Of all the things I’ve been holding back on, thinking through, and getting angry about over the past month this has been the most painful. On May 5th Defense Secretary Leon Panetta released a statement calling on our troops to increase discipline and display “integrity” after a series of what some have called “P.R. Disasters” hit the world media. Referencing the incidents of photos and videos that were released showing troops urinating on Taliban corpses, burning copies of the Koran, and displaying body parts allegedly taken from insurgents and Taliban forces, Panetta said the incidents showed “a lack of judgment, a lack of professionalism, and a lack of leadership…”
Panetta’s statement echoed earlier ones from Army and Marine Corps leadership. The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Almos, released a “white paper” prior to Panetta’s statement that made the bald statement to his commanders, “We are allowing our standards to erode… A number of recent widely publicized incidents have brought discredit on the Marine Corps and reverberated at the strategic level.” Almos then went on a tour of U.S. bases to drive his point home with the troops.
What I wish more than anything is to line up Secretary Panetta, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Commander-In-Chief shoulder-to-shoulder so I could walk down the line and bitch-slap each and every one… hard… repeatedly… preferably with a plank. The statements released by Panetta and Almos show clearly that the Brass just doesn’t get it. They have no clue as to what’s happening to our troops, and no answers on how to address the crisis.
This isn’t an “erosion of discipline”, it’s an erosion of our men and women under the weight and horror of over 12 years of constant guerrilla warfare, repeated deployments, and a completely under-staffed, under-funded, and misdirected stateside infrastructure. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the Veterans Administration had massively underestimated the numbers of Gulf and Afghan veterans who would need their services. When the tidal wave hit, the V.A. collapsed under the strain and has been playing “catch-up” ever since with poor-to-middling results. No speech by any general is going to reverse the growing suicide rate amongst our military ranks. No press release from the Secretary of Defense will address the nightmare of PTSD and TBI rates in our returning children in uniform. The fact that our men and women in uniform are returning home from these two onerous wars afflicted with mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and severe depression in ever-increasing numbers will not be addressed by any of the posturing out of the Pentagon.
In a recent article by Kristina Wong for ABC News, “Rising Suicides Stump Military Leaders”, Ms. Wong made the asinine statement that “military suicides are not necessarily linked to overseas deployments…” but then contradicted her own words by reporting that, according to testimony before a congressional hearing by Army Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick, there is “evidence of an increase in suicides among those who have had more than one deployment.”
No shit! Really? You’re just catching on to this? Why don’t we take a look at the figures, General… I mean there’s only been a climbing number of suicides since The Shrub started this whole fiasco, but – typical of our military’s leadership – you’re only now seeing the correlation? Which filing cabinet have they been hiding you under, I wonder… During the same congressional hearing, it was no surprise that some Rethuglican dick-weed had to interject a little fear-mongering and pandering to his corporate masters in the military supply-chain. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee worried, “I am very concerned those stressors will only get worse in the coming months as debate regarding cuts to the Department of Defense budget intensifies.” Wilson is referring to the most common triggers and stressors, risk factors identified in suicide victims and those who have attempted suicide within our armed forces – those being relationship issues, work-related problems, financial pressure, legal concerns, alcoholism and substance abuse. While these are contributors to, and indicators of the possibility of a suicide attempt they are not – in and of themselves – the root causes.
Tell me, Congressman Wilson, how exactly will ending the funding for development of the F-22 Raptor – a flaming pile of crap that has never worked properly since its inception, and is now found to be asphyxiating our pilots on top of engine failures, failure of its stealth features if it gets wet, and a tendency to be a real bitch to fly – how is that going to make the hell our boys and girls are living with worse? How is taking tasks such as base security, food preparation and laundry services away from cost-gouging, incompetent and unprofessional contractors and returning it to U.S. Military service personnel going to make the PTSD and TBI rates worse than they already are? You’re a tool, Wilson, and it speaks poorly of the intelligence of South Carolinians that they fell for your bullshit during the last election.
Perhaps the one thing that Mommie Dammit found most perplexing (as in I read it and immediately thought YOU’VE GOT TO BE FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME!!!) was the disclosure that the Marines’ answer to the mental health crisis is some mind-fart called “Telehealth”. I shit you not. The Corps hands a marine a smart-phone, the beleaguered leatherneck then downloads an app and he can access a Web chat, or make a phone call to talk to another Marine about the shit he’s living in. Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., Marine Corps deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said of the effort: “Marines, when we call a number, if we get a social worker or someone, they’re going to know it’s not a Marine. But when there’s a Marine there or someone that talks Marine, then they’ll open up.” There may be some small truth to that, but over all I call BULLSHIT! Peer support works, decades of Alcoholics Anonymous speaks well to that, but it is never, never attempted without experienced, professional supervision. Even A.A. follows guidelines developed over decades with the input of medical professionals and research. I have to work very hard to keep from ringing up the V.A. and screaming, “Why the fuck don’t you give ’em all a subscription to Grindr while you’re at it! It’d do them more good, and relieve a lot more stress, DAMMIT!!!”
To give the devil his due, there is some small modicum of sense to this approach. There is a huge stigma attached to mental health issues, and military culture magnifies this. There is a huge reluctance to admit to, and seek help for personal problems from sources within the military’s active-duty structure – or as the article puts it, you’re not likely to run to your sergeant and tell him you’ve got a drinking problem. So the “Telehealth” initiative gives the troops some measure of discretion in dealing with the burdens facing them. It also makes a dent in the shortage of availability for troops in rural, or remote areas. When my brain-damaged-children-in-uniform come home from deployment, they’re supposed to go through a processing session in which they are interviewed and screened for medical and/or mental health issues. Unfortunately, when they come home they come home en masse – which means that the already under-staffed facilities are hit with a flood of exhausted, over-stressed, homesick soldiers and far too many of them fall through the cracks. There has also been a tendency on the part of the Pentagon to downplay the level of injury, disability, and mental issues they find in our returning troops – this lately has been coupled with the V.A. downgrading an already established disability in our veteran troops, thereby cutting the level of compensation and disability assistance the veteran is allowed.
The great majority of our troops don’t live next door to a military base, or a V.A. hospital, and the Telehealth effort may offer greater access to the facilities they need… but there is something about it that still smacks of “self-medicating” to Mommie Dammit. Discretion and ease-of-access are one thing, but getting the soldier to use it in the first place is another. I can imagine that there are plenty of my flea-bitten children who want and need help facing the waking nightmare that over a decade of continuous guerrilla warfare has wrought. But I can also see the very real likelihood of those who stay in denial, shutting themselves off from friends and love ones, and spiraling inward until they find themselves with the business end of a Glock in their mouth and their finger tensing on the trigger. I know, I’ve watched helplessly while it happened. Love him with all you have in you, reach out to him with every fiber of your being, hold him tight while he screams through the nightmare that wont let him sleep… and then cry bitterly for months after he’s gone somewhere you can never find him, nobody knows him, and hangs himself from a bridge.
We have in each of us a well of resilience that we tap when faced with violence, horror, pain and fear. Some of us stand toe-to-toe with the beast, drive it away once more, and find our well deeper than before. Some of us will do battle with it and find that our well is just that much emptied, the water gone and what remains is somehow fouled. Eventually we reach a point where doing battle with the monster inside leaves us nothing, and a horde awaits outside the door. Here is where we break – the fine line that divides human from beast, man from monster finally crossed and no safe road back to sanity lies before us. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to blur the waking nightmare, others turn to violence to push back against the screaming in our heads. Some are utterly defeated and find no strength, no will to rise to fight again – save but for one bullet.
For you and I, living in the safety of our homes and the relative sanity of our streets, the need to tap the well of strength and resilience within us is seldom, and rarely deep. For our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq the need comes with nearly every waking hour, and with a thirst that you and I will never experience. With deployments lasting between 9 and 16 months at a stretch for the Army, and leave limited to 75 days at most, the pressures on our troops are enormous. I remembered a particular segment from 60 minutes that set off alarm bells all up and down Mommie Dammit’s spine. Not for the general content of the segment, which brings to the fore all manner of other issues, but for the reactions, body language, and brutally obvious stresses already present in the voices and faces of the soldiers interviewed during the segment. It’s a fairly long chunk of footage, but you’ll never notice it as you’ll quickly be immersed in what I think is one of the best pieces of journalism to come out of this heinous mess.
In particular, pay close attention to Captain John Hintz (sp?) (U.S. Army 101st Airborne) throughout the video, but especially at 11:50 when Lara asks him what his hardest task is. If this isn’t a man on the edge of breaking, then in all my 50 years on this little blue mud-ball I’ve never seen one.
Losing my kids. The pain in that simple statement is written all over the Captain’s handsome face, in the breaking of his voice. “You’re a failure…” is a statement I will never get out of my ears. I feel my little black heart wrench inside me when he says this, and I want to scream in denial of it. You are not a failure, John. The failure was in an American quasi-dictator foisting on us a war that we can never win, who lied about everything in order to drive us into a conflict that was never about securing freedom but about filling the coffers of Haliburton and expanding the Corporate American Empire over resources not within our borders.
Our nation has not fought an honorable war in over 70 years. Instead, we have sent the treasure of our nation on the backs of our youth to fight and die for oil profits, mineral wealth, and the egos of evil old men. If the blame for failure belongs on anyone’s heads it belongs squarely on the politicians, their corporate masters, and the American people for not saying “NO!”