Friday, December 4, 2009

Did You Really Need A Survey To Find Out The WTUs Are Broken?

Today I checked my AKO email for the first time in a little bit, and found a survey ostensibly from General Cheeks, wanting to know about the WTU system, what was helpful, what was not. It was phrased in relentlessly positive seeking which drove me a little bit crazy. (An example: It had 'What has your greatest challenge been?' but did not list a place where you could put down all the things that were actually screwed up with your unit or the WTU system.

Hopefully the Army will forgive me for saying so, but I'm just a little skeptical of the redemptive power of surveys. In my time in the Army, I've taken Command Climate surveys as regularly as the changing of the seasons, and I can't recall a single instance in which any of the issues we raised were fixed as a result. At best, we would get a face-to-face with our commander, who would put powerpoint slides on a projector and explain why our problems didn't matter. Sometimes we would get promises that answers to our questions were going to be compiled and made available to someone else, who we could then check with. (I'm looking at YOU, Wiesbaden Garrison)

I know that the naysayers are immediately going to comment that none of the problems listed were probably real problems. This is entirely inaccurate. Problems that I knew were listed ranged from "Commander is sexually harassing soldiers" to "Pay problems are forcing me to literally starve" to "Our unit is falsifying paperwork". And maybe the answer is that things were happening behind the scenes, commanders were being yelled at quietly for their units getting so bad. And that's great and all, but it still leaves the soldiers with the perception that no one cares.

For example, the WTU system. Some problems I can think of offhand:
1) Despite it supposedly being a place that focuses on transition, from my experience and that of other soldiers I know, once you actually start transitioning, they don't tend to give a damn. The WTU was envisioned as a place where all your problems could get taken care of. It's supposed to be one of the things helping to stop disabled vets from turning into disabled homeless vets on the corner. And it's doing almost none of that. There's a lot of focus on transitioning back to the force, but for all their talk, they are almost useless at helping transition to civilian life except for making time for you to go to ACAP.

2) Discrimination within the system. Providers take their own prejudices (from what counts as a Real Injury to Where You Were Injured) and apply them to the soldiers. We had one soldier who had an injury to her back from an accident in the leadup to deployment. She was pretty much treated like her injuries were immaterial. But another soldier who had a similar injury, but got it downrange, was treated like gold. Or the weirdest part was when soldiers would come in with multiple injuries, some received in combat, some noncombat. There would be discrimination on the /same soldier/ about their injuries-some would get treated and cared for, and others would be judged "not relevant" even though they were more disabling.

3) People are trying too hard to get soldiers out the door so they don't actually have to take care of them. I've heard this from everyone from squad leaders to nurse case managers to first sergeants and commanders. The WTU is not supposed to be a long term assignment, or so they say. The thing is, though, if the WTU isn't supposed to be a long term assignment, what DO you do with people who are complex care longterm? What do you do with people who still have not reached Maximum Medical Benefit? (The point at which they decide whether to medically discharge them or not) You have someone receiving multiple surgeries and having to recover from them. They need a WTU, they're not capable of functioning in a real unit. But because of the prejudice against having soldiers there longterm, someone is trying to hurry this soldier out the door, to their detriment.

Any other WTs who want to chime in, let me know.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Fort Hood Shootings: My View

Now that all IVAW members of the Fort Hood chapter have been accounted for, I can breathe a little easier, and will give some of my thoughts on this situation.

The first and foremost is that it IS telling that the shooter is an Army psychiatrist. It's telling for a lot of reasons, and yes, whether or not the shooter himself had PTSD, it does relate to the Army's PTSD treatment.

When I first began receiving treatment for my own PTSD, I had to deal with a couple people who were flat-out incompetent. At one point, I was in an intensive therapy situation, and a Major that I dealt with tried to give me some "helpful advice" - that I should deny my PTSD to anyone who might care about me until they'd known me for years, at which point it would then be appropriate to spring it on them. This Major, who I wish I remembered the name of, spent more time talking about her own sex life to me, and her own personal life issues, than my trauma. This woman was in no position to be treating soldiers, and especially not in the wing area I was, where a lot of the soldiers had been medevaced out for trauma.

What did I do? I complained. What happened? Really, nothing. They added my formal complaint to a stack of other previous complaints, and said every complaint helps to build a case.

This was far from the last terrible military mental health treatment I received. If it were not for one provider I saw within the last six months, I would still to this day think that there was absolutely NO quality mental health care in the Army.

Let's be honest: the military mental health system is breaking. If it's not already broken, it is definitely breaking, hard. It cannot sustain high quality mental health care for the number of soldiers that need it. So what are they doing? Well, they don't have the funds to attract truly competent civilian providers in the numbers they need. We don't have scads of psychiatrists trying to sign up for the Medical Corps. So the military does what they can with what they have: which includes not looking into their own very closely.

Whatever this major's reasons, whatever went wrong in his head that he thought trying to murder an entire roomful of soldiers was okay, I am not going to argue here. The fact that I hope no one will dispute is that he was absolutely crazy at the moment he did so, and crazy does not, counter to some people's beliefs, happen overnight.

Let me make it clear: I am not interested in arguing here whether it was secondary PTSD or garden variety crazy or religious fanatic crazy. I don't know, and at the moment, I don't care. Any of these three still add up to crazy, and none of them happens in a vaccuum.

Where were the screenings? How did none of his fellow psychiatric colleagues recognize that this man was a problem? No, not a problem because he was a Muslim, not a problem because he may have been against the war, but a problem because he was FLAMING FUCKING CRAZY and they were IN A JOB WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO RECOGNIZE CRAZY.

And if they are not competent enough to recognize a major crazy problem in someone they work with every day, how are they supposed to recognize problems in soldiers they only see for one hour a week?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Letter From Seth Manzel (With My Personal Appeal On Top)

Allow me to remind you all that the cost of being a sustaining donor is very low, and the things that can be done with it are incredible. Speaking purely from the membership and active duty perspective, for $5 a month, you can ensure that 12 member packets can be mailed to new members. For $10 a month, you can ensure that 6 active duty organizer packages are mailed to members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remember that these things are crucial and necessary. If fellow members of the peace and veteran community can't help us by spreading this cost around and shouldering some of it, it will be falling squarely on our organizers - often those who can afford it least. Because this work must and will be done, and we are absolutely committed.

Without further ado, I give you the appeal letter from Seth Manzel, on IVAW's Board of Directors.

Letter from Seth Manzel,
Iraq Veterans Against the War Board of Directors

Dear Friends,

Since the election of Obama the public perception has been that the wars are winding down and that the objectives of the peace movement are now being embodied in the Administration's policies. A common myth that is being perpetuated by the media is that we are preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

These lies that Americans are telling themselves may make them feel better about the Obama Administration, but they are of little consequence to the Soldiers who are being deployed at a rate not seen since the surge. The lies mean nothing to the families left behind by soldiers going to spend a year deployed in the most dangerous period of the conflict yet. They mean even less to the widows who will never see their partners again.

We have forgotten the people of Iraq who have to live under the corrupt and dangerous puppet government that Obama is supporting, and we are all to quick to look the other way at the dead bodies piling up in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Iraq Veterans Against the War has not forgotten these things and we are one of the few groups out there who are still speaking out on these issues. One only needs to open major publications like the New York Times, The Army Times or the Stars and Stripes to see that we are getting the word out.

But we aren't just talking about the problems. Recently, IVAW sent a delegation to Iraq to help bolster Iraqi oil unions fighting back against corrupt and exploitive oil companies. Our members were participating in direct action in the latest round of G20 protests. Some members are actively involved in pressuring politicians to end these ruinous conflicts.

IVAW needs your support to continue our work. Without continuing help from the Peace Community we could not continue our work. Please, become a sustaining donor for IVAW and help us bring about an end to these wars by clicking on this link.

Thank you for your support,
Seth Manzel, IVAW Board of Directors

Please repost this and spread it far and wide. Your help is appreciated.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Not stopping

I can't even begin to describe the frustration that I felt over seeing blog after promising blog rise up in the milblogosphere, only to die down after a short period of time. Sometimes the writer came home, and so the deployment blog stopped. Sometimes they got shut down by their command. Sometimes they just stopped blogging, and no one could figure out why.

Anyway, that's not going to be me.

