkBaghdad, Iraq

Family Readiness Group

I have to respond to the letter “Where’s the support?” (June 26) about family support groups. First, they’re no longer called Family Support Groups. They’re Family Readiness Groups. This is because spouses had become too dependent on FSGs and their leaders. Spouses got to the point where they couldn’t handle normal tasks on their own. So the name was changed to emphasize the need to be ready for situations and the ability to handle those tasks.

The purpose of FRGs is to provide families with the resources and tools to be self-sufficient members of the military community. FRGs exist to provide information and referrals to family members, especially during a deployment. FRGs are not a baby-sitting, moving or taxi service, but FRGs attempt to go above and beyond their call of duty. Many people forget that FRG leaders are volunteers whose spouses are also probably deployed. FRG leaders go through the same situations as other spouses of deployed soldiers.

If, as the letter said, the rear detachment told a spouse not to worry about transportation and then never came through, then that spouse needs to address her frustrations toward rear detachment. An FRG can’t control a rear detachment.

I recommend spouses become as active as possible within their FRGs. They shouldn’t assume that their FRG leaders are aware of and understand their specific situations. FRG leaders are often responsible for more than 50 families which each have individual wants and needs. FRG leaders can’t help if not specifically asked. Sometimes FRG leaders won’t be able to respond to last-minute situations. But a good FRG leader will offer direction to proper agencies that can help.

FRG leaders aren’t mind readers or gods. They can’t be all and do all for everyone all the time. If the writer is unsatisfied with her FRG or its leader, she can find out what to do to create a stronger FRG and volunteer her time and services. She can even offer to be an FRG leader. The writer might find out that volunteering to take care of 50 families, often with little or no support and less thanks, is a monumental task for any one person to handle.

The writer should help her FRG become a wonderful asset to her community. The main responsibility of FRGs are to inform spouses, help them make educated decisions and make referrals as necessary. But it’s every family member’s responsibility to ensure that their FRGs are the best that they can be. FRGs are family members.

Jessica BurmeisterFamily Readiness Group LeaderDexheim, Germany

Create own entertainment

I was appalled by the letter “Nothing to do” (June 20). How could the writer complain about a lack of activities and services while so many troops are deployed to hostile fire areas without phones, e-mail, electricity, running water or hot meals?

Perhaps the writer needs to grow up and create some entertainment for herself rather than complain. She could “adopt” some soldiers downrange and send them letters or care packages. Or she could volunteer to help some of the stressed single parents whose spouses are deployed.

If the writer’s goals are not so altruistic, perhaps she can enroll in a course, check out a book from the library or work out at a gym. If self-improvement is not her aim, perhaps the writer and her friends could get together and play cards or board games, or converse. The writer might also take the opportunity to explore the German community where she lives and avail herself of its recreational services.

I applaud the writer for composing her letter, but I hope if she does so in the future that it’s on a more relevant issue.

Carol A. JorimanBaumholder, Germany

Jump through multiple hoops

I want to talk about how our leaders think and how they treat our soldiers. Let’s talk about the many deployments soldiers have to endure before it all stops. I’ll use myself as an example.

I came down on orders for South Korea in January 1998 with a report date of May 1998. My wife was five or six months pregnant, so I requested a deferment. It was denied. My wife later went into the hospital under emergency conditions, and our baby was born before I got back to the States on 24 days of emergency leave. I had only been in South Korea for five days.

I returned to South Korea to complete my one-year tour with no leave. I then PCS’d to Fort Bragg, N.C., in May 1999. When I got there, I jumped right into preparing for a Bosnia rotation. This included many trips to Fort Stewart, Ga., the National Training Center and, of course, individual training. And that’s not to mention that I had an advance course to attend and I underwent serious knee surgery. So I missed another birthday of our second child. That was three in a row. I have an 8-year-old son as well as my now-5-year-old daughter. I was in Bosnia from September 2000 until April 2001.

