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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: Remembering Dead In Iraq and US
Families Affected by Suicide Feel Sting on Memorial Day, 22 Killed in Attacks
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/25/2009 02:00 AM ET
On this Memorial Day, the theme of veterans’ mental health continues to be a key one. Three populations left behind are written about – veterans who commit suicide, contractors who are killed (often performing work done by the military in previous wars), and at home, a fiancé of a fallen soldier has all the grief afforded a married spouse, but none of the support. In Iraq, at least 22 killed in attacks, and remembering the thousands who have simply disappeared.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Timothy Williams and Suadad al-Salhy write a disturbing story of the unanswered despair of the families of thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of Iraqis who simply never came home. In the dark years of 2006 and 2007, it is a pretty safe assumption that they were executed, perhaps after being kidnapped. Iraq has neither the manpower nor the resources to even begin to deal with such a vast problem. Keeping more deaths from happening is proving hard enough – identifying thousands of unknown dead is a luxury. Still, it makes it no easier.

“All I need is to find some clue about him,” said a woman, as she looked for a picture of her son among hundreds of photographs of unidentified bodies at a morgue. “I’d like to build a grave to visit him. Nothing more than that.”
Further, Iraq has no central database to try to link the more than 15,000 unidentified bodies that have been buried anonymously in the past few years with a list of names of the missing. There is also no record of victims of sectarian violence who have been buried informally in unmarked plots.

Even if family members think they have found a missing relative, they often need the help of government labs to be sure. Many victims of sectarian violence were beheaded, had limbs amputated or had holes drilled into their skulls, making them less recognizable. ...Identification sometimes comes down to a guess, a dim memory of a shirt worn the day a husband disappeared or of which tooth a son had lost years before in an accident.
There was no grand explosion in Baghdad so the wires weren’t all abuzz, but Rod Nordland still writes of at least 22 dead in eight insurgent attacks on Sunday in Mosul and Fallujah in the New York Times. Two car bombs were among the incidents, and as is the norm, security forces were the most common target. Nordland gives some of the details of the violence, and writes of a press conference on the same day.
At a briefing in the new and seldom used media center in Camp Prosperity, the main American base in central Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad, and Maj. Gen. David Perkins, top spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, both emphasized that a recent increase in spectacular attacks ran contrary to the overall norm, which they described as fewer and less effective attacks.
Military Matters/Memorial Day
Steve Vogel of the Washington Post writes of how soldiers fallen by their own hand are remembered. The following excerpt sums up the article well, as the mother of an Army sergeant who shot himself while on leave makes a pilgrimage to Fort Campbell, Ky., to visit the post where her son served with the 101st Airborne Division.
While it was comforting to meet with the soldiers with whom her son had served, Lindberg was upset when she saw the unit memorial. The names of two soldiers from her son's brigade who were killed in combat were on the memorial, but Ben Miller's name was not. "Because my son was a suicide home on leave, his name was not on the memorial wall at Fort Campbell, and that's just not right," said Lindberg, who said her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in Iraq.
It isn’t that anybody is being overtly insensitive toward such family members, there is a difference in how they are remembered. The efforts of the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is described, as its members try to include all who grieve.

"My son was a victim of the war. He was a casualty of Iraq just as much as any combat casualty," said another parent, whose son took his life by carbon monoxide poisoning the day before he was to return to Iraq.

William Wan, also in the Washington Post, writes of Kyle Harper. When Sgt. Michael Hullender, her fiancé, was killed serving in Iraq, she received no military visit, no phone call. It is another story of isolation, added to grief. Decisions on whether she was entitled to some of Hullender’s personal belongings sent back from Iraq, as well as to be involved in his funeral arrangements, were completely up to his family, who felt she was less a part of his life than they were. For her, the engagement ring he gave her, Wan writes, is most of what remains of him.
So much now depends on the ring. For Kyle Harper, there are few other signs remaining of the life she should have had with her fiancé ...Even in a bureaucracy as large as the Army, there is no form you can fill out to verify love, to explain the messy details of life; only the marriage certificate counts. As a result, the military had to treat Kyle the way it does all fiancées -- as though she had no relationship with Michael. All the Army could offer were condolences. There would be no grief counseling, no casualty pay, no say in his burial.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Stephen Schooner (a retired Army Reserve judge advocate) asks ”Don't contractors count when we calculate the costs of war?” He said that, without including the more than 1,350 civilian contractor personnel who have been killed and the 29,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the whole story isn’t being told. Aside from forgetting them, Schooner says, it is dangerous to allow US casualties to be reported in a misleading way. Both points are well-argued.
An honest, accurate tally is important because the public -- and, for that matter, Congress -- does not grasp the level of the military's reliance on contractors in the battle area, nor the extent of these contractors' sacrifices. Simply put, the contemporary, heavily outsourced U.S. military cannot effectively fight or sustain itself without a significant, if not unprecedented, presence of embedded contractors.

...In a representative democracy, public awareness of the human cost of our engagements abroad is critical. If we're going to tally the human cost of our efforts, the public deserves a full accounting.
The Post’s opinion page also calls for those who are emotionally scarred by war to be remembered today, a point written of commonly in recent weeks.
Today the country is supposed to honor the fallen of all its wars. But "fallen" is a word for inscriptions and oratory -- it doesn't really convey what happens to those caught up in the ghastly business of warfare and subject to all the horrors inflicted by flying metal, high explosives and machines made for destruction. Nor does it quite encompass what happened to many of those who served day after day in constant danger and surrounded by death. They lost something in the country's wars -- but not a limb or eyesight or the ability to walk or any essential physical capability. What was lost was a view of life as having meaning, order, security, purpose.
There are five letters to the editor of the New York Times on this topic as well, all in response to Bob Herbert’s insightful “War’s Psychic Toll” column on May 19, which dealt with the toll of multiple tours of duty.

A thoughtfully-written New York Times op-ed by Melissa Seligman (author of “The Day After He Left for Iraq” and the host of “Her War,” a podcast for military wives) tells of the difficulty keeping in touch with her husband while he is deployed. Where delayed webcams fell short, writing letters to one another (yes, actual physical letters) provided a connection not otherwise possible.
I know I’m not the first military spouse who has struggled to communicate with a loved one on deployment — and I know I won’t be the last. For those who came before me, the burden to overcome was communicating without technology — waiting months for letters to arrive. For me and those still to come, it’s learning to communicate despite technology.
Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, no holiday editions.

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