May 11

War memories

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

May 11 War memories Rug photo Rebel flag not ‘offensive’ Bush blew his chance to serve Just who won here? AAFES passes buck, keeps itMay 12 Lynch controversy Playmates article Tattoos article a waste of ink Patriotism a tangible realityMay 13 Thanks Finishing off the enemy Error corrected It’s appropriate to studyMay 14 Road’s been rough Retiree postal rulesMay 15 Safety in Iraq AFN programming Gas prices too high Time for new blood in Iraq Now fighting AAFES pricesMay 16 Making a difference All servicemembers heroes Lost cat returned DODDS must attend to policy Don’t waver on freedoms System worked for customerMay 17 Mail system Iraq mail too slow

I was having breakfast alone as usual on a recent morning when Spanish radio transmitted an on-the-spot conversation between a young Spanish wife in Valencia and her husband in Baghdad. At the same time, I was also hearing a similar conversation from a long time ago.

Though I was sipping hot coffee in El Puerto de Santa Maria (my home near Rota Naval Station, Spain), my mind was hearing a young Henry, soaking wet from his own sweat in Vietnam in 1963. He was straining to hear his lovely bride in Spain.

The wife in Valencia was trying to converse with her husband in restrained tones. But a sensitive person could detect her heart bursting with every uttered word as she related how their 3-month-old baby was growing so fast and how their 4½-year-old daughter was wondering why daddy couldn’t be there to see her new tennis shoes that pinched her feet.

Henry, in the echoes of the past, saw himself straining to hear the soft voice of his wife, Victoria, as she related in Spanish how their 3-year-old daughter, Linda, and 2-month-old baby were doing.

“Over,” Henry would say to his wife as he released the button for her to talk. Someone at Torrejon Air Base, Madrid, was explaining to her to say “over” when she wanted her husband in faraway Vietnam to speak. “You only have five minutes,” the military operator was telling Henry, as he desperately tried to make out how Linda was coping with her bout of measles.

Feeling somewhat embarrassed at the lack of privacy at such an important moment, young Henry said, “I love you. I’m sorry you’re only getting $250 a month. But as soon as the $1,200 furniture loan and the loan for the airplane ticket (from Tucson, Ariz., to Madrid) is paid off, you’ll get more. How’s little Mark doing?”

“He can stay sitting up,” Victoria said.

I knew something could happen to me, but my main concern was that my wife and young family were taken care of by the government that sent me to that Asian land, the name of which I had never heard until I got orders to go cover the conflict as a military war correspondent.

As I took my last sip of coffee, long gone cold, I felt my cheeks were warm and wet. I didn’t cry in Vietnam. I guess age mellows one. As these fragmented thoughts filtered through, reminding me of pent-up glimpses of that chaotic period of my life, I looked up and saw a bleary picture of my smiling wife, dead three years now, sitting atop the china cabinet across from a lonely breakfast table. Another war, same scene.

Henry MarquezEl Puerto de Santa MariaCadiz, Spain

Rug photo

On May 1, half of the front page of Stars and Stripes pictured a smiling, attractive military woman helping to carry a rug to make living quarters at Camp Victory, Iraq, “more comfortable.”

Meanwhile, an Iraqi carrying home a bookshelf or an appliance is called a looter. Would someone like to explain the difference to me?

J.R. WilsonRota, Spain

Rebel flag not 'offensive'

Regarding the May 6 article on the dress code for sailors aboard the Kitty Hawk (“Sailors reminded of conduct rules”), USS Kitty Hawk commander Capt. Thomas Parker suggests that “offensive” clothing includes the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag represents the valor of soldiers willing to fight for their freedom. While some consider it offensive, a good deal of us hold it in reverence.

The tired argument about the flag representing slavery, oppression, etc. ignores that slavery was legalized and protected by the U.S. government, and the official flag of the Ku Klux Klan is the U.S. flag (not the Southern Cross, despite popular belief). Southerners are sick of being maligned as racists because we wish to preserve our heritage. Tactful display of the Confederate flag is honoring heritage, not promoting hatred. I believe Stars and Stripes and Capt. Parker owe us an apology.

Michael B. HelmickGurley, Ala.

Bush blew his chance to serve

George W. Bush has never disputed that in 1968, about to graduate from Yale and become eligible for the draft, he took an Air Force officer’s test to try to get into the Texas Air National Guard and scored in the 25th percentile, the lowest possible passing grade. Nevertheless, he moved to the front of a waiting list a year-and-a-half long, and was inducted into the Guard in May 1968.

Young Bush signed up for a six-year stint, but by 1972 he requested a transfer to the Alabama Air National Guard to work on the political campaign of William Blount, a family friend (Blount lost). His request was denied, but he went anyway, and not one of his commanding officers can recall Bush ever doing any more actual service with any Guard unit — in Texas, in Alabama, or anywhere else. By August 1972 Bush had lost his certification to fly for missing his annual physical. He never regained it.