I returned from Bosnia and three months later set sights on yet another foreign land, Egypt, for 18 months. So that took me to January 2003. In late January, I got back to the States, outprocessed and moved four shipments of furniture. My family was in Texas and I was in North Carolina putting our house on the market. I finally arrived in Houston in late February to spend my last 10 days with my family before heading to Fort Hood to find housing for my family. I was told there was a one-month wait for housing. By now it was mid-March. I arrived to my unit, and my newfound leadership said, “You have 30 days to get your family and finances together before being deployed to Iraq.” I had not found a place for my family to stay. Do readers call this taking care of troops?

So here I sit in Iraq in a unit with which I have no job because I’m not school-trained to be a part of it. Where does it all stop? Needless to say, I’m not the only person, even in this unit, who’s undergoing these stresses. And readers want to know why the Army has a high divorce rate? Now they understand.

Sgt. 1st Class Carl McGilbertIraq

Stop loss not used as intended

I’m a soldier and I’m inquiring about stop loss. Stop loss is for sustaining military forces in time of need. As a soldier I understand this policy. But since stop loss was officially lifted on May 27, isn’t it a priority to return those who were affected back home?

Personnel such as me who were affected by stop loss were caught off guard when it was activated. Stop loss was issued on Feb. 15, exactly one week before my unit departed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. I obviously wasn’t prepared to deploy and neither was my family. One week isn’t sufficient time to prepare for a real-world deployment.

Prior to stop loss, I was placed on rear detachment because my expiration term of service date was May 26. A Military Personnel Center message was issued prior to stop loss that said deployed personnel who were supposed to ETS would be returned 30 days prior from the original ETS day for transitional purposes. The next day a military personnel message came out with an update saying that instead of 30 days, personnel would be returned home 60 days prior.

Because of this message I was placed on rear detachment because if deployed, I would have returned in March and been in theater for a month. My unit felt that it would be a waste to send me since I’d only be there for a short time. Therefore, the decision was to keep me in the rear. Obviously my unit prepared to deploy without me in attendance, but instead brought me along due to stop loss.

I’ve been in theater for almost three months. My days are repetitious. All there is to do are tasks that need to be done for the sake of sustaining daily life, including taking out trash, getting Meals, Ready to Eat and water, etc. I do nothing related to my primary military occupational specialty or hardly anything constructive relating to the military. My days consist of waking up just to wait for the day to end. I promise this is no exaggeration.

I could deal with being on stop loss if I had a purpose. But obviously I haven’t any purpose here. No chain of command can justify my complaints if I’ve done nothing for almost three months. I’m sure there are other unlucky soldiers in the same situation. I just hope and pray that someone with a voice will inquire about this issue for me and for the thousands of soldiers in theater who are being held back from their families and from living life itself.

Sgt. Frank T. ColomaIraq

Know cancellation policy first

I moved to a controlled three-year tour in June 2001. I bought a home and had a security system installed by Guardian Security, which falls under Morlyn Financial Group. Recently, the opportunity to retrain became available and I was approved. This being the case, I was scheduled for technical school and received orders to PCS. I notified Morlyn that I needed to cancel my service and offered to provide a copy of my orders. But I was told that despite it being an official military move, I was bound to a three-year contract. I had one year of service left on my contract. I pursued the issue with the base legal office. Because no actual military clause was mentioned in the contract, all legal could do was send a letter on my behalf to the company. This had no effect on Morlyn’s policy.

As a military member, I took for granted that the security service contract would be no different than a cell phone service contract or an apartment contract. I believed that even if a military clause was not actually printed in the contract, a copy of my official orders would be enough to release me. But this is not the case.

Morlyn wrote back to me and stated quite boldly that if I didn’t pay the balance for the next year it would assign my case to debt collectors and take legal action against me. Not wanting to have a negative effect on my credit, I paid the balance.

I spoke to a public affairs representative who suggested I tell my story to the Family Support Center so new arrivals could be briefed to be wary of entering into a home security service contract. I want to get this information out to the military community so no one else has to learn this lesson the hard way. I can’t speak for the policies of all security services, only that of Guardian and Morlyn.

I recommend that servicemembers who enter into a security service contract get something in writing to exempt them from the full contract terms in the event of a military move. If affected by an unexpected move, taking this precaution may prevent servicemembers from having to pay a lump sum for a service they’ll never receive.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle KingPeterson Air BaseColorado Springs, Colo.