Something I've noticed over the past week is how people get treated differently according to the differences in their symptoms of the same disease or condition. I'm sure it won't be a surprise to longtime readers of the blog to hear it once again: I have moderate-to-severe PTSD. It manifests in a lot of ways, but the coping skill that I've tended to take and run with is overwork. If you throw yourself into your work, you don't have time to think. If you're working long hours, and giving your heart and soul to something, your heart and soul don't have to think about how they may have been damaged by trauma. If your fight is every day in the work you're doing, you don't go seeking it out externally.

It sounds great, to those people who haven't done it. "Oh, yeah, you work too hard, what's the problem?" Certainly not nearly as bad as my fellow sufferers, some of whom wind up with major substance abuse problems and getting in regular barfights.

But to look at these things as separate problems is to do a disservice to both.

To look at me and say that because I'm working really hard, I must just have a good work ethic, and not have a problem, is to completely ignore the underlying facts. When I had some time to adjust to having days off, with long blocks of time accountable to none but myself, I couldn't handle it. I had to be working. I could not /survive/ without working. I recognize that this is unhealthy-but it's hard to find someone to talk to about it.

To look at vets with substance abuse and problems with the law and to say that they're just bums, no-goods, that they have a problem but they don't have to be that bad, is also not doing them any favors. Everyone finds their own addiction to take their time, energy, and thought off the real problem. The fact that mine was work and theirs was dissolution doesn't make me any better than them. At the same time, it doesn't mean that they're having symptoms any more severe than mine-it just means that the manifestation of their problems is causing their lives to objectively suck more.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

IVAW's Resolution 3 (Nonviolence Resolution) Passes

There was some confusion over resolution three resulting from a clerical computer error in the tabulation of online votes. The Board has released a statement giving more details of the error which they will be emailing out and passing to the membership. However, the resolution was in fact passed by a majority of IVAW voters and currently stands:

Resolution proposing that IVAW only use, supports or endorses, non-violent and peaceful actions

Whereas there is no official statement regarding Iraq Veterans Against the War’s stand on methodology for achieving our goals; namely, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ensuring all returning veterans have adequate health care, and repairing the damage done in Iraq and Afghanistan by the occupations;

Whereas calls for violence and sabotage are both illegal and immoral, and will only serve to do great damage to Iraq Veterans Against the War’s efforts to end the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas any endorsement, passive or active, of violence would lead to IVAW being banned from active duty bases, Reserve centers and National Guard armories; being declared an extremist organization and thereby making it illegal for a member of the military to become a member of IVAW;

Whereas, the Board of Directors has stated that it is the position of IVAW that only non-violent, peaceful methods are to be used to accomplish our goals;

Therefore be it hereby resolved that Iraq Veterans Against the War only uses, supports or endorses, non-violent and peaceful actions in seeking to accomplish its goals of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; providing proper medical care to all returning veterans and repairing the damage done by the occupations.

Additionally be it resolved that any member found promoting violence in pursuit of the goals of this organization, will be subject to immediate discipline, including the termination of his or her membership, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the policies governing termination of memberships."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Different View

I think I have a little different view than some of the other milbloggers about the VA's attempts to make everything right on the Post 9/11 GI Bill. And I think that view just may be connected to the fact that I'm still on active duty, and have within the last few months tried to get dollars back from Uncle Sam that I was owed.

And that is, man, at least the VA seems to be /trying/.

Sure, it is far, far from perfect. And yes, they did owe the veterans those payments already, and it has been a magical clusterfuck to rival all clusterfucks.

But how many times have you had to deal with some brilliant but poorly detailed plan in the Army? Something grandiose got thought up (usually by officers) and it was always a great plan, but the devil was always in the details, because officers always forgot about things like how many people they had available and how much equipment there was and gee golly whiz, soldiers need sleep too.

That's about how I feel about this VA situation. Except it's SUCH a brilliant plan that as long as they can roll with the FRAGOs, I'm thinking it's still good news.

I was a fan of the "Drive to your VARO and get a check" answer, but maybe that's because I'm used to being posted at lonely outstations and having long drives to get anywhere. For example, now, if I want to go see the company area, it's an hour-and-a-half drive. Three hours of driving doesn't seem too much for me. I am carefully avoiding stating how many miles that could entail, lest any police be licking their chops for my over-the-speed-limit ass. Anyway, I recognize it's not for everyone.

And you know what? So does the VA, with remarkable speed. They came up with a kludge, a quick fix, a way to duct tape it together so it will work. That's what they did the first time with the concept of checks at all, and that's what they're doing now.

So now, thanks to the VA (Which I've had to compliment twice in one week, what's with that?) you can now get your emergency checks arranged for online, with a six day turnaround time from the moment you sit down at your computer and make with the clicky clicky to the time the check is in your happy happy hands.

This is really good news and once again yet more evidence that the VA is slowly creaking its way towards the 21st century (and who knows, maybe I can hope for a delivery of automated 9/11 GI Bill processing sooner than Dec 2010?)

Also, fellow milbloggers: if the IVAW chick is more hopeful about government implementation of taking care of veterans than you? You're wrong.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shinseki, I forgive you for the Beret: VA to issue Emergency Checks to Veteran Students

Many of you know I've had a love-hate sort of feeling towards now-VA Secretary Shinseki, dating back almost ten years. For those of you who were in the military around then, you will instantly understand why: Shinseki, for all of his other sterling qualities, gave us the beret. Hot in summer, cold in winter, it had absolutely no redeeming qualities besides doing away with the garrison cap.

However, there's been a lot of faith there, given his courageous stand against Bush on other issues.

That faith has now been justified to such an extent that I think it has more than made up for any petty grievances I might have had over horrible uniform items. (And really, with the ACU so much a better and more convenient target, it was about time)

General Shinseki (Okay, okay, Secretary Shinseki) has ordered the VA to release emergency checks to veteran students who are having rough financial times staying in college with the late Post 9/11 GI Bill payments. This is incredibly amazing, especially given the stories of people like Suspect who have been dropping out of school because of the problems with the GI bill. I am really, really glad that the VA is listening to the veterans it serves, and also applaud the veteran's organizations (not just IVAW but IAVA and VoteVets and AWV and SWAN and the American Legion and the VFW and any I'm forgetting) for staying on top of them and reminding them of the real costs of the delays.

However no amount of voices will avail anything if people aren't listening, and I don't want to take any of the credit away from the VA for actually doing so. First listening to the veteran bloggers and organizations at Thursday's roundtable and now this: I have to say I'm sporting a big warm fuzzy for the VA at the moment.

The VA also understands that not everyone can get to a VARO (VA Regional Office) quickly, which is why they're sending representatives to schools with large veterans populations, so that they can get the help desperately needed where it is needed the most. Veterans, help is on the way. Starting Oct 2. Stick it out until then, and you'll be able to make it. Things are going to be okay.

Now, for how you can actually get this:

Show up Friday, Oct 2, at your nearest VA regional office
a photo ID
a course schedule

Personally, I'd take along a DD214 as well, but that's just me. The only two things the VA are requiring are the above.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

VA Bloggers Round Table On Post 9/11 GI Bill

First, I'd like to say that I really appreciate the efforts of Brandon Friedman, Director of New Media over at the VA, for getting the VA to acknowledge the ways that people receive media, and that so often it is via the internet rather than print newspapers. There was a really excellent Blogger's Roundtable for military veteran bloggers and representatives of veterans service organizations via the phone, Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and VA Deputy Director of Education Services Lynn Nelson taking the time to discuss the delay in GI bill payments with veteran bloggers and answer their questions. I really appreciate this-I think it's much more likely that the information in its unabridged form will make it to veterans than when it hits a newspaper and has to conform to space restrictions. I especially appreciate it as Duckworth was traveling on behalf of the VA and still made time for us and our concerns.

Veteran's benefits is a big piece for me, it's the IVAW mission that I think I do probably the most work on, because it's one of the most important: making sure our returning veterans are taken care of fully. So getting the chance to participate in this and help our members and other veterans and get answers was very important.

I think one of the most valuable things that came out of this was a little more clarification on where the problems are. Secretary Duckworth said that while 277,403 veterans have submitted for eligibility determination, (and that they've processed 205,704 of those) they cannot send checks to those people. They have to wait for the schools to send enrollment certifications, and a lot of the schools are apparently waiting until the ad-drop period to do this. They have received 27,735 enrollment certifications, and of those, they've processed and sent out 24,186.

