Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Brother Gone but Not Forgotten

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook. It has been, for the most part, a rewarding experience. It has enabled me to meet people from all over the world and has taught me much about the different people and cultures we share this globe with.

One of the men I have met is another salty old Marine named Daniel Pickens. This morning when I opened my inbox, I found this. Daniel wanted us to remember his friend and mentor, Craig Matlock, Specialist 5, Gunship Crew Chief, United States Army, so this is for him. Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Craig Matlock
15 June 1946 - 1 May 2008

Crew Chief
1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry
Alpha Troop
Republic of Vietnam

1966 - 1967
"Head Hunters"
(Vietnam's first reconnaissance squadron)

From Daniel:

Craig was the husband of my friend Lois and father of my friends Paul, Matt and Steven. You really had to know him to understand the kind of man he was. He always said what was on his mind and if he didn't like you, you knew about it right away.

Specialist five, Craig Matlock, was drafted, run through the training mill, and sent to Vietnam. There he discovered what it really meant to crew a gunship. At the age of twenty he learned what it was like to kill to survive, to appreciate the beauty of a gunship run, and to feel pride in a unit.

It took me a long time for him to speak to me about Vietnam. These are a few of his words....

"I don't talk much about the war because no one ever wants to hear about it. When I came back through San Francisco airport, I got spit on. I didn't know what was going on in the States. We read the 'Stars and Stripes' over there and it printed what they wanted us to read."

"I had been drafted. I didn't ask to go over to Vietnam, but I still got called a baby killer."

"Almost everybody there was eighteen to twenty years old. They did their jobs well. We were damned good at what we did. The American people should have been proud of us, instead of treating us the way they did."

"I remember that country. It was really pretty country from the air, but sometimes you would see the bomb craters where men had fought and died. Vietnam was the kind of place you always wanted to get the hell out of, and once you left, you always wanted to see it again. I have a great regard for the MIA's and POW's who are STILL over there."

"I don't have anything against the people of Vietnam, even the Viet Cong. They were doing what they thought was right, and we were doing what we were told."

"People ignored Vietnam veterans and insulted us and treated us really badly, but I believe we will have our day."-- Craig Matlock Awarded: 19 Oak Leaf Clusters, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart

I will always remember....

So will we...


Friday, December 11, 2009

Merry Christmas & Happy Chanukah to Those who Serve...

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight. My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear..
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know, Then the
sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother...
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.."

" So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

Semper Fidelis to ALL who serve...


Cross posted at deuddersun says...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Military caught on tape cheating Vets out of health care as policy

We've posted before on the military cheating Vets out of the long term care that's due them for PTSD. They've been caught at it by 'Sgt. X' and still no one's listening.


Last June, during a medical appointment, a patient named "Sgt. X" recorded an Army psychologist at Fort Carson, Colo., saying that he was under pressure not to diagnose combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Listen to a segment of the tape here.

For more than a year he's been seeking treatment at Fort Carson for a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, the signature injuries of the Iraq war. Sgt. X is also suffering through the Army's confusing disability payment system, handled by something called a medical evaluation board. The process of negotiating the system has been made harder by his war-damaged memory. Sgt. X's wife has to go with him to doctor's appointments so he'll remember what the doctor tells him.

But what Sgt. X wants to tell a reporter about is one doctor's appointment at Fort Carson that his wife did not witness. When she couldn't accompany him to an appointment with psychologist Douglas McNinch last June, Sgt. X tucked a recording device into his pocket and set it on voice-activation so it would capture what the doctor said. Sgt. X had no idea that the little machine in his pocket was about to capture recorded evidence of something wounded soldiers and their advocates have long suspected -- that the military does not want Iraq veterans to be diagnosed with PTSD, a condition that obligates the military to provide expensive, intensive long-term care, including the possibility of lifetime disability payments. And, as Salon will explore in a second article Thursday, after the Army became aware of the tape, the Senate Armed Services Committee declined to investigate its implications, despite prodding from a senator who is not on the committee. The Army then conducted its own internal investigation -- and cleared itself of any wrongdoing.

When [Army sawbones] McNinch learned he would be quoted in a Salon article, he cut off further questions. He also said he would deny the interview took place. Salon, however, had recorded the conversation.

A recently retired Army psychiatrist who still works for the government, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said commanders at another Army hospital instructed him to misdiagnose soldiers suffering from war-related PTSD, recommending instead that he diagnose them with other disorders that would reduce their benefits. The psychiatrist said he would be willing to say more publicly about the cases and provide specific names, but only if President Obama would protect him from retaliation.

Less money for damaged soldiers = more money for the military industrial complex and cushy post-retirement jobs for generals + hides the true cost of Bush's Imperialist Oil War.

Go read the rest, please.

If you are aware of a soldier who has served or is serving in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts and is having trouble getting a PTSD diagnosis or proper benefits, please contact Mark Benjamin at mbenjamin (at) salon (dot) com.

NOW on PBS did a report on a similar situation last week. See it here.

Thousands of U.S. troops are getting discharged out of the army. Many suffer from post traumatic stress disorders and brain injuries, and haven't been getting the care they need. The Army's been claiming these discharged soldiers had pre-existing mental illnesses. But health advocates say these are wrongful discharges, a way for the army to get rid of "problem" soldiers quickly, without giving them the treatment to which they're entitled.

NOW covered this issue last summer, and this week we revisit the army's controversial position and follow up with affected soldiers we met.

As a result of the media attention from our report and others, the Department of Defense revised its criteria for diagnosing pre-existing conditions and, now, fewer soldiers are receiving the diagnosis, making more of them eligible for care.

I suggest we e-mail President Obama and demand he do the following:

1) Issue an Executive Order to SecDef and the VA to knock off the cheap shit NOW. INSIST that Veterans be properly diagnosed and cared for.

2) Make retaliation against those GIs and Medical Officers who come forward and speak out a court-martial offense, and a criminal offense in the VA.

3) Review all previous diagnoses of 'pre-existing personality disorders' and 'anxiety disorders'. ALL of them.

4) By all means have the Armed Forces Committee, the JAG Corps, and DOJ investigate this, but take care of the Veterans first.

Just as a closing thought, now that Senator DOH! (Party of No - NC) has heard from every Post Commander of VFW, AL, DAV, MCL, VoteVet, and every other Vets outfit in North Carolina, he has dropped his obstruction to the appointment of Tammy Duckworth to Veterans Affairs. I think General Shinseki and Major Duckworth will do what's best for our Veterans. If they are allowed to.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Unmaking of A Marine

If you are interested in Veterans Affairs as we are, go read this book review.

If Boudreau's brutally honest, devastatingly accurate, hard-hitting memoir, Packing Inferno: The Unmaking of a Marine were read by the powers that be in Washington, D.C. and by the journalists assigned to cover both military conflicts, there is absolutely no way in hell the plight of our nation's veterans would take a backseat to the issues currently dominating the evening news coverage or the topics of conversations at dinner tables throughout the country.

And therein lies one of the central themes of Boudreau's 222-page book: the images of the war he has heroically fought have been implanted inside of his mind and are on a permanent loop.

"To say I was duped is not sufficient to lighten the load," he writes. (my em)

The post-traumatic stress of the war in Iraq will forever be a part of Boudreau's identity and it will be a lifelong battle to keep it in check. For some soldiers, post-traumatic stress is the precursor to suicide, for others it leads to a life of drug abuse, alcoholism, or crime.

Boudreau said "the smallest action or phrase from a commander can influence Marines and other soldiers not to seek help."

"The pressure to prepare ourselves quickly was intense. When the first Marine came to my office and asked to see the psychiatrist about some troubling issues from our time in Iraq, I was sympathetic. I said, "No problem." When another half dozen or so Marines approached me with the same request, I was only somewhat concerned."

"But when all of them and several more returned from their appointments with recommendations for discharge, I'll admit I was alarmed. Suddenly I was not as concerned about their mental health as I was about my company's troop strength."

Boudreau said the treatment of post-traumatic stress is antithetical to the mantra of "Mission Accomplished."

"The mission will always supersede treatment," Boudreau said. "And because of that the treatment will always be dubious."

"And all the talk from bureaucrats about putting an end to multiple deployments, which has been blamed on the skyrocketing cases of post-traumatic stress and suicides, is inconceivable," Boudreau said.

"I've heard the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say 'we have to change this ethic,'" Boudreau said. "But it's not going to happen. Why? Because the military cannot afford a 20 percent reduction in its force."