July 3

Dying in vain

How many more American soldiers must die in vain? We came to Iraq to overthrow a government that was abusing and starving its people. We came to disarm them of weapons of mass destruction. Yet we are still getting shot at on a weekly basis. Soldiers are still going home to their families in boxes. What is mass destruction? The killing of thousands or the breaking of a wife’s heart because she will never hold her husband again? Or is it the breaking of a child’s heart because his daddy won’t be able to see that he finally learned to ride a bicycle because his dad was away? Maybe it’s the breaking of a mother’s heart whose son was killed in a drive-by shooting at 2:30 a.m. in some faraway land. The son she was so proud of and bragged about. She’d show her co-workers his basic training picture and say, “That’s my son. He’s in the Army.”

How much more destruction will it take? There are still members of the Iraqi regime with weapons who are taking American lives. Soldiers will continue to die needlessly until there is complete and total disarmament of Iraq. We came over here to do a job, so let’s do it. Let us disarm Iraqis of every weapon. Let us go town to town, door to door and disarm them.

It makes me sick that a man is let past a checkpoint with an AK-47 because he has a card to carry it, then two days later that man is killed for attacking U.S. forces. I ask the chain of command, how much longer must we endure this? How many more lives must be wasted in vain?

Sgt. Brian BoroughsIraq

Tired combat veterans

I thank God for allowing me to be a soldier in the U.S. Army, and also for bringing me through a war which I never thought that I’d see. Now that the war is over, one question still remains: Why am I still in Iraq? The soldiers of my artillery unit have been deployed to Kuwait and Iraq since last May. We went home for 41 days and came right back over. We have spent more than 330 days deployed and still counting. Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division have fought this war and led from the front. Our replacements are here, but we can’t return home to our families.

I pray that by the time this letter is received that we’ll be home. If not, I hope this reaches the right people and they do something about our tired combat veterans.

Sgt. Patrick D. WilliamsIraq

Give credit

I recently read in Stars and Stripes about how the 82nd Airborne Division took Samawah and Diwaniyah in Iraq and the 101st Airborne took Karbala. What Stripes failed to mention was who did all the legwork. B Company, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, with attachments from 1-41 IN, fought the battles in Samawah and cleared Highway 8 all the way past Diwaniyah. C Co, 1-41 IN cleared Karbala. They’re the ones who had the big firefight up there. And let’s not forget that several soldiers were wounded.

The 82nd Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division didn’t take over until after we had cleared these cities. Light infantry didn’t have a chance of clearing these cities. That’s why they called in the mechanized infantry. So I think some credit should be given to the 1-41 IN. Without them, these cities couldn’t have been cleared.

Staff Sgt. Louis J. HollingsIraq

Mail system poor

What I’d like to say about the mail system is it pretty much stinks. I believe it’s because of the leadership. All they care about is these lame missions instead of soldiers’ morale and well-being. We, the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, are still receiving mail from the second week of April, and family and friends have received only one to three letters, if that. If we have all this leadership and they are so advanced, then they should be able to get the mail straight. We didn’t have this problem during the last Gulf War, so I believe it’s just laziness. I and other soldiers have volunteered to help sort out or take care of the mail, but no one cares.

Soldiers need mail. It helps them to get through these desolate times. Hopefully someone will hear all these words and cries and do something with the mail system. The leadership knows what they need to do, but they don’t care. They probably receive their mail because of their rank. I shouldn’t think that way, but when I feel no one is helping the problem, then I speculate on every possible answer.

There has to be one smart soldier or someone who can speak up without worrying about the repercussions of rank and take control of the mail. We soldiers who fight these battles need our mail. The higher-ups want what they want from us, but can’t give us what we want — our mail!

Cpl. Corey PennethyIraq

Anger and frustration

I find myself fighting feelings of anger and frustration caused by the letter “Finishing off the enemy” (May 13). The writer said he and his fellow soldiers need stabilization. I couldn’t agree with him more. But I disagreed with him when he mentioned the reservists and National Guardsmen.

