August 10

Printing gripes is purposeless

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

August 10 Printing gripes is purposeless No surprises in military life No excuse to ration health careAugust 11 Know what you’re getting into 82nd Airborne above criticsAugust 12 Complaints cheered by enemy Reward medics who risk lives High AT&T rates uncalled-forAugust 13 Patton smiles in South Korea Code is ultimate authority Mail handlers part of the team Troops keep machine runningAugust 14 NCO’s heart is in Liberia U.S. has obligation to help At least 3rd ID has timetable AFN radio needed in Baghdad Stop-loss policy discriminatesAugust 15 No complaints from heroes Put Army values before gripes Surely others have it worse Experience had an impactAugust 16 Combat troops allowed to talk Neither right time nor place Not much sympathy in Iraq GIs need all morale boosters Big U.S. cars are best

What kind of service do Stripes editors think they are providing by consistently publishing letters that denigrate every aspect of the military? Do Stripes editors really think this is responsible journalism?

I can understand if the complaint was highlighting an issue that needs to be addressed by others not readily available to the individual. But I was particularly incensed by three letters knocking the leadership of our U.S. Army officers. One letter went so far as to imply that because the author was a national guardsman, his time was too valuable and precious to be wasted waiting somewhere.

I am a military spouse stationed overseas with a family and my active-duty husband’s time is no less precious. I am no stranger to deployments. We all have personal stories; stories that involve courage, sacrifice, patience and mistakes. The soldiers who have written these letters need to recognize that it was their choice to serve the military. Serving in the military should never be viewed as a “part-time” job — it is a lifestyle and should be considered as such prior to joining.

I see very little value in printing these letters, other than giving the soldier a very public outlet to air their emotional temper tantrums.

While I am stationed overseas and welcome the opportunity to experience a new culture, I embrace every effort the Army has made to provide little conveniences that remind us of U.S. life. The simple act of receiving a daily newspaper on my doorstep reminds me of home. I look to Stars and Stripes to provide news and information about events occurring in the military, as well as hometown news. Stripes’ articles provide a sense of unity to the armed services, reminding us that we are one military working for a joint cause.

To regularly print opinions from disillusioned soldiers does a disservice to the soldiers who are proud of their military contribution — no matter how menial the task. For the most part, our leadership continues to work tirelessly to improve quality of life while still working on real-world missions. Stripes editors should please take the time to acknowledge the efforts that are being made for our benefit instead of highlighting the kinks and personality conflicts that are present in any given situation.

Laura GallagherYongsan, South Korea

No surprises in military life

Over the last few months, I have read many complaints from folks deployed to Iraq about being in country for so long, missing their new wife/husband and not having even seen their newborn child. Indeed, these are some of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard. I would like to first offer my condolences to families who have lost loved ones in this and other conflicts around the globe in which America’s men and women have paid the ultimate price in the name of freedom. Second, I’d like to offer a word or two to those still serving who complain about being in the position they are in: Do not re-enlist. I do not care to be serving my country next to you.

Did these people really only enlist because the money was good? Did they honestly not believe in the possibility of being separated from family? Did they truly believe that getting married to or having children with a military member would pardon them from the obligation they agreed to fulfill? I don’t have a wife or children, so these folks might be saying to themselves, “What would he know? Who is he to tell me what I should or should not do?” Let me tell you.

There are reasons I am not married and do not have children. It’s not that I don’t want to get married (again) or have children of my own. On the contrary, I would love to. But I have come to the realization that I could not, in good conscience, put myself or anyone else in a situation that I do not have at least some control over.

The decision on whether to re-enlist is one of the things a military member has plenty of control over: Either you sign or you don’t. If you don’t, you relieve yourself and your family of the angst you are currently experiencing and me of having to explain something you should already know. You can move on to civilian life in order to experience hardships that can be just as tough on family members as three 12-month deployments.

“Take the red pill, stay in Wonderland” and life in the military will not get much easier. Choose to make the military a career and you will see more of these deployments and more separations from families.

This not only applies to active-duty personnel, but to National Guard and Reserve personnel also. I realize they had their jobs, college courses, frat parties or whatever they had going on before being called up. The only problem is that interests of the U.S. government won’t take a back seat to Mr. Bean’s sociology midterm exam and terrorists tend to be very rude in regard to respecting one’s plan to attend a party.

