Wednesday, May 30, 2007

3 years since Good Bye

There are some days I just want to tear out of the calendar. Today, May 30, is one of them. 3 years ago, today, my only child Lt Ken Ballard was killed in George Bush's war. I never supported this war; I never supported this president or his administration.

I spent Monday at Arlington with family and friends celebrating Ken's life. It is our job to make sure that Ken has the most decorated headstone in the cemetery, so we bring flowers, and flags and other mementos. We drank champagne & beer and we remembered a life that was cut short. All things considered, Arlington is where one should be on Memorial Day, after all, it is the day our country honors our veteran's who gave their last full measure of devotion.

Even now, 3 years later, I find it difficult to believe the words that I speak so often, "my son was killed in Iraq". I guess there is some mental mechanism that protects me from the magnitude of what that really means. It is unimaginable and I would not wish this pain on anyone, ever. A parent should never bury a child, never.

As a soldier, I have been told that Ken was fearless. He was well respected by his peers and many superior officers. As prior service, his soldiers respected him because they knew he knew their jobs. He was "great guy and an excellent leader", a "soldier's soldier", Ken would not have asked anything of them that he would not have done himself. The mission in Iraq, however politically muddled, is clear to the men & women in combat- bring each other home safely. It did not work out that way for Ken's unit.

As a friend, I have been told, Ken was second to none. Everyone considered Ken to be their best friend. He had an "explosively outgoing, contagiously fun-loving personality that was always hungry for adventure". He would always be there when needed and more often when you didn't know you needed a friend. He lit up any room he entered with joy for life unparalleled.
As a son, Ken was the best. We left New York when he was 10 months old and headed for our new life in California. Being Ken's mom was always an adventure. When Ken was 3 years old, after my divorce, I changed my name to revert back to my maiden name. Ken asked me "when we get married, can you be Ballard again?" That's just the way things were with us. Ken was born with a spirit filled with mischief and love. When Ken left for the Army the fall after high school graduation, he left with a purpose & desire to serve his country. I cannot begin to describe my pride in being Ken's mom and in watching him grow to be the man he became.

Ken brought laughter and love to us in a million ways. I miss him every moment of every day, but these milestone days are the worst.

Let us never forget Ken or any of the 3468 soldiers killed in this horrible war/occupation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bring Troops Home Now

Monroe Anderson of the Chicago Sun-Times gets it right. His column from 5.20.07 should be mandatory reading by everyone in DC and every person who still thinks there is any chance for a military victory in Iraq. He said everything that I have been thinking.

In November 2006, there was a guarded sense of optimism when the Democrats took over in Washington. The message we sent for them to end the war seemed clear to those of us who oppose the occupation in Iraq. When Congress took their seats in January, Nancy Pelosi came out roaring like a lion telling us they had heard our message and now it seems as if they really weren't listening at all as they back down to the president on the issue of funding the war.

Next Monday, on Memorial Day I will be standing in front of my only child's grave at Arlington National Cemetery marking the 3rd anniversary of his death (we were notified on Memorial Day 2004). 1 Lt Ken Ballard was the 89th soldier to be buried at Arlington from these wars and now 336 of this nation's finest rest forever in Section 60 at Arlington. Ken was 26 years old when he was killed. He had been in Iraq for 384 days. 4 men in Ken's unit were killed; all of them after they had been extended. They all should have been home.

My heart breaks with every new death and every new casualty. It seems as long as it is someone else's son or daughter in harm's way, it is easy for Congress to walk away from this important conversation that will end this war; afterall, there is campaigning to be done.

Bring troops home now

We're waist-deep in George W. Bush's nightmarish Middle East misadventure as the new, theoretically empowered Democrats are difficult to distinguish from the old, hamstrung Dems of a year ago. They're still too timid.

Rather than deftly acting to bring the troops home, the Democrats continue their eye-shifting and throat-clearing while the killing and dying go on and on. Last week, the new majority party yielded to the oxymoron argument that we have to support the troops by keeping them in the line of fire. The Feingold-Reid Iraq Bill that would have cut the funding and thereby forced the
president to bring the troops home was defeated Wednesday in the Senate. On a procedural vote, the proposal that would have cut off money for combat operations in Iraq after March 31 of next year fell 31 votes short of the number needed to advance, losing 29-67.

