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Authors: Iraq Veterans Against the War,Aaron Glantz

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Winter Soldier

BOOK: Winter Soldier
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Winter Soldier

 

Iraq and Afghanistan

Copyright © 2008 Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz
Published in 2008 by Haymarket Books
P.O. Box 180165
Chicago, IL 60618
773-583-7884
[email protected]
www.haymarketbooks.org

Cover and interior testifier portraits by Jared Rodriguez
Additional photographs by Mike Hastie, including testifier portraits on pages 38, 74, 89, 124, 138, 140, 167, 169, 182, 209
Cover design by Eric Ruder
Book design by David Whitehouse

Published with the generous support of the Wallace Global Fund.

Trade distribution:
In the U.S. through Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, www.cbsd.com
In the UK, Turnaround Publisher Services, www.turnaround-psl.com
In Australia, Palgrave MacMillan, www.palgravemacmillan.com.au
All other countries, Publishers Group Worldwide, www.pgw.com/home/worldwide.aspx

Special discounts are available for bulk purchases by organizations and institutions. Please contact Haymarket Books for more information at 773-583-7884 or [email protected]

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Winter soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan : eyewitness accounts of the occupations / Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz.

p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-931859-65-3 (pbk.)

1. Iraq War, 2003---Personal narratives, American. 2. Afghan War, 2001---Personal narratives, American. I. Glantz, Aaron. II. Title.

DS79.76.I7272 2008
956.7044'3092273--dc22
2008036840

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

 

Winter Soldier
Iraq and Afghanistan
Eyewitness Accounts
of the Occupations

 

 

Haymarket Books
Chicago, Illinois

We dedicate this book to good people of Iraq and Afghanistan who know the veracity of these stories.

And to all the servicemembers and veterans who never had a chance to tell their stories.

Foreword
Anthony Swofford

Early in June of 2008 President Bush awarded the Bronze Star posthumously to Specialist Ross A. McGinnis of the United States Army. McGinnis had done what most civilians would find unthinkable: he’d jumped on an enemy hand grenade that had been thrown into his vehicle. His body took the force of the entire blast and he died instantly, saving four fellow soldiers from certain heinous injury and probable death. His was the selfless act popularized in the culture by Hollywood lore and the macho love talk of tough men: I’d take a bullet for you; I’d jump on a grenade to save so-and-so’s life. No one ever means it. But men and women in battle do. It’s not in any manual. It’s written in the code of the combatant’s heart. It’s the kind of impulse that is part of the reason most people join the United States military in the first place: to serve, to honor, to protect.

The men and women who testified at Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan in March of 2008 displayed the same kind of courage that Specialist McGinnis did: they took individual action and great risk to honor the men and women, American troops and Iraqi civilians, who have died in this misbegotten and often criminally executed war. They didn’t use their bodies; they used their narratives, the bare-knuckle stories that tell us the truth about what happens at the other end of the rifle, the missile, the bomb.

I listened to most of the testimony live that weekend. Despite my service in the Marine Corps during the 1990–1991 Gulf War and my intimate knowledge of the brutality of combat and the systems that prepare one for combat, there were times during the testimony when I found myself in utter disbelief. I call combat a psychosis-inducing situation. But still, the events being narrated by the testifying troops shocked me. You too will be shocked. Your natural tendency will be not to believe.

It will be hard to imagine the same kind of sweet young kid you went to high school with or that your sons or daughters went to high school with telling about warships firing on civilian-inhabited apartment buildings while troops cheer the destruction; it will be difficult to believe the blind blood-thirst a unit lives and kills on after suffering casualties; you do not want to know about the constantly loosening Rules of Engagement that eventually debilitate to the point of allowing troops to shoot anyone who makes them feel unsafe. You won’t want to believe the “incentivizing” one marine captain does: be the first to kill with a knife and you’ll get some extra days off when the unit rotates home.

Tim O’Brien has written that in a war story, the craziest stuff in there—the events a civilian would never believe because they are filled with such violence and depravity—those are the true parts of the story. These are what I call the seared elements: the images and associated narratives of a combatant’s history he or she most wants to forget but never will. In this testimony there are countless seared elements that you the reader will want to forget.

