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Letters to the editor for Saturday, January 31, 2004

By STARS AND STRIPES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2004

European and Mideast editions

(EDITOR’S NOTE: These are the letters that appeared in each edition of Stripes on this publication date. Click here to jump ahead to the Pacific edition letters)

Pennsylvania is beautiful

This is in response to the Pam Zich column “Pa., here we come” (Jan. 27) in Stripes Accent magazine. Our family has just finished a short tour in central Pennsylvania, Carlisle Barracks to be exact. I’m a native central Pennsylvanian — the real “Central Pa.,” State College. My husband is a Penn State University graduate who is originally from North Carolina, home of sweet tea. We like our iced tea fresh brewed with a choice of using sugar or sweetener, and people don’t expect us to drink it in any particular way other than our own. We don’t speak a foreign language. A person may hear some “yuns” instead of “y’all” and some “in nat” instead of “and that.” A person may even trout fish in a “crick,” not “creek,” or hear women say they need to “red up” instead of “clean up.”

We go to school and work with a foot of snow on the ground. We purchase our vehicles on the simple fact of whether they have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. We also have snow tires in our garages every year. During this time last year, we had snow up to our eyeballs in Carlisle and life went on, as it goes on after typhoons, earthquakes, floods and wildfires. I can assure Ms. Zich that her son Jimmy will love snowboarding in Pennsylvania. He’ll be located near Woodward Camp, which is the best extreme sports camp in the United States.

Whether Ms. Zich’s former Marine friend and his wife drink out of real glasses or not is beyond me, and his choice has nothing to do with whether he lives in Pennsylvania or not. And Hershey really does smell like chocolate.

I realize that today’s media and the letters to the editor section should be used for more important issues around the world. But I write this letter out of my passion for home. If I have reminded one reader who also comes from central Pennsylvania of home or put a smile on his face, then I’ve accomplished something.

Ms. Zich should enjoy Pennsylvania. It has a lot to offer her family and it’s a beautiful state.

Michelle Williams
Wiesbaden, Germany

Support appreciated

I’m writing on behalf of the Army. I just want everyone to know that their support and kindness are greatly appreciated. I want everyone to know how grateful we are for all of their help and support.

I’ve only been in country since Dec. 19, and I now see how hardworking our armed forces truly are. I can honestly say that I commend everyone for coming out here and leaving their families, spouses, and practically their lives behind to fight for our country. My unit came into Iraq in March 2003, and it’s still standing strong. It’s gone through things I could never imagine. Through it all, the whole armed forces are still here and will always be here.

Again, I thank people for all of their concern and support. I thought Christmas was going to be horrible. It wasn’t home, but the civilians helped Camp Wolf be as close to home as possible. Thanks on behalf of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. God bless.

Private 2nd Class Teslyn C. Savage
Camp Wolf, Kuwait

Captain Kangaroo

I was greatly saddened to learn of the recent death of Bob Keeshan, much better known to millions as Captain Kangaroo. I was a member of his original audience in the mid-1950s, and I can still remember the enchantment of his wonderful program. The Treasure House was a wonderful place to visit and learn about all kinds of things that viewers didn’t normally come in contact with. It was also very warm, welcoming, and secure, which is to say it was an ideal environment for young children.

I suppose I’ll be telling something about my age if I also admit to watching Keeshan in the role of Clarabelle on the even older “The Howdy Doody Show.” It was one of the first children’s shows on television. I can remember being very distressed with having to go to school back then because it meant I could no longer stay home and watch the captain. This was many, many years before anyone had ever heard of home VCRs. I think I would have learned more from the captain than I would have from the schools of the day.

Incidentally, Keeshan was known as a captain for nearly 50 years. Wouldn’t it be nice if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or someone in a similar position in the Department of Defense gave Keeshan a posthumous promotion to major (or even higher)? Keeshan richly deserves it for more than half a century of service to our nation’s children.

Joe Richards
Chievres, Belgium

Pacific edition

Why we serve in S. Korea

I was deeply offended by the Jan. 18 front-page article “Safe and Sound in South Korea.”

The article suggests servicemembers serving in South Korea are living in a safe and secure environment, immune from danger and purposely avoiding deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan. As an intelligence officer, I understand the very real threat those of us who live in South Korea are faced with on a daily basis. There is a reason President Bush referred to North Korea as one of the members of the “axis of evil,” and a reason why family members living here are issued gas masks and are required to conduct quarterly noncombatant evacuation drills.

It is no secret that North Korea has one of the world’s largest standing armies equipped with weapons of mass destruction, and that a majority of it is forward deployed along the Demilitarized Zone. The article seems to minimize our mission here and fails to mention we must always be ready to “fight tonight” should hostilities commence.

I was insulted by Area I Command Sgt. Maj. Jolanda Lomax’s comment that “eventually, you will have to leave Korea and pay whatever dues you have to pay.” Servicemembers across the peninsula pay their dues every day they spend here, and I believe those deployed along the DMZ, who would bear the brunt of any attack, would strongly agree.