The bill was defeated even as three U.S. soldiers remain missing and the death toll in Iraq is rising. The bill was defeated even as our puppet Iraqi government continues with its plans for a two-month vacation while the American men and women serving in their country are getting three months added to their yearlong tours of duty. The bill was defeated even as reports of poor care at Walter Reed Hospital for the mounting number of wounded troops is barely yesterday's news.

The Americans who voted the Democrats into power have been let down. Instead of counting on the Democrats to deliver on their implicit promise to end the occupation, we continue to count the costs of not correcting Bush's calamitous course. Those costs have been enormous in human casualties and financial resources. More than 3,300 U.S. military killed and more than 25,000 wounded -- nearly 1,000 of those amputees. A minimum of 63,796, a maximum of 69,850 civilians have been killed, according to the Iraqi Body Count Web site. More than 400 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars squandered. And we're not getting much bang for our buck. Daily attacks in Iraq have fallen only slightly to 149 in April from 157 in March. Mortar rounds are now battering the Green Zone, Baghdad's last presumed safe refuge.

Last week's vote was a loss for Wisconsin's Sen. Russell Feingold and other Democrats who want to bring the Iraq occupation to a halt. But the undertaking forced Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, previously reluctant to limit war funding, to come out in favor of the measure. Unfortunately, 19 Dems couldn't or wouldn't heed the distress signal that the American electorate fired last November, joining 47 Republicans in the vote to end the occupation funding. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is one of those Democrats. He said he opposes any measure that cuts off money for the war because ''we don't want to send the message to the troops'' that Congress does not support them.

That argument -- made smugly by legislators sitting safely and serenely in Washington, D.C. -- is about as logic-defying as others buzz-worded by the incompetent and corrupt Bush administration. We know them by heart. They play well to our emotions but not as well when we step back to question them. For example, could it be that setting a deadline to bring the troops home benchmarks the end of Americans dying for a continuously changing cause? What job are we staying to get done? Why are we staying where we're not welcomed? How are we supposed to secretly withdraw our troops without the insurgents knowing we're leaving?

We shocked and awed our way into Iraq four years ago, so if Baghdad should become an al-Qaida stronghold, what's to stop us from shocking and awing the city again? If 6 million Jews, surrounded by more than 200 million Arabs, have not been annihilated, why do we believe that an Iraq withdrawal will lead to a pitched battle with invading terrorist forces on Main Street in Peoria?

And, one last question: How much American blood has to flow to drown out the civil war in Iraq or cut through the hollow patriotic sloganeering here at home?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sick & Tired

I'm feeling beat up tonite. For those of you who attend street fairs, or art & wine festivals, you gotta know that being an artist at one of those venues is a lot of hard work; physical and mental. As if I don't have enough on my plate, I am one of those artists and I spent the weekend peddling my wares. Beyond the fact of having to be at a site at around 6 a.m. Saturday a.m. to put up my tent; my home for the weekend, it is physical work toting all the worldly possessions needed to put on this show. Physically, I call them the "art fair" muscles. You don't use them except when you are putting up an EZ up canopy, which really isn't that E-Z and it really can't be put up by one person regardless of what the manual says. So, I'll stop the whining about that right now. Those are the physical aches and pains, and it doesn't cover the heartbreak and the anger of the news we hear from these past several days.

The news from Iraq is just bad; no matter how you slice it or dice it, nothings going well. Last Thursday, the number of US casualties in Iraq was 3406. On Friday & Saturday 15, plus one more on Sunday. Now the number stands at 3422, just like that! 18 families have not been notified yet. These 6 months have been the worst 6 months of the war. That would be about 400 casualties since Bush announced his surge. The surge that hasn't been fully implemented yet, so God only knows what the number of casualties will be then.

The White House is trying to kill a Democratic plan to increase the size of a military pay raise next year, contending it would be too costly and that members of the armed forces are already sufficiently compensated.
In a letter from the White House Office of Management and Budget to congressional committees overseeing the military, OMB director Rob Portman said Wednesday that the administration "strongly opposes" a Democratic plan to bump up military salaries by 3.5 percent instead of Bush's request for a 3 percent jump.

That .5% adds up to $6 month for each service member. Whoever said the armed forces are sufficiently compensated has not tried raising a family on an enlisted man's salary. The next time Bush stands with military families as his backdrop, keep in mind who supports the troops.

Today, the Washington Post reports that Assessments Made in 2003 Foretold Situation in Iraq

Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a, boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies.
Now that these reports are being declassified, we have some indication of what was going on in the bony heads of this administration prior to the start of the war. None of them seem capable of telling the truth about anything.