I’m a proud member of the Washington State National Guard and one of the best units in its arsenal, B Company, 14th Engineers. The writer said we should bring in some National Guard or Reserve units to relieve him and his fellow infantry soldiers because they’ve done their jobs.

The last I checked, I’ve been enjoying this lovely country as much as the writer has with the exception of being in lovely Baghdad. Furthermore, I make more in one midmonth paycheck doing my civilian job than what the writer makes in a month. To say that my monthly $234.16 check from the Guard for my monthly drill pays my car note is to say quite a bit, because it doesn’t come close. I joined the Guard to maintain some of my ties with the military, not for the big $234.16, which I guess pays my car note.

As I recall, the contract I signed with the Guard called for two weeks a year and 12 drills, not six months in Iraq. When was the last time the writer read his contract? As I recall from my active-duty years, it read in fine print that I was a soldier 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

So the next time the writer decides to throw rocks at a glass house, he should make sure to check that he’s not standing in one. He might also want to check what percentage of the military in this lovely country is made up of us Guardsmen and reservists. He should check on it when he gets back and stabilized. I wouldn’t want him to have to do more than what he has to.

Staff Sgt. Alexis R. CruzIraq

What you make it

I’m responding to the letter “Where’s the support” (June 26). I’m a Family Readiness Group leader for the 92nd Military Police (3rd and 4th platoons). First I’d like to thank all the spouses in our group. Our husbands left in February for Israel. We were told it would be for six months to a year. By luck they came home three months later. But while they were gone, we still had meetings, and questions were answered. We had spouses who needed rides and spouses who offered rides. No one owes anyone anything.

I was also nervous because this was the first deployment for more than half of the spouses, myself included. We survived because of the communication and contact we had prior to the deployment. A person can’t ignore or not want to be a part of an FRG and then expect it to bend over backward when her spouse deploys.

FRGs are for information, an ear to talk to or a familiar face on post when spouses feel alone. We’re all spouses dealing with military life, and as with the soldiers, it’s what one makes it. If the writer’s FRG is not working for her, she should ask herself if she’s ever worked for it.

Laura GomezDarmstadt, Germany

July 4

Independence Day message

On this date 227 years ago, 56 men of means and education signed a document declaring that the American colonies were no longer part of the British empire, dissolving “the political bands which had connected them with one another.” In its place, the signers of the Declaration of Independence envisioned building a nation of freedom based on principles of liberty, justice, human quality and the rule of law.

But such dreams of freedom came neither easily nor free of cost. Nine of the 56 signers died directly from wounds or from the hardships of war as a price for their vision of freedom. Since that time, many others have sacrificed for the cause of freedom, from battlefields as close to home as Princeton, New Orleans, Gettysburg, to more distant battlefields like Chateau-Thierry, Midway, Bastogne, Khe Sahn, in the skies over Hanoi, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet despite the sacrifices of those who have preceded us, many complex and diverse challenges confront our resolve. Unlike decades past where such challenges were more readily identified, threats to freedom today come from shadowy non-state groups who would impose upon us an ideology that is intolerant of any form of freedom, government, religion or political view that is contrary to their own. Our mission, therefore, is to continue to fight for our freedom on new battlefields, using new methods of warfare. But the vision of freedom that the signers of the declaration held so dear remains unchanged and steadfast.

I am proud to serve with each of you, military and civilian alike, each soldier, Marine, sailor, airman and Coast Guardsman currently assigned to the U.S. European Command. You are worthy heirs to the legacy of those who have gone before us in the struggle for freedom. You protect the vision and allow our fellow citizens and others who cherish freedom to enjoy its fruits in the manner of their own choosing.

On this 4th of July, my wife, Diane, and I salute you and your families for your service, and the sacrifices you make on a daily basis. Please enjoy this holiday safely, and take a moment to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy as well as the realization that our effort to protect and maintain them is truly a noble undertaking.

Gen. James L. JonesCommander, U.S. European Commando

Families are the heroes

I sit here in Iraq and keep reading about who is and isn’t a hero. In the end, does it really matter?

