copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert
In a “glowing” statement, perhaps meant to glorify the horrific deaths of the soldiers slain in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney offered, “I think it’s a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who’ve sacrificed as they have.” The man who, in his youth sought five deferments in order to avoid service during the Vietnam War, went on to state, “A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they will see developments.” Richard B. Cheney helps us to recall the terror Americans felt as they witnessed the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001. He explains, this event and the thought of a terrorist threat “stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country.” “The thing that comes through loud and clear is how much they are committed to the cause, to doing what needs to be done to defend the nation,” Cheney proclaimed. Yet, citizens cognizant of the reasons for a possible rise in recruitment remember more than a moment that changed the course of life for many young men and women.
Promises made by this Administration were ample. The pledge to protect and defend was the battle cry in the States. Those whose parents sacrificed to secure a life in America believed, to serve in the Armed Forces would be an honor. Jesus Suarez was one of many immigrants who felt a need to fulfill a commitment to his homeland, past and present.
Yo Soy el Army
If you’re an immigrant, at least Uncle Sam wants you
By Deborah Davis
September 19, 2007
JESUS was an easy mark for the recruiter. He was a boy who fantasized that by joining the powerful, heroic U.S. Marines, he could help his own country fight drug lords. He gave the recruiter his address and phone number in Mexico, and the recruiter called him twice a week for the next two years until he had talked Jesus into convincing his parents to move to California.
Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children. Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement. But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower, and Jesus would be able to finish sooner. He was 17 1/2 when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co-signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.
Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American-made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion. In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74. Now Jesus is in a cemetery, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced.
We might inquire, was Jesus a volunteer or a victim of rabid recruiters? Are émigrés dedicated to a cause, devoted to a country, or obligated to enlist. Perhaps, fantasy fashioned Jesus’ faith in a military system gone awry.
In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true: it depends on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true: each family member has to go through a separate application process). Nevertheless, with the political pressures on Latino families growing daily under this administration, many young Latinos are unable to resist the offer, which immigrants’ rights activists see as blatant exploitation of a vulnerable population.
The number of immigrants who fight or fought for personal freedom is high. The statistics suggests those who were not born in this country do battle for the United States. Some are invited to come to the States, as Jesus Suarez was. Others, with Green Card in hand, realize the rights of citizenship are easily acquired if or when an individual joins the Armed Forces.
About 70,000 foreign-born men and women serve in the U.S. armed forces, or about 5 percent of the total active-duty force, according to the Pentagon. Of those, nearly 30,000 — or about 43 percent — are not U.S. citizens.
Aware of the toll the war takes on recruitment, many Americans ponder the possibilities. Might the United States government allow persons in America without papers to join? If people will not volunteer, bribe them. Millions in this country and across the borders are victims of need.
The Bush Administration thought an Army of recruited refugees a fine idea. Thus, they encouraged Congress to pass an immigration Bill that would provide citizenship for those in need. The contingency, people without official papers must serve this country in order to receive vital documents.
Immigration bill offers a military path to US dream
By Bryan Bender
Boston Globe Staff
June 16, 2007
Washington — A little-noticed provision in the proposed immigration bill would grant instant legal status and ultimately full citizenship to illegal immigrants if they enlist in the US military, an idea the Pentagon and military analysts say would boost the Pentagon’s flagging efforts to find and recruit qualified soldiers.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, is part of the stalled package of proposals that many in Congress are seeking to resurrect. The proposal, applicable to an estimated 750,000 undocumented residents of military age, stipulates that those who arrived in the United States before age 16, graduated from high school, and meet other qualifications could immediately enter the path to citizenship in exchange for at least two years’ service in the armed forces.
Though the overall immigration bill was sidetracked earlier this month amid bitter infighting, the prospect of using military service as one pathway to citizenship appeals both to lawmakers who side with immigration rights advocates and those who want tougher immigration laws and tighter borders.
Military service for undocumented did not disturb those in the House or the Senate. Other issues were of great concern. There seems to be agreement; those from abroad could serve this country well. Immigrants want to come to our shores; so let them travel to America, conditionally. If a non-native is killed in battle, so be it. The Administration will say, the fallen foreign-born volunteered. The rationale is all the Armed Forces are free to join, liberated to die. The question is, “Are those who sign up volunteers or people paid to perform at the pleasure of the President and Vice President Cheney?” Immigrants who fight for America may be fatalities of faith.
Children, born and raised in this country, also trust. They are understandably convinced the cost of living in America is great. Education is expensive. Many young lads and lasses are lured by promises of “money for college.” In an era when the cost of education accounts for countless debts, any assurance can calm the nerves of those anxious to create a better life for themselves. Consider the plight of the young and poor who know, only a college degree can take them away from a world filled with woe. This was true during the first Persian Gulf War and remains valid today. Many military “sign ups” are casualties of the sum charged to attend college.