Staff Sgt. Larry JeffersonMisawa Air Base, Japan

Rights maintained in service

Recent reports that Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, intimated that field commanders might punish servicemembers who question Pentagon leaders on the direction of U.S. involvement in postwar Iraq — including the servicemember who told a reporter: “If [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld was here, I’d ask him for his resignation” — raise some very serious concerns for those of us who swore to defend the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment.

Unless the enlistment oath I swore to 53 years ago has been amended to insert the phrase “except for the First Amendment,” it would appear that Gen. Abizaid is one of the domestic enemies of the Constitution I swore to defend it against. I swore the same oath without the deletion of the First Amendment when I was admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the war started media people were “embedded” with the troops to report about what they saw, heard and felt was going on. Apparently the troops, media people and the rest of us were never informed that only “good news” could be told by the troops. That silent order, written in invisible ink, was “issued” by Gen. Abizaid. It is understandable that he would want to please Secretary Rumsfeld. But, as was said of another general, “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.” Can commendations, promotions and even medals for praising the secretary of defense or president be far behind?

It now appears that members of the armed forces, including national guardsmen and reservists, may be subject to “reprimand or something more stringent” (Gen. Abizaid’s words) for expressing negative opinions about Rumsfeld. Would the “something more stringent” apply while they are on active duty only? Would it apply during weekend and summer training sessions when the reservists and guardsmen get back? Would the threat apply to every member of the active, Reserve and Guard forces until they leave military service? What “more stringent” punishment does the general have in mind?

He can certainly inflict severe punishment on the regulars and reserves under his command in Iraq. If he tries, however, know that, if asked, I will do everything in my power to defend both the Constitution and those being punished for exercising their rights under it up to and through the High Court of Military Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. I strongly suspect I would not be alone in keeping faith with the oath we who take the Constitution seriously swore on this regard.

Burton M. WeinsteinStratford, Conn.

No excuse to ration health care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirsten ReedRamstein Air Base, Germany

August 11

Know what you’re getting into

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

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

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

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

As I watch my company conduct raids, patrol streets, conduct traffic control points, escort VIPs, do community improvement and run police stations, I can’t help but be amazed at the ingenuity and daily acts of valor these men perform every day. Even when they’ve been wounded, their spirits were high.

I’m not saying paratroopers don’t complain. But when it comes to taking ownership of orders, rucking-up and executing the mission, they are the best I’ve ever seen.

1st Sgt. Richard W. WeikKirkuk, Iraq

82nd Airborne above critics

This is in response to the July 25 article “Army’s Iraq deployments will be 1 year.” To suggest that the 82nd Airborne Division is the only unit that will not pull a one-year rotation is pure nonsense and staggeringly ignorant. The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (325th Airborne Infantry Regiment) has been in the region since mid-February and in Iraq since late March. It will not rotate out of Iraq until sometime in January.

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

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

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

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

Staff Sgt. Daniel StoberBaghdad, Iraq

August 12

Complaints cheered by enemy

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

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

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

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

Ensign Jason C. GoodwinCharlie Surgical Company

Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq

Reward medics who risk lives

This is in response to the July 5 letter “Combat badge eligibility unfair.” I have to agree with the writer about who is awarded the combat medic badge. I’m also a medic who’s currently serving in an aviation unit in the 4th Infantry Division. I’ve been attached with many other units and have flown on many missions in which I’ve had to return fire.

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

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

Spc. Patrick YsaquirreIraq

High AT&T rates uncalled-for

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

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

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

August 13

Patton smiles in South Korea

Looking at the photo on the Aug. 9 front page of Stars and Stripes’ Korea edition, I hope the soldier who fought the South Korean demonstrators trying to burn the American flag gets what he deserves: a Meritorious Service Medal. In fact, he can have one of mine.

No doubt, his courage, patriotism and honor to country have probably landed him in hot water. It was a reckless thing to do and could of incited a larger incident. Yet I wonder if he felt the strength of thousands of his American brothers and sisters surging through his hands as he tugged on Old Glory — because many of us on this peninsula were with him in spirit.

I hope the presence of Gen. George S. Patton visits this warrior as he sleeps tonight. Surely Gen. “Blood-and-Guts” Patton will bend at the waist, kiss him on his forehead, and whisper: “You marvelous son-of-gun.”