Take Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who went through some tragic events. How many people will remember her in six months or a year? Probably not even 90 percent of the Stripes readers. And how many people can remember the name of the first fallen soldier?

The point is that you can complain, but when it comes down to it, those of you who are so proud of us for fighting a controversial war will eventually forget about us.

The real heros and the ones we should be proud of are our families, because they have to take on more responsibility and endure more stress. My wife worries about my well-being, takes on the workload that I would be doing, holds down the fort and does all her other responsibilities. To me, that’s my hero — as are all the other families going through the same thing.

Pfc. Patrick StullIraq

Widows being wronged

A husband works and pays Social Security. A wife works and pays Social Security. A husband works and pays for survivor benefits.

Three premiums are paid in. But only one will be paid out, because a widow cannot collect her Social Security AND the survivor benefits that her husband worked and paid for.

This is not right. In fact, I don’t think it’s even legal. But not one of our military leaders has stood up, pointed a finger and said, “This is wrong.”

Since the leaders are not looking after their people, the active-duty husbands and wives must take corrective action. They should contact their senators and representatives requesting that this injustice to military wives be corrected immediately.

Remember: Those widows also served.

John W. JohnsonWalldurn-Glashofen, Germany

Memorable support

From March 19 to May 16, my unit was privileged to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Designated the 86th Expeditionary Contingency Response Group, we opened two airfields in northern Iraq to permit an influx of ground forces to secure a very important northern front.

Our mission was a success thanks in large part to the support of the Kaiserslautern Military Community. First, a handful of people from units outside my group augmented our team in Iraq. Then, as our mission progressed, support from home — morale and material — came in droves, including care packages and a three-day visit from AFN Kaiserslautern. It was a first-rate show of support for a deployed unit performing its wartime mission in an austere environment.

The icing on the cake was our return to Ramstein. We came home in two waves on April 27 and May 16. Both times, we were treated to heartwarming receptions involving families, senior leaders, the USO and the USAFE band. On behalf of the men and women of the 86th ECRG, I extend a special thanks to all who supported our unit while we were deployed and to those who had a hand in making our return home such a memorable event.

Col. Steven K. WeartCommander, 86th ECRGRamstein AB, Germany

A solution to mail woes?

Many letters to the editor express frustration and dissatisfaction with the speed and reliability of mail delivery to personnel currently serving in southwest Asia.

An article “How the Deutsche Post (the German Postal Service) is serving the U.S. Army in Iraq” appears in the current online English edition of the German news magazine Der Spiegel (access at http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/english/).

It briefly describes the problems encountered by the military postal system in delivering the mail, first to Afghanistan and then to Iraq, as well as the refusal of UPS and FedEx to bid on a contract (“too dangerous”) to provide the service. DHL, a subsidiary of Deutsche Post, eventually got the eight-figure contract to deliver the mail using military surplus Soviet transport planes. The colorful descriptions of 40 employees in a hot Bahrain airplane hangar sorting and routing the mail and the perils of flying from Bahrain to Baghdad may hold a clue as to why the service is slow.

According to the story, DHL is getting a Boeing, so mail delivery to soldiers in Iraq should be much faster shortly.

Ron ArgentatiBaumholder, Germany

A bigger problem than Iraq

While everyone has been worrying about whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, most have forgotten about a bigger problem — North Korea. Things are getting to the point where it is likely we could end up with a war there. North Korea has said it has WMDs and will use them if provoked. It keeps warning that any U.N. intervention means war and the invasion of South Korea and Japan, which could start World War WIII.

North Korea has the same stance with an economic blockade. But where are the protesters? Where are the people calling for President Bush to deal with North Korea? Is it because people are still really worried about Iraq or is it no one wishes to think about North Korea because it would be more than a one-month war and much more bloodshed?

Alexander BotkinBrunsuum, The Netherlands

Some overweight GIs lack pride

The June 24 letter “Overweight soldiers need help” was well written. I would like to reply to that, and my sentiments are exactly the same.

I spent seven years in the Marines and 13 in the Army. I am a Black Hawk helicopter pilot.

The differences between the two services are vast. There is more youth and turnover in the Marines. Discipline is not an issue. There are not many fat Marines — unless they’re former Marines.

