Tuesday, September 30, 2008
By William Finnegan
The New Yorker
Sept. 29 issue:
"Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, is said to be considering making some P.T.S.D. sufferers eligible for the Purple Heart. Wounded veterans are symbolically popular figures, if individually painful, and sometimes frightening. Certainly, most politicians want to be associated with their cause. And yet the difficulty of maintaining the troop levels necessary for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has placed the Bush Administration at odds with veterans’ groups. All such organizations supported what became known as the New G.I. Bill, which would provide increased education benefits. The Administration opposed it, on the ground that the appeal of a college education might sap troop levels. John McCain, himself a veteran, agreed. Ultimately, at the end of June, President Bush signed a modified version of the bill.
In the Marine Corps, the Wounded Warrior Regiment, created in 2007, marks a step toward the assumption of longer-term institutional responsibility for casualties, both physical and mental. “Used to be, we met them at the hospital door, shook their hand, thanked them for their service, gave them a discharge, and said goodbye,” Colonel Greg Boyle, the regiment’s commander, told me. “Now it’s marine for life.” Boyle did not mean that there would always be a place, a job, for disabled marines but that his regiment would track them and offer support throughout their post-discharge lives. P.T.S.D. victims are among those for whom the regiment is designed."
Monday, September 29, 2008
By William Finnegan
The New Yorker
Sept. 29 issue:
"It has been called by different names—shell shock, battle fatigue—in different eras, but P.T.S.D., in its combat form, has been around for as long as war has. Odysseus and his men had it. Although Twiggs used the word “paranoid” to describe his mood when he was Stateside, the more accurate term, used by P.T.S.D. researchers, might be “hypervigilance”—a normal adaptive strategy for surviving combat, except that the “on” switch is not easily turned off. Dr. Jonathan Shay, a P.T.S.D. specialist, thinks that even calling it a disorder is misleading: P.T.S.D. is an injury. There are degrees of damage, ranging from standard combat stress, which can be treated with a few days’ rest, to full-blown complex P.T.S.D., which is very difficult to treat, let alone cure. It is best understood, though, as a psychic wound, one that can be crippling, even fatal, in its myriad complications.
Compared with other American wars, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be producing victims at a high rate. A recent RAND Corporation study estimated that three hundred thousand veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars—nearly twenty per cent of those who have served—are suffering from P.T.S.D. or major depression, and many more cases are expected to surface in the years ahead. This elevated rate is generally attributed to the rigors of a long war being fought without conscription: multiple deployments and heavy use of National Guard and reserve units. And on the ground, at unit level, the discouragement of anyone with stress symptoms from asking for help is intense. The same RAND study found that, mainly because of the stigma still attached to P.T.S.D., only half of those afflicted have sought treatment."
The tailgating didn't end well. Held together with paint sticks and duct tape, the canopy gave up the ghost.
Fortunately, the Jags did better. They beat the Texans 30 - 27 in overtime.
Number One Fan Mike and his friend Dave in pre-game. Number One 1.1 Fan was in Fayetteville with a buddy watching the game on satellite in high def.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray with his family (from the Arlington National Cemetery website)
Mrs. Gray from the Sept. 29 issue of The New Yorker
Just over a year ago, SSG Gray and six others died in a vehicle accident in downtown Baghdad just a little more than a year ago. Gray and his fellow soldiers were in Delta Co., 1-325 Airborne Regiment, 82nd Airborne...Mark's battalion. You may remember Gray, he was one of several soldiers who authored an OpEd piece in The New York Times questioning the tactics being employed on the streets of Baghdad. His co-author SGT Omar Mora also died that day.
My memory was jogged by a remarkable portfolio by the photographer Platon in the current issue of The New Yorker. While I remember when we were notified about the incident, I was remiss this year in not saying a prayer for the families earlier this month. I will take care of that today.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Below is a shortened Letterman top 10 list of things I thought I would
6. Have a map of Iraq on my desk and know all of the towns/roads in Anbar
5. Have a clock set to Baghdad time.
4. Send the Marine support network contact info every time I leave town.
3. Cruise military websites and blogs for info.
2. Become conversant with military slang. Example: belly bling = shrapnel
1. Get misty eyed when the flag is raised and the National Anthem is played.
Let's see: I had a map of Iraq and a street map of Baghdad (currently in storage). My Baghdad clock is currently set for Riyahd (Saudi Arabia) where my brother and sister-in-law currently reside. I have thrown most of my military bookmarks away. I can tell you what a dead man's profile is (no physical activity)and the roughest part of the Jaguars football game is the National Anthem.
Friday, September 26, 2008
We have two very good families who are parents of Marines. In fact, we really only know two Marine families and they are wonderful friends. One family lives in Virginia, the other here in Florida. They don't know each other, but we know them.
One son is coming home from a deployment. The other has just started. And son of gun, they ended being stationed at the same facility in Al Anbar Province. Don't know whether they actually ever saw each other in transition (not likely). But what are the odds?
I assume families around major military posts see this phenomenon occasionally. But so many of us are scattered all over the map.
It reminds me of how small a group of us are carrying on the wars.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
My oldest son is getting married Oct. 25 to Tara here in Jacksonville. SGT Mark, the best man, is trying to arrange a pass but a 24-hour FEMA recall and a training jump may cause some problems.
My brother and sister-in-law have settled in to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I've been tasked to use Skype so we can talk to each other via the Internet inexpensively. My computer speakers stopped working Saturday and I don't have a microphone, so a trip to Office Depot is in the future.
The Jaguars are home this Sunday for a game with the Texans. The team's number 1 fan in Ft. Bragg was thrilled with the Jags victory over the Colts this weekend. Gayle and I gave up this year's vacation for season tickets in the hopes that Mark may have a chance to see a game in person. So far, it hasn't worked out.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In that spirit, I went downtown yesterday hoping to see Sen. Obama firsthand having seen Sen. McCain earlier in the year. We reviewed the "no" list in the newspaper: no video cameras, no signs, no umbrellas, no chairs, etc. So I thought, what the heck, I'll fire up my Nikons and take a few pictures for the blog.
We left more than two hours before the event was scheduled to start. Traffic was incredible and police were directing our line into an area where there was no parking. After flopping around, we found an empty "No parking - Tow zone" spot and parked. We hiked a half mile where the line into Metro Park, a riverfront park in downtown Jacksonville, had formed. The line itself looked to be several football fields long.
At that point, I was accosted by an officious twenty-something.
"You can't take those in there," she said, referring to my cameras.
"You can't take a camera with interchangeable lenses into the park."
"There might be explosives in them."
"Here check them."
"No, that would take too long."
I almost pulled the Iraq card on her since Mark was with me.
But I thought the better of it. After all, I looked very suspicious with my Key West golf shirt and blue jeans.
I took Mark's keys and sloughed back to his truck where I hid the cameras under his ACU's and his red Airborne beret in the back seat.
On the way back, I received a call from Mike, my oldest son. They weren't letting anyone else in...the Metro Park had reached capacity.
So Gayle, SGT Mark, Mike and I went over to the Jacksonville Ale House where, over a pitcher of beer, onion rings and some pretty decent food, we told silly stories and laughed and laughed and laughed.
When we dropped by Mike's house later in St. Nicholas, we could hear Sen. Obama's voice booming across the St. Johns River. I looked at my pocket watch. It was 4 p.m. He was an hour and half late.
An image popped into my mind: Standing in a rain soaked park, elbow-to-elbow with 12,000 people or sitting down to lunch with my family.
I think we lucked out.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
My brother and my sister-in-law head to Saudi Arabia for a year. Another adventure in the sand. They will be working at KAUST. It's ironic that they will have a difficult time obtaining phone service when they get there. When Mark showed up in Baghdad on his second tour, he had cell service and called us when he got there.
Sen. Obama is supposed to come to Jacksonville this afternoon. I may go because I attended a McCain event earlier in the year. But the weather is very iffy and we had two inches of rain overnight.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Sen. McCain was in town Monday and Sen. Obama will be here Saturday. It's been 20 years since Jacksonville has received this kind of attention. It's a bit surprising because North Florida has been the Republican stronghold since the mid-80s. I think it demonstrates how close the race is. Turnout will be the key.
Talked with a friend of mine last night. He is a Vietnam vet. He said he didn't sleep for 14 years after he came home. Night terrors would send him flying out of bed in the middle of the night. Things do improve with time. At least these days, we know with what we are dealing.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
His mom and I worked together 20 years ago at a local TV station. We had drifted over the years after I realized that I was stumble tongued and not able to do live TV. Two years ago, we reconnected. Don't think we could have ever imagined that our two young sons who were bouncing around the newsroom would have gone to war . . . voluntarily, 20 years later.
How did that happen?
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I was in Deland, Florida (near Orlando) yesterday. Didn't see any $5 a gallon prices yet. But gas prices are up 40 cents from Friday to $4.09.
Did learn that TS Fay was a once in a 500 year event for Central Florida in terms of rainfall. The St. Johns River is still out of its banks after three weeks. The last 500 year event was in 2004. Hmmmm.
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Dow is down 300 points as I write;
Gas is up to $5 a gallon (and I am traveling this week);
One of our battle buddies' son is heading to Iraq Wednesday;
The Jaguars lost 20-16;
The political rhetoric is angry and hate-filled;
My son's platoon sergeant thinks he is an SB;
Thousands of people are suffering in Texas and Louisiana.
I think it's time to declare a news moratorium.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Gayle and I headed out to the beach today figuring a little vitamin D and shark tooth hunting might cure my version of the Fayetteville funk. It was also an opportunity to shoot some photographs for La Florida.
When we got there, the beach was quiet and uncrowded. A mild east wind piled clouds along the sea breeze line and the sanderlings and willets scooted along tide line. We gave thanks that we still had a beach and said a silent prayer for the people who live in East Texas and West Louisiana devastated by Ike.
At Ft. Bragg, the Humvees were lined up in front of 2nd Brigade headquarters and soldiers were loading duffel bags. There were Joe rumors that some of the 82nd Airborne was heading out for disaster relief and judging by the early video from Texas, they are going to be needed. But we really don't where they were headed.
I was in a meeting with one of the executives from a local convenience store chain yesterday. He said the price of wholesale gasoline shot up a $1.60 yesterday, which should send gas prices over $5 shortly. Ike will be a national calamity if that happens.
So with the news from Fayetteville sounding a little more promising yesterday and gas prices shooting through the roof, we are going to try for a quiet, worry-free weekend.
Cheers. And go Jaguars.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Here is a reprise of one SGT Mark's posts regarding his tours of Iraq:
FYI, there is a language alert on this post.
We had some where in the neighborhood of 50 Humvees.
At first, I really had no idea why. Normally, Our mission was to
go in by helicopter where ever we thought the bad guys
were hiding. Not Humvees.
They were rather sad looking Humvees.
Reminded me of old pack mules, broken down by years of
hard labor. It took a crew of about 20 mechanics
working around the clock for two and half months to get
them all mission capable, which wasn't saying much
considering mechanics were adjusting them and
replacing parts when I was mounting the machine gun on
So many of the casualties in Iraq after the invasion
were roadside bombs or IEDs. If you were there and
weren't scared of them you were probably a moron or
someone who was blessed with a job that kept you off
the dangerous Iraqi roads.
Until then I had thought I was one of the lucky ones. I had told my family that
I was much safer cause I didn't have to drive anywhere. Helicopters took me where the brass wanted me to be and picked me up when the job was done. I
walked everywhere in between. Later I realized
that telling my family not to worry about IEDs was as
much for my benefit as it was for theirs.
That night when I was given the warning order of the
mission to come, all I could think was, “Crap.” We
were to "ground assault convoy" or GAC to a small
village just outside Tikirt, the city of Sadaam’s
birth. It's been about a year and half since then and
I'm not sure who exactly we were going after or if we
we had caught him.
I can only remember what happened that first night.
I should have known I was in for something interesting
when I was told that I wouldn't be traveling with my
company. Not only that, I was to be separated from my
squad leader and half my squad. You really only can
trust those you know out there.
My team leader and I were attached to Delta company for the initial
movement. Delta company was to stop at a specific
intersection within the village and let us out. We
were then to wait there for the rest of my squad to
link up and hit the house on the intersection . . . hit
and hold that house to control the intersection and
provide watch for our buddies as they went ahead
with the task at hand.
Not only that, I was to be riding in the very first truck in the first of two
convoys. . .the bomb finder.
Before I went to Iraq I had been a smoker for several
years. When I got to Iraq, I decided to quit.
It went pretty well for the most part and it had
been almost a month without a single cigarette. As
the sun set that afternoon, I chain smoked, one after
another. We got the word sometime around midnight to,
“mount up” and so I strapped on all my combat gear and
climbed into the Humvee.
It was about a 45-minute ride from Camp Speicher to that little village. I
breathed low, hunched forward, muscles tensed and ready as
I peered through my night vision goggles, watching and studying
every foot of the dusty road. After a very tense hour
we turned off MSR (main supply route) Tampa and into the village.
I had studied the maps ahead of time and memorized every
turn that would take us to our intersection. We
hadn't gone into the village but ten feet when we
had to turn around because of a road block. From that
point on I had no idea where I was going but I prayed
that Delta company did.