Charles R. RyanCamp Henry, South Korea

Code is ultimate authority

Letter writer Burton M. Weinstein’s threat to defend our military’s malcontents has me “a-shakin in my chuka boots” (“Rights maintained in service,” Aug. 10). He demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of our oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, how to identify an enemy and — I believe — the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The young, undisciplined, tired, unprofessional military volunteer who stated that he would ask for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation was flat-out wrong when he made those remarks. Personally, I’d like to see Mr. Rumsfeld arrange a one-on-one meeting with the soldier. I believe his tune would change rather quickly. His remarks were not courageous because Mr. Rumsfeld was indeed not there in front of him.

But Mr. Rumsfeld is a courageous man and is self-disciplined, so we won’t see him make an example of this troop.

Now on to Gen. John Abizaid’s comments: They were right on the mark; the young man is guilty of a number of UCMJ articles.

What Mr. Weinstein fails to understand is that military forces are protected by the Constitution up to the point where that protection runs contrary to good order and discipline. For those instances, the armed forces fall under the UCMJ. Specifically, your right to free speech ends when you decide to — under Article 88 — make contemptuous remarks against your chain of command.

More specifically the article says: “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

I took the oath, as did Mr. Weinstein — as did the young, undisciplined, disgruntled soldier who has lived way past his 15 minutes of fame. The fact is Mr. Weinstein has all of the protections of the Constitution, but none of those protections allows someone to violate the UCMJ.

As far as inferring that Gen. Abizaid is “a domestic enemy,” well Mr. Weinstein threw his credibility right out the window and proved for me that I would be happy to have him defend our military’s malcontents on those questions where the UCMJ collide with the Constitution. If Mr. Weinstein cannot tell Gen. Abizaid from Saddam Hussein, then I imagine the integrity of our military discipline can withstand his legal assaults.

Ken DurbinAtsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan

Mail handlers part of the team

This is in response to the July 29 letter “Mail simply not to standard.” I’d like to explain why we receive damaged or soiled packages. Often packages aren’t packed well. Mail is loaded and unloaded numerous times before it reaches its final destination. It’s moved, shuffled and jarred. Packages sometimes fall apart or are ripped open, smashed and soiled.

I’m a postal worker, and I’ve received such packages. Do I blame other postal workers? Absolutely not. I know how it works. Packages damaged by wetness are usually due to the popping open of bottles or containers of shampoo, lotions or drinks. To prevent this, tops should be taped and containers put in Ziploc bags. Packages should also be well-packed and taped.

We’re working the mail as soon as it arrives. The volume of mail outweighs the number of hours in a day that we have to process it. All units must notify their servicing APOs if they move to a different location. We need to know where soldiers are. If they don’t tell us, their mail will be caught up in the system. Here in Kuwait mail has arrived from the States in as few as five days. After reaching Kuwait, all Iraq mail takes an extra one or two days to be transported.

On average, mail has been taking eight to 10 days to reach Kuwait. The mail is trying to catch up with those in units that have jumped from here to there. Those troops should be patient and tell us where they are.

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

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

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

With all due respect, I think the letter writer should take the bar off his collar for a minute and think about my husband, my 3-year-old son and my 1½-year-old daughter who are at home waiting for my return and who I greatly miss. I don’t need people like the letter writer making me feel any worse than I already do. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I believe the writer should think about someone other than himself.

Sgt. Susan FaithCamp Virginia, Kuwait

Troops keep machine running

I’d like to thank all the combat support elements here in Iraq and in the Central Command area of operations. Despite the criticism, the lifeline still continues to operate, although it’s excruciatingly slow. Thanks also to the spouses and family members back home for their support and concern. As a combat support soldier, I understand how missions go.

As far as the mail, I’ve been guilty of complaining but have learned to be patient and keep the complaints to myself.

We understand how long the 3rd Infantry Division soldiers have been here and all the missions they’ve completed. They should stay motivated. We’ll all get home eventually.

All those who have complaints should remember that the policies and regulations printed in black and white by the armed services are flawless. It’s those of us in uniform who have to keep the machine running without error.

