George McEvoy | Bush Goes AWOL When Soldiers Need Care

Saturday, 20 September 2003 00:53 by: Anonymous

    Bush Goes AWOL When Soldiers Need Care
    By George McEvoy
    Palm Beach Post

    Saturday 20 September 2003

"He likes war. He should go fight in a war for two days and see how he likes it."

    "I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint of beer,
    The publican 'e up and sez,
    'We serve no red-coats here.'
    The girls behind the bar they laughed and giggled fit to die,
    I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
    'O it's Tommy this an' Tommy that, an' Tommy go away";
    But it's, 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play... "

    Tommy Atkins is what the British have called their typical soldier in the ranks since the Duke of Wellington coined the term in 1843. Rudyard Kipling, in his poem Tommy, wanted to show how civilians treat the military as heroes in time of war, and as drains on the taxpayers once peace is won.

    The words of that old poem flashed through my mind a week ago Friday as I watched President Bush greet members of the Army's combat-weary Third Division and welcome them back from Iraq. As the soldiers, wearing berets and camouflage fatigues, sat in bleachers at Fort Stewart, Ga., Mr. Bush strode onstage with that John Wayne walk he assumes when he's playing soldier.

    The Third Division supplied more than 20,000 troops to the Iraq war, most of them front-line combat soldiers. They saw more action than just about any other outfit. Some of them returned to the U.S. only three weeks ago.

    "America is grateful for your devoted service in hard conditions," Mr. Bush told the troops. Their applause was described as "polite." They probably knew that some of their units already were being redeployed back to Iraq and that they probably would follow in a short while.

    "You've made history," Mr. Bush went on. "You've made our nation proud... " And he presented the Third with a Presidential Unit Citation for "extraordinary heroism" in action.

    Again, the applause seemed to lack a certain enthusiasm usually found when the president speaks to military groups. After the speech, Pvt. Kenneth Henry, 21, a Third Division radar operator with a field artillery unit, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying of Mr. Bush:

    "He likes war. He should go fight in a war for two days and see how he likes it."

    Mr. Bush's military experience consists only of serving as a jet pilot with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. But his outfit never left Texas, and he since has been accused of going AWOL for a year to campaign for a political pal of his father's.

    But what brought the Kipling poem tramp-tramp-tramping across my mind was another story that ran the same day as the one about the president's trip to Fort Stewart. This story said that senior Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee were joining with the Democrats in an attempt to keep the Bush administration from taking benefits away from disabled veterans.

    Under the Bush plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs would disqualify about 1.5 million veterans, two-thirds of those now in the VA disability program.

    In Kipling's day, at least, the civilians and the government would wait until the killing fields had been quieted before deciding to act like ingrates and treat the disabled troops as a needless expense.

    The Bush administration is trying to cheat the veterans while continuing to send today's troops back into action, all at the same time, thereby creating more casualties and new disabled veterans who can be denied benefits. And don't think the troops don't know.

    Rudyard Kipling understood the soldier's mind as few men have, and so he wrote:

    "For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy wait outside'; But it's 'Special train for Atkins,' when the trooper's on the tide -- The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide, O it's 'Special train for Atkins,' when the trooper's on the tide."

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    Protests Grow Over Year-Long Army Tours
    By Vernon Loeb
    Washington Post Staff Writer

    Saturday 20 September 2003

National Guard Recruitment Short of Goal; Impact on Retention Is Predicted

    Angry protests mounted this week among families of Army National Guard and Reserve troops as the full impact of a new policy requiring those forces to serve year-long tours in Iraq began to hit home across the country.

    In Kansas, family members of soldiers in the 129th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit, set up a Web site and almost immediately gathered 8,000 signatures on the Internet demanding that the Army scrap 12-month tours.

    In Michigan, the wife of a soldier in the 1438th Engineer Detachment, an Army National Guard unit, said three-quarters of her husband's fellow soldiers are planning to quit as soon as they return from tours in Iraq that could be extended by four months under the new policy.