By 1973, Bush had decided to attend business school at Harvard, and he got an honorable discharge, despite having eight months left on his commitment and having done no service in any Guard unit for more than a year, while the nation was fully engaged in Vietnam.

I find it ironic then that this man, who by any stretch of the imagination failed at his one and only attempt to perform as a real soldier, would make such a big deal out of playing a soldier on TV — ordering a ship full of sailors be kept from returning to port after a long mission just so this make-believe warrior could be ferried out in a jet for a photo opportunity.

Dan BrownSt. Paul, Minn.

Just who won here?

Just a note to express my thoughts on the May 2 article about the Kubasaki High School Lady Dragons’ victory over Guam High School in the recent Far East Soccer Championship game at Camp Zama, Japan (“Lady Dragons repeat as Class AA champs”).

Reading the article, one would think that Guam was the victor. More was said about Guam and its coach’s thoughts than the Lady Dragons’ team or coach. It was also interesting that the goalkeeper from the Guam team was selected most valuable player when the goalkeeper from the Lady Dragons shut out everyone, including Guam (2-0).

Maybe in the future the writer can spend just a little more time writing about the victors and not the runners-up.

Dan WiseMidland, Texas

AAFES passes the buck, keeps it

This is in regard to purchases made at the Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, post exchange with debit cards. My husband purchased some personal items that he needed in Kuwait prior to leaving for Iraq in March. The transaction for total purchases of $148.90 was debited from our checking account on April 22 twice. My husband is still in Iraq. Since I’m not sure exactly where he is on any given day, I’m also pretty certain that he doesn’t still have the cash register receipt.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s answer is, “Contact your bank and dispute it.” So hopefully if all goes well, we might have our $148.90 credited by Christmas. But I’m not seriously looking to ever see it again.

The nice woman at AAFES’ information 1-800 number said that mine isn’t the only incident. Really? How many more? And how many perhaps won’t even know they’ve been cheated until they come back, whenever that may be? AAFES made it very clear to me that the burden of proving a dispute and getting money refunded is on customers. If customers don’t complain or dispute charges, AAFES just keeps the money. In my husband’s case, AAFES is $148.90 richer.

Cindi McClainKitzingen, Germany

May 12

Lynch controversy

I don’t know Pfc. Jessica Lynch. But I’m a soldier, too, and that’s one of the reasons I have such strong emotions about her, especially when something is said in ignorance by a person who has no idea what every servicemember sacrifices. Pfc. Lynch is a private first class. That’s pretty low on the food chain. So those misguided people who think that Pfc. Lynch carried any responsibility for getting ambushed and captured should go back to the facts. No private would be driving in a convoy in a war zone without the presence of a noncommissioned officer.

Some very unfortunate mistakes were made that day, but that’s the nature of war. Stuff happens. No one person can carry the responsibility of what happened to those soldiers that day. Mistakes get made and we learn from them, whether they’re ours or someone else’s.

Who thinks Pfc. Lynch is not a hero? What is a hero? According to Merriam-Webster, a hero is defined as:

A. A mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.

B. An illustrious warrior.

C. A man admired for his achievements or noble qualities.

D. One who shows great courage.

Do any of these things sound like Pfc. Lynch?

A. Army training endows all soldiers with great strength and ability, both mental and physical. Pfc. Lynch displayed the very will and survival skills that every soldier is taught.

B. Pfc. Lynch displayed herself as an illustrious warrior by fighting even when her bones were broken and her comrades were dying, firing and firing until she had no ammunition left.

C. Pfc. Lynch is now admired and recognized all over the world for her strength and will for survival, even when other people in her situation would probably have given up.

D. Pfc. Lynch showed great courage on the battlefield when she saw her comrades executed and/or captured, when she fought at all costs to avoid being captured, and while she was held captive, her body literally broken. She also showed great courage by raising her right hand and swearing to uphold and defend the Constitution. She dedicated her life to defending the freedoms of people who are sick and tired of hearing “Pfc. Lynch this and Pfc. Lynch that.”

Some people might not think Pfc. Lynch is a hero. But upon reading the dictionary definition of a hero, it can’t be disputed. Lynch endured a trauma that most of us can’t begin to understand, and she found a place deep within herself to survive. Pfc. Lynch is not being lauded above all other soldiers. She is the epitome of a soldier. Not just a young girl, but a soldier.

Readers shouldn’t be jealous of Pfc. Lynch. They should be proud of her. She’s a soldier. She encountered a terrifying situation and survived. Pfc. Lynch is a hero, and I’d be proud to share a foxhole with her any day.

