by Jeri L. Reed (the mother of a US soldier in Iraq) / Military Families Speak Out –
(October 30, 2003) — Close associates of George Bush, Dick Cheney and other key American officials scramble to enrich themselves from the suffering of the Iraqi people, while soldiers’ families and other concerned Americans collect old clothing to send to military hospitals in Germany and the United States. Wounded soldiers, risking their lives — not to “free the Iraqi people,” but to transform Iraq into a safe haven for investment — are flown from Iraq in flimsy hospital gowns or torn and bloody uniforms, missing not only a hand, an arm or a leg, but also all of their possessions.
Soldiers are lucky to arrive at Landstuhl, Germany, where wounded soldiers from Iraq are processed, or a stateside hospital such as Walter Reid Army Medical Center in Washington DC, with their few belongings in plastic garbage bags. In the Danvers, Massachusetts post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW), VFW members are so upset by this idea that they collect duffle bags or other luggage so that the soldiers do not suffer the additional indignity of arriving with their belongings in garbage bags, which appears to be the Army way.
“I asked the nurses and the chaplains what the soldiers needed; and they said warm clothes, such as coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, long underwear, sweat pants and sweat shirts, sneakers, socks, new underwear… and anything else you can think of,” wrote a visitor to the military hospital at Landstuhl.
The weather in Germany is already cold, and soldiers are dependent on the work of the chaplains at the hospital who collect clothing and toilet articles for the soldiers’ use. The Army, unable to provide adequate equipment or supplies in Iraq, is even unable to provide those basic things for young soldiers who will spend their lives suffering from the serious injuries they received in this unjust war.
As if this was not enough insult, war profiteers do not bother to conceal their activities or their ties to Bush Administration officials; they promote them. “When Iraq is ready to rebuild, we will be there,” reads the website of the Bush-connected consulting firm, New Bridge Strategies. “The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington, D.C. and on the ground in Iraq.” The firm proudly displays biographies of its leaders, listing their ties to George Bush, leading potential clients to believe that they offer not only easy access to government contracts, but also the protection of the US Army in Iraq, an essential factor for doing business there.
Independent business people who travel to Iraq, their eagerness for easy riches causing them to risk life and limb, find they are unable to get in the front door due to their lack of connections with the Bush Administration. Violating the principles of free market that they claim to uphold (like all other violations of democracy and freedom that have perpetrated the US government since September 11), Bush officials come under criticism for unfair contracts, awarded secretly without open bidding; again they claim that this is to protect national security. But while these greedy few complain of unfairness, the true injustice lies in the tragedy of the Iraqi people and the soldiers and their families, all of whom suffer while the wealthy profit.
The United States Congress recently approved another $87 billion to be divided by those profiteers, for reconstruction projects in Iraq and for supplying the troops. We can only expect those funds to be added to the billions already in the pockets of George Bush’s friends — with a large portion reserved for the infamous Halliburton, the company that sends Dick Cheney millions of dollars. Subsidiaries of this company hold contracts to provide the soldiers with food, water and mail delivery — the provision of none of which has been a success.
Families Forced to Send Supplies to Needy US Soldiers
For many months, those of us with family members in Iraq have been shipping food, essential clothing, water and, yes, even bullet-proof vests to soldiers, the items that private-sector companies are supposed to provide, companies receiving billions of dollars of our tax money. Since soldiers do not come from wealthy families, we have gone without paying our bills to provide those things (some people keep the receipts, as if one day they will have the opportunity to show them to George Bush and demand restitution).
Thinking we can rest in peace knowing that our children will at least have food despite the great cost, imagine our anger to find that in many areas of Iraq our packages do not arrive for months. Halliburton, the very company charged with providing food, water and other essentials, is unable to deliver the mails, meaning our soldiers still lack adequate supplies despite our efforts.
The money transferred from the US government to those wealthy profiteers has an additional effect on soldiers and their families: it is draining the budgets of essential government service programs, such as food assistance, health care and education.
The young families of soldiers (the wives are already cutting their small budgets to send their husbands food) often depend on those programs because of their low incomes. The programs from which they receive food assistance for their children have been reduced because of the drain of dollars, an implication of the high cost of the occupation of Iraq.
Their children now attend overcrowded, inadequate schools, many of which are unable to provide even the basics of education due to the lack of funds.
The families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers are facing a huge cut in income, as the Army pay is far less than what they received in the private-sector jobs they were forced to leave.
The prospect of soldiers staying in Iraq for extended periods has provoked an outcry from families, not merely because we miss our loved ones and fear for their safety, but because this war is driving us deeper into poverty.
Operation Iraqi Freedom does not represent freedom for neither the Iraqi nor the American people; the freedom it represents is only for war profiteers to enrich themselves at our expense. It does not guarantee Iraqi or American security; it is driving us deeper and deeper into insecurity. Iraqis and Americans are dying and are being wounded daily; we are all facing an insecure future, while George Bush and his friends hold barbeques at his ranch and discuss the division of the spoils.
Jeri L. Reed is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Oklahoma and member of Military Families Speak Out, a group of families with loved ones in the military who have opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Jeri is the mother of Cody, 21, a US soldier located at the Abu Gharib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq.