August 3

Mail means more than letters

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

August 3 Mail means more than letters Infantry not asking for much Unit misused and abused Show article doesn’t play well Concentrate on goodAugust 4 Hope’s patriotism not an act Allowed to join the debate Take pride in serving Worry about what mattersAugust 5 Armistice events coverage poor Conditions typical for wartimeAugust 6 Hollywood gave more than Hope GIs shouldn’t need outside helpAugust 7 Lynch used to promote war Morale put on back burner Gun trucks could work again Thanks USO, Kid Rock Help out with mail insteadAugust 8 Mission always comes first BBC reports what AFN won’t One-year deployment too long Air Force approach is bestAugust 9 Painted in a negative way Bridge company helped, too Willing to fight, but not asked Possible mail swap troubling Frustrated by not knowing

I’m a soldier assigned to the 297th Cargo Transfer Company, 180th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas. I’m currently deployed to Iraq. I’ve been supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom since late March. Whenever there’s an available Stars and Stripes, I read the constant complaints about the mail, about whom the true heroes are, and about what unit did what first. Does it really matter? I don’t have to ponder the question too long to realize that the answer is yes.

As a squad leader, I see the tears of fear, loneliness and worry. I see the worn-down bodies from the soldiers’ hard work. What they don’t do physically, the sun drains the rest. We have soldiers here who merely raised their right hands for college money and instead have M-16s and have been sent to war. I watch them talk. I talk too and encourage them. I try to let them know that they’re helping bring freedom, something that we’d normally take for granted.

They ask all the time, “When are we going home, sergeant?” I say with a smile, “When everyone’s free!” It’s hard to give an answer to something I don’t know. It’s even harder to tell a young mother who just returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan and has deployed again that her baby will remember her. Or telling a young man who’s been struggling to make his marriage work that his wife and children will be waiting for him. Or telling a young soldier, fresh from his mother’s grasp, that he’ll be visiting home soon. Or telling other soldiers with tons of bills that their checks will show up in the mail soon. But then again, none of us even knows when we’ll receive a postcard for at least one person in a unit of more than 150 soldiers.

Does all this matter? Receiving mail? Being told that we’re heroes or that our families are heroes? Having a story about one’s unit published? Being able to make a phone call or even having access to the Internet? It all matters. Help me get my soldiers back to their safe haven of freedom. But until then, support us.

Sgt. Tresa R. BoydCamp Dogwood, Iraq

Infantry not asking for much

This is in response to the June 26 letter “Progress properly packaged.” This is not hate mail. But as I sit here in north-central Iraq and look around at my living conditions, a few questions and concerns come to mind:

1. The writer said post offices here in theater were built from scratch. Is he saying that there were none in place to support the thousands of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division who have been here for almost a year?

2. What military occupational specialty normally runs a mail distribution center? I just assumed it’s a postal unit.

3. Ten soldiers to process mail? Did anyone really think 10 soldiers would be enough?

4. Weather? On March 25 a four-day sandstorm hit the area. I was on the back of a truck riding to the front lines during the entire storm. Since then, the weather has been mostly clear. Hot, but clear. So I’m curious how clear weather hinders mail delivery.

5. The writer also addressed equipment problems. Does this mean the writer’s unfamiliarity with the equipment? He said that “in the beginning” equipment problems slowed him down. Does that mean he brought broken equipment with him on a deployment to a combat zone where he knew there was going to be hundreds of thousands of troops receiving mail? If that’s the case, who did the maintenance checks on that equipment?

So as I sit here in my room with seven other soldiers and take stock of my situation — no electricity, no running water, no glass in the windows or even a door to the room, no cot to sleep on, no post exchange, no showers, no phone, no e-mail and no letter mail — I realize a few things. First, I’m not surprised by any of this — almost. It’s unfortunate what I as an infantryman expected. Since March 25 when my unit crossed into Iraq, the dirt-covered floor of a bombed-out, looted building has been my bed, and the oppressive heat my daily companion. And I know now, just as I knew then, that as usual there would be little if any support for us.

Every day there are two highlights for me. One is chow. (How bad can it be if a soldier looks forward to T-rations?) The other is mail. We’ve all heard stories that even during World War II mail rarely took more than a month to arrive. The mail handlers prided themselves on that. Yet here I sit 60 years later with no mail and no reason why other than “there just wasn’t any” and that I should “suck it up.”

I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done here in Iraq and I consider it a privilege to have helped make the world a safer place. We infantrymen have given everything — blood, sweat and tears — and asked for so little in return. Simple things. Hot chow and a letter from home.

