Soldiers seek asylum in Canada; military nearing exhaustion; they fight back via Internet

Incredibly, Minnesota lost three soldiers in this week alone, the bloodiest week that our state has yet suffered from the war.

Cpl. Levi Angell of Cloquet, 20 years old, same age as me, was killed when his Humvee was hit by an RPG. Pfc. Moises Langhorst, 19, of Moose Lake was killed earlier somewhere in Al Anbar province on April 5. Cpl. Tyler R. Fey, 22, of Eden Prairie was killed in Al Anbar the day before.

Mark Shields made an excellent point on Lehrer News Hour about the Coalition veterans who should be getting rotated out of Iraq now but have been trapped by the new unrest and Pentagon orders: they are effectively the first round of draftees, conscripted to fight the battle.

While snooping at Steve Gillard's blog (Steve is one of the original DKos people) I found a number of stories, including one about two soldiers who drove to Canada to avoid shipping to Iraq.

Army private Brandon Hughey got in his silver Mustang around midnight on March 2, rolled past the gates at Fort Hood in Texas, and headed northeast. All he had to guide him was a deepening dread and principled objection to the war in Iraq and a promise of help from a complete stranger he'd found on the Internet. His unit was deploying to the Middle East the next morning and, as Hughey, 18, wrote in a February 29 e-mail to the stranger, an anti-war activist, "I do not want to be a pawn in the government's war for oil, and have told my superiors that I want out of the military. They are not willing to chapter me out and tell me that I have no choice but to pack my bags and get ready to go to Iraq. This has led me to feel hopeless and I have thought about suicide several times."

In contrast to Hughey, Hinzman engaged a lengthy process of pleading from within his unit for non-combat duty as a conscientious objector (C.O.). After his request was denied, Hinzman faced orders for Iraq. He and his wife crammed what they could into their Chevy Prizm and headed north, with their son, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Hinzman, 25, understood what he was risking: if he wins his case, never being able to visit the U.S. again; if he loses, being deported, going directly to jail with a harsh sentence. Desertion during wartime is a capital offense; though the last execution for a runaway soldier was in 1945, Hinzman worries that the penalty could be revived. "The Bush administration has done so many unprecedented things," he notes.

The first soldier to request Canadian asylum, Jeremy Hinzman, has started a website to deliver news and updates on his situation. The second soldier, Brandon Hughley has also started a website to detail his story: "Do not allow Canada to Send an 18-year-old to prison for refusing to kill or to be killed in an illegal, unjust war."

Steve also wrote a really excellent response to the horrible Fox show The Swan, where entrants get plastic surgery and enter a beauty contest. I find the concept very disturbing, and reflective of where Fox's real values lie. A good summary from Gillard of how the White House is treating the events there:

There is this arrogant idea that all the US has to do is kill enough people and the resistance will end. Dan Barlett, the White House spokesman making the rounds of the morning shows, said "we're fighting evil".

When I heard that, my mouth fell open. Hasn't anyone in the White House noticed most Iraqis are on the fence, and many more have decided to oppose the occupation. They are not supporting us. They are not taking our side, except when we pay them. There isn't one pro-american group native to Iraq. No one cares about Chalabi's henchmen.

I heard a Lt. Col say "we're winning every firefight." So? Why are you in firefights? Why are people killing your Marines? Doesn't that speak of a massive policy failure. Now, I know he has to win a battle, but the idea that we're fighting in Iraq is insane. We were supposed to liberate these people, not have them turn on us.

Sistani is trying to split the difference and stop the killing. Well, that isn't going to work. Sadr is not the only Shia in arms. Iraqis are telling western reporters that they are sick of the incompetence and mishandling of Iraq. Iraqis have the most educated populace of the middle east, 130K engineers and architects, but the country is being rebuilt by Halliburton. Unemployment is 60-70 percent and not going down, the streets are unsafe.

This is a very interesting site: Soldiers for the Truth, run by soldiers who are prepared to criticize how badly the armed services are treated by the Bush administration. One of the group's writers weighs in on cheating National Guard soldiers into paying for services the government is supposed to provide:

It has been more than two years since Charlie Co. of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group received mobilization orders for active duty in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It has been 16 months since the National Guard unit returned to the United States from assignment in Kosovo and demobilized.

