Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Few Honest Questions

Senator Carl Levin
269 Russell Office Building
U.S. SenateWashington,
DC 20510-2202

Dear Sir,

My name is Milo Freeman. I am a Michigan native and longtime supporter of your work in the U.S. Senate. I am also an enlisted U.S. soldier, writing under an assumed name and serving an active-duty tour in Iraq.

I am writing today with two concerns regarding your positions on national security as head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The first pertains to your recent trip to Iraq; the other regards the current state of relations with nearby Iran.

Firstly: In one of your recent newsletters, you informed your constituents of progress being made on the ground here in Iraq. You advised, so far as I could tell, a course of action which primarily involved ousting current Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. You also included a blurb recommending a drawdown of troops in the near future, but as to the nature or timeline of that drawdown you gave no further indication.

I am concerned about these statements. I have normally been a staunch supporter of your work in the Senate, and am proud to call you my representative in that legislative body. However, I must raise issue with what I see as being an overly vague reccomendation for pullout that, in addition to seeming toothless, also plays directly into the intentions of GOP interest groups on Capitol Hill.

I am given to understand that lobbying groups associated with the President are currently undertaking a press campaign to malign Maliki, in an effort to secure the position for former PM Iyad Allawi. Allawi, as you are no doubt aware, is half of the reason why we are still here. Why is talk still being made of Maliki's ouster, when the simple fact is that a cessation of military activities in this theater is what needs (and indeed, what the American people DEMANDS) be undertaken?

For all the talk of wanting to refocus our energies in the "War on Terrorism," (a suspiciously Reaganesque phrase, don't you agree?), I am disappointed to see such weak effort being put forth by the newly-Democratic Legislature. I understand that with the lack of votes necessary to sustain a quorum, crafting progressive policy can be a difficult exercise. That being said, I fear that if more firm action is not taken regarding Iraq in the near future, the situation for my fellow troops on the ground will only continue to deteriorate. I can personally attest that our supplies are lacking, our morale is low, and our family lives are crumbling in the prosecution of this (frankly illegal) venture.

This leads into my second concern. Why, after nearly five years of a bungled war in Iraq, do I now begin to read reports in the News of the White House planning for a first-strike attack on Iran? Why do I now hear saber-rattling from the White House press secretary, not to mention the President himself, seemingly welcoming a war which would not only be foolhardy in the present environment, but would needlessly endanger countless lives, to include my own.
Mr. Levin, I am proud to call you my Senator. I regard your work and positions, for the most part, very highly. However, I am concerned, after the weak performance the Senate gave on the FISA sunset extension/expansion, that your peers may be unable to effectively combat the President's machinations, or for that matter mount an effective resistance to a war-in-the-making.

Sir, I am twenty-four years old. I have a wife. I haven't even had a child yet. I am willing to risk my life for my country, but I cannot accept my leaders wasting it on folly.
On behalf of my friends, my fellow soldiers, my spouse, and of all the family members waiting back home for their loved ones; I ask you:

Do not allow my training, and possibly my life, to be risked on such a fruitless venture.


Milo Freeman, SPC, USA

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Go Back to Sleep

Outside the Wire, factions of every stripe are making the rounds.

In the last year, all over Iraq, they've begun to systematically target the very elements of infrastructure my unit was put in place to maintain. This is not the work of some rabble, mind you--these are coordinated attacks, often occurring within minutes or hours of each other, at locations at opposite ends of the country.

The results are felt everywhere--missions disrupted, supply-lines crippled. At my level, the result has been a number of 40-plus hour workdays, scrambling to prepare for missions that have to be executed with a minimum of planning, support, or sleep. As another result, the role of my section--Site Reconnaissance--has been waylaid, thus preventing us from gathering critical information on said structures. Instead, I'm at another location--arguably, granted, a mortar-free vacation--trying to scare up equipment so we can actually KEEP doing our job. Resources grow scarcer by the day.

Nobody talks about it. In the barracks, in the DFAC, or on the news. The Surge Is Going Just Fine. Nothing To Worry About, People. Nobody realizes the bind we're in. Nobody realizes that we are potentially a few coordinated attacks away from Non-Mission Capability.