Military recruiters promise ‘money for college,’ but recent veterans find that tuition benefits fall short
By Elizabeth F. Farell
The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 13, 2005
Cheyne Worley graduated from high school at age 16 in 1985 and spent about a year and a half pumping gas and bagging groceries before deciding it was time to get on with his life. Signing up for the Army seemed like the best option — not only would he keep his family’s tradition of military service alive (his grandfather, father, and uncle had all served), but a recruiter’s promise of money for college made enlistment a no-brainer. . . .
The promise of easing the financial burden of higher education is a recruiter’s most effective selling point. According to a 2004 survey conducted by GfK Custom Research, an independent research firm, “money for college” is the leading reason civilians enlist, even as the war in Iraq makes more young people skittish about committing to military service.
The tuition perk offered as part of the Montgomery GI Bill, passed in 1984, has become even more important during the past year, as the military has attempted to reverse declining enlistment numbers by increasing its recruiting staff and its efforts to sign up high-school students. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has also given recruiters more opportunities to reach young people, allowing them access to home phone numbers and addresses of high-school students and the same visiting privileges at secondary schools as college or job recruiters.
And the pitch military representatives make on those campuses sounds good. In exchange for having $1,200 withheld from their first-year military salaries, active-duty soldiers become eligible after completing their enlistment term (three years, on average) for up to $36,144 toward their education expenses. (Those who pay in an additional $600 receive $5,400 more toward their education.)
But the benefit covers only about 60 percent of the average cost of college, according to the College Board’s estimates.
If a potential enlistee learns of the promises not kept, there is another appeal to be made. For those adventurous at heart, the military may seem a free ride to travel. The opportunity to flee from a life filled with trouble. For a few, those who volunteer for tour after tour, the trauma evident on the field was not part of their truth initially. When it is, they conclude it is time to return home. Yet, when faced with a reality that is far from the fantasy of wedded bliss, or a better job, they retreat to what is familiar. Please ruminate over the role the military plays in the life of Jake Holland.
Iraq Diary: Why Jake Volunteered for a Third Tour
Signing back up for Iraq was a way to deal with the boredom, and the pain. Yeah, he had met a woman on Yahoo personals. And things were starting to look serious. But Holland needed to go. “It allowed me to get away from home for a while, kinda wrap my head around sh*t. I know it sounds funny, but that’s the way it was,” he says. “I needed to do this.”
The money was nice, too. “Another factor – I’ m not going to lie to you – as was $50,000 tax-free dollars. Lump sum. Here you go. Have it,” Holland says. For a former Indiana farm boy, whose favorite meal growing up was “fried squirrel and milk gravy,” that was a serious haul. “It took care of all my bills inherited from the divorce. An F-250 pickup, paid for. And quite a bit of savings.”
Plus, a good chunk of Holland’s first tour had been spent behind a desk, playing dispatcher to bomb disposal teams. “I’d take a nine-line [form for describing a bomb site], hand it to the guys, who would go get shot at. That wore on me worse than anything. Worse than going out the gate,” he says, using military slang for the base’s walls.
But there was action waiting for him, back in Baghdad, with the 754th EOD company. Snipers took shots at his head. Bombs went off around his armored vehicle, crushing the windows. One day, he got rid of eight improvised bombs and three unused explosives. On another, a soldier’s head pretty much crumbled in front of him. “They’re blowing stuff up like it’s cool,” he IM’ed me. The worst was the bomb that went off at a West Baghdad power station: a rigged-up dump truck that disintegrated four Humvees, charred the earth, and threw up a blast that could be seen for ten miles around.
It was “overwhelming” enough to make Holland think about giving Iraq a rest.
However, while not committed to the cause Vice President Cheney cited, Jake Holland seems devoted to finding a deliverance from the “evil” that he experiences is his life back home. Holland volunteered to fight for freedom; his own. Jake suffered. Unlike many of the troops who feel the Administration let them down or deceived them, for Jake, a potential peace in his personal life can be more attractive that the supposed tranquility of the streets of America. Jake Holland did not feel a sense of harmony when at home. For him the fight in Iraq was a flight to freedom. In the Armed Forces, he had friends he felt more loyal to than those in the States. Another serviceman may speak for more than the few.
One soldier, speaking under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said, “I don’t think that the American public realizes just how many soldiers and service members in general really do have reservations about what is going on over there … “
Tis true. Those who serve this country have much to say of the realities that threaten their lives. The truth is, in the minds of many a soldier, the Bush Administration may be considered a greater menace than the combatants in the Middle East. Poor plans and promises not kept aside, a total disregard for necessary training endangers the troops more so than an improvised explosive device might. A bomb can only do you in once; the lack of instruction can destroy a military man or woman daily.
