Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doing the Right Thing

Nothing like a little sunshine on a story to bring it out of the darkness and into the public sensibilities. On July 10, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote about Gina Gray, former Public Affairs Director at Arlington National Cemetery who ran afoul of her managers in an attempt to allow media coverage of funerals of Iraq war dead with permission of the families.

On Saturday, the Post reports that Army Secretary Pete Geren has asked his staff for an internal review to examine the Army's firing last month of Gina Gray. While there might be reason for some skepticism that an honest and forthright investigation will actually take place, there is hope that this publicity will encourage it. In this case, the media actually did their job and I give kudos for that.

On a related note, I was the only Gold Star Family member who had commented on the initial story. A friend suggested I send a Letter to the Editor at the Post and on Saturday with a bit of editing, my letter was one of 3 letters in response to the initial article.
When I was notified that my only child was killed in Iraq on May 30, 2004, I requested a photograph of his body's arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. My request was denied because it was "against Army regulations" and "to protect the privacy of the families" -- apparently without regard to a family's specific request.
When I was planning my son's burial at Arlington National Cemetery, I do not recall if I was asked about media coverage, but at least one reporter from The Post was present. I welcomed the presence of the media, in part because I wanted to remember the day.
America should be privileged to witness the ceremony and dignity of a military funeral.
America should be required to witness and experience a family's mournful loss as they bury a loved one. America should be allowed to mourn, if only briefly, as it bears witness to the human cost of war.
It seems that as public affairs director at the cemetery, Gina Gray, was attempting to honor the wishes of the families, and I applaud her efforts. Families going through the casualty process are extremely fragile and need more professionals like Ms. Gray to be their advocates at Arlington National Cemetery.
Further, in the initial article, Dana Milbank had written

The ghost of Rummy is proving difficult to exorcise. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has tried to sweep out the symbols of his predecessor's capricious reign, firing acolytes of Donald Rumsfeld and bringing glasnost to the Pentagon. But in one area, Rummy's Rules still pertain: the attempt to hide from public view the returning war dead.

One of the other Letters to the Editor was from Keith Urbahn from Donald Rumsfeld's office.

To the contrary, the longstanding Defense Department policies reflected the American public's right to know of the sacrifices made by U.S. men and women in uniform while respecting their family members' wishes for privacy.
Further, Mr. Milbank's suggestion of Mr. Rumsfeld's ongoing influence over personnel decisions -- a year and a half after his departure from
the Pentagon -- is a ridiculous stretch, and it is a discredit to the men and women at the Defense Department who decide and implement the policies governing how the nation's fallen are laid to rest.

Mr Urbahn is full of crap. It's not surprising that Mr Urbahn protests so much especially when this kind of incident clearly demonstrates how some people at the Department of Defense drank the Rumsfeld koolaid willingly and still do. Mr Urbahn's boss's unfortunate lasting legacy will always be the arrogance he had for the military and their families. Rumsfeld's casual attitude towards the conditions of the boots on the ground and the damage his policies caused only added to the anguish we families of the fallen live with daily. (Don't forget that back in 2004, as Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld could not be bothered to personally sign the letters of condolence that he sent to more than 1000 families of the fallen)

Finally, thanks to Operation Yellow Elephant for noting my original comment. The kind words are gratefully appreciated.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Putting Her Foot Down and Getting the Boot

Former Arlington Public Affairs Director, Gina Gray was recently fired after being on that job for less than 3 months. It seems that Ms Gray felt that her job was, in part, to be an advocate for families. Dana Milbank from the Washington Post reports that Ms Gray

discovered that cemetery officials were attempting to impose new limits on media coverage of funerals of the Iraq war dead -- even after the fallen warriors' families granted permission for the coverage. She said that the new restrictions were wrong and that Army regulations didn't call for such limitations.
Just 10 days on the job, she was handling media coverage for the burial of a Marine colonel who had been killed in Iraq when she noticed that Thurman Higginbotham, the cemetery's deputy superintendent, had moved the media area 50 yards away from the service, obstructing the photographs and making the service inaudible. The Washington Sketch column on April 24 noted that Gray pushed for more access to the service but was "apparently shot down by other cemetery officials."
In response to Gray's actions, retaliation in her workplace took place from her supervisors. Further, Milbank reports,

Arlington's problems with the burial of the Iraq dead go far beyond Gray; the cemetery is looking for its fourth public affairs director in the past few years. Gray contends that Higginbotham has been calling the families of the dead to encourage them not to allow media coverage at the funerals -- a charge confirmed by a high-ranking official at Arlington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Gray says Higginbotham told staff members that he called the family of the next soldier scheduled for burial at Arlington and that the family, which had originally approved coverage, had changed its mind. Gray charges that Higginbotham admitted he had been making such calls to families for a year and said that the families "appreciated him keeping the media out."