Sgt. Amy E. McLaughlinGiessen, Germany

Playmates article

This is in response to the story “Playmates set out to do their bit for troops” (April 2). I believe the article was inappropriate. Who really cares about Playboy bunnies? I’ll tell readers who might care: those with emotional or psychological issues.

Average soldiers these days are not just men. They’re also women. The article said that Operation Playmate is a good thing and helps improve troops’ morale. That may be true for some male soldiers, but definitely not for any of the females.

This is no longer a men’s Army. There are also plenty of women in the military. But in my experience, it appears that everything is always for the male soldiers, as if female soldiers’ morale doesn’t even matter.

Sgt. S. BaldwinIraq

Tattoos article a waste of ink

What was the point of the May 7 Pulse magazine article “Body art”? The subtitle was “Tattoos lose stigma, become self-expression for some.” The article featured 19- and 20-year-old airmen spending $150 of their hard-earned money to have their bodies mutilated. When was there ever a stigma among this group?

The article would have been true to its subtitle if it had featured judges, ministers, businessmen and physicians getting tattooed. When tattooing becomes popular with educators, biologists and accountants, then I’ll believe that it’s lost its stigma.

And why oh why did Stars and Stripes publish the names, addresses and phone numbers of tattoo parlors in the article? Is Stripes guaranteeing that these businesses adhere to strict health standards that will prevent health problems associated with tattooing?

Why was there no mention that tattoos interfere with magnetic resonance imaging scans? The iron oxide used in brown and black ink is a magnetic metal that can convert MRI radio frequency pulses into electricity. Tattooed patients undergoing an MRI can feel burning pain at the site of a tattoo. The pain is either electric current coursing through the skin or their skin being pulled from their bodies by an MRI’s magnetic pull. Sounds like fun, huh?

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I think the article had a pro-tattoo slant and was irresponsible.

Kathi BertschMainz-Gonsenheim, Germany

Patriotism a tangible reality

As a deployed servicemember in Iraq, I wish to comment on the Howard Zinn column “True patriotism rooted in humanitarian intentions” (April 18).

As I sit here amid the war in Iraq, reading a daily paper that I get only once or twice a month, I’m disgusted with the diabolical etchings of a man who calls himself a true human patriot. Patriotism is not just an abstract idea or something that’s said but never felt. Oh no. Patriotism is a tangible reality that countless thousands of wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children get cut by every night when they cry themselves to sleep. It’s a reality all too real to my wife and 2-year-old son. I’m about to miss his third birthday.

Patriotism lies in the hearts and minds of those Americans who get chills when the national anthem is played. Why do they get chills? They get chills because the blood of their families — the blood of their brothers, fathers and grandfathers — has been spilled on the flag that’s being raised. Their blood has been spilled for the very rights that give Mr. Zinn the freedom to scribble his soft-hearted, liberal-minded babble.

Humanitarian aid is badly needed. But what would Mr. Zinn have us do? Continue to give those regimes we’ve ousted or will oust money for food and medicine that is used instead to buy weapons and fund nuclear and weapons of mass destruction programs? No sir. I sit here in Iraq and have 7.62 mm AK rounds fired at me daily. They are AK rounds that the United Nations probably paid for with its “humanitarian” food-for-oil programs, or more like “whatever-you-want-for-oil program.” These people must be brought down quickly. Yes, war is cruel. The more the cruelty, the shorter it is and the sooner it’s over. And then, yes, bring humanitarian aid.

Mr. Zinn obviously knows nothing about true patriotism. I’ve met 10-, 12- and 13-year-old Iraqi children with more American patriotism than Mr. Zinn.

Pfc. Brandon MorganKirkuk, Iraq

May 13


After 17 years of overseas service in one capacity or another as a soldier and civilian, I can truly say thanks to each and every soldier who stood, stands, or will stand guard to ensure our safety. It’s worth much more than most feel. A happy pat on the back. They all deserve it!

I’d like to thank the 510th Postal Company in Mannheim, Germany — Mr. Gonzalez, Mr. Harper, Mr. Pemberton and Mr. Jones. Someday they’ll realize, as I do, that they’re good people. They should please stay that way. They’ve more than earned it. I thank them for giving me the chance few others would. The truth is in what’s become of their trust.

I’d also like to thank the customers, AAFES, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and the post office, which made my job worth far more than it pays. They should keep smiling. The workers in these jobs can certainly use the happiness. I certainly enjoyed it. They should keep smiling and bring joy. Customer service is tough, to say the least. It’s been hard for the United States with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and all. They all made it an easier trip. I lost three friends in the attacks. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

I will miss everyone, the good folks everywhere in U.S. Army Europe who I’ve referred to. They should take care of themselves and their families. Goodbye for now.