So this is where (by my math) 71,699 students were as of Thursday. Much as I am quick to blame the VA usually, to be fair, this means the bulk of the problem is quite possibly indeed in the schools and with communication. Using the numbers Secretary Duckworth gave, that's (my math) 249,668 veterans whose schools have not sent enrollment certifications, and (my math) 177,969 veterans who have gone as far as they can in the VA system without the enrollment certification and are now waiting on the schools. Granted, it's hard to tell how many of those are actually trying to go to school this fall. Some may have simply wanted to create eligibility for later. But that is overwhelmingly the largest number of screwed veterans in this situation, and it seems to be coming from bad communication and the schools.

Some possibilities I'm thinking:
schools are, as Duckworth says, not sending until after ad-drop period
schools and students are not aware that they in fact do need to send it for payment to start
schools are not aware where specifically to direct it to

They do seem to be working on this: spring survival guides were mentioned to improve the communication issue and apparently more reaching out to the schools is going on to ask them to cut their veteran students a little slack.

Duckworth also assured us that Shinseki is really aware of this and receiving daily reports.

Terry Howell
, from asked a really important clarification question: whether or not certifying officials at the schools need to wait for that eligibility determination to certify that the veterans were taking classes at their schools. This is really important, and I'm glad he asked that. What Ms. Nelson told our fellow vets is that they do not. So what this means for you, is that as /soon/ as you are in the school system as attending for that term, you can start bugging the bursar/registrar to get them to send the information to the VA, /even/ if you're still waiting for your eligibility letter. This means you can do them simultaneously, and cut down your wait time massively. Some colleges, especially those dealing with Yellow Ribbon Programs, will need the eligibility letter, but if the GI bill covers your whole tuition, do it now. Tomorrow, in fact. If you are enrolled in school and are still waiting, you should go to your school tomorrow and ask what the status of the certification of enrollment is.

The mention again was made: they pay you housing after the fact, rather than before. I think this is a really lousy way to go, personally: rent is due before you start living there, not the month after. I understand that the VA is most likely trying to protect itself from fraudulent claims, but we are talking about veterans who served honorably. Could we not assume as a default that these guys are more likely to be honest, and take it back afterwards if it's found out they didn't deserve it? VA did accept fault, however, on the call, for failing to communicate to students that this would be happening, for which I applaud them.

What I also took from this call is that VA is working around the clock in order to get this done-VA employees working massive overtime on weekends, etc. They may not have anticipated the full demand, but they're doing a lot now.

Also, I know a lot of you guys have been talking about how when you call in, the VA has no clue where your stuff is at. I did ask about this, about what sort of tracking system they have and why everyone is getting such bad information. This is because, according to Secretary Duckworth and Ms. Nelson, the status of your claim is not visible until the authorization has been signed and the payment has gone out. Before then, they are not able to track at all where your claim is at. That is apparently not going to change for a while, but for next year, they'll have improvements-they estimate December of 2010 for a fully automated system that will fix a lot of these problems (as well as potentially have your results in an amazing ten days)

More confirmation for those of you who were a little unsure: they reaffirmed that if you completely use your MGIB, all 36 months, that you're still eligible for 12 months of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

One thing the VA is doing well: they pointed out that if they owe you money, if you're owed back pay by the time the VA processes the claim, you will get it right away, you don't have to wait until the first. The payment will go out the day it's finished being processed.

Richard Smith of VoteVets made a really important point I think that applies for all of us pressing the VA on this. He mentioned some details of his own situation, and they offered him a personal followup. However, he pointed out that it wasn't for himself that he was asking, but for the other veterans. A solution that helped only him would not be a solution in his eyes. We're not out for ourselves. We're out for our brothers.

By the time of this writing, there has in fact been action on the VA, but it is so outstanding that it deserves its own separate post. However, this call in and of itself was pretty amazing, and I applaud it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On My Shit List (edited): Places that don't provide assistance to AE or AP addresses

Right now, top on my shit list is Ebay. They just did a new "improvement" that requires any address entered into their system to choose their state from a pull-down tab. Great, fine, it spares all those idiots who can't be bothered to type two letters into a state field. Great, right? Not so much. Because nowhere under United States is there "AE or AP, Armed Forces European/Armed Forces Pacific" or any variant thereof.
And unlike many places that have the pulldown tab and a manual entry tab, Ebay has been idiotic enough to eliminate the manual entry completely

After spending a lot of time on the phone arguing with the helpdesk person from India that Armed Forces Europe existed as a state, that the US Postal Service would confirm that they cheerfully deliver to it every day as a state with no extra shipping charges, and that they deliver to inside the United States, she finally pointed out that if I wanted to count "APO/FPO" as a separate country, I could make it happen.

What does this mean, aside from the fact that ebay is full of retards? That military people currently serving overseas buying from Ebay are going to start running into problems with idiots who insist that they're buying from outside the country and should be paying international rates, despite the fact that it doesn't cost international rates to ship to APO/FPO.

It's short sighted and stupid. I can tolerate it when small companies just learning the internet ropes make this mistake, but when a major, multi-billion dollar company makes this mistake? It is flat-out offensive.

Anyway, so I decided to start a list. I'm looking for contributions as well, so anyone who finds another company who does not offer support to military members stationed overseas by:
not allowing them something so simple as a manual tab
refusing to ship to APO addresses
does not acknowledge that APO addresses count as part of the United States for shipping purposes

shall be listed here, and hopefully be a little bit shamed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New GI Bill Snags: Really, Is This What We Fought For? (Updated)

Army of Dude has a post up with some answers to those GI Bill questions that aren't answered anywhere on the VA website. Everyone, I warn you before you go there to read, sit down, and make sure there are no small children around, because you're going to want to curse loud and long after you see it.

Most of my issues relate to the housing thing. Why is this a big deal? Well, I'm a single mom who hasn't gotten child support for four years. Not exactly rolling in the bucks. Once I get out and start going to school, whenever that is, I doubt things will be improved by my no longer receiving a steady paycheck. And like AOD notes, the people you rent housing from are notorious about wanting to be paid /before/ you actually live there.

The other item that seems like it's going to be absolute shite is the fact that the VA is going to be coming up with a magical number of days of school you need to be enrolled for in a month before it estimates you as worthy of receiving full housing allowance that month. I'm sorry, VA, maybe you live in Magic McShinyHappyLand where the fact that your budget is going to wildly fluctuate depending on your school schedule is not a problem, but the rest of us don't. Veterans are the group who can least afford to be fucked with this way, and it's going to play merry hell with the scheduling.

Army of Dude's a little more positive about this than I am. Part of this is because AOD is a little bit more positive a person than I am (you hear that, unicorns, migrate over that way now). Part of this may also (I'm not sure) be because AOD wasn't walking the halls of Congress stumping for an improved GI Bill before it was a twinkle in Jim Webb's eye. And he may not have had the experience of having politicians look him in the eye and say, "Don't worry, we're going to take care of you."

Shinseki, where the hell are you on this? Dude, I'm willing to forgive you for the beret. I AM WILLING TO FORGIVE YOU FOR THE BERET. That's major. I have hated the beret for the past eight years with an unholy passion. But I'll forget about it all. Just do your damn job, please. Fix the VA. I promise, I won't ask for anything for Christmas ever again, especially not a pony.

Got some clarifiation from Army of Dude, who's a gentleman and a scholar. He has clarified that the issue of how many days is how many days you are enrolled for that month, not which days you actually attend class. I'm still not thrilled with the way the GI bill is being implemented, but that makes me want to beat it over the head with a blunt sledgehammer a little less. Also, he has been on the GI Bill thing as long as I have, and I am a jerk for assuming otherwise. He put it more nicely, of course. It's that whole gentleman thing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The world still moves

Sometimes it seems as though no major changes happen in the Army, at least not with any sort of swiftness. For example, I've been using the self-service options on Army Knowledge Online (AKO) to check on the status of some paperwork in Washington. Every day, it has the same status: submitted, paperwork open. It's becoming, despite myself, almost comforting in its incompleteness-familiar. Army slow on paperwork-yep, tell another one.