Staff Sgt. Mike PageIraq

Unit misused and abused

As a Florida National Guard soldier attached to the 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, 53rd Infantry Brigade, I need to voice an important issue. It’s definitely time to have us relieved and redeploy back home. We’re currently at a base north of Baghdad conducting security. I believe any soldier on this base can perform “tower and gate guard.” We’re a light infantry company with no infantry mission. We’ve accomplished several missions in Qatar, Kuwait and twice in Iraq. We’ve been mobilized more than seven months, and as citizen-soldiers we need to return to our civilian professions. Many family-related hardships and situations have arisen due to family separations.

Morale is a concern due to unbearable rumors of return dates, false information or the lack thereof. As a 22-year veteran, I believe that taking care of soldiers is something that some have indeed forgotten. Our families and loved ones have endured enough pain and hardships during this extended deployment.

Our unit was partially deployed without our higher staff or headquarters company. Therefore we’ve been tossed around and attached to different units to perform security. It seems that without our higher staff and headquarters unit, we’re helpless. This is my opinion about what I’ve seen and experienced during this deployment. It’s time to send us home.

Sgt. Mario PerezIraq

Show article doesn’t play well

I’m writing in regard to the June 21 article “USO tour cheers Baghdad” For the most part, it repulsed me.

Some soldiers get to sit back and enjoy big-name superstars and Playboy bunnies. Many other soldiers are forced to live with no air conditioning, and the only shade we have traps heat.

Let’s talk about morale. Our assembly area is the only one on Balad Air Base north of Baghdad with plans to put up concertina wire around our tents. We 4th Infantry Division soldiers haven’t “earned” the right to wear Boonie caps. It makes me wonder if it’s worth it to wear a combat patch. Did we earn that?

So when Stars and Stripes publishes photos of soldiers in brown T-shirts listening to music and carrying on like they don’t have anything to do, it makes me feel like being here is all for nothing. I believe that if we have time to sit around and do nothing, then we have ample time to pack up and go home. What I’m trying to say is either show me what is really going on or show me nothing at all.

Spc. Gabriel HendricksonIraq

Concentrate on good

This is in response to the July 2 letter “Jump through multiple hoops.”

I have three soldiers in my section who have been at Fort Riley, Kan., for their first year and a half in the Army. During that time we’ve been deployed for 12 months, including a six-month rotation last year to Kuwait. Although these soldiers are all working outside their military occupational specialties and have no end date for this rotation, they do their jobs every day without complaining.

The writer said he wants to talk about how our leaders treat our soldiers. He’s part of that leadership. As a sergeant first class in the Army, young soldiers look to his actions and attitude every day. I hope in this case they don’t. The Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer says, “I am proud of the Corps of Noncommissioned Officer and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring credit upon the Corps, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself.”

The writer had many valid complaints. But rather than waste his energy on those things, he should concentrate on the good he can do for his soldiers and his nation. This is the life the writer chose. Every soldier activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has some sort of issue. But as an NCO, the writer should lead by example and project a positive attitude for the soldiers around him rather than worrying about a divorce that has not materialized.

The writer also said he has no job. He’s welcome to seek employment at the Four Heads Palace in downtown Baghdad as we conduct patrols, checkpoints and stabilization operations. Our soldiers work every day.

Staff Sgt. Scott O’DellBaghdad, Iraq

August 4

Hope’s patriotism not an act

It never ceases to amaze me how people rage and debate over what is patriotic. Of course we all recognize what our men and women in uniform are doing, and the veterans all over the world. But for the ones who have never worn the uniform, the debate might be a little more intense, if not complicated.

Patriotism is unwavering support for your country. Many Americans both in and out of uniform have displayed this type of support. Only one person, who was not even born in America, displayed as much (if not more) love and respect for our United States as did our Founding Fathers. That man is Bob Hope.

In his 100 years he devoted most of that time attempting (and succeeding) in making the lives of servicemembers all over the world better, even in Vietnam. Mr. Hope showed courage and commitment that are rare in today’s world.

It is a shame that entertainers in this day and age feel the need to be the voice of dissidence. Such entertainers as Martin Sheen, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon do affect our feelings because they are icons and their views are widely publicized. Fortunately, we are not discouraged by their remarks — just hurt because we admire them and their work.

Bob Hope will always be remembered as a great entertainer and a great American. The others will just be remembered for their individual works and fade from memory. God bless Bob Hope, who truly “did something with his life.”

