I’d Like To Punch (Rumsfeld) In The Gut,” Says One Seasoned nco some argue that the aim is only to make Iraq look good before the Nov. 7 U. S. elections "fighting for the House of Representatives," as Sgt. Brian Patton describes it

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I’d Like To Punch (Rumsfeld) In The Gut,”

Says One Seasoned NCO
Some argue that the aim is only to make Iraq look good before the Nov. 7 U.S. elections - "fighting for the House of Representatives," as Sgt. Brian Patton describes it.
10 September 2006 By Michael Hastings, Newsweek. With Scott Johnson in Baghdad, Karen Breslau in Anchorage, John Barry and Michael Hirsh in Washington, Catharine Skipp in Alexandria and Margaret Friedenauer in Fairbanks. [Excerpts]
Toward the end of July, Capt. Brad Velotta began daydreaming a lot. He thought about making the summer's last run of salmon in Alaska's Russian River, where bears lumber down from the woods and chase fishermen out of the water. He thought about getting a kitten for his 3-year-old daughter, Sophia.
Most of all, Velotta hoped to see his 83-year-old grandmother Mary one last time before she died of cancer. "She thought she could hold on," says Velotta's father, Albert, at the family home in Alexandria, La. Her grandson was supposed to leave Iraq on Aug. 2. "She thought it would only be a few weeks more."
But it wasn't.
On July 26, Velotta learned that he and his unit, the 172nd Stryker Brigade, were going not home but to the core of Iraq's sectarian blood feud: Baghdad. After a solid year of battling the insurgency, from Mosul to Tall Afar to the westernmost reaches of Al Anbar province, the 172nd has been extended until after Thanksgiving - if not later.
The wedding of Spc. Shawn Mott and Nina Herrera was set for Sept. 16. Eight hours after she mailed the invitations, he called to say he had to go to Baghdad instead of flying home. "I was so scared to call you," he told her afterward. "I thought you'd leave"
Capt. John Grauer, the 4-23's chaplain, describes the scene when the order came down: "There was a rush of soldiers trying to get on the phone to call home.
“Some literally threw up when they heard the news. Some were extremely angry ... Some went to sleep for a couple of days, hoping maybe it was all a bad dream." It was tough for Grauer to tell his wife, Tyra, and their two girls - especially Morriah, 9. "She started crying," he says. "That's when I put the sunglasses on." Behind the shades, he wept.
But at Fort Richardson, Alaska, the 4-23rd's home base, chaos erupted at the announcement of the extension.
Some wives had already packed up and shipped their household goods to their husbands' next duty stations. There were families without a place to live; children pre-enrolled in schools thousands of miles away; parents scrambling for winter clothing they had given away; household goods in storage; airplane tickets for vacations that could not be taken - not to mention thousands of broken hearts.
Grauer says soldiers have told him, "This has killed my marriage, It's been my third deployment in five years, and we've only spent 15 months together."
Staff Sgt. Chad Denton is on his second deployment. "It takes its toll," says his wife, Beth, back home in Anchorage. "You just don't know each other anymore." The Dentons have five children, 1 to 13 years old, and the two middle sons, 6 and 8, are having trouble.
"They need their dad," Beth says. "I keep telling him, 'I know you guys are getting blown up, but I'd rather be on that side, doing what you're doing, than on this side, being mom and dad'."
Telling her about the extension was "brutal," says Chad. "At first she said she couldn't believe it. I guess there are three stages: denial, shock ... " His voice trails off. He doesn't get to the third stage.
The Stryker teams are supposed to hold the line. They spend their days searching bad neighborhoods for weapons and evidence of death-squad activities.
But Baghdad, like much of Iraq, is suffering from "whack-a-mole" syndrome. The militias keep popping up elsewhere. "With two Stryker brigades, one on the east side, one on the west side, we could secure Baghdad," says a 172nd officer, who asks not to be named disputing Coalition strategy. Even then, he adds, it would take more than four months to finish the job.
As things stand, many 4-23 members say the sweeps are no more than a temporary fix.
Some argue that the aim is only to make Iraq look good before the Nov. 7 U.S. elections - "fighting for the House of Representatives," as Sgt. Brian Patton describes it.
Meanwhile, families are falling apart.
Back in Alaska, one 4-23 wife has a suicidal child in the hospital; another suffered an ectopic pregnancy and had to beg her husband's commander to let him come home to care for her. Another wife attempted suicide. Her husband was sent home, but his career, the other wives say, is over. Gossip is running wild: who drinks too much, who has a compulsive-gambling problem, whose kids are left untended.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a taste of this rage and frustration in August when he met with family members of the 172nd at Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks, Alaska.
In a video of the meeting obtained by NEWSWEEK, one woman asked him why the 172nd was spending most of its time clearing houses, instead of patrolling the streets in the relative safety of the big armored vehicles. "My husband hasn't set foot in his Stryker since he arrived in Baghdad," she said.
"Over 90 percent of the house clearings are being handled by the Iraqis," Rumsfeld responded, whereupon women in the audience began shouting "No!" and "That's not true!"
Flummoxed, Rumsfeld shot back, "No? What do you mean? Don't say 'No,' that's what I've been told. It's the task of the Iraqis to go through the buildings."
The 4-23's soldiers say they, not the Iraqis, do 95 percent of the searches. "I'd like to punch (Rumsfeld) in the gut," says one seasoned NCO on his second Iraq tour. "He treats us like we're not human. He acts like he's not destroying families."
Baghdad in August breeds thoughts like that.
Outside it's 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside a Stryker armored vehicle it's 130, sometimes 140. Team members sweat more than seems humanly possible. Their mustaches leak with sweat.
Their soaked pants leave damp marks where they sit. The sweat collects in the protective goggles they wear, pouring off the eyebrows and into the lenses.
Each soldier has to wear 15-pound side plates, 20-pound body armor, and a three-pound helmet that feels like it's baking the brain.
When the vehicle stops, the teams dismount and go to work, climbing stairs, scaling walls, breaking down doors - always watching out for snipers and booby traps.
The unit has had plenty of close calls. Capt. Benjamin Nagy, who goes by the nickname Ox, has been hit by 15 IEDs.
Chaplain Grauer has been IED'd seven times. Strykers routinely drive away unscathed from explosions that would kill everyone in a Humvee.
Sometimes Velotta's men, sick of the drudgery of house searches, say things like: "Please, can someone just shoot at us?"
But a single call over the radio can turn the tedium into something far worse.
In the Adamiyah neighborhood, a soldier from another 172nd unit, the 4-14, recently became the extension's first loss. He was shot in the face by a sniper and died a week later after being evacuated to a hospital in Germany.
Postscript: Mary Velotta died on Aug. 19. Her grandson missed the funeral.