When I was notified my only child was killed in Iraq on 5.30.2004, I requested a photograph of his body being treated with dignity and respect as he arrived at Dover AFB, the mortuary for the military. I was repeatedly denied my request that week because it was “against Army regulations” and “it is to protect the privacy of the families”- apparently without regard to a family’s specific request.

Additionally, should a family wish to meet their loved one’s remains as they make the final journey home, the Department of Defense strongly discourages family members from coming to Dover to watch the caskets of the dead unload. "It's a tarmac, not a parade ground".

When I was planning my son’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, I cannot remember if I was asked about media coverage, but at least one reporter from the Washington Post was present. While Mr Markon’s report was not totally accurate, it provided a fair representation of the service. I welcomed the presence of the media, in part, because I wanted to remember the day.

America should be privileged to witness the ceremony and dignity of a military funeral. America should be required to witness and experience a family’s mournful loss as they bury their loved one, whose years on this earth were too few. America should be allowed to mourn, if only briefly, as they bear witness to the human cost of war. America owes at least that much respect for those who died while serving their country, while so few others serve.

It seems that Ms Gray was making an attempt to honor the wishes of the family, something that a family may not be able to stand up for during this difficult time and I applaud her efforts. Families going through the casualty process are extremely fragile and need more professionals at ANC like Ms Gray to be their advocate.

After more than 7 years of war and 4662 US casualties from Iraq & Afghanistan, one would have hoped for more transparency from an administration responsible for the carnage. I have little hope that the wishes of Gold Star families will ever be a priority during this presidency. January 2009 cannot come too soon for this Gold Star Mother.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sad Relief

The families of Sgt. Alex Jimenez and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty received that final knock on the door on Thursday when they were notified by the military that the bodies of these young men and some of their personal effects were identified after they went missing in May 2007.

The Washington Post reports:

Pvt Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., were kidnapped in May 2007 in the volatile area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death."

"Every day that he's been missing has been a day of `what could have been' ... but after hearing the news ... I'm still in shock," Dibler (Fouty's stepfather) said Thursday, after military officials came to his Oxford home and told him his stepson's body was one of two discovered in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr.

Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, said he also received a visit Thursday from military officials who told him that his son's body and some of his son's personal effects had been discovered in Iraq. Speaking through a translator, he said the news "shattered all hope" the
family had to "see Alex walk home on his own."

From the Associated Press

SPC Ahmed K. Altaie (Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie) remains as the remaining US soldier declared as Missing- Captured. He has been missing since October 23, 2006. We cannot forget Spc Altaie and we must not leave him behind.

Sgt. Alex Jimenez and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, welcome home. May you rest in peace and may your families find comfort that you are finally home.

Friday, July 04, 2008

4th of July Wishes

This nation has an opportunity, at this very moment, to realize and strengthen her very foundations on which she was founded; to realize the ideals and hopes in which our founders believed; to actually bring life to the words of one of this nation's greatest statesmen and presidents, Abraham Lincoln ' ... government of the people, by the people and for the people.'.

This is the opportunity and the gift which we all can give to this nation and her people on her 232nd birthday. It is to have this nation and especially her government become responsible and answerable to her people - not to just the few. Has this not been the trademark of nation's declines throughout history! Our government's validity comes from the people on whose behalf it governs.

It is the duty and responsibility of each and every citizen to know, to question, to debate and, if necessary, to protest. Are these not the very freedoms on which this nation was founded? Are these not the very freedoms which we encourage others to adopt? Yet are these not the very freedoms which some of those who represent us in government have tried to chill or, in some cases ,deprive us.

We deeply feel that this Great Nation of ours is at the crossroads. Will this nation continue to evolve and become by example the shining Beacon of Freedom or will the slow gradual erosion of our freedoms - the very foundation of this great nation - eroded by fears - reduce and destroy the promises and expectations of our founding fathers.