Then sometimes it seems as though they move all too quickly. I have to say that for the last eight months, I've had a pretty decent squad leader. He's hated my politics, but hasn't held them specifically against me or treated me any differently because of them. He's avoided triggering my PTSD whenever possible and has allowed me reasonable accommodation. Normally, I'd be afraid to mention that having him as a leader has made my life easier, because with the harassment I've been under for this blog and my IVAW membership, I'd fear a transfer. However, at this point, it doesn't really matter, because he's already being transferred. It's something he wants, going back to a line unit, so I can't really be too bitter. But at the same time, I'm wondering who the Army is going to put me under. Will it be the squad leader who already has multiple sexual harassment complaints against him? Will they bring in a new squad leader?

Never fear, I'll keep you all posted as soon as I learn more. And I'm going to do my best not to let it spoil my leave.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This Is Where We Stand: Broken Soldier

The latest piece is out from Zeiger and Displaced films, This Is Where We Stand I highly recommend that everyone check out the website itself, because there's a lot of great stuff there, and information about the individuals.

Their latest installment contains some of the testimony about veteran mental health issues that came out of Winter Soldier. It also contains some footage of one of the most gruelling processes of the event-obtaining testimony. As I may have mentioned before, I was a part of the Verification team, the crew of IVAW members who did interviews about testimony and helped to confirm it and get evidence. I can't talk about individual details, but there were so many soldiers who had not expected some of the questions..they had stories, but not ones they were ready to testify about yet. We respected that. But the testimonial experience itself was very difficult, just hearing all of the stories and seeing these guys was painful.

Best to Zollie Goodman.

Broken Soldier from Displaced Films on Vimeo.

I also realized that I completely forgot to promote the last webisode, as well, so here it is. The first stage showed here is a Winter Soldier planning session, far in advance of Winter Soldier, still hammering out all the details.

Why We Fight 7/21 from Displaced Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Warrior Writers Website is Live!

Some of you may have experienced the incredible experience which is Warrior Writers. Veterans and servicemembers, getting together to turn their experiences of war in a positive and healing direction.

Some videos of past Warrior Writer times:

But really, what you should do is go check out the new stuff which is complete and ver impressive, at You won't regret it. Also if you are an IVAW member and are interested in writing or other forms of art, I highly encourage you to get involved with them, they're great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Now that we're in a recession, we can afford to be picky about the terrible NCOs we tolerated for years.."

Today's issue of the Stars and Stripes really made me laugh. Some of us have been complaining for years about the poverty of leadership in senior NCO slots, and about how in time of war, the military seems uninterested in ensuring that those who sit over our troops are actually competent-or as Stars and Stripes puts it, not just 'marginal'.

Well, now that the recession's going on, and people are signing up like crazy because the unemployment rate is up, apparently the Army has decided that it can afford to get rid of senior NCOs with "driving under the influence, sexual harassment charges, drug abuse and alcohol problems".

The Pentagon official in charge of carrying out the program said, "We're trying to target those NCOs who don't understand by looking in the mirror that they are not what the Army needs."

Really? I'm honestly amazed it takes an actual program, but I can't say I'm surprised. After all, I've seen a good chunk of senior leadership not living up to the Army values and/or behaving inappropriately. Usually they don't even get to the level of being 'removed for cause'. Usually, unfortunately, they stay right where they are.

But I have to say, that, amused as I am that just two years after denying that there had been any 'military breakdown' because of the Iraq War the Army is now admitting they have some dirtbags in charge of troops, I fully support this program.

Yes, that's right. You heard me. I fully support a Pentagon program and stand 110% behind it.

In fact, I stand so much behind it that I'm ready, willing and eager to help the Pentagon out. You see, they may not be aware of some of the poor examples of senior leadership they have within the ranks. So I'm going to provide a space for both poor examples I've seen, and also open it up to my fellow soldiers. Have you seen examples of poor leadership? Please, comment on it here!

Now, I encourage everyone to be careful of getting in trouble for disrespect. Cite only specific examples. I.e. /not/ "My first sergeant is an asshole" but rather "First sergeant X sent a suicidal soldier to work in the arms room. I think this may be an example of poor leadership."

I'll start, of course.

I think a first sergeant Hudson I once served under should certainly go on the consideration list for being encouraged to retire. The specific examples of poor leadership I cite include: 1) discouraging soldiers to seek mental health counseling, as a result of which we had an avoidable suicide in the unit 2) Denigrating a soldier under his command who died by saying "He came from the ghetto and returned to the ghetto", 3) Refusing protection or assistance in obtaining protection to a domestic violence survivor, because "if he had meant to kill you he would have done it already".

Anyone else feel like contributing?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And why's our healthcare substandard again?

This week I found myself dealing with one of life's unexpected expenses. Unexpected, because being used to the Army covering all of /my/ healthcare, I never expected to have to pay out the nose for dependent healthcare for something non-cosmetic.

What is it, you ask? Something really simple. Something covered in most company insurances under medical care. Something that seems to be covered by really..everything except Tricare.


See, while other healthcare providers recognize that being able to have accurate vision is kind of important, Tricare figures that eyesight is just a luxury. Have a spouse who can't see well enough to drive? Well, clearly they should have gotten a job with their own health insurance, don't you know? What about a kid that keeps bumping into things? Hazard of the profession. You shouldn't have married someone nearsighted.

I'm putting it wide open here. Can anyone figure out exactly why soldiers need to be the only people out there with ridiculously crappy health insurance for dependents? You can't even /buy/ vision insurance as an add-on. Or, anyone have a tricare horror story they'd care to share? Go for it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We Have Always Been At War With Eastasia

There have been a lot of self-congratulatory puff pieces going on in the newspapers of the past few months about how the Army is becoming so much more tolerant of social networking, and how they're taking it off the blocked list. That the Army wants everyone to tell the Army story, blah blah blah, etc etc etc ad nauseum.

I knew it was BS. My own experience of being treated like an unperson for my thoughtcrime while supposedly fighting for the right for other people to express their ideas freely has taught me that the Army is not tolerant of other people's views. CJ, over at Soldier's Perspective, expressed some doubts, though he's got a lot more faith in the higher ups than I do.

Right now the pieces coming out are Orwellian doublespeak. Just months afterwards, Stars and Stripes reports that...

Defense officials are looking into a military-wide ban on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook because of security concerns..

"Security concerns". What, security concerns that magically materialized in the past three months? Security concerns that managed to evade everyone's notice until somehow they realized that not everyone in the Army was marching in lockstep?

I have to believe instead that, not having the luxury of a Winston Smith to sort through newspapers and throw unflattering articles down the memory hole, the Army politicians (and oh, they do exist) decided to come up with an alternate excuse that wouldn't be questioned, and wouldn't make them look like too big an idiot if they decide to change their mind later.

The part I'll wonder about is, if this ban goes through, does that mean the military will stop using facebook and twitter to recruit? I imagine the military official Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are just as susceptible to hacking as soldier's personal accounts, if not more so. Or are the rules about social networking sites that they're safe enough to use to sucker people, but not for actual soldiers?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Opposite Day Has Begun-Right Wingers Now Defending Refusal To Deploy

Man, this story has me cracking up but good. I'll probably be laughing all weekend.

For those on the sidelines, for a long time, a large part of the conservative sector has been loudly and vociferously protesting anyone who didn't want to deploy because they thought the war was wrong. From conscientious objectors to people who believed we should never have been there in the first place, there was pretty clear rhetoric: if you don't want to deploy, you're a traitor who's bringing the Army down. Any attempt to portray these evil, evil people as heroes was loudly decried as crazy talk.

Enter Major Stefan Cook. Major Cook says he refuses to deploy because his orders to war are illegal. He, however, doesn't challenge the legality of the entire war, just President Obama's piece. If he can't see President Obama's birth certificate, he won't deploy.

You would expect, if the right wing were internally consistent, to see condemnation on all sides. After all, this guy is depriving his fellow soldiers of a body/his experience!! He must just be a coward! Maybe a traitor! He is after all trying to get military folks all over to do the same!

To give the man his due, my frenemy(now legal in the OED, booyah) TSO, has attempted to be internally consistent and has condemned the man, and his crazy lawyer.

Let's have a look at what the right-wingers had to say, shall we? Normally I might not clip comments, but given that IVAW facebook conversations have become fair blogfodder, here goes:

Hmm. Deja vu, anyone?