Michael James LohmanMannheim, Germany

Finishing off the enemy

For years and years the infantry has been assessment crazed. From the squad Army Training and Evaluation Program to division External Evaluations, we’ve pulled our soldiers and pushed ourselves to our physical and mental limits.

I can’t speak for other military occupational specialties except for those fighting alongside us. The engineers and tankers I’ve seen are all valiant soldiers and solid fighting men. I’ve also seen a decidedly less disciplined side of supporting units, well above my own, that disturbs me and makes me thankful that our enemy was as disorganized as they were. Otherwise they’d have taken far more casualties than they have. I wonder, too, at how quickly people seem to have forgotten about the soldiers in Afghanistan and how hard and long they’ve been fighting. Can we support them and this action in Iraq? Is there a plan? Can somebody tell the soldiers? Can we get some date/time groups? A redeployment date?

Soldiers are taxpayers, citizens and voters. Honest. They’re as important as the rest of America, more so because they protect it. So how about finishing off the enemy? Deploy the relieving units. Stop worrying about the “feelings” of other nations. Fire the jokers who can’t do their jobs. We’re going to be here in this filthy sandbox 10 out of the past 11 months as I write this, and more before it’s over.

Some stabilization when we get home and a break from officers would be nice. We’re about finished closing with and destroying the enemy. Bring in some National Guardsmen and reservists who’ve been letting Uncle Sam pay their car notes for years. Make some of them live up to the contracts they’ve signed. The regular Army troops, especially the infantry, have done their jobs. Maybe some others can start doing theirs.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey StatesBaghdad, Iraq

Error corrected

This is in regard to my letter “Purchase transaction” (May 9). It concerned a debit card error on purchases made by my husband at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. I’d like to give credit where credit is due. Within a few hours’ time of the letter’s publication, I received three phone calls from Army and Air Force Exchange Services, from the local level to Ms. Darlene Tankersley at the corporate level in Dallas, Texas. The error has been corrected and the amount is being credited back to my account.

No one tried to dodge the error or the potential consequences that could have resulted from such an error. All the AAFES representatives who I spoke with were more than willing to recognize the problem. They seized the opportunity to put safeguards in place so that the burden of future reconciliations in such matters will not necessarily fall on customers.

But the material point of my original letter still remains. We must all check our bank statements and charge statements regularly or these errors will go undiscovered.

Cindi McClainKitzingen, Germany

It's appropriate to study

The May 6 article titled “Sailors reminded of conduct rules” includes this paragraph: “What’s an offensive or inappropriate design on a T-shirt? According to Parker, anything emblazoned with the Confederate flag, for instance, is off limits.”

“Parker” is identified as USS Kitty Hawk commander Capt. Thomas Parker.

Because I have no idea as to how to get a message to Capt. Parker, I send it to Stars and Stripes, hoping Capt. Parker will see it.

The message is: Confederate flags and/or emblems are inappropriate or offensive only to those who are ignorant as to their meanings. Now ignorance is not the same as stupidity: Ignorance is curable; stupidity is terminal. Ignorance about the Confederacy and Confederates is mainly a result of brainwashing by government bureaus, politicians, government schools and uninformed “journalists.”

Learning the truth and curing one’s ignorance is not difficult for anyone with the ability and the desire to learn. I feel confident that Capt. Parker has the ability to learn, and I hope he has the desire. I refer him to two books and a Web site as a beginning point: “Forced into Glory” by Lerone Bennett Jr. and “When in the Course of Human Events” by Charles Adams. These books are by respected authors who have gone to great lengths to document their statements.

The Web site is educational and will lead to other good sources of accurate information. If after reading these two books Capt. Parker does not feel they are of value, I will reimburse him for their cost.

My best wishes to all the crew of the Kitty Hawk.

Martin JonesMulberry, Fla.

May 14

Road's been rough

My husband, Petty Officer 3rd Class David Bianco, is currently based in the Kuwaiti desert with the 4th Medical Battalion Echo Company. Fortunately I’m able to speak with him every one to two weeks. I thought Stars and Stripes should know how much the newspaper means to my husband and the other men and women who are so far from home.

My son, Joshua, and I have been without David for about two months now, and the road has been rough at times. Our son is 10 months old and became ill about three days after David left to serve our country. He was diagnosed with a lung infection. Shortly after we got a handle on that he came down with a Rotavirus that landed him in the hospital for two days. He’s doing well now and we’re grateful for that.

My husband’s strength and support is what pulls me through even when he is so far away. Our son watches the video that his daddy made for him. At one point in the video my husband asks Joshua, “How big are you?” Joshua faithfully looks at the television screen and raises his arms over his head with a smile from ear to ear. One cannot help but shed a tear.