Sgt. Shawn NelsonIraq

August 14

NCO’s heart is in Liberia

I’m an American, I’m a Liberian, and I’m a soldier. I’m writing to inform my comrades in arms about this little country on the western coast of Africa called Liberia that’s currently in the headlines.

Liberia was founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society for the expressed purpose of repatriating freed slaves back to Africa. In 1847, these freed American slaves declared their independence and called the country Liberia, the first independent black country in Africa. Relations between the United States and Liberia historically have been tight. Liberia has been America’s closest ally in Africa, often manifested by Liberia’s voting with the United States on global issues, even when the rest of Africa was opposed. During World War II, Liberia was used as a transit point for GIs en route to the North African theater to confront Gen. Erwin Rommel.

Because of Liberia’s devout allegiance to and support for America, Liberians have been resented and ridiculed by other Africans as “America’s stepchild.” So it should not be a surprise that the world is calling on the United States to assist in bringing peace to Liberia. The British and French intervention in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast resulted in the cessation of hostilities in these two countries that share a common border with Liberia. So today Liberians are crying out and wondering why America has not come to their aid.

But sadly, they are naive. Reality in today’s world of global politics is basically, “What can you do for me?” It’s difficult for the average Liberian, who is starving and dying for no reason, to grasp this fact. These poor people have not had any stability for more than 14 years. At least 250,000 have been killed.

So as I write this letter, I have a dilemma. I know that the military that I’m a part of is being stretched to its limit. Then again, I know Liberia. I know it would take no more than a battalion presence to help end the bloodshed. Liberia has nothing strategically or economically to offer America but its friendship. Hopefully that’s still worth something.

As a noncommissioned officer with more than 10 years of service to the U.S. Army, I’d willingly go to Liberia for free, forfeiting all pay and allowances to assist my fellow servicemembers if needed. As I sit in Baghdad, my loyalties are to my unit, the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry and my soldiers. But my heart is in Liberia, where my family and people are dying.

Staff Sgt. Abuoh NeufvilleBaghdad, Iraq

U.S. has obligation to help

This is in response to the July 13 letter “Iraqis’ response justified.” The writer made a good point until he mentioned, “All this crying that ‘America has to do something’ gets really old.” The writer mentioned Liberia, where I’m from.

I’m currently serving in the 4th Infantry Division, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment in Iraq. I’ve read about the ongoing problems around the world and recently in Liberia. Does the writer know his Liberian history? When’s the last time the writer saw a Liberian flag? Does James Monroe — hence the capital of Monrovia — ring a bell?

No, Liberians aren’t asking for the United States to help. Help should be given. Hopefully the United Nations will prevail and we can continue to grow up, as the writer put it, and forget that free slaves along with Americans founded Liberia. Charles Taylor certainly didn’t ask for help when 450,000 Liberians were killed from 1989 to 1996, and the United States certainly didn’t provide help.

The United States stands for freedom and democracy. But when you’re born into it, I suppose you don’t understand. I think 2,000 troops isn’t that many. Let’s make it 2,001. I’ll volunteer.

Staff Sgt. Sekov TaylorKhanaquin, Iraq

At least 3rd ID has timetable

It was good to hear that the 3rd Infantry Division is finally getting out of Iraq. Hopefully there will be follow-through this time. But what about everyone else? Once 3rd ID is gone, what’s the next warfighting unit to leave? I worry that the Central Command is so concerned with the 3rd ID that the other warfighting units will be forgotten. Granted, 3rd ID was the buildup force in Kuwait before the war, so its members deserve to be the first ones home. But what about the 101st Airborne Division, 2nd Brigade; 82nd Airborne Division, 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment; and the company from the 1st Armored Division that fought with 3rd ID?

Throughout the war, media coverage focused on 3rd ID’s push to Baghdad. What about the other units that helped it push? What about the 101st cleaning up every city that the 3rd ID passed by? Again, 3rd ID deserves to be home first. But what’s the next step to get the warfighting units home? Is there a plan that goes further than the 3rd ID? If so, CENTCOM should let these units know.

The only thing soldiers want to know right now is when they’re going home. Even if it’s not for a year, at least they’ll know. When soldiers PCS to South Korea they know exactly what day they’ll leave. One of the biggest morale boosts in Iraq right now would be an end date for the units that have been here since the beginning.

Now that 3rd ID is scheduled to really leave, what about everyone else?