And once again, this is different from the soldiers that refused to deploy took court martials so that they could put the war on

Even funnier are the guys calling TSO a godless communist bastard for daring not to be uberimpressed by Major Cook's refusal to deploy. You know, the same ones that called Victor & co godless communist bastards for refusing to deploy...I wonder, is it just that they don't have any other insults?

Either way, I am sitting back with a can of pop and watching this hilarity unfold.

Now what I do think is kind of screwed up is that for this Major, rather than punish him, they simply canceled his deployment orders. So the way it seems to go is...if you're an enlisted soldier who refuses to deploy, you go to jail. If you're an officer, you must be taking a principled stand and so you shouldn't have to go.

Oy. However, this? STILL FUNNY.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

For Those Who Would Judge Me

Those who have been following Iraq Veterans Against the War for a while are probably well aware of Displaced Films-the incredibly awesome documentarians who are producing the official Winter Soldier documentary, showing not only testimony, but what happened to get the testimony there-the story-behind-the-story, if you will.

What some of you may not know is that with the sudden recession, the production of the movie was slowed somewhat. Displaced Films needs to raise the capital to put this out in a serious way, so if you're a potential donor, you should definitely head over and help out. But if you're not familiar, you might be curious as to what it's all about, and why exactly you should support this enterprise.

I could tell you that David Zeiger, producer of Sir, No Sir, is the mastermind behind this enterprise, but that won't help you nearly as much as taking a look.

The following is the first webisode of many this summer designed to promote the feature length film.
Watch-and learn what Winter Soldier was all about.

For Those Who Would Judge Me from Displaced Films on Vimeo.

Edited to add: Thanks to Jonn Lilyea of TAH for helping to correct my embed code so the video would properly display. I know he probably hates the content, so it's even more awesome of him to help out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Potemkin Villages and the Army: or, How The Army Mimics Soviet Russia

Back in the late 1700s, Empress Catherine of Russia toured the Crimea, her new conquest, with a large slew of ambassadors, etc. To impress her and them with how valuable and well developed it was, her military advisor, Grigory Potyomkin, created fake villages along the way-with fires erected in towns no better than stage sets in the distance, to make them look more real.

This plan was adopted by the USSR, when it came to power-visitors, especially from America, who were communist- or socialist- leaning were often shown to specific villages, towns, factories, etc, and told they were typical of their kind in the Soviet Union. In reality, they had been fictitiously constructed or exaggerated to appear the model of happiness and ease, to try to convince the visitors that the system worked.

How is this like the US Army, you ask? Well, yesterday my unit got a visit from the Sergeant Major of the Army, SMA Preston, as well as the Sergeant Major of USAREUR, CSM Beam. They came, ostensibly to view the unit and see how the wounded warriors were doing. I think it's very likely that our unit, and the soldiers who were present, were presented as typical of a WTU, and typical of the soldiers who are there.

The reality, of course, is very different. Our unit has the most luxurious and fully sponsored barracks. The rooms which look so beautiful, far from being available to all soldiers of the kind, are fairly unique. In addition, the mere suggestion of such a visit stops the functioning of a unit-the kitchen was locked up so that no one could use it and potentially make a mess, the laundry room was carefully tidied and soldiers were instructed not to wash clothes-barely to breathe. And the soldiers, of course, were prettied up too. Political dissidents such as myself were hidden away and instructed not to talk to the sergeant majors. A soldier with a soft-shoe profile from injury was instructed to put on boots, as the sergeant majors wouldn't want to see any tennis shoes. A soldier who chose the option not to wear his combat patch as he didn't believe in it anymore was kept away as well-not even an IVAW member, just a regular joe who happened to be frustrated.

The soldiers, far from being typical of our unit, were very carefully chosen. Those who might have issues with how things were being run were also told to stay away-as was a female Military Sexual Trauma victim who had expressed that she felt discriminated against and harassed within the unit.

We were a Potemkin village. A village of happy soldiers who still believe in Army Justice. A village of happy soldiers who still think that our leadership cares about the soldier instead of their own promotions. A village primarily made up of those who might not show leadership that people who are different exist.

I will only say that when people get that out of touch with realities of what they are leading, major problems arise. Our military leadership are the new kings, isolated from the common people and unable to appreciate their views or ideas. Isolated, too, from the democracy and ideals we are all sworn to protect-long-time followers will recognize CSM Beam as one of the individuals who expressed so much interest in my political thought.

It does not serve anyone well-either the Army, the soldiers, higher leadership, or the American public.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Experiment, and other updates.

Well, the experiment of tracking how much I mentioned my significant other in conversations with other military members is over. The numbers may seem high, but this is primarily because I counted each use of the word or the male pronoun in the conversation. For example, if I said something like, "I really need to talk to X before I respond to this..he's much more practical than I am, and he might have some really good ideas", instead of counting that as 1 instance of talking about it, I would count it as 3-one use of the name and two uses of the male pronoun when talking about someone I'm involved with. "Men, can't live with them, can't live without them" would count as one mention of my heterosexual orientation.

The results are: 1 two hour conversation during which I did not keep track, and 94 incidental mentions over a five day period.

None of these were sexual. At no time did I mention any sort of sexual thoughts about the individual-and I suspect our quiet gay servicemembers wouldn't either, if they were allowed to speak. It was simply the running thoughts that happened to go through my head-the privilege, as you will, that I have had of being able to speak about my relationship and my orientation. The privilege that currently serving gay servicemembers do not have.

In other news, I've been informed that it's entirely possible that my planned and deeply necessary leave may be interfered with or denied because the command which is trying to punish me for my political views may want to hastily speed my actions forward, and not want to see me go anywhere during the process, despite the fact that the regulation allows for it, and despite the fact that this thing has been hovering for about four months. However, don't worry, guys..I am aware that I have lots of legal recourse if they do try anything (having a military lawyer helps out immensely), and I've already informed my first sergeant that I plan to fight this one out to the bitter end. It's so messed up it's almost funny-I'm in many ways being treated more harshly for being a prominent member of the IVAW and for having political opinions different than the majority than other soldiers have been for actual criminal offenses. Soldiers beating their wives, soldiers drinking and driving, soldiers committing assaults on other soldiers...all of these things pale next to the deadly crime of daring to have your own thoughts.

It's also kind of funny in a sad way. They want to say that I don't listen to Army things, but let's take a look at the rules these officers themselves are sworn to uphold...such as, say, the officers creed.

To this end... I will exercise the authority intrusted to me by the President and the Congress with fairness, justice, patience, and restraint, respecting the dignity and human rights of others and devoting myself to the welfare of those placed under my command.

Anyone who thinks that my dignity and human rights have been respected by this process, please raise your hand. I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

In all my actions I will put loyalty to the highest moral principles and the United States of America above loyalty to organizations, persons, and my personal interest.

In all of their actions they will put loyalty to the highest moral principles and the good US of A above personal loyalties. That would be great, wouldn't it? Because loyalty to the US of A transcends mere politics. It certainly transcends political criticism-rights that were provided for in the Constitution we swore to defend and also in the documents of the founding fathers.

These officers, if they allow my political opinions to influence their actions, will be deying their oath and acting only according to their own personal dictates.

I, in all of my actions, have acted to uphold my oath both as an NCO and to the Constitution. The Constitution created by men who believed that dissent was not only acceptable but crucial to a functioning democracy.

I wonder, if these officers do what they threaten, if they'll be able to do the same?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In Honor of LGBT Month...

Some of you may already know that President Obama, earlier this month, declared June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, in honor of the Stonewall riots.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

I wonder if we're going to be starting with the military? I also would like to point out that I haven't seen any LGBT celebrations this month. Usually the military celebrates whatever month it is with some kind of party and speakers. I suspect June is going to be rather low-key.

President Obama mentions in his proclamation his support for ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security.

Now, I have long been a supporter of ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I grew up in NYC, and never really thought much about someone's sexuality. But I've been, to be honest, a fairly passive supporter.

A good friend of mine and fellow IVAW member, Jen Hogg, brought to me a point I hadn't considered: that the way I felt being politically repressed is much the way many gay people serving in the military feel about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I thought about it, and realized that she was somewhat right-sometimes I feel absolutely bursting to talk about my political opinion. But after a little more reflection, I realized she just wasn't right enough. I'm pretty sure I talk about the guy I'm romantically involved with, at least in passing, more than I talk about my political opinion.