Our family is so proud of David and can’t wait to see him again. My love for him grows every day. We pray for our troops’ safe return as soon as possible. I hope everyone realizes that although the war may be technically over, our troops are still in harm’s way. We all need to keep the support and prayers coming until the last soldier places his or her foot on U.S. soil.

I just want to let Stars and Stripes know what a wonderful service it provides for our troops and urge it to keep up the good work. Way to go Stars and Stripes!

Michele BiancoAllison Park, Pa.

Retiree postal rules

I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion about retiree mail regulations and how retirees are treated in general. The writer of the letter “Retiree mail regulations” (May 10) was refused service because his package weighed 18 ounces instead of the allowed 16 ounces. He was then lectured by a mail clerk on why he couldn’t send the package to his grandson on active duty in Kuwait. I’m sure that same mail clerk would pitch a fit if he was pulled over by military police and given a speeding ticket for doing 31 kilometers per hour in a 30 kilometers per hour zone. But then again, the MP would just be following regulations.

The letter writer was 100 percent correct. The regulation is completely unreasonable and needs to be changed. While completely stretching the bounds of common sense and human intelligence, I can almost understand why there is a limit on incoming mail. (I mean, how else could the German government collect its so badly needed tax revenues from us retirees who order millions of dollars in goods shipped in from other countries?) But I invite any representative of the APO top brass to please explain why there’s a limit on outgoing mail. Are the Germans afraid that we retirees may send too many cuckoo clocks home? Who set the limit on outgoing mail? The German government? The military? The postal service? Who?

Next will come the weak response that the regulation was set through the Status of Forces Agreement, the Potsdam Agreement, or the Mickey Mouse Agreement. Let’s change the agreement. The U.S. government and military need to stand up and look after those who served. And before some paper pushers say that we can’t change the agreement, let me remind them of something. I was stationed in Germany in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. When the Bader-Meinhof gang was blowing up installations and killing Americans, the U.S. military tried to get the requirement for white U.S. military license plates changed so U.S. personnel would not be so readily identifiable. We were told over and over again that it was not possible to have U.S. military license plates that look like the German’s.

Well, has anyone looked at the license plates lately? We now have a choice of U.S.-style or German-style license plates. What happened? Did somebody actually stand up and fight for something? If that regulation could be changed, then it’s surely possible to change the regulation for weight restrictions on outgoing mail for retirees.

I invite all retirees, all those thinking about retiring overseas, and all active duty personnel who care about retirees to write to their congressmen, their senators, the secretary of defense and the president. They should stand up for those who stood up for them.

Al WilliamsDarmstadt, Germany

May 15

Safety in Iraq

The war is almost over. Now comes the most dangerous time for accidents here in Iraq.

As the safety officer for my unit, I continually remind soldiers to guard against complacency because it’s a big cause of accidents. One of the safeguards in place for the protection of our soldiers is a policy for driving in a bivouac area. That policy is to drive no faster than 5 miles per hour and that there must be a ground guide.

Recently, a vehicle with an occupant who must have been in a hurry and did not have a ground guide was driving at a speed that appeared too fast for the bivouac area. One of the warrant officers of my unit shouted to slow down and use a ground guide. The occupant of that vehicle was no longer in a hurry. The driver slammed on the brakes.

The passenger, a brigadier general in the 101st Airborne Division, got out of the vehicle and started yelling at the warrant officer. It appeared to be the classic “deny and counterattack.” The general yelled that the warrant officers were out of uniform. They were, however, in the uniform that was prescribed by the officer in charge of their unit. But the general didn’t want to hear it. He made it a one-way conversation. No mention was made by the general or was able to be made by the warrant officers about the speed of the general’s vehicle in the tent area. At no time were the warrant officers disrespectful in their tone when talking with the general.

One would expect that with all the talk about safety and risk management in the Army, higher-ranking officers would be concerned about the safety of the troops and would actually applaud the warrant officers for being concerned. But this does not appear to be the case. The warrant officers were punished and degraded for doing the right thing by being put on the trash-burning detail.

The good news is that no soldiers were hurt as a result of the speeding vehicle. The bad news is that the soldiers in my unit found out that the officers in charge of their unit will not back them when they do the right thing.

Mark W. IlgChief Warrant Officer 3Iraq

AFN programming

AFN has disrupted its prime time TV programming long enough with its dull “Newsline” programs. I don’t watch AFN’s so-called news. Someone should tell the generals and officers to get off my TV set. I don’t want to see the military when I’m chilled out on my couch at home. I don’t need the “Navy Marine Corps News” or “Destinations.” It’s clear the hosts of those programs don’t get out much, and they’re poor spokesmen by any standards.