There are hundreds of thousands of known PTSD and an untold much larger number that are as yet undiagnosed or have not surfaced yet. This is a problem that will be with us until the last Veteran of Bush's Dual Clusterfuck dies eighty years from now. Or depending on how long the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue, 150 years from now. We had better do some serious thinking as a nation about how to deal with it in a compassionate and effective manner or we are going to pay a tremendous human and societal price for Bush's criminal imperial misadventures. The cost of his entire administration in actual money so far, both current and the debt passed to two or three generations yet to come, will be as nothing compared to the cost of not doing the right thing for these Veterans.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Border Region

Dan Rather has a weekly program on HDNet. Unfortunately, at the HD.net web site they only post a 38 second teaser of the hour long show. If you cannot watch it on your TV, they want you to buy a DVD of the show.

However, that takes nothing away from Dan Rather's presentation. I mention this because I think that this is extraordinary reporting. This is far more graphic than anything on the local news.

This week's show has a report from Quetta, Pakistan and from the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

The video of fire base Restrepol in the Korengal Valley of the platoon high in the mountains, at the 6000' level, reminds me of Viet Nam. Whether one is in a remote mountain outpost or up to your neck in water in a canal with leeches on your legs and abdomen waiting to ambush a barge carrying a regional chief, the extreme similarity is that in both places one is very uncomfortable.

This show brings home the gritty reality that the vast majority of Americans have never experienced. The privations, primitive living conditions and adaptabilty of the U.S. fighting man never cease to amaze me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Priority and Punishment

Here is my latest column in the CityView magazine. The link is to the published version and the text is what I submitted. I haven't actually noticed any differences.



In my early years in Uncle Sam's Canoe Club, I was somewhat of a screw up. It didn't really start there but that was where it manifested and became obvious to anyone who cared to look. It wasn't anything intentional I was doing to screw up my job. No, it was more of a problem of self-confidence. On my communications watch section in Rota, Spain, we had approximately 27 sailors. I think there were six of us who did not have college degrees and at least a couple of the six had at least gone to college. Only about four of us had never gone past high school. As a matter of fact, there were more sailors with advanced degrees than there were with no college at all on my watch section. It was the tail end of Vietnam and there were still a lot of guys on active duty who had joined the Navy rather than depend on their luck with the draft lottery. As one of the "uneducated" I had rather
severe feelings of inadequacy that were to all appearances, not completely undeserved. My primary means of dealing with these feelings was to do individualized scientific research into the capacity of a given human body to metabolize increasing amounts of barley derived alcohol. I can't remember what the results were.

The thing was, in my mind, I had equated education with intelligence, a mistake that someone as smart as I should not have made. From a strict intelligence
standpoint, I had all the potential in the world and there were certainly plenty of people who either were or had been in my life that had told me that very thing. Of course, I thought I was doing all I could and whatever potential they were seeing was an illusion I had created.

So anyway, I screwed up. I have no memory what the specific thing was that I did or didn't do that particular time but, it earned me a trip to the Master Chief's office. In the USN, Master Chief is the highest of the enlisted ranks (E-9). It is a position that few, if any, achieve by accident, subterfuge, or favoritism. It
requires that one be proficient in one's job field as well as a proven leader and manager. They also have typically been in the Navy 18+ years. They may not know every trick in the book but bullshitting them was not an easy thing to do. The use of profanity in the Navy is legendary as evidenced by the common phrase "cuss like a sailor". The average Master Chief was above average in their ability to spew sustained bursts of incredibly creative invective. So I knew what was
coming when I was sent to see the Master Chief. I knew that I had screwed up and I knew that I was in for a royal ass chewing. Really, it would be somewhat cathartic, he would yell, cuss, insult and exhort me to never again be brave enough to screwup while he was in charge. I would be a little humiliated and maybe even get some looks and/or words of sympathy from other sailors but, that would be the end of it. That would be my punishment. So I walked into the Master Chief's office "knowing" what was about to happen and yea, sure I was dreading it but,
I was looking forward to being done with it. It turns out, he was using a completely different playbook.