But honor the casualties of this war—the dead, injured, psychologically altered, those who have already managed to heal—by refusing to forget the elements and consequences of combat that our leaders would rather us not know in the first place. Do not turn away from these stories. They are yours, too.

June 2008

Message from
Kelly Dougherty
Executive Director of
Iraq Veterans Against the War

Kelly Dougherty served in Iraq from March 2003 until February 2004 as a medic in a military police unit of the Colorado National Guard. She is one of the original founders of IVAW and currently serves as its executive director.

In the winter of 2002 I was working in a café and preparing to finish my bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado. The U.S. government’s threats toward Iraq were growing and there was more and more anticipation of a war being an inevitable, foregone conclusion. While I was working, I wore a pin on my apron that said, “Attack Iraq?! NO!” One day a customer looked at my pin, scoffed, and said, “It’s more like, Iraq, don’t attack us!” While being opposed to a war against Iraq from the beginning, and highly skeptical of the information flowing out of the White House and major news outlets, I still felt detached and not overly concerned about the prospect of war. Yes, I was a sergeant in the Colorado Army National Guard, but I was in a headquarters unit, we didn’t get deployed.

Looking back, this attitude was not only naive, but also selfish. Today the pervasiveness of just such an ambivalent, flippant attitude maddens me. I would soon experience in a very real way just how political decisions have a personal impact on people’s lives. In January 2003 I received a call from the National Guard informing me that I had been transferred from my “safe” unit into a military police unit that was getting mobilized to active duty status the next day and would be deploying to Kuwait in preparation for the war. What’s more, my military job had been changed from medic to military police.

I deployed with my unit in February of 2003, was in Kuwait for the initial invasion, and then moved north into Iraq. I spent nearly a year patrolling Southern Iraq, escorting U.S. corporate convoys, and anticipating the day I would return home. While my experience in Iraq was difficult, stressful, and confusing, my unit brought everyone home alive and I consider myself extremely fortunate to be intact. The experience of being an armed occupier in an unknown, foreign country, and the impact that the war and occupation of Iraq had and will continue to have for generations, led me to make a decision to try to become a proactive force in effecting positive change.

• • •

My father is a navy Vietnam-era veteran who joined Veterans for Peace (VFP) in 2003. He hated seeing me deploy to Iraq and even visited the country himself as part of a delegation during the first year of the occupation. Soon after my return home from Iraq, my father invited me to attend the VFP convention that July in Boston. I was excited at the opportunity but had no idea what to expect. To my surprise, I arrived to find out that I’d been scheduled to speak on a panel with several other veterans who’d served in Iraq and the Middle East. I was nervous and had no idea what to say. One of the other vets told me to “speak from the heart.” While I found this advice corny, I think what he was really saying was, “speak from your experience.” As I’ve come to learn, there is nothing more powerful or engaging than one’s own personal story.

Several of the Iraq veterans at the convention had been discussing with VFP their desire to form an organization made up of post–9/11 vets that opposed the Iraq war. They wanted to give a voice to the opposition within the ranks of those serving in the “Global War on Terror.” Our mentors in Veterans for Peace were very supportive and on July 24, 2004, Michael Hoffman, Alex Ryabov, Tim Goodrich, Jimmy Massey, Diana Morrison, and I stood on stage at historic Faneuil Hall alongside military family members, and announced the formation of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

Those of us in Boston, as well as other early members of IVAW, were all on our own paths toward understanding and finding meaning in our military and wartime experiences. We implicitly understood the value of veterans’ and servicemembers’ voices in the discussion about Iraq and foreign policy, and knew that we had a very important role to play. From the beginning, the goals of Iraq Veterans Against the War were clear:

An immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq;

Health care and other benefits for all veterans and servicemembers;

Reparations to the Iraqi people.

Our members consist of women and men who’ve served in the U.S. military since September 11, 2001, and are united by our goals or three points of unity. We are strategically organizing within the military and veteran communities to build and support opposition to the ongoing occupation, as well as educate the public about the true human costs of war. We believe that those who have taken part in death, destruction, and trauma can transform their experiences to build a more just, peaceful world.

BOOK: Winter Soldier
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