Soldiers Use Online Resources to Make Voices Heard
Published on Thursday, August 12, 2004 by Knight-Ridder
Soldiers Use Online Resources to Make Voices Heard
by Joseph L. Galloway
 

WASHINGTON - Two young Army officers with time in Iraq are the brains behind a new Web site called Operation Truth that will be launched later this month.

Former Capt. David Chasteen and 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, who is still serving in the Army National Guard, hope to "educate the American public about the truth of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the perspective of the soldiers who have experienced them first-hand."

Toward that end they hope that their Web site, www.optruth.org, will provide a forum for soldiers and Marines still serving in Iraq or just returned, to tell their stories, post their digital photos and voice their complaints.

Chasteen, a native of Muncie, Ind., and Rieckhoff, a native of New York City, said Operation Truth is a nonprofit soldiers advocacy organization and is nonpartisan, nonpolitical and not affiliated with any candidate. But, like the soldiers they hope will post on their website, they have more than a few bones to pick with those in charge of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rieckhoff told me, "This is just a big, big After Action Review. After an operation in the military we sit down and talk it over. What was good, what was bad and how do we fix what was bad. The only people who ought to be afraid are those who have screwed up."

Both Chasteen, a chemical and biological war specialist, and Rieckhoff, a Guard infantry officer, served with the 3rd Infantry Division in the attack that took Baghdad early last year.

What they know is that today's all-volunteer military is made up of a very small part of America's population. Most Americans don't know anyone in uniform and no one in their family has served in the last generation or two.

"The dialogue between soldiers and the people they serve is gone, and we want to restart it," Rieckhoff said. "If the majority of Americans are content to be protected and defended by a small minority of volunteer soldiers then they need to pay attention to those soldiers and take care of them and their families."

Although it is nonpartisan, Operation Truth and the issues it wants to debate before the American people are likely to cause the Bush administration some heartburn. Their brochure says, "We intend to publicize how poorly planned policies and approaches have manifested themselves as problems on the front lines and back at home. We will act domestically to protect our troops and to aid them in their fight to protect us."

Some of the issues they hope veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will sound out on include:

  • Stop-Loss: The involuntary extension on active duty of soldiers whose enlistment or obligation has ended. Stop-loss is, Operation Truth says, a back-door draft, "a Band-aid solution implemented to provide additional troop strength." They say stop-loss is destroying the concept of a volunteer military, damages morale and "yet another indication that the original plan for war was flawed."
  • The role of private contractors in combat zones: Operation Truth says the relationship that companies like Halliburton, KBR and Blackwater have with the military is very disturbing. The organization says they are weakening the military by drawing away some of the most experienced war-fighters with offers of much higher wages and better benefits. They add that introducing profit to the battlefield sets a bad precedent.
  • The Veterans Administration: The VA budget will be cut nearly one billion dollars by the Administration in fiscal 2006 budget. In addition the VA is closing or drastically reducing services at 11 VA hospitals. Further, Operation Truth says, some 572,000 veterans are believed to be owed disability pensions but are unaware they are owed the money and no effort is being made to inform them. "In time of war it is immoral and unconscionable to treat our heroes of the past and present in this manner," they said.

The two also hope to press for improved national support systems for National Guard and Reserve soldier families who are left to fend for themselves when their loved one deploys to war. Those families need the same network of support and services the Army provides active duty troops and their families.

These young American veterans, both in their 20s, raise valid issues and solid questions as they prepare to launch a Web site which could just as well be named The Voice of the Soldier.

© Copyright 2004 Knight-Ridder

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