So, in honor of LGBT month, I'm going to do an experiment for the week. I'm going to carry around a little notepad, and every time I mention one of the following to a military person or civilian contractor working for the military, I'm going to make a tickmark.
1) The fact that I like men and find them attractive.
2) The name of the guy I'm involved with.
3) Any shared commiserations about men

I'm going to keep a separate notepad for all the times I either talk about my politics concerning Iraq, or am tempted to do so but choose not to.

I strongly suspect that at the end of the week, the first notepad will wind up being larger, but we'll see.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What's With The Double Standards?

Though the story has not yet gone public, this isn't a good time for milblogger's freedom of speech. I myself am facing potential charges for having a different political opinion than some of my leadership believes I should, and another milblogger who shall remain nameless is as well. Certain prominent milblogs, especially ones from Iraq and Afghanistan, have been removed-Pink's War, Big Tobacco, and LT G among them. Too much honesty, too much humor, too much reality. Too much free thinking.

In something straight out of Joseph Heller, however, at the same time that some are getting in trouble for voicing opinions, the Army has apparently decided that it wants to hear Soldier's stories on social networking sites. As the article says..

The commander said the unblocking of some social networking sites was in keeping with direction from Army senior leaders to have Soldiers tell the Army story.

"This order first and foremost is about establishing web-filtering standards. However, it was crafted deliberately to meet the intent of Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are encouraging Soldiers to tell their stories and maintain contact with the American people. Leveraging social media is an effective way to tell the Army story."

Hey, you know what's another effective way to tell the Army story?


I'm just saying. FYI. This buck sergeant's view.

In other news, I got my promotion counseling today, on why I'm not going to make staff. One part of it's fair-my PTSD has gotten out of control a couple times over the lat few months, and I do need to work on that. The other part of it, though, really ticks me off. Because I'm flagged.

Why am I flagged? Well, given that it happened the day after I accepted the IVAW appointment to the Board of Directors, some people might be excused for thinking the two are linked. Supposedly, some sort of investigation was opened. However, I can't tell you for sure why I'm flagged. Why's that? Because I haven't gotten a single piece of paper telling me about it. How did I find out? By taking a peek at my ERB. Yay, Army.

There's also some dispute about whether or not you can take leave while flagged, which tells me that no one's read AR 600-8-2 in a while. The answer for those of you following at home, is that you're not allowed to take ADVANCE or EXCESS leave, but you are allowed to take REGULAR leave, because regular leave is not a "favorable personnel action", it's something you earn.

If you can't tell, I'm a bit frustrated with the situation right now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How "Rick Duncan" could happen, and how we'll stop it from happening again.

Please consider this post as a stopgap. It will be periodically updated as much as I can, though I do have some really important things to do Army-side this weekend so will be mostly incommunicado. Comment moderation is going to be turned off so that you can all talk to each other at will-please don't make me regret it by posting pictures of my family or anything like that.

First: the story.

"Rick Duncan" is the alias of Richard Strandlof, a con artist who had a record of defrauding groups and organizations for money. He apparently defrauded business owners in Nevada out of $25,000, and as con artists don't just pop out of nowhere, it's likely that he's defrauded others as well.

"Rick Duncan" was known as an IVAW member. I met him once briefly-I don't recall any substantive conversation, but the Colorado Veterans Alliance rang a bell and I went through a lot of business cards I had around from my IVAW work, and there was his. I cerainly believed at the time that he was an IVAW member. Was he actually an IVAW member? That's a question that's a little harder to answer. Upon discovering his fraud, I called the National Office. There was no record of him on our rolls or in our paper files. However, he apparently had a member account on the website, and he was well known as an IVAW member to many. While he had no leadership role in the organization, he was apparently involved with projects. It raises the question of: what makes a member? We don't have cards. We have membership rolls and T-shirts, and the latter are freely available for purchase. I know that I don't ask members I meet at events to show me their DD214s.

How could this happen? Well, I'll freely admit that in many ways it was our fault, and the fact that VoteVets, Colorado Veterans Alliance, and multiple Congressmen were also taken in doesn't make it any better. It appears that "Rick Duncan" had adopted one of the critical rules of a con artist: if you appear to be legitimate, and act like you belong, others won't question it. He created a veterans organization, and then used his status as the head of that veterans organization to gain access to other veterans' group events. I honestly don't know what the guys in Colorado thought about him, and that's not my story to tell-but I can understand that if the man walked in with a record of being involved with veterans and an IVAW T-shirt on, he would not have been questioned.

I'll be honest-our national office has not always been a model of efficiency, especially when it comes to paperwork. We also did not have the amount of staffers perhaps necessary to handle the influx of members last year. With so many new member applications coming through, new member processing was slow. Member packets were slow on being sent out. My speculation is that "Duncan" used his skills at a con to exploit that weakness-building on frustration with national office paperwork issues, he may well have complained that they had 'lost' his paperwork. He may have approached this at a sidways angle-using a respected IVAW organizer in Colorado to call the national office and get his access to the website. Is it right? No. Is it understandable? Unfortunately, I can understand why human error happens. That doesn't mean we don't need to work at closing that issue.

Some have charged, mainly in the milblogosphere, that we should have known that "Duncan" was a liar because of his claims. It's something that's really easy to say after the fact, but I'll examine them.
Some claim that we should have known he was a fraud because he claimed to have a finger shot off, yet has ten fingers. Well, that might have been a good indicator in the Korean War, but at least as recently as the early eighties, we had the technology to reattach fingers. How do I know this? Because that's when my own mother lost her finger and subsequently had it reattached. She was trying to fix up a rundown house, my parents were trying to give me a life outside the city. She let a saw run over her finger, and her and my father had to put it on ice and drive like maniacs to the hospital. It's one reason why my family after that moved to the city and never looked back-because they didn't want to have to wonder if there would be enough time to get to a hospital again. My mother can proudly wiggle all ten fingers today, almost thirty years later, though apparently that finger feels cold more. And she didn't even have the benefit of awesome military medical facilities.

Openly gay commander? Well, that's a really hard one to say. I don't want to name names or get hit by random people for potential slander, but I will say that at a certain time in my army career, we believed our commander was gay. There was major circumstantial evidence, and at least one individual confessed to being their partner in front of individuals from my unit. We thought that commander was an idiot, but it had nothing to do with the gay thing, but more to do with pure incompetence. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that "everyone could know" someone was gay, and like them anyway. One of my platoon sergeants didn't tell people he was gay, but he had a rainbow bumper sticker, a rainbow ring, and he had his farewell at a gay club. Nobody really cared.

A lot of people, both members and nonmembers, are asking why IVAW hasn't come out with a statement yet. The reasons for this are twofold. One is that Alex Bacon, the person who would need to authorize such a thing, is currently involved in a personal situation. I am not going to talk about this situation, as it is his private life. However, I would ask those of you who have stated that you do trust and respect me to accept that I am giving you my word of honor that I know the situation, and am staking my own honor on the fact that he has a legitimate personal circumstance. The second is that we're trying to ascertain all the facts before putting out a formal statement. In my own post, it's clear that I don't have some answers. IVAW's statement should have a full explanation of exactly how this happened, not speculation. And I personally believe it should also have a good explanation of how we'll stop it in future.

Some idea I personally have-and I encourage others and IVAW members to weigh in:
1) Produce memership cards that could be shown to other members, membership cards to be produced only by the national office, and numbers on membership cards being referenced whenever a request goes to the national office. (For example: I wouldn't say "It's Selena, I need this." I would say, "It's Selena, Member # 13538, I need this.")
2) Require proof of service at the chapter level as well, to provide a double failsafe.
3) Adopt a bylaw change that allows any member to challenge any other member's membership, much like the VFW has. Membership could be verifiable by the national records stuff, active duty members to be verified by other active duty members through tools like AKO, etc.

I'm curious as to other ideas folks have. Again, this post is rough and unpolished and will be edited as new information comes in or as I have more time to spend. I just felt it was important to get it up ASAP.

I also welcome all IVAW members to call me about this-my phone number is available in the members area of the website. Everyone else is welcome to email me personally at

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Yes, I know, I haven't been posting for a while. There's been a LOT going on. No, I haven't yet finished my formal complaint letter for the Board, no, I am not planning on commenting on Ehren Watada's dismissal. This is going to be a pure ramble post.