There are other reasons that Foreign Service tour extensions have increased over the last few years that were not addressed in the article. Due to the war in Iraq and the turmoil it has placed on the individual replacement system, many servicemembers were faced with involuntary extensions here. However, if these same servicemembers volunteered to extend their tours, they were entitled to financial compensation such as bonuses, extra leave and free travel back to the States. Many took advantage of those incentives, which seems to be a common-sense decision.

I will not argue that our quality of life here even remotely compares to what those in other combat zones endure. Quality of life in South Korea is excellent. Our senior leaders have made this a priority and are working hard to make South Korea the assignment of choice … looks like it is working. However, the fact that we enjoy an excellent quality of life does not diminish the fact that we live and work miles away from the world’s most heavily guarded border.

Army initiatives and financial incentives have a larger influence on servicemembers extending their tours in South Korea than the fear of deploying to Iraq. The majority of servicemembers here are willing to put their lives in danger to defend freedom just as the hundreds of thousands of active-duty and Reserve troops do around the world. To suggest otherwise is an insult. The large concentration of military troops and equipment facing us across the DMZ could spark an Armageddon, and for Stars and Stripes to portray duty in South Korea as “Safe and sound” is ridiculous.

Maj. John J. Casey
Yongsan Garrison, South Korea

Iraq is a hardship tour

I’m the proud daughter of a retired Army officer and an even prouder wife of a combat engineer currently stationed in Iraq. Although I may not always agree with the Army’s policies or “reasons” for doing things, I’m generally in agreement with its decisions and understand the reasoning behind them. But it recently came to my attention that for whatever reason, Iraq is not considered a hardship tour.

My husband deployed to Iraq on Jan. 10 and, although it’s only been several days since he departed, I can assure readers that it couldn’t possibly be any harder on me or my children. But please don’t make the mistake of imagining a helpless woman with tear-filled eyes on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I’m a very independent woman, and I’m managing very well with day-to-day life despite the hurt I feel inside.

Although I realize it’s my husband’s duty as a soldier to serve wherever and whenever, it doesn’t make it any easier emotionally to lose my best friend.

I’m not sure what person or committee decided that Iraq doesn’t need to be considered a hardship tour, but I feel strongly that those on the committee aren’t in jeopardy of leaving their families for 12 to 15 months for Iraq, returning home for 60 days, and then being ripped away again for another 12 months to South Korea. Although this doesn’t happen to everyone (thank God), it’s happened to several soldiers who I know personally.

Sometimes the situation may be reversed and they may have come from South Korea, been stabilized in the States for 60 days, and then whisked off to Iraq for 12 to 15 months. As far as I know, the only thing that makes this possible is the fact that Iraq is not a “hardship tour” and South Korea is. Family members are generally not permitted to accompany their sponsors to South Korea unless they’re granted a command-sponsored three-year tour. What part of “cannot take your families to Iraq” is eluding them? And that’s not to mention the rising death toll daily.

I love my country and would never consider for one minute turning my back on it. But is it truly right or fair for the Army to preach “family support” and then separate a family unnecessarily for two years? I couldn’t possibly be any prouder of my husband, and in the event he’s one of the unlucky ones who has to serve out another 12-month tour after Iraq, then I’ll continue to wait for him.

One of the Army’s current major concerns is re-enlistments. Sure, an extra pay incentive would be fabulous. But here’s a novel idea: A little compassion and understanding would go a long way. The Army should take into consideration some of its unrealistic expectations of soldiers and their families.

Michelle Toilolo
Fort Hood, Texas

Kuwait base in disrepair

I want all my fellow soldiers to be warned about the conditions at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. My unit just got here after completing our tour in Iraq. We had to deal with some really poor conditions up there and were looking forward to winding down at Camp Arifjan. But I don’t think that’s possible now.

Our living conditions here are far worse than what we endured in Iraq. We have to live out of a warehouse that sleeps more than 400 people. We have to sleep on bunks that are less than two feet apart. Yes, it’s nice to sleep on a real mattress, but at this cost?

We’ve also had to go without showers since we’ve been here because either the water or the generators were turned off. I can deal with those conditions in Iraq, but here?

Is this the way the Army treats it soldiers who have endured hardship after hardship and served their country? I wonder what the American people would think if they knew how troops returning from combat are treated.

Spc. Chris Hobel
Camp Arifjan, Kuwait

What happens to coupons?

I’m not sure what a fair price for gas is or should be, but the Army and Air Force Exchange Service often claims that the reason gas prices are higher than many of us think is reasonable is because of the cost of administering and producing gas coupons for use off post.

I’m sure there’s a considerable expense for this service. But has anyone asked AAFES how many coupons are sold but never redeemed because they’re lost or they expire unredeemed, and how much profit this generates for AAFES?

Jeff Dykeman
Vilseck, Germany