We've got 5 soldiers identified as DUSTWUN; that's Army speak for Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown. Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass. Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. are missing since May 12, 2007. Please do not forget SPC Ahmed K. Altaie, DUSTWUN since October 2006 and SSG Keith Muapin, DUSTWUN since April 9, 2004. The only think I can think of worse than having a child be killed in Iraq, is to have them classified as missing or DUSTWUN. My conversations with Keith's parents do not indicate forthright behavior coming from the Pentagon.

It doesn't seem like we will ever leave Iraq, especially when more details are coming to light about the US embassy being built in Baghdad. The Guardian reports:

Rising from the dust of the city's Green Zone it is destined, at $592m (£300m), to become the biggest and most expensive US embassy on earth when it opens in September.
It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls.

The story about the midnight mafia-like raid on Ashcroft's hospital room was more devious than anything Richard Nixon could have come up with. The writers for the Soprano's may have written such a scenario but figured it as implausible. Time describes it like this

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales went to John Ashcroft's hospital room on the evening of March 10, 2004 to ask the ailing Attorney General to override Justice Department officials and reauthorize a secret domestic wiretapping program, he was acting inappropriately, Ashcroft's deputy at the time, James Comey, testified before Congress earlier this week.

The administration brushes off questions about this story, hoping we'll move on, counting on the attention span, or lack thereof from the American public, as if this is just another non story that the "liberal media" is trying to use to make them look bad. (note to administration, we don't need to try to make you look bad; you are doing fine on your own) We have no idea how bad this administration is yet. We have heard of some egregious acts from this administration, but we haven't heard the half of it. God help this country.

I could go on, but my brain is just too full about how this administration thumbs it's nose at this country, the constitution and for that matter, the rest of the world. I am just tired of this occupation. I am tired of the lies from this administration. I am tired of hearing every single day that more soldiers have died. I am tired of Congress and the President, who won't stand up and do the right thing for the troops, with money, or armor or length of deployment or medical care for ALL of them, each and every one who served their country when asked. As for the supplemental budget, I am sick and tired of Congress playing footsie with the president, who seems likely to veto anything except a blank check to continue his misadventures in Iraq. People are dying!

And I'm tired of the month of May; I wish it would be over. May is a rewind of every single one of Ken's last days. May is Mother's Day and I didn't get a call or a card from Ken this year and I never will, thanks to this so called occupation. No one will ever call me mom, ever, ever again. Mother's Day weekend is the anniversary of Ken's commissioning and college graduation in 2002 and it is also the anniversary of his leaving for Iraq in 2003. In 2004 Lt Ken Ballard was killed in May, so what is there to like about May? Next week, is Jonathan's birthday, Evan's birthday, Patrick's birthday and Casey's birthday. The problem is, none of them are here to celebrate with their families because they were all killed in George Bush's war. I send my love and hugs to Vickie, Jane, Nadia and Pat, all Gold Star parents who are amazing people, but I'd trade them in a minute if only...........and they know it and so do I.

Oh yeah, I'm whining, but I'm just getting started; I've still got 9 more days until the 3rd anniversary of Ken's death. I can't believe it has been 3 years since that awful day. My brain hurts, my body hurts and my heart hurts. I just don't know why anyone can't just figure out how to end this damned war and bring the troops home to be with their families and in their communities.
Bring 'em home, just bring 'em home NOW! PLEASE!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spring Report from our Florence Nightingale

Here is our semi regular report from a hospital in the Green Zone of Baghdad. Our Forence Nightingale is an Army Nurse, who is halfway through her deployment, but may find out soon that she, in addition to every other soldier serving in Iraq or preparing to deploy will now be serving for 15 months rather than the 12 months they had been told.

Hello All!
I realize it has been another two months since I last wrote an update. These last two months have practically flown by! It's funny to me as I sit here and think about what has happened in the last two months and to be honest not too much has changed.

About mid month in March I went home on R&R. I don't think it could have come at a better time for me. I was getting to the point of some mild burn out. After you deal day in and day out with broken bodies and spirits it starts to break you down as well. You lose your compassion as you care for the new patients that arrive daily. You compare severity of injuries and wonder why the guy with a broken arm is complaining when the guy next to him is 45% burned, intubated, and is missing a limb. That may be an extreme, but it happens all the time.

