Events in Iraq took a new, deadly turn when a troop helicopter was shot down near Baghdad, Nov. 2, killing at least 15 U.S. soldiers and wounding nearly two dozen others. The soldiers had been en route to two weeks home leave in the U.S.
“All I can think about is, they were coming home. It makes the tragedy that much worse,” said Larry Syverson, of Richmond, Va., who has two sons serving in Iraq. We put our soldiers in Iraq “for all the wrong reasons,” he told the World. “It made me think of Vietnam.”
One of the dead was Sgt. Ernest Bucklew, 33, who had been on his way home for his mother’s funeral. “They say there’s a reason for everything, but I just can’t find a reason for this,” Bucklew’s uncle, Jack Smith, 75, of Point Marion, Pa., told USA Today. “This country shouldn’t be starting wars; we should be defending ourselves and others. I think all these boys should be sent home.”
The helicopter downing was followed by daily, increasingly powerful rocket and mortar attacks including one that struck the U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-three Americans were killed in the first few days of November.
Syverson’s son Brandon, 32, wanted to be in the Army since age 17. He joined right out of high school. Recently, Brandon called from Tikrit and told his parents he’s quitting when his tour ends in September. “In 2001 he was rated best master gunman for tanks in the U.S.,” his father told the World proudly. “He doesn’t complain. He’s a soldier’s soldier. For him to decide to leave says a lot.” In the first two months Brandon was in Iraq, people were warm and friendly, offering him food, Syverson said. By August, children were throwing rocks. Now, anytime anyone comes near, the soldiers’ orders are “shoot first, ask questions later,” he said.
His son Bryce, 25, a front-line infantryman who enlisted right after high school, now says he will leave when his tour is up in 2005.
Jari Sheese of Indianapolis, Ind., says morale is “at an all time low” in her husband’s Reserve unit, stationed near Fallujah. He joined the Reserves last November after 29 years of full and part-time military duty – one more year would guarantee his military pension. Then he was sent to Iraq in April. He was to serve 179 days, but now he’s been told “informally” he must be there for an additional six months, and that could get extended. At first, he believed in the administration’s reasons for the war, “but none have really panned out,” she said. The Pentagon is taking people like the high school English teacher and the car salesman in her husband’s unit and “dropping them in the middle of Iraq” on two days’ notice, with no understanding of the Iraqi people’s culture and religion. Her husband’s unit “lost a couple guys to mental breakdowns – they had to carry them off,” Sheese told the World. “It’s a complete nightmare.”
The Pentagon has banned photos of coffins unloading at U.S. airbases. But the names and faces of casualties appearing on television screens have a profound impact, says Marti Hiken, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force. There are hundreds, if not thousands, seeking to get out of the military, Hiken told the World. She said the GI Rights Hotline, which her group is part of, is getting 3,500 calls a month, “mostly about AWOL (absent without leave), mostly Army, but I’m surprised at the number from the Marines.” Calls to the hotline are increasing “geometrically,” said Brian Cross of the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors, one of the groups that runs the service.
Robert Dove, of the American Friends Service Committee, who works the New England hotline, noted increasing calls from National Guard members. Often close to the end of their enlistment, suddenly they are deployed to Iraq, he told the World. They joined expecting to be called for short assignments, like dealing with floods and fires, doing something useful. Now they might be in Iraq for a year. “Their families are financially and emotionally not set up to deal with this,” he said.
Hotline worker Steve Woolford, from Quaker House in Fayetteville, N.C., is getting calls from soldiers still in training, troops overseas, and family members. Many are “desperate to come up with a way to get out,” he told the World.
Meanwhile recruiters are not meeting their goals, said Hiken of the Military Law Task Force. “Bush has a real problem here.”
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The GI Rights Hotline number is (800) 394-9544.
Originally published by the People’s Weekly World