What genius came up with these programs or thought that an average Joe like me needs them? Stop wasting our tax dollars on this second-rate stuff that interrupts American TV, which is one of our few enjoyments overseas. Just give us professionals. And please give us sports, especially golf. I’m also happy to watch automotive programming on Sundays again.

Nolan BarallFriedberg, Germany

Gas prices too high

On May 12, CNN reported that gasoline prices in the United States dropped for the eighth week in a row and that the average price per gallon is under $1.50. This includes averaging in the high California prices. When has AAFES last dropped its gasoline prices? The average AAFES price for the three grades of gasoline is more than $1.90. What happened to the stated policy of AAFES that its prices will reflect the average pump prices in the States?

Barry L. BorgietKaiserslautern, Germany

Time for new blood in Iraq

For years and years the infantry has been assessment-crazed. From the squad Army Training and Evaluation Program to division External Evaluations, we’ve pulled our soldiers and pushed ourselves to our physical and mental limits.

I can’t speak for other military occupational specialties except for those fighting alongside us. The engineers and tankers I’ve seen are all valiant soldiers and solid fighting men. I’ve also seen a decidedly less-disciplined side of supporting units, well above my own, that disturbs me and makes me thankful that our enemy was as disorganized as they were. Otherwise they’d have taken far more casualties than they have. I wonder, too, at how quickly people seem to have forgotten about the soldiers in Afghanistan and how hard and long they’ve been fighting. Can we support them and this action in Iraq? Is there a plan? Can somebody tell the soldiers? Can we get some date/time groups? A redeployment date?

Soldiers are taxpayers, citizens and voters. Honest. They’re as important as the rest of America — more so because they protect it. So how about finishing off the enemy? Deploy the relieving units. Stop worrying about the “feelings” of other nations. Fire the jokers who can’t do their jobs. We’re going to be here in this filthy sandbox 10 out of the past 11 months as I write this, and more before it’s over.

Some stabilization when we get home and a break from officers would be nice. We’re about finished closing with and destroying the enemy. Bring in some National Guardsmen and reservists who’ve been letting Uncle Sam pay their car notes for years. Make some of them live up to the contracts they’ve signed. The regular Army troops, especially the infantry, have done their jobs. Maybe some others can start doing theirs.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey StatesBaghdad, Iraq

Now fighting AAFES prices

I’m currently serving in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division. I appreciate the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and the service it does. I’ve noticed that the prices they charge over here are considerably higher (i.e. $9 for a case of coke or 85 cents for a can of vienna sausages).

Yes, we get tax-free money, but we would like to keep some in our pockets. Thanks for your time.

Sgt. 1st Class Ralph BurnsIraq

May 16

Making a difference

I thank Stars and Stripes for the great job it’s doing keeping up the morale of soldiers. I know that deep in their hearts all American soldiers thank Stripes just the same. I find it good to be kept informed of what’s going on in my surroundings as well as seeing what’s going on back home. It gives me the best of both worlds.

Whatever it is that the military has me do here in Iraq, I know that I’m making a difference in helping to win this war toward achieving world peace and freedom for these folks, who seem to be dearly in need of it.

I’m proud to be serving the U.S. Army under such intense, smart and strong leadership, from our honorable President Bush down to the squad leaders in charge of me.

I’ve been blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ to have an opportunity to be a part of history. I’ll tell all my folks back home how blessed they are to live the way we do, and I’ll teach my children to be grateful to be Americans.

Our country is a blessed one, and the members of even the poorest families have a chance to succeed. We tend to complain about what we have, and yet looking back we have plenty and more. God bless and keep blessing our nation forever. Let it become a nation of one, as our new Army has become an “Army of One.”

I again thank Stars and Stripes for keeping us informed.

Spc. Quinones PeterIraq

All servicemembers heroes

What happened to Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq does not make her a hero. She was a hero long before that. Each and every member of the U.S. armed forces is a hero. All servicemembers became heroes the day they raised their hands and pledged their lives and dedication to our country.

The word hero can be used to describe many different types of people. My younger brother once wrote a paper about me and said I was his hero. Now I proudly display a stein in my home which reads, “My Brother, My Hero ... USMC.” Are we both heroes? Maybe we are in different ways.

I’m four months pregnant with our first child. My Army husband has recently been deployed to Iraq. He’s a chaplain’s assistant. The job means spending a lot of time helping other soldiers deal with family separations or other problems. I imagine that can’t be easy when he has to wonder how old our baby will be before he can make it home. Is he a hero? I have no doubt about that.

Serving our country is a thankless job. The living conditions and pay are not up to par, and the duty hours and family separations are taxing to say the least. Yet these men and women endure the hardships. They endure them because they have vowed to put their country first, a country for which they’d sacrifice their lives without a thought of themselves. I think that makes a hero, hands down.

My husband is my personal hero, as is my brother. I’m surrounded with heroes every day. Please don’t shortchange the sacrifices that these men and women make. They should be treated with respect, because it’s only because of our military — our heroes — that we’re the country that we are today.

Rachel MullisBaumholder, Germany

Lost cat returned

I’d like to publicly recognize Joe and Jessica Kutlik for finding and returning our lost cat, Nala, who’d been missing for two weeks after our front door blew open in the middle of the night and Nala wandered out.

When my family discovered Nala was missing, we printed signs with a large picture of her and included our address and phone number. We emphasized that she was declawed and totally defenseless to establish a point of urgency for her being found. My son was beside himself with grief but never gave up that his cat would come home. My wife and I weren’t so optimistic, and as days became weeks we had quietly lost hope for her return.

On Mother’s Day the doorbell rang. Joe and Jessica handed me our cat with a big smile and told us how they found her in the basement of their stairwell building. They recognized Nala’s photo from the signs we posted in the neighborhood and the base exchange. Jessica said, “Tell your wife we said, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’” What a wonderful day indeed!

We’re thankful for our cat’s safe return. In a region where lost pet signs are commonplace, it’s easy to become desensitized to them. I don’t know if I would have been as observant as the Kutliks were. I see so many stray and abandoned cats in our area that the likelihood of recognizing one and remembering it when seeing a picture is slim. Losing a pet is a heart-wrenching experience, and we’re very grateful for the compassion that’s so abundant in the hearts of the Kutliks.

Staff Sgt. Ken GentnerSpangdahlem Air Base, Germany

DODDS must attend to policy

The May 4 Stripes included an article (“Artists, athletes need not apply”) that was subtitled “Few DODEA grads land military scholarships.” In the first paragraph, the writer states that Department of Defense Education Activity students “who earn … academic … scholarships can be counted on just a few fingers.”

There are plenty of reasons why our Department of Defense Dependents Schools institutions do not turn out more academically strong students. However, as a DODDS teacher, I know that a major obstacle to academic achievement in DODDS is that the students simply are absent from school too often.

Unlike practically every high school in the United States, DODDS has no attendance policy, which means that a student has no limit on days missed as long as a parent gives the student a signed excuse.

Too many parents abuse this lack of an attendance policy. Students are routinely absent at the beginning of the year for extended summer vacations and then again at the end of the school year to jump-start summer vacations. Every Thanksgiving finds some students missing the days before and/or after Thanksgiving. Christmas vacation arrives early for some and lasts longer for others. Spring Break week rarely lasts a week for some students. I have had parents take their students out of school for an entire month for a vacation! Parents who do that in the States could find themselves in some places facing legal action. Attending school for children under 16 is not an option and is the legal responsibility of the parents.

And that is just the problem with parents and vacations. Sports take away plenty of classroom instruction. Here at Matthew C. Perry High School in Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan, Fridays are sports days. Students have to travel on Thursday nights to places such as Misawa Air Base, Yokosuka Naval Base, Camp Zama, Yokota Air Base or Sasebo Naval Base for sports competitions, so traveling athletes miss classes on Fridays. It is quite typical to find my Friday classes half empty.

Many of these students play a sport each season, which means many of them miss many Fridays. Add on three to five days at the end of a season for a tournament and you will discover that your typical athlete misses between seven and 10 days of school — per season, not per school year.

Nonsport Far East activities also take students out of the classroom. Activities such as Far East Drama, the Science Symposium, Honor Band Competition, Far East Journalism Conference and many, many others all take the student out of the class for a week each year. All are worthwhile activities but, just as with sports, many students participate in more than one activity. Again, if a student is in just two of the nonsport activities — and many students are — then this student is absent at least eight to 10 days from school. Now add that on the student-athlete who is missing anywhere from seven to 30 days per year for sports.

Students absent from schools in DODDS have reached absurd proportions. If the military community truly is concerned about a child’s education, then more efforts are needed to ensure students regularly are in school. Col. David Darrah, the commander of Iwakuni MCAS, informed parents of their responsibilities in a recent town hall meeting with the community. Col. Darrah also has sent a letter up through his chain of command advocating for some reasonable DODDS attendance policy.

Finally, many parents believe that a student absence can be fixed with “makeup” work. Frankly, a student cannot really make up school work. How does a teacher “make up” a class discussion? How does a teacher “make up” a group activity? How does a teacher “make up” a science or computer or language lab? A teacher cannot and it is the student who loses.

When students in the military communities start attending schools regularly, DODDS or home school, then parents will start having better-educated students. Then we will no longer be able to count those students who receive academic scholarships “on a few fingers.”

Rick GweenJournalism teacherMatthew C. Perry High SchoolIwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan

Don't waver on freedoms

I will never understand how America can ask our young men and women to go across the globe protecting freedoms of others while suppressing the individual freedoms of our own?