We as a people should not and can not stand by and allow our government to victimize this nation and her people ever they - the few - victimized our people by deception and ignorance; as they victimized our son and so many more by failing to be prepared and failing to be the best that they could be; and they victimized us and so many more of our loved ones by allowing our veterans to suffer horribly within their families and then abandoning many.

Let us realize the true greatness of this nation; Let us realize the promises and dreams of our founding fathers; Let us all make this nation once again united and proud; Let us commit this nation to giving the best of care to our troops and veterans - let there be no more Jeffreys.

Kevin & Joyce Lucey, the proud parents of Cpl. Jeffrey Michael Lucey,
a 23 year old USMC reservist forever
succumbed to the hidden wounds of PTSD
03/18/81 ----- 06/22/04
Here's to Ken & Jeffrey and all of our Gold Star sons!

We, the People

I was proud to support this ad, sponsored by Peninsula Peace & Justice, that ran today in local San Francisco peninsula news papers. Imagine my delight to see this as a full page ad in the San Jose Merucry News- great placement, too!

On July 4, 1776, our country's founders issued the Declaration of Independence, a listing of the causes that impelled them to rebel against the rule of King George III. As they wrote in that magnificent document, "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations..."
Now, 232 years after the Declaration, we find ourselves governed by a President who acts more like a King than an elected servant of the people. We are supposed to have a representative democracy, not a monarchy. Under our Constitution, Congress has an obligation to hold the President to account. Sadly, our Congress has repeatedly failed to hold this President accountable.
Therefore, on this Fourth of July, We the People hereby declare the "repeated injuries and
usurpations" of President George Bush. As the Declaration itself said, "Let facts be submitted to a candid world."
· President George W. Bush systematically and fraudulently misrepresented Iraq as a threat to our security and thereby compelled our country to engage in an illegal and wasteful war of
· He systematically and fraudulently misrepresented Iraq as having been involved in the dreadful attacks of September 11, 2001, compounding his fraudulent case for a war that has now cost the lives of over 4,000 Americans.
· He created a secret propaganda campaign to press his desire for a war of choice, an act that is inarguably illegal under the law.
· He has secretly and illegally encouraged and authorized the use of torture, in violation of our laws and the moral standards of our country.
· He has authorized the illegal detention, indefinitely and without charge, of both US citizens and foreign nationals.
· He secretly and illegally authorized spying on American citizens without a court order, in violation of legal statute and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
· He has flagrantly defied the will of Congress, publicly vowing to disobey enacted legislation through the use and abuse of so-called Presidential signing statements.
· He has caused the deaths and suffering of American citizens through his wanton disregard for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
· He has wreaked havoc on our country's economy with his reckless militarism and callous indifference to the needs and desires of the vast majority of the people.
· He has brought shame and scorn upon the good name and reputation of the United States of America.
WE, THE PEOPLE, call on Congress to act with the utmost urgency to hold President George W. Bush accountable for these and other crimes against the people and the Constitution of the United States. Congress must act before President Bush departs office and leaves behind a disastrous and damaging legacy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

In Their Boots

The good people at Brave New Films are launching a new series tonite at 7 p.m. EDT called "In Their Boots" These are real stories about real members of the military and their families. I hope you take a few minutes for this weekly series to see what's really happening on the ground in Iraq and how that experience affected those who served and those who waited at home.

From their website:
IN THEIR BOOTS is a compelling new magazine show about the dramatic impact the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having on us - the people here at home. The show will feature our Iraq and Afghanistan service men and women, and their families, in stories that have universal appeal.

Funded by a grant from the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact fund (IADIF) and produced by
Brave New Foundation, IN THEIR BOOTS will be streamed exclusively online.

In Their Boots will be hosted by Jan Bender, a veteran of the war in Iraq who served as a rifleman/combat correspondent in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines from 2004 to 2005.

Every week a live episode will be built around a dramatic and emotional IN THEIR BOOTS "Real Story," a non-fiction narrative about how our servicepeople, their families, and their communities have been profoundly changed by the nation's campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, in a live forum, Jan Bender, our host, will interview the participants and lead a discussion that includes experts, service-providers and individual viewers in an interactive discussion of the issues raised.
Here's a sneak peek at one of the episodes: