Friday, February 24, 2006

Good job, Mom!

From the day that I was told my only child, Lt Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq, the Army somehow managed to mess up everywhere they could. I wish I was exaggerating, but I have a letter of apology from the Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey to that effect. I dare say there aren't too many of those kinds of letters in existence. When I met with the Secretary last fall, he conveyed his regrets to me personally.

I was initially told Ken was killed by enemy fire; he was actually killed by the accidental discharge of the unmanned machine gun on his M1 tank. When the Army notified me of the change in circumstances of Ken's death back in September, 15 months after he was killed, I found I had done a fair amount of healing. My heart was ripped open and I had to hear in minute detail about the last hour of his life. I found out his last words.....

The Secretary of the Army called for an investigation into why I didn't know the truth from the beginning, when everyone involved did. He also called for an investigation into the casualty process and on 1.31.06, the Inspector General of the Army and 2 of his staff presented me with their findings. Am I satisfied? Hmmm, Ken is still dead, he's never coming home. But, yes they treated my allegations and concerns with dignity and respect. The execution of the casualty process was very poor, the recovery was amazing.

The Stars & Stripes, a daily newspaper serving bases, posts, ships, and embassies around the world wrote a story about the draft of the new casualty process that is being proposed. GI's legacy: Changes in easing families' losses, MotherĂ‚’s work led to revision of casualty notification I am happy to say that I see evidence of my involvment in many places of this draft document. I read ALL 166 pages to make sure.

I belong to a group of Gold Star families, Gold Star Families Speak Out. We are a chapter of Military Families Speak Out. We believe the best way to support our troops is to bring them home now, take care of them when they get here and to never let a war like this happen again. Nobody wants to be in this group, even we don't want to be in this club, but we are extremely close now. Each one of us knows the other's story, each one of us knows the other children as if they were our own. The circumstances of death vary, certainly, and out of that comes a mission for each of us. One mom & dad are pursuing the story of weapons of mass destruction, another IED's, another land mines and still another family wants to know why the Humvees have inadequate armor. Our son's and nephew's and cousin's voices have been silenced, but we will not let their conscience and their legacy die; so we speak. My mission is fixing the Pentagon. Okay, I know that's a big job, but someone's got to do it! ;-)

The thing about the Army is, they are a bureaucracy just like any other big company. I know they can do better than they did with me. I know they should respect Army families and do better by the soldiers. Fortunately, I have met many members of the military who agree with me. Changing processes and procedures is one thing, changing a culture is another.

Ken volunteered to serve his country and he loved being a soldier. It's shameful that this administration betrayed his patriotism and sent him to invade a country that was no threat to ours. Because the Army tells soldiers that the Army is their family, and they take care of their own, I know that Ken would have been so disappointed to see what I had to go through, but I do think he would be proud of me and he would say "Good job, Mom"

5 comments:

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Chancelucky said...

Wow,first what a shock to learn that the official story simply wasn't right so long after the fact.
I am glad you followed up and influenced the change in policy. I'm very grateful not just for what your group's sons and daughters have given but what military families speak out continues to give to helping us recover our sanity as a country.

Chancelucky said...

Karen,
I'm sure you just saw the story that the army is now investigating Pat Tillman's death as possible negligent homicide instead of just friendly fire.
My first thought was this post of yours and your efforts to help the families of those who do give their all get better more reliable information about what actually happened to their loved ones.

My question, it seems like there's some connection between these events is there?

GSMSO said...

Hey Chance-
Our stories collide in more ways than one. There are some close to the cases that think they are totally related. I'm not so sure, but the comparisons are interesting, if nothing more.

The Tillmans live in the SF Bay Area, so do I.

Ken wss killed on May 30, 2004. The Army admitted that Pat was killed by friendly fire on May 29, 2004. Those dates are so close to make one think that there may be a decided effort to keep Ken's story quiet- the Army couldn't afford to take another PR hit as they knew they would when both stories came out. I don't know how I feel about that; Pat was a very high profile soldier from the big Army PR machine. Pat's family never accepted that & I never read or heard anything that woudl indicate that Pat bought into his "hero" status. He didn't want that and he really stayed under the radar. It was the Army who named him "PatTillmantheArmyrangerwhogaveupalucrativeNFLcontract"- one word- whew! Ken was certainly well loved and known to his family & friends, but I don't think the big Army machine knew who he was and made a decision that his story should be kept quiet.

Everyone in Ken's unit knew the true story immediately. The senior management in Ken's unit did not insure that corrected reports were submitted to the DoD and in turn presented to me. If they had processed the proper paperwork in a timely fashion, I would have known the truth within a matter of days or weeks.

When Ken's superiors did not complete the paperwork, they disrespected Ken, his family and Army families in general. They were incompetent at best and absolutely insensitive. Their lack of professionalism caused alot of hurt to alot of people. In the measure of a man, they acted as neither officers or gentlemen.

Everyone in Pat's unit knew the true story immediately. The truth was kept from the family and the public until AFTER the public memorial. Whoever made that decision must have thought no one would notice the corrected report. What were they thinking??!!

In Pat's case, evidence was destroyed, not so in Ken's case. It seems in Pat's case that orders were given for the soldiers to not speak. I have asked if it was a direct order to Ken's unit, or an implied order that kept the truth from me. The only eyewitness to the incident that killed Ken spoke to me 3 weeks post mortem. He never told me the truth. There are soldiers in Ken's unit that thought I knew the truth already. For full disclosure, I never asked anyone to tell me what happened "that night". Ken was dead and I didn't want them to have to relive that all over again.

In Ken's case, once the Army realized I did not know the truth, they went about "fixing" it. In Pat's case, it seeems that too many people were trying to CYA for the past 22 months. It's too bad that it had to come to a criminal investigation for the truth to come out. I cannot adequately explain how painful this is, not knowing the truth, and more so that there has been a coverup. It is very sad to know that this will come down to one person making the decision to withold the truth. The rest of the details, of negligent homicide will be gut wrenching.

In my humble opinion (this is *my* blog, isn't it? :-)....I hope that the noise I made, along with noise from other noisemakers has made an impact and resulted in the Army saying they have to get these stories right. From my meeting with the Secretary of the Army, it is my feeling that he would agree with that statement. Again, you can change all the processes and procedures, but it is much more difficult to change a culture.

If you believe that the Army is a culture that encourages secrecy, then they will have a more difficult job. How many more cases are there that have yet to be discovered or disclosed?

The PR problem is, when Gold Star families hear about a story where the truth was withheld for a long period of time, they wonder when they will be notified in a change of circumstances. When a Blue Star family hears the same sotry, theywonder how the Army will treat their family if they are faced with asimilar situatuon.

So, do you think there is a connection? ;-)

p.s. PBS Now is doing a show on secrecy in the military on 3.17.06 I'll have more details soon.

Chancelucky said...

Karen,
thanks for the answer. I'm thinking that instead of a reply to a post on this blog, it really deserves to be its own post.

Your attempts to let people know about the "culture of secrecy" both around this war and the administration and the arm are very important. My daughter is fifteen years old. Should she choose to join the military in 4-5 years, that would be fine, but I fear that there may not be a choice soon because the administration has run this war so poorly both strategically and in the way they've treated their own soldiers.

I was honestly shocked by the zogby poll that indicated that 85% of current military in Iraq believes we are there to retaliate for Saddam's role in 911. Respect for the troops begins with telling them the truth and telling their families the truth when they make the ultimate sacrifice.