Schreck, a soldier from CT, January 23, 2005: “If there is one thing that has always stood out in my head during my deployment it was when we were told ‘The Army will never put you in a losing situation.’ At this point of my deployment, that statement could not be further from the truth. Not only were our vehicles in an unserviceable condition, we were also putting the unit whom we were escorting at risk.”
Awbalth, a soldier from CA, October 20, 2004: “The thing we needed most in Iraq wasn’t bullets, body armor, cash, air conditioning, hot chow, or armored vehicles, although we were short on all of these things; the thing we really needed the most was training and preparation.
We had no or very little training on urban combat tactics, raids to detain or kill targeted individuals, collecting, reporting, analyzing, and using human intelligence, developing sources of information, using interpreters, bomb/unexploded ordinance detection and disposal, handling of detainees, questioning detainees, use of non-lethal force, cordon and search operations, and riot control. This lack of training has caused the deaths of untold numbers of soldiers and Iraqis.”
While some servicemen and women may speak of what they needed publicly, most will not voice their deepest concerns. Soldiers share stresses with each other, and on occasion with family. At times, Mom’s and Dad’s are the voice of volunteers who are no longer in awe of the Armed Forces they willingly joined. Nancy Lessin addresses concerns common among the troops. She mourns for what her stepson Joe, a Marine, did not realize. Joe was deployed in 2002.
“Our loved ones took an oath to defend this country and our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. But there is a commitment our government makes to our troops in return: that it will not send our young men and women in uniform into reckless misadventures that put them at risk needlessly.
This is the part of the bargain that has been broken.
Yes, war is hell; but this is something else, and our loved ones and all our troops have been betrayed. We were all betrayed by this administration when it cited a litany of reasons for invading Iraq that shifted like desert sands and seemed to be based upon quicksand . . .
We were betrayed by a lack of planning-active military and their families are now dealing with back-to-back two-year deployments, announced a few weeks ago. And today National Guard and reservists and their families are reeling from the news about their tours of duty being extended. And yes, there is a problem with troops being short on water, short on food, short on supplies and short on equipment. This morning we received an email from a mother whose son is in Iraq. The email read:
“Our soldiers have been killed because there were not enough Kevlar vests to go around. One of my son’s friends was shot in the back in Fallujah and two of his platoon members were killed in an ambush in May because they only had 30 vests for 120 men. No one at his checkpoint had a vest, thus nine people were injured.”
Sad as all this seems, apparently, what the soldiers and their families experience is nothing in comparison to the weight the President of the United States carries, according to Vice President, Dick Cheney. In the now illustrious interview with Martha Raddatz, Dick Cheney reminded Americans, the truest victim of this fateful war is George W. Bush. The Commander-In-Chief did not volunteer for the onerous path he has been forced to travel.
“The president carries the biggest burden, obviously,” Cheney said. “He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. . . .”
One can only wonder, did George W. Bush act voluntarily or was he too, in truth, a victim of circumstances. Did George W. Bush expect to fulfill a fantasy, as Jesus Suarez did. Might the President have presumed war would be the answer to what ailed him? Could the Chief Officer have been bored as Jake Holland was. What drove the man in the Oval Office to make such a seriously flawed determination. Was a need satisfied when the President sent troops to their death, or was fate the cause for his charitable engagement? Pray tell Dick Cheney. Certainly, your worldview is most definitive.
Volunteer Forces and Resources . . .
- Cheney on Iraq: ‘It’s Important to Win,’ Vice President Discusses Grim Milestone of 4,000 U.S. Dead in Five-Year Iraq War. By Martha Raddatz, Ely Brown, and Jennifer Parker. ABC News. March 24, 2008
- The 2004 Campaign: Military Service; Cheney’s Five Draft Deferments, During the Vietnam Era Emerge as a Campaign Issue. By Katherine Q. Seelye. The New York Times. May 1, 2004
- Yo Soy el Army. If you’re an immigrant, at least Uncle Sam wants you. By Deborah Davis. Metroactive. September 19, 2007
- Military recruiters promise ‘money for college,’ but recent veterans find that tuition benefits fall short. By Elizabeth F. Farrell. The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 13, 2005
- Iraq Diary: Why Jake Volunteered for a Third Tour, By Noah Shachtman. Wired. September 10, 2007
- The Soldiers Speak Out. By Katrina vanden Heuvel. The Nation. Wednesday 01 November 2006
- Commentary: Risk, rewards in military duty for illegal aliens, By Ruben Navarrette Jr. Cable News Network. August 14, 2007
- Immigration bill offers a military path to US dream, By Bryan Bender. Boston Globe. June 16, 2007
- U.S. Military Image Study. GfK Custom Research Incorporated. August 4, 2004
- Military Families And Soldiers Speak Out Against War. Democracy Now. September 30. 2003