But for 72 Army Guardsmen from that unit, their active-duty stint turned into a financial nightmare that continues to this day. Most of the soldiers were forced to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for on-base meals even though DoD regulations state that they are entitled either to per diem allowances or access to base dining facilities at no cost. Their efforts to obtain reimbursement from the Army have produced “frustration and disgust,” as one soldier described it – but no justice.
The GAO report identified a number of major structural flaws in the system, including nonintegrated databases in hundreds of Guard and active Army units, insufficient resources Armywide to manage the influx of nearly 100,000 mobilized reservists and Guardsmen, and poorly trained payroll personnel. It said nothing short of a total re-engineering of the Army’s payroll system could halt the widespread problems.

But the men of Charlie Co. already knew that.

For seven months between the day they arrived at Fort Carson, Colo., for mobilization training in early January 2002 until their departure for Europe that August, the soldiers were forced to pay for their own meals at the dining facility used by the active-duty 10th Special Forces Group. Never mind the fact that under Operation Noble Eagle/Enduring Freedom – the post-9/11 operations to secure the continental United States and eject the Taliban from Afghanistan – mobilized Guardsmen and reservists were entitled to per diem for meals and lodging; the dysfunctional and haphazard Army personnel system was not going to budge.

Another piece, The US Military is in Real Trouble:

Our 30-year old all-volunteer Army is crucially close to being broken.

Never in the history of the post-Vietnam volunteer Army has such a beaten up and over-tasked force had to sustain itself in the face of ever-expanding requirements and constantly accelerating deployment tempos that we see today.

The quality of our force is suffering. Anybody who denies that fact is either blind or ignorant. If the military is not bolstered, very soon, with an infusion of smart, well-trained, and highly-motivated volunteers, the force will suffer even more.
The cumulative effect of this deterioration on troopers’ morale cannot be underestimated.

Following a recent survey of U.S. soldiers in Iraq by the military newspaper Stars & Stripes, some analysts have concluded that the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq risks doing to the All-Volunteer Force what Vietnam did to the draft.

The survey, which polled thousands of troops, found that 40 percent of recipients said their missions in Iraq had little or nothing to do with what they had trained for. Perhaps even more foreboding, half the soldiers who were surveyed indicated that they will not reenlist when their tours end or when the Pentagon lifts the stop-loss order currently in effect that has prevented over 24,000 active duty soldiers and over 16,000 reservists from leaving the service.

This week I spoke over twenty Army NCOs, all recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan duty. Ranging in rank from corporal to sergeant 1st class, all but two said they intend to leave active service once they get the opportunity to do so. The majority added that they wish to completely sever their military ties and will not join reserve units to continue their service.

Two general officers, who have asked that they remain nameless, have both told me that it is their firm belief; that if it were not for the stop-loss policy then the total force would already be in critically severe jeopardy and it clearly could not complete its missions. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Reserve officials are pondering why they have missed their reenlistment goals for 2003.

Also they are following the depleted uranium issue, and its effect on US soldiers. I looked at the site after Gillard noted the story of intel agent David DeBatto, a veteran of our failing Iraq policies, whom the Pentagon is trying to discredit:

The Army has launched what I can only describe as a smear campaign against me by trying to destroy my credibility. They are claiming, among other things, that I am trying to present my self as an official Army or Pentagon spokesman (God forbid!) and that I have been trying to set national policy (I never realized I had that much authority). They are, of course, trying to minimize my experience and expertise by saying, in effect; I don’t know what I am talking about. Pretty standard stuff for a large agency trying to muzzle someone who is speaking the truth about them.

Mind you, these accusations are being made primarily by men (I use the term loosely here) that either never served a day in Iraq or Afghanistan or spent their time in-theater in a nice, air-conditioned office with Internet and e-mail connections 24/7, showers, latrines, good food and never went over the wire except to re-deploy. This was done when soldiers like myself were going out, over the wire, on 3-4 mission a day, seven days a week and getting about 3-4 hours of sleep a day, if we were lucky.

We took incoming from RPG’s, AK-47’s, and 60 and 80 mm mortars every day and night. We were also exposed to the very real danger of attack from the enormous crowds that circled us every time we would stop and dismount in a town or village. As for my team, a THT (Tactical HUMINT Team) for which I was the team leader, we were responsible for some of the biggest and most significant intelligence collection efforts in the central Sunni Triangle area in which we operated. I am very proud of my team and what they accomplished, usually under very difficult conditions; conditions made all the more difficult because of poor leadership at the 0-4 and 0-5 levels, some of the very same people now leveling baseless allegations against me.

Too many these days would deem it impossible, but my solidarity lies with those who would choose to flee this country than fight the war, those who are trying to do their duty but bleed and die in the sands over there, and the young Arabs who see no further option but to pick up the gun.

The moral fault lies not with those who fight or flee, but with those who designed this war, and have by their malicious incompetence utterly failed to pacify and stabilize the country.

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