Staff Sgt. Matthew MuellerBaghdad, Iraq

AFN radio needed in Baghdad

Where’s American Forces Network radio in Iraq? Our unit arrived in theater on April 8. We arrived in Baghdad on May 5. All we can get on the radio is the British Broadcasting Corp. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, AFN was there. It was in Bosnia, Korea, Germany and Alaska. I’m sure the list goes on. But not in Iraq. What gives? I’m sure the soldiers would like to hear an American radio program, get our news from America and be able to listen to a variety of music. And we’d definitely like to hear one or two sports programs. The BBC just doesn’t cut it here.

Staff Sgt. Darren S. DingerBaghdad, Iraq

Stop-loss policy discriminates

I’m a soldier currently serving in Iraq, and I’m writing to criticize the Army’s stop-loss policy. Why isn’t there a lift of stop loss for Reserve and National Guard soldiers? I think it’s unfair that active-duty soldiers get to go home at their ETS while we reserves and national guardsmen can’t get out during our end of service contract.

My ETS date was Jan. 16 and I’m still in the military even after stop loss has been lifted. I’m an Army Reserve soldier and a military policeman. The lifting of the stop-loss policy doesn’t apply to me. What happened to “An Army of One”? Sometimes I feel it should be the regular Army and the Reserve and National Guard, too.

I’m not writing to complain or whine like so many soldiers do. I’m writing because I served my country and then some. I’m also losing money — $40,000, to be exact — because my military pay doesn’t compare to my civilian pay. As a result, I’m about to lose my home.

As a civilian, I work for the Department of Justice. I feel I could better serve my country working there than as a soldier.

Spc. Walter SmithIraq

August 15

No complaints from heroes

I’m a fire support team member attached to B Company, 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment in Iraq. I have radio watch every night, and I’ve listened to numerous hair-raising occurrences. The same three platoons go out every night to set up traffic control points and static guard positions. On many nights they’ve been engaged by enemy personnel with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. Their tanks have suffered direct hits by rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun 1fire. Some soldiers have been injured during these ambushes. Yet they still perform their duties well every night, not knowing whether they will make it back.

Day after day I watch these soldiers age beyond their years because of these attacks. One platoon sergeant who we jokingly call “Grandpa” is now actually starting to look like one. One otherwise-friendly, outgoing individual has almost entirely distanced himself from the others. These real soldiers are starting to look more haggard every day, obviously suffering from combat stress. Two have been hospitalized and sustained possibly irreparable wounds from a recent RPG attack.

But what makes me proud is their reaction. Knowing they’ve been ambushed or attacked more than any other platoon in the battalion, they still drive on. No one will hear these GIs complain about no air conditioning as they sleep in warehouses with temperatures reaching well into the 100s. No one will hear them cry about still getting mail that was sent almost three months ago. Instead, they’re thankful to read their mail and to be alive for the ones who sent it.

Having crossed the berm into Iraq as the base of the spearhead with the gallant 3rd Infantry Division, these men bravely served together up to Najaf. They then fought with distinction under every brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

My idea of a hero is one who goes out to fight while everyone else sits on the sidelines and watches. They go out and do their jobs without crying. These men are seasoned combat veterans who’ve fought bravely during intense battles. These men are heroes.

Staff Sgt. Thomas SealAbu Ghraib, Iraq

Put Army values before gripes

This is in response to the July 17 letter “Everyone knows what armies do.” I’m a military policeman deployed in Baghdad, and I give props to the writer. As the writer said, typical gripes and complaints are acceptable. But some of what I hear every day isn’t.

My unit has noncommissioned officers cracking as well as soldiers. We’ve had soldiers and NCOs threatening to kill themselves. We never even saw intense combat. Take a look at previous wars fought by U.S. servicemembers. Hardships were much worse, as was the combat intensity.

Morale efforts, such as the Internet, satellite phones and television, have drastically improved. I think our modern Army is too soft. GIs shouldn’t forget how to be GIs, and most of all shouldn’t forget their Army values. Suck it up and drive on!

Pfc. Randy IversonBaghdad, Iraq

Surely others have it worse

I read the letters in Stars and Stripes to gain perspective on the thoughts and concerns of other soldiers in Iraq. Unfortunately, there appears to be an increase in the amount of whining over a lack of amenities such as e-mail, air conditioning and hot meals as described in the July 23 letter “Army must improve conditions.”