The Confederate flag particularly being singled out? (“Sailors reminded of conduct rules,” news article, May 6) Did USS Kitty Hawk commander Capt. Thomas Parker think that mentioning the flag in the same breath as drug abuse would justify the assault on his own fighting forces? Our flag was a product of years of threats and intimidation by our own government (at the time) and it would appear that nothing much has changed. Shame on the leadership for these young people! History can be denied, but it can never be changed.

Richard I. ThurstonColorado Springs, Colo.

System worked for customer

“Error corrected.” I was thrilled to read those words above a letter to the editor in my latest copy of Stars and Stripes.

The May 15 headline was in reference to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s swift response to the May 11 letter “AAFES passes buck, keeps it” regarding a debit card error for a purchase at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Fortunately, this matter was easily resolved thanks to a quick-thinking customer who caught the double-debit early.

AAFES encourages any customer who finds a questionable charge to contact his or her bank, speak with the customer service manager at the store where the purchase was made or call our toll-free number at 1-800-582-3289. Any of these methods will ensure that errors of this nature are quickly corrected.

Lt. Col. Debra PressleyChief, Corporate CommunicationsArmy and Air Force Exchange ServiceDallas

May 17

Mail system

In recent weeks Stars and Stripes has printed stories and letters that exposed flaws in the mail system for those of us serving in the Gulf region. But the stories themselves were flawed. For some reason, reporters have been trained to accept only invitations to speak with those who claim to hold leadership over their topic of choice. But those who hold unseen, unheard and altogether unnoticed roles tend to know more about the mail system problems than those in leadership positions. If the “leaders” do know the problems, they don’t report them because they’re in the spotlight and should be held accountable for those problems. If one is politicking for a full bird or another star, why would he expose all of the flaws with the system he’s created?

The major problem concerning forwardly detached units that do not receive mail lies with the camp at which each unit is located. On a recent escort trip to post offices at Camp Dogwood and Camp Elm in Iraq, there were numerous connexes on the ground that contained unworked mail. Those camps receive more mail from the Joint Military Mail Terminal in Kuwait on a daily basis. Placing blame on the soldiers currently stationed at the JMMT is ludicrous.

That’s not to say that the JMMT is not to blame for some of the problems. On a recent evening as I walked through the container yard, I noticed that 30 retrograde connexes were on the ground. For those who may not know, retro mail is mail that was sent from a camp to either mail back overseas or to be rerouted to a unit that has moved forward. Some of this mail has been dated April 28, 2003. I’m writing this on May 4, 2003. The mail in some of those containers is six days old. Add that six days to the 14 days required to get mail from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, three days of waiting in the yard at JMMT before it was sent to a camp, and one day for the camp to get it back to JMMT for rerouting. Then it finally lands at the correct camp. (Hopefully it’s the correct camp.) It then has another waiting period at the camp, most likely behind 20 other full connexes of mail.

In short, the leadership at JMMT places little or no importance on retrograde mail, which is most likely the oldest mail in our yard. Of course there are other problems with the JMMT and the mail system on the whole. It would be just as futile to list those problems as it was to list the aforementioned problems. Nothing runs smoothly in the U.S. military. Nothing changes in the U.S. military. Correcting a problem consists of adding a new idea into the flawed ideas initiated before the new idea. Ignoring an old idea, or changing that idea, is not an option. Remember that nine bad ideas and one good idea usually don’t lead to an efficient operation. Also remember that a failure in leadership usually results in a failure to execute.

Spc. Robert N. BluejacketKuwait

Iraq mail too slow

My fiance is in Iraq, and I’ve been writing him every other day to ensure that he receives a letter from me every other day. But this is not the case. He calls me when he can, and the first thing he asks is why I haven’t been writing to him more often. I tell him that I have. He said that the letter he received on May 12 was a letter I’d written on April 10. My fiance has received only two of the six packages I’ve sent him. The last one was sent on March 31, which means that they’ve lost the last four packages I’ve sent him.

I’ve gone to three different post offices in the 98th Area Support Group in Germany, and they all told me that it takes up to four days for letters to get to Kuwait City. Then it takes another five to 10 days for the soldiers to receive them, and another 10 days for packages. This is a lie. I’m sure I’m not the only one this has happened to, so something needs to be done about it. There should be no excuse for our soldiers having a hard time receiving mail and their loved ones getting mail. It’s taking just as long for us to get mail too.

How is our soldiers’ morale supposed to remain high when it’s taking so long for them to get simple letters? It’s bad enough that we can only receive a phone call every so often, if that much. Mail needs to be one of the top priorities for soldiers’ morale and well-being. Apparently it’s not.

Spc. Chiloquin BellGiebelstadt, Germany

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