It's not a good feeling being away from your guys and that feeling was growing worse by
the minute. Twenty minutes and six turn-arounds
later, I was sure that we were all completely lost.
Just then and without warning, the Humvee skidded
to a halt and the sergeant in the front passenger seat
said, “This is you, get out.”
I went through the open Humvee door with a little help from the adrenaline
flowing through my veins. Ran over to a wall and picked up
security with my machine gun. My team leader, Murph,
ran over throwing his back into mine and picking up
security the other way down the road. The final member of our team, Jenkins, came up throwing himself between the two of us.
The humvees dropped into drive and drove off kicking up the dusty road and leaving us
in a cloud. Then, quiet. Nothing. No sound, only
helicopters criss-crossing overhead. Jenkins broke
the silence and said exactly what all three of us were
thinking, “Well, this isn't where we’re supposed to
It was totally obvious seeing as how there wasn't even an intersection in sight.
“Yeah I know, where the hell are we?” Murph said in a
“Fuck man, I don't know,”I said in between breaths.
“Middlebrook, did you see our intersection?”
“Fuck me man, I don't know. Everything looks the same.”
“Shit uh... shit.”
“Well we cant just sit here man. We’ve got to mo. . .”
“Goddamit, I know.... Middlebrook, which way do you
think our intersection is?”
“Uhmm. . . . fuck man. . . uhmm. That way I think, man . . . fuck man, I
“All right. All right. Well then, that's the way were going.
We're going to keep bounding (bounding is a movement
where one moves while the other covers you then
covers the other while he moves) until we find where
we’re supposed to be. . .All right... Go Middlebrook,
I picked up my gun and hoisted myself and took off at
a dead sprint. Wheeling left and right I got about a
hundred meters and dove on the ground just like in
training. Seconds later, the heavy foot steps of an
over-loaded paratrooper came up behind me and gave a
“hughhh” as he hit the ground, lying there huffing and
puffing, sweat pouring and pulling security until the
final member of our little party ran up.
When he did, I instinctively jumped up and took off again. This
continued for nearly a click (1000 meters). It broke down to this: the further we went, the more nervous we became. Towards the end, we were just running . . . running for our lives.
In my mind - I think in all of our minds - we were beginning to panic. But in that situation, fear and panic is what will get you killed. We kept to our training. We stayed together and we kept moving.
By ourselves, it wouldn't have taken much for us to be overrun or even captured. Huffing along those dusty roads and alleys, all that could be heard was heavy
breathing , footsteps, barking dogs and distant helicopters.
I was running low on gas. Picking up and running, dropping then picking up again with a full combat load of an M249 machine gunner is not an easy task. Plus food and water, I was carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 pounds of gear. When we set out, I was in the front. Now, nearly a mile down the road, I was in the rear and trailing. Everyone always
gets angry with SAW gunners for slowing them down. But when things start happening and you let that thing loose, everyone loves you.
When we got to the very end of the road, we turned a
corner and spotted three Americans running across the
street under some sort of make shift street light. A
hundred meters away and through distorted night vision,
I instantly recognized one of them as American.
Not only American but my squad leader.
“It's Sergeant Medina!”
We took off again at a dead sprint giving it everything we had left. Without even saying a word we stacked on the courtyard door and SGT Medina kicked
it in. Within seconds the house was clear and I was on the roof training my gun across the village.
Through my night vision, I could see paratroopers hitting houses and clearing to the roofs. Flash bangs, popping tactical lights searching houses, infrared
strobe lights blinking while Apache helicopters flew lazy figure eights overhead.
A year and half later, I think back to that night and how lucky I was that nothing happened. At the time, I didn't think about it. I just did what I was trained to do. When I thought about it later, it dawned on me just how bad it could have gone.
Just hearing the name Tikrit today . . . my veins open and adrenaline begins to flow.
Remembering that night is a conscious re-occurring nightmare.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently has been urging troops to seek treatment instead of trying to ignore the problem. "You're tough and you go into the hospital when you receive a physical wound," Gates said on a visit to a Texas Army post. "That doesn't mean you're weak in some way, and so why wouldn't you when you've received a psychological wound? It's the same difference. They're all wounded."
From an editorial in the Dallas Morning News:
A mental health crisis has been brewing for years in the U.S. military, despite commanders' best efforts to hide it. At long last, Pentagon leaders have begun speaking openly about post-traumatic stress disorder and encouraging troops to seek help.
As recently as last year, according to a Pentagon study, the prevailing mentality at U.S. bases was to deny PTSD's existence and even punish service members who sought help. The attitude was reminiscent of World War II, when Gen. George S. Patton slapped soldiers seeking help for "combat fatigue."