Where do these soldiers think we are? Have we really become that soft? There’s no doubt that the soldiers and Marines making the first charge have paid their dues. And with an average of an American death a day since the war ended, there’s no doubt that collectively we’ve all paid our dues. But rather than complain about what we don’t have, we should be grateful for what we do have.

I’m stationed in Ramadi. My accommodations aren’t perfect. We’re lacking windows, doors and air conditioning. But I’m much better off than members of other platoons in my company who are living in tents or bombed buildings in the desert sand. These soldiers have virtually no relief. They come to my compound and are amazed at how good it appears we have it, regardless of the lack of air conditioning or the frequent mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks.

I’ve also visited compounds such as Al Asad Air Base and the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority palace in Baghdad, and I’m amazed at how good they appear to have it. With the amenities they have, one wouldn’t think there’s a war going on. The point is, there’s always someone working harder or living worse than you.

Most of us likely have relatives who fought in World War II, Korea or Vietnam. What they endured should make us feel ashamed for complaining about slow mail and a lack of e-mail and air conditioning.

Sgt. Scott LewisRamadi, Iraq

Experience had an impact

I’m deployed with the 596th Signal supporting the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Baghdad. I’d like to thank all the members of Stars and Stripes and its affiliates. All the troops in my section really enjoy reading the paper. We especially enjoy the letters. It’s such a joy to read about everyone’s trials and tribulations while deployed. It makes this place seem a little more comfortable to be able to share and read about different views on numerous subjects from people all over this region. It really lets us know just how much in common everyone has with one another. I also enjoy reading the chain arguments and discussions that are printed from time to time.

My heart goes out to all the soldiers who are unhappy and don’t want to be stationed here in Iraq. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed being deployed here and have learned several valuable lessons. First, life is very fragile and not a second should be wasted. I had a near-death experience when I first arrived in Iraq, and since then I consider every day a gift from God. Second, I’ve developed new friendships and re-established old ones that have been positive influences in my life.

I think a lot of people in my family took it for granted that my military career was safe and uneventful until now. This deployment has nullified that comfort zone and really given my family a reality check. Now they see me as a hero and a patriot. It’s kind of funny because I’m not really doing anything different from what I’ve done on numerous field problems in the Army. Now I’m just doing it around real bullets.

I also have a renewed sense of direction in my life. Seeing all the hardship and suffering among Iraqis has inspired me to not only support this mission wholeheartedly, but to also have faith in the Army and its mission to bring peace to those who are not strong enough to fight for themselves. A lot of people want to get out of the Army, but I think I’m going to stay in and see what’s in store for me around the corner.

Staff Sgt. Fred T. BallardBaghdad, Iraq

August 16

Combat troops allowed to talk

This is in regard to the July 10 letter “Quit complaining about mail.” The writer works at the Joint Military Mail Terminal in Kuwait. Was the writer kidding?

I’m a soldier assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment. We fought with the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division. We’re currently attached to the 1st Armored Division. Our C Company was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division during the war.

The writer said he worked more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week sorting mail. Wow! He really had it easy! How many times was he shot at or attacked by the enemy with mortars or rocket-propelled grenades in Kuwait over the last six months? How many of his friends have been killed, wounded or hospitalized because of mental stress in the last six months?

How dare the writer even think of criticizing soldiers who’ve been in combat over the last six months. Our line companies, mortars and scouts are still continuously attacked to this day. These soldiers have every right to be critical of the postal system. It was absolutely horrible the first two months after the war started. Members of the 3rd ID’s postal unit (the 129th) were working 20 hours a day at times and did everything they could to get every piece of mail every day. The problem was that the mail was neither stored properly nor brought to the postal units in a timely manner. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It happened.

The writer will never understand how important it is for a soldier to receive a letter or package from a loved one during a terrible time. He hasn’t seen the looks of disappointment on soldiers’ faces when they ask for anything that’s been sent from home and are told there’s no mail because none has been brought up from Kuwait.

The writer should stop worrying about his ego and keep focusing on improving the mail. I know the soldiers at the JMMT in Baghdad process every piece of mail they receive. I’ve personally seen this over the last two months. I’m a mail clerk.