The Army as a whole is much different — excluding the Rangers. Just a different mind-set; understandably due to the size. However, we are still in the service as soldiers.

In my unit, at least 10 percent of the soldiers are overweight and/or out of shape. I recently witnessed two young soldiers barely running on the APFT two-mile run. I followed up to see if they had passed. I was quite surprised it wasn’t covered up. But is there a remedial physical training program for them? No! Are they given a time limit to get in shape and underweight? Maybe.

I am just curious, what is the Army regulation on weight control? Does anybody abide by it?

By the way, I am 42 years old and can outrun 90 percent of my unit and have consistently scored 285 or better since I have been in the Army. I am not in the best shape, but I do try.

Overweight soldiers, get this: The Army is not going to get you in shape. You had better take a little pride and do it yourself, especially if your job doesn’t allow you to PT regularly. If you eat a lot, you had better work out. If you need to PT five days a week and your unit only manages to unit train only two days, take it upon yourself to do it. If you don’t like what you read, then get out. I am sure the American taxpayers expect more.

I have been stationed in Germany, Okinawa, Honduras and now South Korea overseas. It is the same everywhere: Americans are overweight. Spouses, children — everybody. It is embarrassing to me — as I am sure it is to a lot of other soldiers. The fast food is killing us. Eating out late and watching videos is not going to get anyone in shape. Reality check: Watch your diet. The Korean people can testify to that. Just look at them.

Overweight servicemembers should please get in shape so we can “strut our stuff.”

Danny CowdenSeoul

Camp Covington is right name

With all due respect to the author of the June 28 article “Sailors recall ‘Seabee Betty,’” “Mr. Covington” was Lt. William Lee Covington, a 1965 honor graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who was killed in action while serving his country in Vietnam. Before someone makes slight of whether a military installation’s name should be changed, I would think the author would do appropriate research to ascertain the whyfores of said installation bearing such a name.

While the author is certainly entitled to his opinion, he needs to be certain of his facts and be sensitive to the reason and the historical perspective why the camp on Guam was so named Camp Covington in the first place.

Editor’s note: The writer is Lt. William Lee Covington’s brother.

Robert C. CovingtonAtlanta

July 5

Freedom's needs come first

The writer of “Transformation plan” (June 29) 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 one and a half years. 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

A day in the life of Iraq

One day at Talil, a beat-up airbase 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 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 sunk, 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. I would ask that you share this with others. Perhaps it will change their opinions of Saddam and his regime, or simply make them think of all the things they take for granted.

Sgt. J. WhittakerBalad, Iraq

Support group confusion

The writer of “Where’s the support?” (June 26) is confused about the purpose of a Family Support Group. It is not the following: babysitters, surrogate parents, social workers, taxi services, loan agencies, welfare agencies or lending services. 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

Have patience with mail

The Army and Air Force post offices at Camp Adder/Tallil AFB 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 persons mailing you letters or packages of changes to your APO AE whenever you move to a new location.

• 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

Misleading articles

I find the Your Money section in Stripes often misleading — in particular, articles written by Ralph Nelson. At the very least, you should use the same font 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

Combat badge eligibility unfair

This is in response to the June 3 story “Infantrymen, medics given combat badges.” The article was correct in saying that only infantrymen and medics can earn the badges. But as a medic, I have three questions: What does the regulation say, who is eligible and who authorizes it?

I find it difficult to believe that many medical personnel in both the 1st Infantry Division and 3rd Infantry Division received these badges. Yes, they treated patients. But were they under fire? Was the female physician’s assistant under fire?

We were told that medics in field artillery, engineer, armor and fire-support bases are not eligible. If medics go on patrol with these units — which are now conducting infantrylike tactics on patrol — and receive fire and casualties and treat them, shouldn’t they be eligible? Is the blood or job different?

I’d rather wear a badge knowing that I did what I was trained to do and helped my fellow soldiers than a unit patch (and a combat patch at that) just for coming here. I could’ve bought a T-shirt instead with less of a political statement.

Sgt. J. McLaughlinBaghdad, Iraq

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