Mike BormannSasebo Naval Base, Japan

Allowed to join the debate

The military’s job is to protect and foster U.S. interests as collectively defined through the political process. This requires accurate knowledge of organizational dynamics within the military, including how one’s perspectives are shaped by direct experience and by where one is located within the vast organizational structure. Discipline (especially in wartime) is no doubt crucial. But so is the free flow of information within the military and between the military and both political leaders and the general public.

Our current “knowledge” of the situation in Iraq comes mainly from public relations people (known as “spokespersons”) and from anonymous sources speaking “off the record.” During the war itself, it came from embedded reporters. Their access to information and their ability to convey such information was tightly controlled by the military. They also understandably identified psychologically with those with whom they were embedded. Besides, only one of the hundreds of U.S. reporters covering the war apparently knew Arabic. Most no doubt were lucky if they didn’t confuse the Tigris River (in Iraq) with the Tiber (in Italy).

Lt. Col. Nick Balice, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, was quoted in the July 24 article “The consequence of comments” as saying that servicemembers are free to “speak about issues that fall under their cognizance or level of expertise.” Cognizance, I presume, refers to things directly observed and experienced. The unit commander’s cognizance obviously differs from the cognizance of those under his or her command. How then can the commander be the source of all data, let alone wisdom? Observations, opinions and even criticisms surely cannot be equated with the “contemptuous” words forbidden by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

There are inherently conflicting interests and principles at stake here. Discipline, security and the military’s image on the one hand and free speech, public access to accurate information, and an unbiased flow of information within the military on the other. Joining the debate can’t be dismissed as insubordination or, even worse, as aiding “the enemy.”

Stan MorseNaples, Italy

Take pride in serving

This is in regard to the Aug. 2 letter “Strategy led to wasted time,” written by a specialist in the California National Guard. I’m a Marine currently stationed in Kuwait. Is the writer out of his mind? Who does he think he is that he deserves the right to question retiring Gen. Tommy Franks, a four-star general in the U.S. military? That might be OK in the Army, which I hope is not true. But in the Marine Corps, guys like the writer would get taken care of for opening their mouths.

The writer, an E-4 in the Army, dares to question Gen. Franks, who was the commander of the U.S. Central Command? What exactly does the writer know about strategy and tactics? I’m sure the writer had a better plan in mind. What exactly did the writer know about the whole picture? When I was in Iraq, we barely even knew what was happening in the next town. So since the writer didn’t have a solution to the problem, he should stop being whiny and realize that this isn’t about him.

We’ve all been through things that we wish were different. The writer is not the only one with a family. His civilian job doesn’t depend on him as much as he’d like to think. They were doing good before the writer started and they’ll do fine after he’s fired. And who really cares whether the writer missed his last semester of college?

The writer should think about all the soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. He should think about the family members who won’t be celebrating the holidays with their young sons or daughters. He should think about those who died who will never have the chance to go to college. Our leaders have to deal with stuff like this on a daily basis.

So what if the writer was used as part of a “deception”? It served the greater good, and the writer should be proud to serve for his country. The writer’s family will be there when he returns, and his college will be open one more semester so that he can finish.

Staff Sgt. Daniel J. FowlerKuwait City International AirportKuwait

Worry about what matters

This is in response to the July 3 article “‘It’s amazing what a Coke and a bag of chips can do for morale.’” Are there future plans to open a post exchange in Baghdad? There are a couple of PXs in my sector, if that’s what one would call them. The selection is very limited and there’s a “one per item limit” policy. A case of Coke? Forget it.

It seems that soldiers nowadays are more concerned about comforts than the mission. What did 3rd Infantry Division soldiers have in the six months before the war and during the war? Nothing. They sucked it up.

Instead of talking about ice cream parlors or a bigger PX, let’s talk about communicating back home. Where are the morale phones? What about the Internet? We got our Internet connection turned on the other day; I’m asking for everyone who doesn’t have it. I’m sure there are some soldiers who haven’t called home yet. Let’s concentrate on that first.

Why is Sgt. Morocco Cornett worried about how big the PX is or if there’s an ice cream parlor? Does he not see the constant flow of injured or dead soldiers coming into Baghdad International Airport? He should worry about what matters — his fellow soldiers. He should worry about real bullets flying and soldiers dying every day. In case Cornett forgot, we’re in a combat zone, not Club Med.

Ah, Burger King. What I’d do for a Double Whopper with all the fixings, fries and an ice cold soda right now. Oh, I forgot. I have to drive for 30 minutes and risk getting shot at just to eat that Whopper. We soldiers stationed inside the city don’t have luxuries like that. The only real luxury we have is that all of our soldiers and officers come home from their patrols every night and day alive.