The writer was way out of line criticizing combat soldiers. It’s their right to complain if something is broken. The writer would understand this if he had crossed the berm in March into Iraq like we did.

Spc. Kevin SeveyBaghdad, Iraq

Neither right time nor place

An open letter to noncommissioned officers serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom:

I’m currently stationed at Camp Doha, Kuwait. While my living conditions are not as austere as they are for those serving in Iraq, I’m a veteran of several deployments that closely resemble the situation in Iraq. They include Somalia, Bosnia, IFOR and many others.

I’ve read and watched the constant complaining and whining about conditions in Iraq and a lack of information about redeployment. I understand that we’re Americans and the whole freedom-of-speech thing. But we leaders must understand the ramifications of all this negative public criticism of our leaders and policies. The enemy cannot possibly defeat us on the battlefield. Their only hope is to sway public opinion, and all this bickering is only giving the enemy more ammunition and hope. And that in turn costs us the lives of our fellow servicemembers.

I believe we have the right to voice our opinions. But they should be given in the right place, at the right time and using the right method. I’m seeing far too many NCOs complaining about everything and anything. Frankly, I’m embarrassed by their words. I’ve yet to meet a drafted member of our armed forces in this theater of operations. We all signed up willingly and were aware of the possibilities of deployments. Many reservists and active-duty servicemembers didn’t complain when they were drawing their paychecks in peacetime.

We’re at war. There are no set rules or end dates. We’ll go home when it’s completed. We have an obligation to our country, our families and our comrades in arms to toe the line and quit sniveling. The threat is real. Many would like to see our country destroyed. We’re the forces who can prevent that.

I ask that we stop complaining in public and not continue to give the enemy a reason to fight on. If not for themselves, then servicemembers should do it for their colleagues whose lives they place in danger with each dissenting opinion about conditions, leadership or redeployment.

Sgt. 1st Class Jorge L. RiveraCamp Doha, Kuwait

Not much sympathy in Iraq

I’d like to apologize to the writer of the Aug. 2 letter “Strategy led to wasted time” for the harsh treatment he’s received while activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As an active-duty soldier, I have no concept of what it means to have time that’s precious. I’m certain that my wife and three children don’t need me around nearly as much as the writer’s family does. I can only imagine how tough it must have been to be “stranded” at Fort Lewis, Wash., while those of us without lives beyond the Army got to live the good life in Iraq.

I think it’s terrible that the writer had to put his life on hold, especially his last semester of college, while Gen. Tommy Franks wasted the writer’s precious time attempting to deceive Iraq’s military. Being active-duty, I can’t imagine what that must have been like for him. Perhaps the next time the Army makes war plans, it will consult the writer to see if the war fits into his schedule.

All sarcasm aside, I spent last year in Afghanistan and this year in Iraq, and I know that I’ll also be away from home next year. There are guys in my unit who’ve spent less than six months of the last three years at home. So the writer will understand if we find it hard to feel much sympathy for him and his plight. The writer raised his right hand like the rest of us.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian D. RoushIraq

GIs need all morale boosters

This is concerning the July 5 letter “Don’t need Kid Rock’s support.” Boo hoo! While the writer is in Kitzingen, Germany, I’m in Baghdad. We know the difference between right and wrong. We need morale boosters, no matter what kind they are. Why doesn’t the writer come over here and perform? Instead, he wastes space with such comments in a perfectly good newspaper like Stars and Stripes.

Sgt. Darin BurgessCamp Dogwood, Iraq

Big U.S. cars are best

I hear all of the hype about conserving gas and that Congress would like to see us getting an average of 40 miles per gallon from our vehicles by 2015. I think this is all bunk.

We Americans like our cars big. We like our giant slurpy gulp drinks. Very big and cool. If we have a problem getting oil, then why not send our military out to secure more for us? We are the premier world power, and we should be reaping the benefits of our efforts.

We need big cars because, for the most part, we Americans are bigger and heavier than most occupants of this earth. If other countries such as Germany and Japan want to reduce the size and increase the performance of their vehicles, let them do it. American cars will always be the envy of the free world. Germany and Japan may sell more cars, but ours will take up more space on the autobahn and demand respect on the narrow driving paths throughout old Europe.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy AlexanderRamstein Air Force Base, Germany

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