They teach you in nursing school and in practice that pain is what the patients tell you it. It doesn't matter if they are sitting there with a blank expressionless face telling you that they are in the most severe pain or if they are writhing in bed. They get treated equally for pain with what the doctor has written for pain. You often question yourself if your patient really understands what you are talking about when you ask them to rate their pain on a scale of one to ten. You also have to consider the language barrier that exists too. Most frequently they tell you a high number which leaves you skeptical as they drift off back to sleep and have to actually be woken up to take their pain medicine. I realize too that certainly they can have pain even though they are asleep. It is often that they get to the state of exhaustion from the pain they are experiencing along with the emotional and physical stress they are under from their wounds. Eventually, something has to give. They get a moment where their body shuts off for a minute to try and recharge to better help them cope.

So, R&R could not have come at a better time for me. I left the night before on a helicopter to arrive to Baghdad International Airport. From there I would fly to Kuwait and then on to Germany and finally Atlanta. It is quite the journey from the CSH. It takes about 3-4 days. I luckily traveled with another female from the CSH that was good company on my trip. You sit around and wait a lot. The ever popular Army slogan of "hurry up and wait" was in full effect. It amazes me how backwards the Army does some things. I don't know if it is done like that on purpose or that no one can change the system for the better.

Anyway along my travels home, I was all curled up in my seat like the 360 other people on the plane with me when I was woken up suddenly. Keep in mind that I had my boots off, glasses off, ACU top off, and I was under my little airline blanket dreaming of nothing. I was in la la land. As I woke up, I am staring at my chalk commander reconfirming that I was a nurse and could I go and check out a soldier that was sick and throwing up. Here I am trying to go home on R&R and I'm still treating patients. Only me! So I pull on my boots and put my top back on along with my glasses and make my way to the front of the plane. The soldier is an older man that is sitting hunched over a bag throwing up. I kneel down next to him and start asking him some questions like how long have you been throwing up? I asked him about his past medical history and allergies. I asked him what had happened preceding his vomiting. I had lots of questions to ask. They are my typical questions I ask someone to help me put the pieces together of why they present in the manner that they do.

The flight attendants on the plane were very nice in assisting me. I asked if they had a first aid kit and they were able to give me the little book that lists everything that comes in it. I luckily was carrying some Phenergan with me which is a medication that helps with nausea and vomiting. It also can make you very sleepy as well. I gave him one and hoped that he would keep it down. He did end up vomiting again, but no evidence of the pill came up. I made the determination that he probably needed some fluids and the only way I was going to get them into him so that he could keep them down was by IV. The funny part was because we were on an airplane I had to talk to a doctor via phone that would allow me to open and use the first aid bag. Apparently there is paperwork to fill out and the airline attendants have to call a doctor to get permission to use the kit and be told what to do. Needless to say I got permission after speaking with the doc on the phone. The other comical part of this was as I was preparing the IV stuff; a Brigade Surgeon (a doctor) came up and asked what was going on with the guy. He said he had just woke up and noticed I was setting up an IV and thought he should see if there was something he could do. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, now you come up!” It was funny to me. Anyway to wrap it up, I started an IV on this guy while in flight gave him some fluids, and monitored him the rest of the way to Germany where we were met by the paramedics. I updated them on what had happened with the soldier and they offered to take him to the hospital, but he refused because he was just as eager as everyone else to get home on leave. I got to take some supplies from the Germans with the signature of the MD, who reported to everyone that I was the one caring for the patient and had everything covered. It was certainly an interesting way to start my leave!

I have postponed taking my CCRN exam until I return home. I actually arrived on the date the test was being given upon returning from leave. I got in at 0400 and the test was at 0900. I though it would be better if I threw away my 300.00 for the exam another day! =) I think it was a better decision on my part to reschedule and give myself a chance to get adequate rest and more study time as well. I still have other courses I need to complete while I am here to keep myself busy with. I have the Captain’s Career Course and the ECCO course which is actually phase one of the ICU course the military offers.

My R&R went well and I did exactly what I wanted, REST. I enjoyed shopping with my Mom, getting tortured by my brother, hanging out with my Dad, visiting my Aunt, Uncle, Cousins, and Grandfather, and chilling with my dogs. I spent much of my time sleeping and trying to figure out what time zone I was in. I spoiled myself with a manicure, a pedicure, and a facial. I also got my hair cut and colored. I actually felt like a girl for the first time in awhile. I ate home cooked meals, sushi, and dined at some of my favorite places. I got my steamers and a couple of cold ones. I got my Panera Asiago bagel and my Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee.

