By Jeff Latas
One of the units of the 82nd Airborne returned back to Fort Bragg earlier this month. Most of us would expect them to receive a hero’s welcome back to their base in North Carolina after a 15 month deployment. Of the 31 soldiers, 20 had been involved in Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) detonations near or on their vehicles as they convoyed to and from their very remote outpost. they endured months with out bathing on several occasions and lived on rations while under constant attack only a few miles from the Pakistan border. What they returned to was disgraceful.
Before I continue on the plight of this unit, I have to share my own experience as a father of a soldier who experienced unacceptable conditions, both in theater and when he returned home to Walter Reed.
Jesse, my son, deployed to Iraq in August 2005. He arrived at Camp Anaconda, an airbase just north of Baghdad known as Balad. After being there for about a month, we started to hear of the conditions he was experiencing.
Jesse was a truck driver, although he spent most of his time on the convoys as a guard. The infamous Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) contracted most of the driving duties. These civilian drivers make six-figure incomes, compared to the trained soldier drivers like my son who made less than $19,000 per year.
Since Jesse was assigned out of his reserve unit to supplement another unit, he needed to have new patches sewn on his uniform. The civilian contractors charged him $52 to sew on two patches.
Jesse lived in a converted shipping container. Internet access was available from--you guessed it--civilian contractors, and it cost $1,200 per shipping container for hookup, and $300 per month for service.
I was pushed into action when I heard he had no water to shower on many occasions even though the contracted Burger King and Pizza Hut had plenty of buns and pizza crust, for which my son risked his life hauling across the hostile sands of Iraq.
I contacted Senators McCain and Kyl and Congressman Kolbe. One month later, I actually received a call from a McCain staffer who was a reserve officer. He told me he would look into this problem. Unfortunately, my son relapsed with childhood leukemia shortly after this.
After being medically evacuated through Germany with 52 severely wounded fellow soldiers who came under attack the day he was diagnosed with his relapse, he returned to Walter Reed. This was about 17 months before the Washington Post broke the story of the appalling conditions our returning wounded veterans had to put up with in this once prestigious facility.
I arrived one day after Jesse had been admitted to Walter Reed. I entered an incredibly overcrowded facility, full of soldiers not much older than high school students who were missing arms and legs, were blind, or had head injures. It was a mass of recovering wounded, and it was blatantly obvious there was something wrong.
Katrina had just destroyed New Orleans and the lack of competent government management was showing up in our military medical operations just like it was in FEMA.
I went directly to my son’s room in the cancer ward. My son had no white blood cells, so he required a sterile environment; however, the conditions in his room were anything but clean. Bloody bandages were on the floor of his room, a greasy dust similar to that you would see in an old diner exhaust fan covered the top of shelves and moldings. The room was so hot from a broken thermostat that the window had to remain open, allowing dust and mold from the outside to contaminate my son’s compromised immune system.
This was nearly three years ago and now I hear another father’s story, which is only two weeks old.
I ask you all to watch the YouTube video and remind you this is not an isolated situation:
Three years ago, I contacted our Congressional delegation with only one reply from Sen. John McCain’s staff. Obviously he chose to stick with the incompetence of the Bush administration and avoid correcting any discrepancies in living conditions of returning military members.
Now, I will contact our new Congress member, Rep. Gabby Giffords, to see if she can influence and rectify the appalling conditions recorded on this video. She sits on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), a powerful and appropriate committee to address why this is allowed to continue.
Why did the commanding officers of this unit allow those men into a facility in such conditions and why are they not being replaced? Where does the allocated money for maintaining and replacing these facilities go? Here is the chain of command that is responsible for this disgusting treatment of our returning warriors. Why should any of them keep their jobs?
If you are in Arizona CD-8, join me with your own question to Rep Giffords.
Harry Mitchell sits on the Veterans Affairs committee and is our representative from Arizona CD-05. He should also be questioned on why these conditions exist. He was the freshman Congressional member who led the Congressional inquiry into the Walter Reed investigation, and Fort Bragg should be next.
Sen McCain and Kyl both have been asleep the wheel for the last seven years and have shown their incompetence to correct the blunders on how we treat our returning veterans. Why should they keep their jobs or be promoted to a higher elected position?