GIs in Iraq quagmire: They wont be home for the holidays

Not even in their dreams will the 138,000 U.S. soldiers trapped in George W. Bush’s Iraq nightmare be home for Christmas. Instead Bush plans to increase troop levels to 150,000 by extending the soldiers’ tours.

Even so, protests from the soldiers themselves are stirring demands that the troops be brought home safe. The Pentagon itself admits that 5,500 soldiers have “deserted” since the war began, many fleeing to Canada rather than serve in a war they believe is based on lies.

Army Specialist Thomas Wilson put the issue squarely when he interrupted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s pep talk to 2,300 Tennessee National Guard soldiers in Kuwait on their way to Iraq. “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal to up-armor our vehicles?” Wilson demanded. Rumsfeld replied, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have.”

A woman sergeant said she and her husband are serving beyond their contractual tour of duty under the Pentagon’s “stop loss” policy. She demanded to know when that “backdoor draft” will end. Rumsfeld bluntly replied that it will continue.

Former U.S. Army Captain Michael McPhearson, an activist with Military Families Speak Out, told the World Rumsfeld’s replies were shockingly “insensitive.” He scoffed at Rumsfeld’s feeble claim that everything possible is being done to armor the Humvees and trucks against roadside bombs that have killed and maimed hundreds of GIs. As of Dec. 15, at least 1,304 GIs have died and up to 25,000 have been wounded.

“Rumsfeld didn’t answer the question,” McPhearson said. “Where did all those billions go that we are spending in Iraq? It shows how poor their planning was that they did not anticipate the insurgency.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) revealed last week where at least $10 billion went: into the coffers of war profiteer Halliburton, once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

McPhearson, who served in the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division during Operation Desert Storm, added, “I have a son, 19, in the Army who is going to Iraq unless we stop this war.”

Asked about reports that Iraq war veterans are already showing up at homeless shelters, McPhearson replied, “My son … could become a homeless Iraq war veteran. I went through this conflict that I felt was totally wrong. And now to see soldiers coming home having made terrible physical and emotional sacrifices, it makes me angry. It is just wrong that we are destroying lives.”

Fernando Suarez del Solar, father of Marine Lance Corporal Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar Navarro, who died in Iraq in March 2003, told the World, “George W. Bush lied again when he came to California to visit the Marines to thank them for their sacrifices. He hasn’t given these soldiers any kind of real support.”

Suarez said he visited Iraq as part of his quest to stop the war that took his only son from him. “The soldiers there had many complaints that they were not getting the right kind of support. They spoke of the lack of armor and supplies. It is ridiculous when we are spending hundreds of billions on this war.”

He warned that Bush is likely to push to resume the military draft as the troops are stretched thin and the insurgency spreads. “Every single day more soldiers refuse to go to Iraq. It’s the same situation as the Vietnam War when the soldiers said, ‘We won’t go! This war is illegal.’”

Suarez credited the courageous stand of Camilo Mejia, a U.S. Marine now serving a year in prison for refusing to return to Iraq. “Camilo is the leader of American soldiers who say, ‘No more war,’” he said. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is the problem, not the solution, Suarez said.

He cited the report by the respected British journal, The Lancet, that 100,000 civilians have been killed during the war. “The American and British troops in Iraq are causing more danger. They are not helping the cause of peace and democracy,” he added. “We need UN peacekeepers in Iraq.”

U.S. Army Spc. Robert Loria lost an arm and suffered other extensive injuries that took months to heal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He was the victim of a roadside bombing in Iraq that destroyed the unarmored Humvee he was riding in.

Loria was in the process of being discharged at Fort Hood, Texas, Dec. 12, when the Pentagon hit him with another bomb. Married, the father of two children, he had expected $4,486 in final pay from the Army.

Instead, the Army presented him with a bill for $1,768.81. They claimed Loria was improperly paid a bonus for overseas duty during the months he was convalescing at Walter Reed and owed for some of the equipment damaged during the bombing. He was ordered to repay a total of $6,255.50.

After the Army confiscated all his savings and his last paycheck, he still owed the $1,768.81. “It’s coming up on Christmas and I have no way of getting home,” Loria told a reporter.

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