I also made a trip to Charleston, SC to visit one of my best friends, Laura and Chris. I had a great time. We visited many of the tourist spots and just relaxed. We got some of the best pizza I have had in years and watched movies. We studied for my CCRN exam. We hung out on the beach and ate bagels and took pictures. It was a very nice end to my leave. I hated getting back on that plane to head back here. Traveling back here went much more smoothly though.

The soldier I treated on our way over to the states found me and thanked me. I was also then recognized by several of the other soldiers as the “medic” and was asked for things for headache and nausea before getting on our plane ride home. It was pretty funny and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

So another two months have gone by and again not much has changed. We got the news that we may be extended, but not definite word from our Chain of Command has come out yet. Apparently they have yet to extend any of the medical assets at this point, but there is always a chance. I have begun to mentally prepare myself to stay. I figure if we head home on time it will literally be like Christmas early and if we stay then I am already prepared and won’t be disappointed.

I will try and be better at giving out more updates and sending out some pictures. I have been busy on and off and have not taken that many pictures lately. I will send some along from my R&R when I get to my room tonight. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support, packages, and letters. I will write back soon; I promise. Please know that all of you are in my thoughts and in my prayers at night. I can’t wait to come home and just be ME! Talk to you soon and keep in touch!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mother's Day for Peace

Mother’s Day has long been celebrated as a day to honor your mother. It is important to celebrate all your mom has done for you. Originally, way back in 1870, Mother’s Day was put together by mothers (who at the time had no political clout) as a call to unite women for peace. When we discovered this, it became clear that the time was perfect to put together a piece highlighting Julia Ward Howe’s inspirational proclamation from 1870 and honoring the foresight and courage of the women who stated ‘We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’

With the help of Gloria Steinem and celebrity moms Christine Lahti, Felicity Huffman, Vanessa Williams and Alfre Woodard, Brave New Foundation has created a piece that tells the story of this important holiday. Although this proclamation was written 137 years ago, the emotions and concerns of mothers today have not changed. Mothers past and present do not want to see their children lost to war.

We are all grateful to our mothers for the long hours they have spent teaching, loving, laughing and crying with us. Please join us in honoring your mother with a message of hope for peace.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Let's take a break from this war- how about 2 months off?

As we move into May, we leave behind a month with the highest number of US casualties in Iraq in about 17 months. We mark the 4th anniversary of "Mission Accomplished". As painful as it might be to walk back in time, let's revisit what the President told us from the deck of the USS Lincoln.

Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.) And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment -- yet, it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other, made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free. (Applause.)

Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground, in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces.

He believed it at the time and he still believes it. I'd like to think he wonders why we don't, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't give us a thought.

Mission Accomplished has turned into Mission Impossible or What the Hell is the Mission? We still don't know.. 3350 US military have been killed since the initial invasion and 3215 since those famous words "Mission Accomplished". 1671 Iraqis were killed in April 2007, at least that's what we are told. How can we know for sure?

General's are coming out with strong rebukes of Bush's actions or non-actions this week. Lt General William E Odum spoke to the country this week and said this:

“To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is ‘absent without leave.’ He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge. Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games…I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

and Maj General Paul Eaton spoke out with this:

This administration and the previously Republican controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America's Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our soldiers hostage to his ego. More than ever apparent, only the Army and the Marine Corps are at war - alone, without their President's support.

The president vetoes a supplemental war funding bill sent to him by Congress insisting he wouldn't accept "false" timetables. While we're talking about the Supplemental, can I ask why this war is being funded with supplemental budget and not as part of the official annual funding budget? Oh, wait, I know- this administration doesn't want us to know because we might not support the occupation. At $5 billion per month for fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan, that's no chump change.

So, it's been a pretty bad week. But the cherry on top of all this sweetness is hearing that the Iraqi politicians are considering a lengthy break this summer.

"If they go off on vacation for two months while our troops fight — that would be the outrage of outrages," said Rep. Chris Shays, a Republican. The Iraq parliament's recess, starting this July, would likely come without Baghdad politicians reaching agreements considered key to easing sectarian tensions. Examples include regulating distribution of the country's oil wealth and reversing measures that have excluded many Sunnis from jobs and government positions because of Baath party membership.

Thousands took to the streets to protest the veto, no one in DC can agree on a strategy to end this war, and the Iraqi politicians want to take a vacation. Our military is being extended to serve deployments of 15 months, and the Iraqi leaders are planning their 2 month vacation?