U.S. Soldier Killed North Of Baghdad
Sept 10, 2006 Multi-National Division Baghdad PAO RELEASE No. 20060910-06 & 9.11.06 AP
Monday comes word of the death of another U.S. soldier. A Multi-National Division Baghdad Soldier died at approximately 6:45 p.m. Sunday. His patrol came under small arms fire north of Baghdad on Sunday night.

Missouri Soldier Killed
9.9.06 AP
A Missouri native stationed in Hawaii has been killed in Iraq.
Pfc. Jeremy R. Shank, 18, of Jackson, Mo., died Wednesday in Balad from wounds suffered in Hawaijah when he encountered small-arms fire, the Defense Department said.

Marine, Hurt In June In Iraq, Dies
Sep. 11, 2006 BY LESLIE BROOKS SUZUKAMO, Pioneer Press
Cpl. Johnathan Benson, of North Branch, lay in his Texas Army hospital bed, his left leg gone, most of his left arm, too, from midway between his elbow and shoulder.
The 21-year-old Marine had been wounded by a roadside bomb June 17 during his second tour of duty in Iraq. He was in rough shape and feeling down one day, uncharacteristic for the usually upbeat young man, his family said.
One of his superiors visiting him that day asked him, "John, are you still a Marine?"
"Sir! Yes, sir! I will always be a Marine!" he responded. "I will live as a Marine, and I will die as a Marine!"
His mother, Marjorie Benson, recalled that scene Sunday as she and her husband, Steve, reminisced about their son. Johnathan Benson, the youngest of their six children, died from his wounds Saturday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
His family is making arrangements to bring his body home later this week for burial in his hometown, where friends and family remember an enthusiastic young man with an infectious smile, a prankster's heart and a love for adventure.
"We're extremely proud of him," Marjorie Benson said from the Army hospital residence Sunday night. "He's our hero, he's North Branch's hero, he's Minnesota's hero, and he's the world's hero."
Benson, who served with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, was injured nearly three months ago when a bomb exploded under his vehicle near Habbaniyah. He lost his left leg and part of his left arm and was paralyzed from the waist down, according to the CaringBridge Web site created for him. After he was hospitalized, Benson had a stroke on both sides of his brain.
He was awarded a Purple Heart, which was pinned on him by a Marine commandant while he was at the hospital.
While hospitalized, many relatives and friends, including his Marine comrades, visited him. His birth mother, Dawn Schubert, whom he sought out after high school, had visited him as well, his family said.
When Benson was injured, he was two months away from completing his second tour of duty in Iraq. He joined the Marines in 2003 after graduating from North Branch Area High School.
"He was a good guy, a good friend. He always wanted to help people out," said Brian Meskimen, a high school classmate of Benson's.
Meskimen described Benson as someone who liked to have fun but was "very excited" about joining the Marines as a young man.
He played sports and acted in high school plays, strummed a guitar well and knew how to make people laugh, his parents said. He joined the Marines, his father, Steve, said, "because he saw them as the best."
"Johnathan liked adventure," his mother said. "He was what you call a 'point man,' it was a very dangerous job, but it was a very adventurous job."
Family members were planning a funeral service for next weekend in North Branch, with burial in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Benson was the second man from North Branch, about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities, to die during the war in Iraq.
Benson is the 44th person with close Minnesota ties to die in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Four U.S. Military Vehicles Burnt In Ramadi;

Casualties Not Announced
9.11.06 Reuters
Up to four U.S. military vehicles were found burnt out in the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi, 110 km (70 km) west of Baghdad, local residents said. Details of what caused the damage were unclear. There was no immediate U.S. comment.





U.S. soldiers inspect one of their damaged and burnt armored vehicle after a car bomb attack, in Baghdad Sept. 9, 2006. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)


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