    And in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said after meeting with angry National Guard families in Orlando and Tampa that he would put a hold on the nomination of James G. Roche to become Army secretary if the policy is not modified.

    "You can't rely on these occupations in the future to be done by the Guard and Reserves," Nelson said Friday in an interview. "They have a specialized niche, and in times of war, that's one thing. But in times of long, lengthy occupations, you can't take them away from their employers [and their families]. Otherwise, they're not going to reenlist."

    The gathering storm of protest comes after months of concern inside and outside the Army that an over-reliance on Guard and Reserve forces by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism could adversely affect retention and recruiting. Some officials have expressed concern that this could break the Guard and Reserve system, which augments the active-duty force.

    The National Guard comprises eight Army combat divisions and has a total strength of 350,000 troops. Guard units fall under the command of governors until their services are required under federal law by the Defense Department. The Army Reserve, with a total strength of 205,000 troops, consists primarily of combat support units in engineering, military police services, medical support, transportation, civil affairs and psychological operations.

    About 128,430 service members from the Army Reserve and the National Guard are on active duty, including about 20,000 in Iraq and Kuwait subject to the 12 months-in-theater policy.

    Army officials have said in recent weeks that lengthy overseas tours in Afghanistan and Iraq have had no discernible impact on recruitment for both the active-duty and Reserve forces. But the same cannot be said for the National Guard, which appears to be falling short of its annual goal by more than 20 percent, having signed up only 47,907 people toward a recruiting goal of 62,000 by the end of August.

    Retention may be another matter. Reservists and their family members predict that the new policy is likely to have a devastating impact as individuals drop out of the Reserves after they return. It has been impossible to gauge the effect on retention thus far, they say, because there is a wartime "stop-loss" provision in effect on mobilized units that bars reservists from leaving the force even after their service requirements have been met.

    Before the policy was implemented, virtually all Guard and Reserve forces had been mobilized for 12 months. Most went to Iraq or Kuwait believing their overseas deployments would last about six months. Six-month overseas tours had been the norm for Guard and Reserve troops before the Iraq war.

    Under the new policy, total mobilization time for troops could increase from one to six months, because time spent in the United States no longer counts against the 12-month requirement. Most of the troops spent significant time on duty in the United States before going to Iraq.

    Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserves, said in an interview that the families of Reserve forces have not been given adequate information about either the 12-month policy or the steps being taken to shorten future mobilizations. A video explaining both, he said, will soon be sent to family members nationwide.

    But Helmly said the Army has no choice but to go to 12-month tours in Iraq for Guard and Reserve forces. They are necessary both to sustain overall troop requirements and to provide "continuity and stability so that some rebuilding could begin to occur."

    Nelson said changing the rules of foreign deployments once Guard and Reserve troops are overseas is not fair. From a Florida perspective, he also questioned why Guard units from other states are being brought home before those from his home state, despite the fact that the Florida National Guard was the first to deploy in December.

    In Kansas, Amanda Bellew, wife of Army Spec. Jason Bellew, a member of the 129th Transportation Company, said she and other family members are hoping to gather 50,000 signatures on their Web site,, to present to Congress in opposition to the extended tours.

    Amanda Bellew said the tours seem particularly onerous, since the 129th, made up of troops who drive and maintain heavy-equipment transports for hauling 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks, has recently been short of appropriate missions.

    "We have pictures of a golf cart tied down in the middle of this trailer," she said. "They hauled SUVs for high-ranking officers on one mission, and by the time they got where they were going, all the windows [of the SUVs] were busted out, from things being thrown at them."

    The unit was mobilized in January, she said, but did not leave for Iraq until April. "We were all planning for December or January homecomings," she said. "But now they're talking about April 2004, and possibly as late as January 2005. We're not into bad-mouthing the Army or anything like that, but the three months they were away from home [in the United States] should count in that year."


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