I found myself thinking about this recently, of all places, in the House of Pain Gym. It was a weekday, and I was busy with my core workout. Midway through a set of diamond pushups, I had to pause. Music was playing over the speakers, of course, but what surprised me was the CD in the player--"Thirteenth Step" by A Perfect Circle, a personal favorite. In a place where the dominant forms of music entertainment are either Country or Hip-Hop, such a decidedly art-rock selection surprised me.

A line from one of my favorite songs from that album, "The Outsider": "Disconnect and self-destruct, one bullet at a time." Eerily appropriate. Nobody else noticed, it seemed. All around me, girls moved between the water coolers and the cardio machines, while muscleheads grunted and grappled with weights as big as myself. It struck me as strange, like the AFN public-service ad I saw while on R&R; it talked about a legendary Confederate Civil War hero for whom a major Army post is named. The song playing over the ad was Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," a major Vietnam-era protest song.

"Who picks these songs?" I wondered at the time, as I did again at the gym? Is someone actually aware of the irony? Is it a small pocket of resistance? Or are we just that numb to it?

It got worse this evening. I've spent my time over the years listening to friend's copies of "Thirteenth Step," having been unable to find one for myself. However, another pleasant surprise today, this time at the PX. A fresh copy; the only one on the shelves. I lunged upon it, and immediately took it home for a listen. As much as I hate AAFES, they do sometimes surprise me, as they did recently with carrying Tori Amos' "American Doll Posse."
Having not visited the CD in a few years, it had slipped my mind just exactly WHAT tracks were on the disc. Track ten, "Pet," however, jarred me back to memories of the gym, and of the concerted effort by my comrades back in Balad to ignore the difficulties we face.

The lyrics, too angry to be anyone but Maynard's, set haunting and melodic and perfect against Jeordie(aka Twiggy Ramirez)'s bass and Billy Howerdel's guitar:

"Lay your head down child
I won't let the boogeymen come
Count their bodies like sheep
To the rhythm of the war drums
Pay no mind to the rabble
Pay no mind to the rabble
Head down, go to sleep
To the rhythm of the war drums "


"I'll be the one to protect you from
Your enemies and all your demons
I'll be the one to protect you from
A will to survive and a voice of reason
I'll be the one to protect you from
Your enemies and your choices son
They're one and the same
I must isolate you
Isolate and save you from yourself."

We are addicted to war. Its entrenchment in our view of foreign policy is so deep it astounds me. We think nothing of the death or suffering of others; only of our own interests. It's a message that it blared at us a thousand times a day in the news, and on the Internet, and even in our own History classes. And yet everywhere I turn, it seems like none of my comrades notice.

Until finally, you can play a protest song in a warzone, in a gym full of soldiers, and not one will even react.

"Stay with me
Safe and ignorant
Just stay with me
I'll hold you and protect you from the other ones,
The evil ones don't love you son,
Go back to sleep."

The irony makes me shiver.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Faith on a Shoestring

While Milo's been toiling away in the sand and heat, I spent most of this weekend at a unit family retreat in the mountains. I feel guilty sometimes, having fun while he's away, but I needed this break. I spent the weekend hiking, biking, swimming, getting massaged, and attending mandatory seminars on how to build a healthy marriage. As much fun as I had, I came to dread those seminar sessions. They were helpful sometimes, but I take offense to being subjected to extensive Biblical teaching and group prayer at mandatory, government-funded information sessions. I take offense to being taught how to "achieve victory in Christ," and that "those who belong to Christ are already victorious." If I don't belong to Christ, am I not victorious then?

I was raised in an Evangelical Baptist family, and as I grew up, I began to chafe at the hypocracy inherant in the beliefs I was raised with. I questioned, I learned, and I left the church for another path. It's a real point of contention with my family, so we just don't talk about it. I wonder if we ever will, or if it's just better this way. Family issues aside, I've run into even more problems as a "non-Christian" in the military. I know the chaplain's office is supposed to meet the needs of all, but I can't help feeling like Christian traditions are being jammed down my throat at almost every turn. How is it appropriate to recite Bible verses and lead group prayers at mandatory information briefings? The worst part is that when I express my discomfort over being placed in such situations, the response of my Christian counterparts is so often, "Oh please, it's not hurting you any."

What they don't understand is that it is.