I walked in and stood at attention and he said in a quiet voice "Have a seat Steve". He paused as if collecting his thoughts and then quietly continued "Steve, you
have really disappointed me." He went on in that vein for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. He never raised his voice and no profanity was used inside that office. He told me why he was so disappointed and that he knew I was capable of better. By the time I left his office, I was practically crying. I had been blindsided, caught unawares. I didn't see it then but, that was a turning point for me. For some
reason I never understood, CTOCM Norm Champagne's expression of knowledge that I could do better, that I was smart enough to do anything, "took" when similar expressions from relatives, teachers, and other supervisors had left no real impression. I got much better at my job. By the time I left the Navy several years later, many expressed the opinion that I was the best in the job at E-5 and below. (at E-6 you really move more into a management thing)

At that time, I didn't really think about what he had done or how but, I have been
thinking about it a lot lately. Apparently, he didn't think it was important that I be punished. He had a mission to support. What was important to him was that I function in the capacity that was designated. So rather than focus his energy on punishing me, he focused on changing my behavior and/or attitude. He didn't worry about his reputation or image as a Master Chief, he wanted his crew to work
and he wanted to make sure that the taxpayer money spent training me, and the experience I already had, were not wasted.It is not news to anyone that reads me or knows me that I am no fan of the previous White House administration. I have loudly and vehemently expressed my opinion that Bush, Cheny, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Libby, and others were guilty of criminal behavior and should be severely punished. My memories of the transformative experience described above
will not change that opinion but, I no longer think it is especially important. It is not where I think the lion's share of the nation's energy needs to be expended. We do need to learn from the mistakes. We need to make sure that the national experience is not for naught. We need to act on the idea that ensuring the health of the nation is more important than punishing those I perceive as having injured it.

I'm not ready to say we should just move on but, I think I understand why the current executive is not making issuing punishment a priority for his administration.

crossposted at www.meanderthal.typepad.com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama abandons veterans' private insurance plan

After reading yesterday's post, President Obama has seen the light.

Raw Story

After today's meeting between veteran advocacy leaders and the Obama administration, the White House announced that it will be abandoning a plan to make veterans use private insurance for war-related injuries.

The 11 leaders of veterans advocacy groups left today's meeting feeling relieved that veterans' health care wasn't going to be further jeopardized. Journalists caught up with Norbert Ryan, president of Military Officers Association of America, after the meeting. Ryan told reporters, "Our voices were heard. They made the right decision on this."

Yes, they did.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Plan to bill insurance for combat injuries criticized

WaPo via LATimes

An Obama administration proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for combat-related injuries has prompted veterans groups to condemn the plan as unethical, and powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill have promised to oppose it.

The proposal -- intended to save the Department of Veterans Affairs $530 million a year -- would authorize the VA to bill private insurance companies for treatment of injuries and medical conditions related to military service, such as amputations, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other battle-related conditions. The VA already pursues so-called third-party billing for non-service-related conditions.

Veterans groups said the change would abrogate the government's responsibility to care for the war-wounded. And they expressed concern that the new policy would make employers less willing to hire veterans for fear of the cost of insuring them, and that insurance benefits for veterans' families would also be jeopardized.

Veterans groups described the plan as a puzzling political misstep by the new administration in its relations with the 25 million Americans who have served in the military. Obama heard firsthand about such objections Monday when he met with leaders of the groups at the White House.

So...is a traumatically amputated limb suffered in service to one's country a 'pre-existing condition' worthy of denying benefits? Sounds like a can o' worms to me. Among other things.

Quite simply the most ridiculous and mean-spirited cockamamie idea I have heard yet from this administration. It must not happen, and I have faith that it will not.

C'mon, you guys, this is a misstep worthy of the Repugs' "no pull trigger, no get food, make 'em pay for their own rides home and their meals in a roach-infested moldy chow hall" mentality.

Crossposted at Alternate Brain.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some Sow, Some Reap

Unfortunately, the “sowers” are not the “reapers” in this case.

In a different lifetime, I was the supervisor, Recruiter-in-Charge (R-in-C), 0f a four man recruiting office in a midwest town of about 20,000 people with a recruiting area of three counties. We had a “goal” of about fourteen contracts a month with an occasional dip to thirteen. Through an abundance of hard work and long hours we shipped about 145% of our goal. In other words, we were pretty good and we all ended up with at least one promotion because of it.

But it took an immense toll on our family life. One divorce (not me) and one 14 year old daughter pregnant.

The pressure, unbelievable. Actually the pressure is well beyond unbelievable. The pressure is there every waking moment. Saturdays, Sundays, when eating, when engaged in any activity. And, even though we were very successful, only one month in the three years I was a recruiter, did we make our goal before the last working day of the month.

And, none of us had come directly from a combat zone where people were actively trying to kill us.

I understand the pressure. What is unconsionable is the lack of caring for the troops by the commanding officer.