Both the reporter and Cornett should have been more careful with their questions and answers. It’s too early in the game to worry about the size of the PX. Cornett should be happy that he at least has one. He should enjoy what he has.

Sgt. Andrew DonagiBaghdad, Iraq

August 5

Armistice events coverage poor

Stars and Stripes should be ashamed of the poor coverage given the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice ceremonies — and last weekend as a whole. On July 27, the advertised insert was a big disappointment not only to those of us who live in South Korea, but for the hundreds of veterans who returned for the first time since the Korean War.

When I opened the paper on July 28 and July 29, I saw only pictures of the Korean War museum’s statue dedication, which was not an Armistice ceremony. Stripes really showed disrespect for those great American heroes who fought in the Korean War. The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission and the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Office — which put on two great ceremonies, one at Panmunjom and the other in Yongsan — should have been applauded for those excellent ceremonies by at least having a picture or two in Stripes, but instead they get slapped in the face, because Stripes felt the Korean statue dedication ceremony was more important.

The Federation of Korean Industries paid to bring more than 500 veterans from around the world to Korea for the ceremony and put them in a five-star hotel. The United Service Organizations gave them a great evening they will all remember. Military and civilian organizations on Yongsan gave them a great barbecue. The command gave them two truly emotional ceremonies, and Stars and Stripes didn’t even give it the coverage it deserved, which made me hang my head with shame.

All the Korean newspapers had pictures of the Armistice ceremonies at both locations and the dedication ceremony. They also had some great interviews with veterans and, yes, Stripes had some interviews, but very few. I guess it was just too much to expect from the only military community paper that our young military personnel read.

To say Stripes’ coverage was poor would be an understatement. Stripes needs to publish an apology to all those Korean War veterans, for not giving them the proper coverage they deserved. Now I can understand why many call it the “forgotten war,” because even Stars and Stripes forgot what they were supposed to cover — our gratitude and respect to our Korean War veterans.

Bob HenaultCommanderDepartment of Pacific AreasVeteran of Foreign Wars of the United StatesYongsan Garrison, South Korea

Conditions typical for wartime

We Americans are proud of what U.S. troops are doing for the Iraqi people and for America. But those who are constantly writing whiny letters about food, slow mail service (Do they really think the military is purposely holding up the mail?), rotations and God knows what else need to realize that they’re in a war. They should get a grip and read about World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Then tell us they have it so bad.

Don ThompsonKaiserslautern, Germany

August 6

Hollywood gave more than Hope

I was saddened, like everyone else, at the death of Bob Hope. Like most Americans, I enjoyed his humor and his presence, whether it was on stage, television or film. I thought he was a great comedian and entertainer. He was one of those rare individuals who became revered by millions of people.

But after listening to the multitude of accolades for his close association with the military, it dawned on me that despite his acclaimed support, Bob Hope never joined the service, never signed up. He never put his life on the line, never had to face an enemy and always experienced first-class treatment as he went from one theater to another. His exposure to the war zone was always temporary; he was in and out.

Compare his contributions to those of other “stars” who did not receive the notoriety that Bob Hope did. Clark Gable enlisted at age 41 and was decorated; James Doohan landed in Normandy on D-Day; James Stewart served as a bomber pilot; George C. Scott was a decorated Marine; Eddie Albert won a Bronze Star as a naval officer; Lee Marvin was awarded a Purple Heart with the Marines; Ted Williams was a fighter pilot who went to war twice; and Glenn Miller never came home.

There are many more “stars” who were willing to step forward and sacrifice promising careers when their country needed them. For some reason, we did not think what they did was important enough to put their names on ships, tanks or airplanes.

Most of the time heroes go unnoticed, and never receive the recognition and gratitude we owe them. Maybe that is why the “stars” of today are not too eager to wear the uniform.

I do not mean to be sacrilegious to a great American icon, but I think we need to look at the whole picture and put things in perspective. We need to recognize Bob Hope for what he was: a great comedian who was willing to dedicate his time and energy for our benefit. He made us laugh and he made us feel good, and for that we are grateful.

Clifton J. JesterKadena Air Base, Okinawa

GIs shouldn’t need outside help

I just finished reading Patrick J. Dickson’s piece on Frankie Mayo (“How cool is this?” Aug. 1). Ms. Mayo is organizing a drive to send air conditioners to military personel stationed in Iraq. I think it’s great. I can’t even imagine what its like having to deal with 120-degree heat while dressed in battle gear. But to me this story raises one very obvious question: We are spending $400 billion on our military — a huge chunk of our tax dollars — and we can’t find the cash to properly equip our troops? What’s next — bake sales?