In the positive news: it's finally been a full year since my memorial tattoo, so I'm back in blood-donation land. I gave blood the other week down at Landstuhl, and other than making the poor woman trying to figure out my medications nearly cry, it went off without a hitch. For the curious: apparently there's a lot of meds that don't interfere with blood donation, so you all have no excuse. Especially if you're in Germany-the blood goes straight to soldiers, and it's kind of needed-blood in Europe apparently doesn't meet FDA standards so we are the source for our brothers. Seriously, they're even faster at it than ever before. It's twenty minutes out of your day and free cookies. I know you soldiers like free stuff.

On the negative: no, my finances are STILL not fixed. Again, it doesn't seem to be the local unit's fault-they're doing all they can as far as I can see from here. Garrison, however, just may be where paperwork goes to die. I'm really hoping things go smoothly, but I'm kind of antsy-for those of you who have been following for a while, you know how important this is to me.

We had a change of command ceremony this week. Yeah, I know. Everybody's favorite, right? Well, this one wasn't too bad-it wasn't too complicated, so only required one half-day of practice, and mercifully everyone had short speeches. The only thing that killed me was the inclusion of the Serenity prayer. I have to say, in all seriousness, I hate the Serenity prayer. Isn't that the point of us as soldiers? The fact that we are going to do our best to change the things that need changing and do the things that need doing, whether or not they're labeled impossible? As long as you don't tell us we can't do something, there's a good chance we'll get it done? Forget that "wisdom to know the difference" stuff. You figh the fights that need to be fought. End, period. Whether or not you think you can win them. Silence is assent, and silence is cowardice.

I appreciate all the good wishes and sympathy that have been flowing this way, truly I do. You people are tops in my book. Champs, even. I owe you all beers.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

IVAW's Whistleblower Policy

For those curious as to what policy has been violated by my removal from the BoD:

The Whistleblower act states:

This Whistleblower Policy (the “Policy”) reflects the practices and principles of behavior that support this commitment. It is important that IVAW be apprised about unlawful or improper workplace behavior including, but not limited to, any of the following conduct:

violations of IVAW’s Conflict of Interest Policy;

A Whistleblower shall not be subject to retaliation. No punishment for reporting Concerns will be allowed, even if the claims are unsubstantiated; a reasonable belief or suspicion that unlawful or improper workplace behavior has occurred is enough to create a protected status for the Whistleblower.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

For IVAW Members:

IVAW members wishing to follow the latest controversy regarding the Board and the current situation should look on the member forum at , where two posts in the Open Forum give much more detail.

Thank you, and I appreciate all of your support in this trying time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

At the Will of the Board of Directors

I hereby retract the previous post that I removed as directed.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

With all due credit to Adam Kokesh.

When I was ordered by the Board of Directors to remove my previous blogpost and publicly and officially apologize to Jose Vasquez, Aaron Glantz, Haymarket Books, and Camilo Mejia, I wasn't quite sure what to do.

Then I remembered: I had a precedent to follow! A leader of IVAW was once in this situation. Just as he has taken the model of Jabbar Magruder's principled status as a disciplinarian to his heart, so too do I take his model example of how a Director should apologize.

Dear Jose Vasquez, Aaron Glantz, Haymarket Books, and Camilo Mejia

I apologize for publicly criticizing your behavior and offending you while representing the IVAW Board. It was sloppy messaging, and I have learned my lesson; fortunately the Board of Directors has made it clear that it was not an official IVAW statement. I remain forever committed to the organization of IVAW, its ideals, and my fellow members, brothers and sisters in the struggle.

On a lighter note, I have decided to get an IVAW tattoo on my left upper arm to mirror the Gate of Ishtar tattoo on the right. (See attached photo below.)

It reads:
and back again

I have an idea for what the IVAW tattoo would say that would be an expression of the philosophical ideals of IVAW, but I am open to suggestions. It should be approximately the same number of words or letters per line, and ideally in the same tempo. If anyone comes up with something better than what I have, I'll use it and put your name underneath. Just kidding. But you will at least get credit for it on my blog ( and my eternal gratitude.

I hope to continue to move IVAW forward in an organized and unified manner, and look forward to crafting policy that protects the rights of members and maintains the maneuverability of chapters necessary to achieve our objectives.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Resignation as Secretary of the Board of Directors [Edited]

Removed by order of a majority of the Board of Directors of IVAW.

The Star Chamber Lives!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Newsflash: If You Support Anti-Iraq War Organizing, that means me, too

A while ago, almost a year ago, I wrote a post about how supporting the troops meant me too. How supporting the troops included supporting those of them that opposed the war. It was a really serious piece, and I really meant it.

I got an email in my inbox today that made me think I needed to write one for the peace movement as well. In response to my comment that I didn't believe in class war, and talking about how I didn't believe soldiers were interested in it either, I received:

What you have before you, Selena, is a typical GI Resistance publication, Vietnam-era style. Many such publications were the work of civilians who were working alongside GIs, which is the case of GI Special. Tom Barton works with members of VFP, IVAW, VVAW, etc and they reprint articles from papers like the Army Times, and from web sites such as our very own.

Your opinion of this publication is a reflection of just how out of touch you are with the organization you're in. Have you ever checked out Vets For Freedom? They loooove the constitution, they're flag waving patriots, and they want troops to reenlist. I bet they would have a similar opinion to yours about GI Special.

I'm not going to waste too much on this, Selena, but I really think you should explore other organizations that would better meet your desire to be a hard core patriot. IVAW is really not that place.

Yours truly,


If you believe in supporting IVAW, in supporting the soldiers of conscience, those who want to organize against the war, then you need to support me, too.

I love America. I love my brothers-in-arms, even if it is in a dysfunctional way. I love the Constitution, and the founding fathers. I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Alexander Hamilton. I believe in a system of democracy. I believe in our freedoms. I may think some things in our country aren't working perfectly, but I do not believe in changing them with any particular 'ism' of the moment. If you have an agenda? I'm against it. If you are attempting to use what I believe in for your own purposes? Feel free to consider me your implacable enemy. I am not your soldier. I swore an oath, and I meant it.

Some of those in the peace movement like to call me names because of these beliefs. They like to call me "jingoistic" or "nationalist". A "reformist apologetic". One prominent activist tells me that because I don't believe in "class war" I need to get out of "their" movement.

Well, here's a newsflash for anyone who may not have been paying attention at home. I don't believe in socialism, and never will. What I feel about it is best summed up in the following quote:

"I am opposed to Socialism because of its inhumanity; because it saps the vitality of the human race which has no vitality to spare; because it lulls to indolence those who must struggle to survive; because the theories of good men who are enthralled by its delusions are made the excuse of the wicked who would rather plunder than work; because it stops enterprise, promotes laziness, exalts inefficiency, inspires hatred, checks production, assures waste and instills into the souls of the unfortunate and the weak hopes impossible of fruition whose inevitable blasting will add to the bitterness of their lot." -Edward Adams

You'd better get used to that, folks. If you want to organize with me? Be aware. I will not support your hidden agendas. Your hidden agendas are poison to me. Have the courage of your own convictions, and keep to your own organization for it.

And if what I say here means that you won't organize with me against the war? If what I say here means that you're going to actually waste everyone's time by organizing against me instead? By putting me on some hidden blacklist because I have a little too much patriotism for you to be comfortable with?

Then I'm sorry for you, but you need to recognize you're just as much of a hypocrite as the people you claim to be organizing against.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Domestic Violence And Rape: Legal Now In Afghanistan?

I will warn to anyone reading this post that I'm currently operating in a white-hot frothing rage. I will also point out for new readers that as a domestic violence survivor and personal assault survivor, my biases are probably almost definitely in play.

That careful diplomatic statement said, allow me to say,

What happened to that whole "We're protecting women's rights in Afghanistan" thing?

The Guardian has the story: "Worse than the Taliban? New Law Rolls Back Rights for Afghan Women"

Marital rape legalized, unless you have a "good excuse, like being sick or something"?
You want to hear a good 'excuse'? It's called "I don't want to have sex with you". That's all the 'excuse' anyone should need. It's called consent. Marrying someone doesn't give it up. Nothing can give it up. That's the biggest violation I can possibly imagine. And yes, I have a personal stake in this, because that's what my command said to me the first time I went to them for help [Editor's note: not my current command], that you can't get abused like that by your husband.