As I mulled these issues over in the travel journal I keep for my mother-in-law, I wondered how any devout Christian woman would feel in my shoes. What follows is the best I could do to share my situation.

Let me try to explain where I'm coming from here. You're a military spouse-- imagine your family has been stationed in a country where your religion is not welcome. The only comparison I can come up with is Islam. Imagine being stationed in a Muslim country; one where the constitution defines Islam as the state religion, and a portion of every paycheck is paid to the Church of Islam. Imagine that a large portion of those Muslims believe that your religion is the product of Satan, and that you "worship the devil."

Kind of Uncomfortable, huh?

Now imagine that there are no other Christians in your new community, and no Christian services. The Chaplain's office promises to include everyone, but they offer only Muslim services because there just aren't enough Christians in the community to warrant your own service. What's more, they read the Koran to you at nearly every public event. They spend more time trying to convert you than helping provide you with spiritual support.

Maybe you consider trying to find other Christians and start a prayer group. So you ask the Chaplain's office and they promise to email you with info, but they don't. While you're waiting for your email, you see a vitriolic letter in the Stars and Stripes. Apparently, some Christians in the next community started a prayer group at their chapel, and the community is protesting. Imagine that Muslims in that community refuse to use the same building as someone of your faith. The letter writer goes on to call Christianity the product of Satan, and Christians unfit for service in the Army and the community.

Lonely yet? 'Cause I sure am.

I am living in a community with no other members of my faith. I am surrounded by people who think my beliefs are either evil or illegitimate. There are no services, no spiritual support groups, no sympathy. The worst part of it all is that my husband is no better off than I am. He is a soldier with no spiritual support network, no spiritual counsel, and no guidance. He is on his own to deal with his family troubles or his existential crises. The very people who promise to support him make it abundantly clear that they support only those whose faith mirrors their own.

I totally understand that Milo and I are in the minority in this community, and that the chaplaincy has limitations. I can deal with all of that. What I cannot deal with is all that PLUS being forced to partake in a religion that I walked away from long ago. I think the chaplaincy serves an important purpose, and I take comfort in the ability of others to practice their religion freely. What I take offense to is being required to practice with them.

All I ask is the same consideration afforded to everyone else.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Waiting on the Avalanche

I've been languishing here for over ten months now.

My days are long, my leisure time precious. I try to call my wife every night; my parents when I can spare it. I check the news when I can; try to get a glimpse of what's really happening stateside.

What I see there disappoints me.

On the one hand, I can't take anything seriously on the cable networks--more time devoted to Paris than Baghdad. On the other, I check the news sites and all I see is scandal, scandal, scandal. More and more, it seems to me like this power structure is falling apart. Wiretapping, fraud, obstruction of justice, torture. The hits just keep coming.

More and more, the tide of opinion turns against America, and against our leadership. More and more, the group of people once thought unstoppable--messiahs even--face blow after blow to their credibility. A political party that used 9/11 to secure a stranglehold on power in America is now being forced to its knees. The stroke that could end this--the stroke that bring down the corruption and lead us into a new day--begs to be let fall.

It's gotten so bad that we started talking about presidential primaries a year early. We are that desperate for change that we are already talking about a changing of the guard. Whispers of impeachment, of troop drawdown, linger in the air. Everyone I know is sick of the talking points, sick of the charade...

And yet, nobody does anything.

Nothing is changing.

I feel like I'm standing at the bottom of a mountain, while high above a plate of snow and ice slowly warms in the late February sun. It is cold at this altitude, but the promise of spring is in the air, and up from the valleys comes the fecund smell of melting riverwater.

Soon, very soon I think, some layer in the snow will begin to melt and lose its strength. When it does, a wall of white will wash down the face of the peak; uprooting trees, laying bare faces of stark rock, and burying anyone who dares to stand in its way. An avalanche is coming, I think, and though I fear it, I await its arrival.

There is too much atop the mountain, which has stood for far too long. It is time for change, time for renewal; time for us to cry out to the world that we are tired of the way things are.

So when, I ask you, America? When will the avalanche come? When will the stink of it all become too much and the public demand a return to priorities at home? When will you demand to be heard?

I mouth these questions in whisper to the mountain; but the mountain, resolute, remains silent.
Until then, I am waiting for its response; waiting for the rumble.

I am waiting; waiting on the avalanche.