Someone needs to take a long, hard look at what’s going on here and why the current situation in Iraq seems to be so poorly thought out.

Ken HayesMinneapolis

August 7

Lynch used to promote war

I’m writing in reply to the July 24 article “Jessica Lynch: ‘It’s great to be home.’”

I saw the TV press conference in which Pfc. Lynch was praised by her hometown for being a “hero.” I have mixed feelings about all the attention placed on Lynch. I’m sorry she was injured and taken prisoner. She suffered and fought to survive with her injuries. But I have mixed feelings.

Initial reports were that Lynch was wounded in a fierce gunfight and that she emptied all of her weapon’s ammunition into hostile Iraqi soldiers. Later accounts said her convoy became lost and the vehicles broke down. Lynch was then forced to ride in another vehicle that was ambushed and got into an accident. It was in this accident that she reportedly sustained her injuries, passed out and awoke in an Iraqi hospital.

I mention this because Lynch was awarded the Bronze Star medal, which is awarded for meritorious combat service. If Lynch was unconscious during the gunfight that took the lives of 11 of her fellow soldiers, how did she qualify for the medal? And what makes Lynch a hero? The fact that she survived? Nothing is mentioned of her 11 dead comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice or the soldiers who continue to die at a rate of one a day.

I feel the media is exploiting Lynch in an attempt to gain public sympathy for the war effort. An American Forces Network story said Lynch will remain at home during her rehabilitation while on active duty and collect a paycheck while awaiting discharge from the Army. Is this option offered to every soldier, sailor or Marine who remains in a hospital room while completing rehabilitation?

I’m a Gulf War veteran with more than 13 years of active duty. I sustained injuries during the first Gulf War that I deal with on a daily basis. I’m happy for the Lynch family, but I mourn for those who have died and will die.

Guy A. PizzuloChief Warrant Officer 2Hanau, Germany

Morale put on back burner

Whatever happened to the morale and welfare of soldiers? As a former Marine, I see the tremendous difference in training, discipline and esprit de corps. I’m a soldier assigned to the 180th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Hood, Texas, and I’m currently deployed to Iraq. In January my platoon and I returned from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. Two months later our company deployed 141 of its 166 soldiers to Iraq. I was home on leave in San Diego for a week and a half and was called back due to “preparation” for another deployment. We deployed a month later. I had asked for a measly 21 days of leave after a tough six months overseas to spend time with my family and friends, but was called back early to sit around until the actual deployment.

I’ve been in Kuwait/Iraq for a little more than four months now, and I’m extremely tired of the deployment and especially of my unsupportive company. In all actuality, our company has no mission here, so we’re just “here.” One would think the chain of command would realize that it has soldiers who really don’t need to be here, such as the Afghanistan personnel and those who are getting out within the next month or so. The ETSers are “scheduled” to leave in August, according to “word of mouth.” But if the Afghanistan personnel are sent home, the company would be below deployment percentage.

If the chain of command would take heed and be concerned about the morale of its soldiers, I’m sure that it would have a contingency plan to get us home. If it really wanted it done, I assure readers that it could get done. So while I’m here soaking up the blazing sun, hot air and dust of Iraq, the rest of the company is soaking up air conditioning in Kuwait, including the higher-ups such as the company commander and first sergeant.

With a company and “leadership” like mine, it’s no wonder why soldiers have no morale and don’t want to re-enlist. I have a very negative attitude now, and I’ll continue to be that way because the company continues to be that way toward me and my peers. They don’t care, so why should I? I ask again, whatever happened to the morale and welfare of soldiers?

Spc. Darnell BelcherCamp Dogwood, Iraq

Gun trucks could work again

During the Vietnam War, U.S. armed forces had to deal with the same problem we have in Iraq — attacks on our convoys by small bands of guerrillas using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The solution was gun trucks. Trucks weighing 2.5 and 5 tons were modified with add-on armor, sandbags and increased armament. This was done locally in the field at first. Standardized kits were developed later.

This could be done again in Iraq with all the manufacturing and materials obtained locally. A sandwich of steel plates and ceramic floor tiles could be made to break up the jet from a RPG and be fitted to the doors of trucks and Humvees. Simple sleet steel or canvas roofs with sharp slopes over the open beds would keep grenades from being tossed inside the vehicles.

