Supporting the Troops: A True Story

The president is getting lots of air time today for his visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center; now that imperfections in the nation’s care for its wounded warriors have come to light, he vows, solemnly and sincerely, that the government will do better. And as long as someone’s keeping their eye on the problem–someone like the Washington Post, which brought the scandalously poor treatment to light–things will probably improve.

Meantime, he is escalating the war in Iraq, guaranteeing a steady flow of new clients for Walter Reed and the nation’s other military and veterans’ hospitals. The escalation also means that the services have to scrape together bodies to make sure that units headed for Iraq, or those held there on prolonged tours, are as close to full strength as possible. Where is the Pentagon finding the bodies? Here’s a story involving a friend of ours and her son.

The son was in the Marines, part of the first-wave invasion force sent into Iraq in March 2003. His unit’s combat assignment was over quickly, and he and his comrades were pressed into police duty in Baghdad and other locations in northern Iraq. Back then, when the mission was declared accomplished and administration’s victory lap was interrupted only by the need to mop up “non-compliant forces” and “destablizing influences” in the lexicon of the day, the son’s unit was quickly rotated back to the States, and he was discharged soon after.

I don’t know the letter of military regulations, but my understanding of the deal Marines have is that when they leave the corps, they don’t really leave the corps. For the first 48 months after discharge, they’re considered part of a ready reserve force and can be called back to service at any time. Only after that 48 months is up are you free and clear from an involuntary call-up; if you decide to join the reserves or go your own way at that point, that’s your business.

For our friend’s son, that four-year period for involuntary call-up will be over in a few months. He got married recently, and he’s going about his life pretty much the way any kid in his mid-20s would, with the significant exception that he’s been in combat and was assessed a disability rating of 40 percent because of post-traumatic stress syndrome when he left the corps. His mom, who’s not a Veteran’s Administration bureaucrat, a Navy medical officer, or a military lawyer, sort of figured that the 40 percent disability meant her son couldn’t or wouldn’t be called back despite the news that the armed services have begun to recall discharged members.

So she was puzzled the other day when her son asked her whether he had gotten anything from FedEx.

No, she told him—was he expecting a package?

No, he said–a letter from the Marines; they might be recalling him to service.

How could that be, she asked–you have a 40 percent disability.

The son told her that sure, that was right–but that a buddy of his, someone rated with a 60 percent disability (I don’t know the reason) had been summoned back to duty.

So this is the support the troops get from an administration whose leading members made damned sure they were never anywhere near the shooting when it was their turn: First, send the troops out on a tragically half-baked mission; second, when they start coming home with major physical and psychological trauma, make them fight an ill-prepared bureaucracy and medical system for care; third, when you find yourself in a pinch, call on the guys who have already given pieces of themselves and tell them they’ve got to go back in. Oh, and fourth, you question the patriotism and loyalty of anyone who questions your way of doing business.

All in all, it’s a heck of a recruiting campaign.

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3 Replies to “Supporting the Troops: A True Story”

  1. Sounds like a nightmare. If they started a draft and spread the responsibility across the whole population then you’d really see where people stood on the “war.” As it is, there seems to be a collective torpor over the land when it comes to continuing the project.
    There is a pretty good book called “The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell”, written by a guy who went into Baghdad with the Marines and got held over for police duty. His story was a pretty rough one as well, very similar to your friend’s.
    Some insane number of people were killed over there today Also today, the Times ran amazing story about a Sunni family in a Baghdad neighborhood whose 49-year-old matriarch was murdered for resisting eviction by a Shiite group. As for me, I hope the surge works, but if it doesn’t, what is plan B? Run out the clock and hand the mess off to the next guy. It would mean thousands more casualties but at least the guys at the White House would get to save a little face. What more can you expect from the guy who made Al (Fredo) Gonzales the nation’s top lawman.

  2. One other thought I had when I read this is it sounded like something Joseph (Catch-22) Heller would have come up with.

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