03 March 2006

Iraq war vet: "I trusted my country"

The Iraq war is taking a toll on our troops in more than just the obvious ways.

Below, courtesy of truthout, is an excerpt from the written testimony of Garret Reppenhagen, returned Iraq War Veteran, submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs:
Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on issues concerning Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs. I joined the Army in August of 2001 and became a Cavalry/Scout at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. I was indoctrinated into a military that I was proud of and had the courage to serve because I trusted that the government of the United States would use me in a responsible and necessary manner.

I was on leave from a deployment in Kosovo when the Iraq War began. I watched in dread, waiting for a layover flight at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, when the ultimatum for Saddam and his sons to surrender ran out. Bradleys crossed the line into Iraq, and Baghdad was exploding on the televisions. Surrounding me were a crowd of people cheering like the Cowboys just won the Super Bowl. I started to feel like the reality of war and the policies of the administration were not as honest as they appeared.

In February of 2004, it was my turn to go to war. I was with 2-63 AR 1st Infantry Division stationed in Baquba, Iraq, as a Sniper in a six-man team. During my year there, I saw a lack of effort by our government to provide the US Soldier with the ability to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. As events unfolded, like Abu Ghraib and the battles in Fallujah, a growing resentment of the Iraqi people swelled the support for the insurgency. Our mission there became impossible.

We turned all our missions into surviving Iraq for a year. Missions like counter ambush, counter mortar, road clearing and house raids. No longer were we able to attempt reconstruction operations. The alienation of the people we were supposed to be trying to hand democracy to increased and the Improvised Explosive Devices, Rocket Propelled Grenade Ambushes and mortar attacks increased.

I left Iraq, eventually was honorably discharged after a ten month involuntary extension, and returned home to begin working for veteran advocacy. I have a growing network of friends who are veterans and deal with all the major veteran organizations. I frequently visit Walter Reed and speak to a dozen veterans struggling with PTSD and other forms of mental illness. It is a constant frustration to see these men and women treated without proper care and respect. And the problem is only growing.

These soldiers are returning and overcoming the most unimaginable physical and mental disabilities. But the question they all eventually begin to ask is "Why?" With the growing public opinion being that war was not only wrong, but also based on lies, the soldier who was sent to fight has a conflict with the fact that his sacrifice had no meaning. The lack of meaning ultimately creates a breakdown of character that is fundamental in a soldier's degradation of mental health. Because the war is so "wrong," it can create not just a guilt of the traumatic experience in Iraq, it also makes the soldiers shameful of the people they have become.
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