Master Sgt. Michael KalbfleischRamstein Air Base, Germany

Thanks USO, Kid Rock

I’m writing to respond to the letters bashing the USO for bringing Kid Rock to play for our soldiers in Iraq. Yes, Kid Rock may have talked/sang about sex and smoking dope and even gave the finger to the crowd. But at least he came out to entertain our soldiers and allowed them a few hours to forget that someone is out there trying to kill them every day.

That might not seem like much to those who aren’t here or those who are here but never leave the compound. But to those of us out there every day, those couple of hours were precious. I was working in a tower guarding our camp when the show was going on, but I know my platoon’s soldiers had a good time. It was all we heard about for a couple of days.

So Kid Rock and the USO should keep it up. It’s appreciated.

Staff Sgt. Travis P. SpearsBaghdad, Iraq

Help out with mail instead

I’m currently smack dab in the middle of Iraq. Receiving mail is a great morale booster. But those complaining about the mail service have to take into account the amount of mail being sent to Iraq. Instead of complaining, how about using that energy to volunteer at the mail room? Bad-mouthing the mail handlers is wrong and very disrespectful to all the people who work those “extra” Saturdays to ensure we get mail.

I can’t believe all the letters complaining about slow mail service. What have the complainers done to help improve the system? Complaining doesn’t work. How about suggesting possible solutions? All the complainers seem to be experts. I appreciate every letter and package I get. I don’t care how late it comes. The fact is, it got to me.

As far as e-mail and telephones, they’re nice extras. But what people must realize is that we’re in Baghdad. Electricity is out three-fourths of each day. CNN and Fox News have been more than willing to let soldiers use their phones when the power is on.

I thank all the great people who work long and hard to get us mail.

Staff Sgt. Sean D. FoxBaghdad, Iraq

August 8

Mission always comes first

This is in response to the soldiers who had less-than-kind words to say on television about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They complained about being out here for X amount of time and being given different dates for their return to the United States. Well, I’ve been out here in Kuwait for six months going on seven. While we’ve also been given several different dates of return, one thing that we were told even before we came here was that we should plan on being here for at least a year. In Vietnam a Marine’s tour of duty was 13 months. During World War II and Korea it was as long as it took to secure the theater for which they were responsible.

I don’t think Secretary Rumsfeld is sitting in his office trying to devise ways to screw us over and make us stay here longer just because he can. He was a serviceman himself, and I’m quite sure he knows of the hardships we go through. The bottom line is that mission accomplishment comes before troop welfare, period. I don’t like staying out here any more than those soldiers do. But I’m a Marine and I’ve been given my mission. I’m going to do my best to accomplish it, whether it takes seven months or one year and seven months.

Perhaps these soldiers are under the impression, as are some of our civilian counterparts back home, that a war can be successfully prosecuted and all the troops can be back home in six months. Well, we can’t. This thing is a bigger manpower and logistical nightmare than can be imagined, even on a small-unit level. These soldiers should just ask their S-4s. I’d hate to imagine what it’s like trying to coordinate a return home for every single soldier, sailor, airman and Marine in the entire theater of operation.

And as far as having freedom of speech and thinking we should be able to say whatever we want whenever we want, those soldiers should think about this: They would not tolerate any of their privates questioning their decisions and asking them to step down as squad leaders or platoon sergeants. That’s especially true in a medium as widely broadcast as the national news. So these soldiers’ superiors should not be expected to tolerate it from any of them.

Sgt. Eric M. GrussAli Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait

BBC reports what AFN won’t

I’d like to comment on the July 26 letter “BBC reports lack balance.” The writer, who’s in Baghdad, said he’s tired of the British Broadcasting Corp. bad-mouthing our country and the commander in chief. He also said he sincerely hopes that American Forces Network can get a radio station set up soon so “we can listen to some unbiased news that isn’t clouded with righteous arrogance.”

What the writer is hearing from the BBC is freedom of the press. One of the world’s largest and most respected networks has found out, after supporting the efforts of the U.S. military, Tony Blair and President Bush, that the reasons for starting the Iraq war may have been based on lies. They are doing investigative reporting much like ABC, CBS and CNN.

Doesn’t the writer want to know if his comrades died for weapons of mass destruction or oil? What’s wrong with interviewing the fallen, not just the victors? Is the writer afraid to hear what a war does to men, women, children and communities? The fact that the writer only wants to listen to AFN’s “unbiased” reports shows me that he has a lot of the “righteous arrogance” that he accused the BBC of having.

