Today is Memorial Day, that day we set aside every year to honor our veterans, many who have given their lives to protect our freedom and the freedom of so many of our allies. It is also noteworthy to mention that this year the commander in chief (a title not to be dignified with capital letters) of our Armed Forces decided he wasn't going to lay the traditional wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. He felt it was more important to spend the weekend with his family in Chicago. Not only does this administration not pay homage to our deceased veterans but they also consider many of them to be untrustworthy domestic terrorists as the Dept. of Homeland Security has proclaimed.
As the Iraq/Afghanistan war runs into its eighth year with no end in sight all kinds of stories have come back from the battlefield to make anyone wonder who's side our Defense Department is really on. We have heard about those doorless Humvees that were originally used in the invasion, the ones that looked like military golf carts. Not much in the way of protection even after they added the doors. Those Hummers didn't have any armor plating so our industrious soldiers started scavenging local scrap yards for steel plates that they cut up and welded to their vehicles. After the photos started showing up in the news back home, the DOD issued contracts for armor plating to be added in the factory when the Hummers were built.
Other stories came home about newly issued rifle cleaning kits that were not designed for use in desert conditions because it allowed sand to jam up the weapons. Many soldiers wrote home about them and asked their friends and family to buy commercial gun cleaning kits that contained dry lube and send them over. That went over big with the brass and after much embarrassment new kits were issued and the soldiers were told they could not receive any from home. None of the main stream news media inquired as to how many soldiers may have been killed or wounded after their weapons jammed. No one inquired about why the original gun cleaning kits were replaced with the faulty kits that caused the jams. The story was simply swept under the rug. The same situation happened with bullet proof vests that were is short supply in Iraq. Families of soldiers were being asked to buy them and mail them and this went on for months until the Army forbid it. Their excuse for this was the domestic vests didn't meet the specifications of the ones the Army didn't have to issue. To add more insult to injury, Donald Rumsfeld the Secretary of Defense was fond of a smart-alec comment that "We go to war with what we have". I used to wonder how quickly we replaced the fleet of battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, but the United States of America was a much different country then.
And then, of course, we read all about our diligent Defense Department lawyers who were so ready, willing and able to bring court martial charges against any soldier who accidentally shot a civilian. The definition of what is a civilian over in Iraq is something of a mystery because we are fighting an enemy that does not wear a uniform and frequently hides out in schools and hospitals to conduct ambushes and when they are shot someone else quickly takes their weapons and runs away. Don't forget about those three Navy SEALs who captured the Taliban terrorist who was responsible for the brutal torture and murder of two civilian contractors. That terrorist claimed one of the SEALs punched him and the DOD put up all three SEALs for court martial.
Then some news was reported out of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. that wounded soldiers were being charged for their meals while recovering from their battlefield injuries. A few members of Congress caught wind of this and ordered an immediate change in policy.
Or the latest news about the changes made to the Rules of Engagement to protect all those innocent "civilians". Soldiers on patrol can no longer carry a live round chambered in their weapons and must not shoot until they have been shot at first. This country won a bigger war in Europe in half the time because we didn't place so many restrictions on our soldiers.
Now, on Memorial Day, in 2010, a new story appears in the press that adds more insult to injury (literally). Wounded soldiers are being charged for the replacement of lost equipment in the battlefield after they were sent back for medical treatment. Here is the story.
Shot by sniper in Iraq, billed for $3K by military in U.S.
By Laura Rillos KVAL News
LEBANON, Ore. -- A former Oregon National Guard soldier and Purple Heart recipient is being billed for military-issued equipment he believes was lost in Iraq after he was shot and evacuated from the country.
Gary Pfleider II feels disrespected by the charges. He said he lost sight of the gear when he left Iraq and believes he should not be responsible for it now.
He doesn't remember much about getting shot in September 2007. He knows he was riding in a truck on patrol near Balad, Iraq.
"I remember grabbing ahold of my leg and realizing I had blood on my hands," said Pfleider. "And from that point on, until I got loaded onto the Stryker, was just a big blur."
Pfleider was taken to Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany and treated for a week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, before arriving at what is now called Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State.
He lost one-third of the muscle in his left leg and will have to wear a brace for the rest of his life.
After one year, he left the base and the Oregon National Guard. By then, his unit had returned to Oregon.
Pfleider inventoried his belongings and discovered several personal items and military-issued gear, including clothing, canteens and grenades, were missing.
He believed the supervisors at his former unit in Albany had filed paperwork clearing him of the charges.
But in June 2009, Pfleider received a bill for $3,175.88. Shortly afterward, the federal government began taking $120 out of his Social Security disability checks each month. Pfleider said his state and federal tax returns were also frozen.
It's tough for Pfleider, who says he cannot work and cannot afford to visit his young daughters in Vancouver, Washington, to swallow.
"Honestly, I do, I think it's just sitting somewhere on somebody's desk at Fort Lewis and they just don't want to mess with it because they don't think it's a big enough issue," said Pfleider. "It's my livelihood."
Capt. Stephen Bomar, a public affairs officer with the Oregon Military Department, said Joint Base Lewis McChord is billing Pfleider.
He said it is standard for soldiers in similar situations to receive bills for missing equipment.
When a soldier is medically evacuated from a country, his or her chain of command takes responsiblity for the equipment. Responsiblity returns to the soldier upon his or her return to the unit, he explained.
"It's one of the processes. That way we keep good accountability for the equipment," said Capt. Bomar.
In those cases, soldiers can submit sworn statements explaining their situation, said Bomar. For example, said Bomar, a soldier would write they were separated from their gear when they were flown out of the country. Other soldiers might be asked to make sworn statements corroborating the account.
The charges would then go away, said Bomar.
Pfleider provided KVAL News with a sworn statement he filed at the Albany Armory in February 2010.
KVAL News asked Bomar if it was possible that Pfleider's paperwork was filed incorrectly.
"I think it could be on our part on this one or could be on the soldier's part," said Bomar. "That's one thing they're going to take a look at."
He added, if the charges are erroneous, Pfleider will be reimbursed and stop being billed. If not, he will still be responsible for the charges.
KVAL News contacted the public affairs office at Joint Base Lewis McChord. They tell KVAL News they are investigating the issue.
Pfleider says he is frustrated and just wants to focus on his upcoming ninth leg surgery and adjusting to life after war.
"Car going down a road backfiring, it still sends me into flashbacks of being over there," he said. "But I deal with it because I know it's part of my life that's never going to leave."