Troops say they fear losing promotions or security clearances if they mention PTSD. Many have suffered in silence, often with such tragic consequences as suicide, homicide or fits of violent rage. Attempted suicides among veterans now run about 1,000 a month, a grim statistic the Veterans Administration tried to keep secret until recently.
Studies indicate that a quarter to 38 percent of the 1.6 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer serious mental health problems, but fewer than half are willing to seek help.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, launched a campaign last week to change the military's outdated attitude. ... Adm. Mullen told reporters in Washington that "it's way past time" for the military to recognize the war's toll "inside our minds, as well as outside our bodies." But it's unrealistic to "expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won't do it."
By ending its own state of denial, the Pentagon is taking a healthy first step toward ending PTSD's stigma and getting troops the treatment they deserve.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The news out of Fayetteville continues to pose challenges. Not sure when we can talk about it, but we are experiencing the same feelings of helplessness as we did when Mark was overseas. So whenever I felt that way before, I retreated to the garden to see if there was a picture to be had. And yup, the garden never disappoints.
Monday, September 8, 2008
The (Joint) chiefs' frustration grew so intense that (Joint Chief Chairman) Pace told Bush, "You need to sit down with them, Mr. President, and hear from them directly."
(National Security Advisor Steven)Hadley saw it as an opportunity. He arranged for Bush and Vice President Cheney to visit the JCS in the tank Dec. 13, 2006. The president would come armed with what Hadley called "sweeteners" -- more budget money and a promise to increase the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps. It would also be a symbolic visit, important to the chiefs because the president would be on their territory.
"Mr. President," Schoomaker began, "you know that five brigades is really 15."
Schoomaker was in charge of generating the force for the Army. Sending five new brigades to Iraq meant another five would have to take their place in line, and to sustain the surge, another five behind them. This could not be done, Schoomaker said, without either calling up the National Guard and Reserves or extending the 12-month tours in Iraq. The Army had hoped to go in the other direction and cut tours to nine months.
Would a surge transform the situation? Schoomaker asked. If not, why do it? "I don't think that you have the time to surge and generate enough forces for this thing to continue to go," he said.
"Pete, I'm the president," Bush said. "And I've got the time."
What I find interesting about all of this is that we were notified two days later that the 1-325 was going back as part of the surge. How does that happen?
Sunday, September 7, 2008
As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in
-Sen. Barack Obama, July 14 NY Times Op Ed piece.
That strategy will have several components. Our commanders on the ground in
-Sen. John McCain, July 15, remarks in Albuquerque
In a way, I find this type of debate sadly humorous. As military families, we already know what is going to happen. We can look at the calendar, count 12 months and know when. The National Guard and the Reserves have been alerted.
This debate reminds of the run up to the "surge."
On Dec. 9, 2006, Mark and his company arrived home from his first deployment. President Bush was still fact finding about the whether or not surge was the right policy to pursue.
On Dec. 15, 2006, Mark and his company were told that they were going back to Iraq, this time to Baghdad. The President, according to the national media, was still fact finding.
When the President announced his decision to send five additional brigades to Iraq in January 2007, Mark and his battalion were at Camp Taji just outside of Baghdad. When the Democrats in Congress passed the resolution opposing the surge, his battalion was already in the Baghdad neighborhoods.
Now we are debating whether to send two or three additional brigades to Afghanistan. But as military families, we already know what will happen.
Brigades are men and women who have parents, spouses, children, and extended families. They are not pawns in a political debate.
Show us a little respect and tell us the truth.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
A surf apparell yard sale scheduled for this a.m. in our driveway was cancelled due to "epic waves."
Guest contributor: La Florida is featuring photographer Wes Lester. Wes and I have worked together over the years and he is a very talented photographer. His work will be up through the 18th.
I will be back on topic tomorrow. Have a great weekend everyone.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Cloudy and gray. It's about how I feel about the Army right now.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
We haven't finished cleaning up from TS Fay yet and a trio of tropical storms has lined to give all of us Floridians a thrill. I am hopeful that we won't have to evacuate as they did for Gustav. However, that evacuation was so successful that I believe it will become vogue for the smallest of storms.
I should have stayed in Fayetteville. But it looks as Hanna may visit Ft. Bragg as well. Whoohooo!
Monday, September 1, 2008
Moores Creek National Historic Battlefield
Please click on images for better viewing.
I will say this: PTSD is not necessarily a flower that blooms in the first light at the end of deployment.