Klaus D. PaulVogelweh, Germany

One-year deployment too long

Why would anyone think it’s OK to deploy a GI for a year? Who’s excited about that? I’m not convinced that this is good news for anyone, especially anyone already deployed here in Iraq. Yes, we’ve all been asking for a date of eligibility return from overseas or to know when we’re expected to leave. But a year? That’s a year away from my home, family and life. It’s not acceptable.

As for those who say that all the GIs here are motivated and have high morale, all I can say is that they don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the GIs. Either that or they aren’t here. I want to hear what soldiers really think who just came back from deployments and are now scheduled to come to Iraq for a year. I’m sure there are some soldiers in Iraq who have high morale. But the continuous beating from the conditions, the heat, the Department of Defense and the Army will soon strip that away from them as well. Sometimes soldiers reach their limits and have enough.

I come in contact with numerous soldiers, officers, junior leaders and senior leaders on a daily basis. The conversations are all nearly the same: about getting out of the Army, out of Iraq or finding ways to prevent it from happening to them again.

I also wonder why no one can tell GIs what’s going on. If we’re two weeks from completing a mission, why can’t someone tell me today what’s happening with me and the unit? Are commanders asking questions or waiting for information to be volunteered? It seems to me that a lack of direction and purpose lead to a lack of leadership and motivation.

Since GIs are expected to stay in Iraq for a year when the few airmen here are on 120-day rotations, what’s the plan to send GIs back to the States on leave to visit their families and try to hold their lives together until the deployment is complete?

The benefit of this deployment for the average soldier is invisible. I understand the benefit to our nation. If I’m asked to give 100 percent, why does it always seem that the return is only about 5 percent? Why is everything such a secret? And is anyone really in charge? I can’t tell. Who can answer these questions?

Sgt. 1st Class Darren GaddyIraq

Air Force approach is best

This is in response to the July 12 letter “Disproportionate luxuries.” The writer complained about Air Force “luxuries” for folks in Kuwait and Iraq. Perhaps the writer misunderstood why the Air Force is consistently ranked higher than its sister services in all things moralewise. The Air Force seems to understand what it takes to make its folks happy, deployed or not. The happier the airmen are, the better the morale, the better the work, the faster the job gets done, and the sooner everybody comes home to real luxuries.

I’m truly sorry that Army folks don’t have air conditioners in their tents, enough bedding to go around or ice cream makers. But the writer should understand that the Air Force gets a certain amount every year to spend in the Department of Defense budget, as does the Army. The Air Force spends it on what their folks want. The Army seems not to do so, even though soldiers are sent to far worse places, far more often, and for far longer than their Air Force counterparts.

I suggest the writer send a series of letters to Gen. John Abizaid, Gen. John M. Keane and her elected officials. While it’s horrific to think that U.S. Army folks aren’t getting the basics for their job in Iraq, it isn’t the Air Force’s fault. And it isn’t the Air Force’s duty to spend its funds in a way the letter writer and the rest of the Army feel is appropriate.

The writer and her husband willingly joined the Army, not the Air Force. As such, they should complain to their service about their treatment, not harangue their sister services for better treatment.

Rhianna M. SchoonoverRAF Croughton, England

August 9

Painted in a negative way

I’m a petty officer first class currently stationed in Rota, Spain, who is the only American on a Spanish paintball team that competes internationally in Europe. In my years of playing I’ve made every effort to properly educate and introduce people to this wonderful sport. I even organized the first-ever paintball event on board Naval Station Rota, Spain. I’m thrilled each time I see paintball associated with the military.

So readers can imagine how excited I was to see the Aug. 3 Sunday magazine article “Paint wars.” I was thinking how great it was that paintball and the military might again be publicized in a positive light until I opened to the first page of the article. What was the first thing I saw? Someone playing in a sleeveless shirt. What made matters worse is that he’s an E-6.

Paintball’s biggest problems are image and negative publicity. Everybody in the sport can be obeying all the rules and laws and minding their own business. But when we get that one person who wants to do something stupid, then that’s all we hear about. Then all of a sudden paintball gets outlawed, as it has been in too many places already.

Naval safety requires those playing paintball to wear long sleeves and pants, among other things. And here we had a petty officer first class, a supposed leader, in the biggest picture with the article showing everyone how he plays paintball.

No publicity is better than negative publicity. If this is any reflection of what Stars and Stripes plans to print in the future concerning paintball, please don’t bother.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ernie TorresRota, Spain

Bridge company helped, too

This is in regard to the July 19 article “Mending Iraq with tools, not weapons.” I was offended because the article made it sound as if the Seabees were the only ones who did a majority of the work on the Zubadiyah Bridge. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The 1437th Multi-Role Bridge Company, a Michigan National Guard Unit out of Sault Sainte Marie, Mich., played just as important a role but received no credit. I feel a great journalistic injustice was done by only referring to us as soldiers.

Our boats were more than crucial in putting pontoons in place. We also set up interior and exterior bays to transport Seabees’ equipment to the opposite shore. This saved them from driving 1½ hours to get there. Our bridging expertise was crucial during certain phases of the process. Our welder had to fix one pontoon that was punctured by a forklift operator. He also had to cut anchor chains on the floating buoys to make way for the bridge. As the unit’s bulk fuel specialist, my job was to fuel the Seabees’ welder, crane and other support equipment.

I don’t take anything away from the hard work the Seabees did. But the reporter could have taken the time to give credit by unit to the Marines who provided security and the 1437th MRBC.

Sgt. Mark J. HoustonIraq

Willing to fight, but not asked

I want to express to readers the psychological war that grips us now in Iraq. I’m a Gulf War veteran with 15 years of service. I’m stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and have been assigned to the 2/20th Field Artillery (Multiple Launch Rocket System). Since deploying in March with the 4th Infantry Division, we have not fired one rocket or missile. We’ve done nothing but patrol local towns and cities, and sit around wondering when we’ll go home. Although 4th ID units took part in the actual conflict and some battles were very intense and bloody, most division soldiers didn’t fight in the war.

It would upset me greatly if I were redeployed before those units that were here before me and took part in the fight. Like those in the 3rd Infantry Division, we ask ourselves daily what we’re here for, but no straightforward answers are ever given. Our mission has never been clearly defined. After patrolling a town or city for two or three weeks, we move and leave the townspeople unprotected and vulnerable to any group of armed militia that may come along. What’s the point in helping these people if we leave a short time later and allow their homes and lives to be torn apart again?

The troops in my unit and several other soldiers I’ve met are psychologically drained because our current situation is monotonous and boring. There is almost no information flow as to what’s going on with the redeployment scheme and where we fit into it. Morale dips lower each time we miss a redeployment date. There have been two so far.

I’m no hero and deserve nothing for my participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But what we all deserve is a clear-cut, concrete answer as to when we can go home. Everyone in this theater deserves that.

The hierarchy of command is so secretive about everything. They only help in bringing down the spirits and morale of their soldiers. I’ve never been a prisoner, but this deployment is as close to imprisonment as I ever want to be. Even incarcerated people know when they can go home.

Staff Sgt. S.A. MorganIraq

Possible mail swap troubling

I know everyone is sick of reading about the mail situation in Iraq. I am, too. That’s why I’m writing with the hope that I may be able to help fix the problem.

Recently I received a package from my mother. Upon opening it I found a note from a customs inspector who checked my package. It was so messy that no one in my unit could read it. I also found that one of my magazines was missing and several newspapers were ripped up.

Today was my phone day. I called my mother and told her about the package. It turns out that she didn’t send me some of the things that were in the box, such as a VHS tape from a church at Fort Hood, Texas, and some audiocassette tapes. Nor did she have any idea how a torn latex glove wound up in the package.

I’m not really upset about this, but I feel sorry for the soldier whose stuff I received. I just think that it’s time the military fixes the mail service and gives units a date when they can expect to go home. How is it that a military that takes over a country in three weeks can’t fix the mail system in four months?

Sgt. Chris SmithBaghdad, Iraq

Frustrated by not knowing

I’m a member of the 1166th Military Police Company out of the great state of Alabama. Today is July 17, another hot day in Iraq. It’s been strange for me since Day One of this deployment because it happened so quick. We were mobilized to Fort Stewart, Ga., on Feb. 10 and were treated like inmates for the almost two months that we were there. We weren’t allowed to leave post, and when family members came to see us we had to sit out under pine trees and look at each other. I don’t think it was fair because our family members were driving as long as eight to nine hours one way to visit us.

On March 28 we left Fort Stewart with orders to go to Camp Doha, Kuwait. But instead we went to Camp Arifjan, where we lodged for an entire month before leaving for Baghdad without any orders.

Now that we’re here in Iraq, the madness continues. We still have no mission, and soldiers’ morale and welfare are at their lowest. One question on all of our minds is, are we legally supposed to be here? We have no Morale, Welfare and Recreation support, and can only use the phones at battalion every four days. We are quickly approaching 180 days of being deployed, and as of yet no one can even tell us when we’re going home.

Staff Sgt. Roger B. AndersonIraq

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