This entire law is nothing but a careful veneer of civility on domestic violence. Like just because you marry someone ,they have a right to abuse you. They have a right to beat you. They have a right to take your money away. They have a right to force you not to leave the house. To /ask permission before you see the fucking doctor/, for god's sake. They have a right to rape you. If you didn't want it, you shouldn't have gotten married. Oh, and those kids? You can't get custody of them. Have fun waving goodbye to any human rights they'll have as you realize there is no escape.

And this is the Afghan government we support? The one we say is going to be the savior of human rights and women's rights? What the fuck have we accomplished? I understand not intervening in other governments and interrupting sovereignity, but this is OUR PUPPET GOVERNMENT! I mean, I don't support sock puppet governments, but if we're going to have one, if we're going to prop up Karzai on his tottering political legs, can we at least get some use out of his yes-man status to avoid crap like this? This is so vile, so utterly vile, I can't even comment on it civilly at the moment. Maybe later I'll work up something reasonable and rational for Military Pundits, I'm not going to rant quite this much at 1SG Grisham's "house". But can anyone view this without anger? Seriously?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Only one race-the human race.

One of the things that I love about standing up and talking about what you believe in when you're not actually a politician is that you don't have to stick to outdated and outmoded concepts of what serious conversation needs to be.

Those of you who have been following for a while may remember the first letter I had published in the Army Times about the war. It spoke to the dehumanization of the enemy, another subject that was spoken to so eloquently at Winter Soldier. That it doesn't matter what culture people come from, or whether they're brown or white or purple with polka dots-they are still people, and they deserve to be treated like human beings. It's one of the strongest things I find offensive about the "liberation" idealogy that some have-it's the White Man's Burden all over again. That the poor, ignorant natives were just waiting for us to come along, with our culture, and since it's better for us, it must be better for them. Now don't get me wrong-I love the ideal of America. That's a little bit different than loving American culture, but hey, we'll go with it. But even that doesn't mean that automatically the Middle East needs to be like us in order to have human rights. It doesn't mean that it's our job to tell others what human rights are.

For some of you, I may be about to lose my serious take on the subject with the following clip-I realize I'm exposing my geekiness for all to see. But some of you out there may be aware that there was a television series called Battlestar Galactica, and it dealt with a lot of very real issues about war, and human rights, and survival, and what justified torture. This show was so meaningful that it, and the actors from it, was invited to the United Nations to have a panel there. And there Edward James Olmos, who plays the Admiral on Battlestar Galactica, had an intense and very real and inspiring speech that I think sums up how I feel about race, and how we think about it.

So say we all, Eddie. So say we all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sex Signals-The Army CAN train without powerpoint!

Anyone who's known me a long time has probably heard me complain about the Army's method of preventing sexual harassment and especially sexual assault. Usually, it's some dusty old powerpoint slides that points out for the ten thousandth time that assault is illegal and against Army Values. And everyone nods and smiles and then gets out of there and bitches for a solid half hour that it was a waste of an hour of their lives, and that they would never assault anyone, blah blah blah blah.

And every year, more and more assaults keep happening.

Some people feel I'm pretty hard on the Army-that I only point out the negatives these days, and not the positives. Sadly, that's because there aren't too many positives to report anymore. Like the joke that was presented goes, "How is the Army like a condom? They both give you a false sense of security while you're getting fucked."

But yesterday, the Army surprised me. I attended the new training "Sex Signals" with some other soldiers from my unit, and was absolutely blown away. Someone, somewhere, in the Army, gets it. These trainings have been ordered for all over. And not only are they not powerpoint, not only is it funny and awesome and so entertaining I didn't even realize it had taken two hours until I got out and looked at the clock, but it was actually useful.

Because they're starting to take on the hard questions, like, what assault really is, and what it really looks like in the Army? And that it's not just about whether the woman fought back or not, it's whether she actually consented to the sex. They made a brilliant point that I've been arguing for a while: if the culture is contributing to the problem, we need to change the culture.

It doesn't matter if someone says stop quietly or loudly or if they're laughing while they say it. It doesn't matter if they started things and then changed their mind, or they were naked. What matters is whether or not they said yes.

And let me put it out there from the woman's perspective: yes, it is incredibly, incredibly sexy if the guy you're having sex with for the first time checks to make sure that is where you want to be going. Checks to make sure that you are wanting what they're doing. I've been asked that a couple times, and each time, the guy involved has gotten about ten thousand awesome points.

So again. I give kudos to the Army for getting this training out there. I'm sure it's expensive. It has got to be expensive to have live training by actual actors as opposed to powerpoint slides that can be shown by anyone. But I think this training actually got people thinking, and may have actually made a difference. I know that if it's kept up for a while, it definitely will. And that makes me pretty damn happy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

At long last....

Well, folks, I've tried to be the last holdout in this milblog world, the one person who let anyone say whatever the hell they wanted to.

I have now moved to comment moderation. Some ofyou may believe that I'm trying to censor people's thoughts that are pro-war. I cheerfully invite Lilyea, TSO, CJ, Blackfive, and any other person who hates IVAW to talk here all they want to show it.

However, someone has decided to post my mother's full name, home address, and phone number, apparently in response to my calling out Steve Slauson, the post commander of the VFW post that has been harassing me. I'm not sure how posting a mailbox is the same thing as posting the physical address of a cancer survivor who has absolutely nothing to do with this, but that's just me. I didn't post his place of work-and I do know it.

The other thing that's pretty awesome is that there are a lot of people with my last name in New York. The only way for someone to know who exactly is my mother is to look at, say, my military records. Or my SGLI. Or any paperwork I've done concerning my mother.

Anyway. So comment moderation is now up. I'll still allow all the anonymous jerks, I promise. They'll just have to leave personal/identifying information off in the future.

What would be nice is seeing as much rallying in the milblog community over the hassle I'm getting as over the stuff the conservative bloggers get..but I know better than to expect that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

VFW: Want to talk about disloyalty?

Well, we've found out why apparently CSM Beam got involved. Why? Because my own post commander, of the VFW, felt that it was more necessary to spend time hassling me than to take care of his own people.

From AKO...

4 Mar 2009 08:50 GMT
I am glad they are making mistakes.
I spent about 40 hours researching Coppa & her group.
I have found at least 5 things she can be charged with.
I turned over a packet almost 1 inch thick to the garrison command, Her old 1SGT, a Special Agent from M.I. here in Wiesbaden. I reported it to the USAEUR CSM Beam, A friend that works C.I. for the FBI, CSM Paul U.S. Army Intelligence & Security Command Ft Belvoir, VA & Home land security.

The traitors in the IVAW disgust me.

Steve Slauson
Commander VFW Post 27
Wiesbaden, Germany

Hey dude! News flash. I've been pretty busy dealing with my shit, too busy to attend VFW meetings. However, I will now make it a point to attend the next one. In an IVAW T-shirt- I wouldn't want you to think that I didn't care. Also, thanks for spending 40 hours of your time investigating me. I'm sure that's not 40 hours that could have been spent actually taking care of soldiers. Contrary to your opinion, there are a LOT of IVAW members who are also VFW members. I'm sorry if that makes you sad, but it's true. Also, your commentary about how "I will never be one [VFW member] for the rest of my life" is pretty interesting. I think National VFW would be pretty interested to hear how you are attempting to speak for their membership requirements, none of which include having pro-war views.

By the way, if anyone wants to talk to Mr. Slouson about his views, here is his contact information. As he is not in the Army, no OPSEC is violated by posting this.


His phone number, as publicly available from the VFW Post 27 Website:

The New Army: No Guidance, Even When Requested.

For those who enjoy keeping up with the trials and tribulations of my constant struggle to be a productive IVAW member and also a good soldier, I thought I'd pass this on.

Every now and again, the subject of my IVAW membership has come up with leadership. Generally, when this has come up, I've asked said leadership if they have any specific problems, questions, or concerns, and provided material when requested. I don't have anything to hide-I'm probably currently the most public active duty IVAW member short of Casey Porter. They in turn have come up with their own questions, thoughts, commentary, concerns, and orders. For example, when I took part at the DNC/RNC this past year, I was under orders from my SFC NCOIC/PSG "not to get myself arrested for hugging some trees or something." Even interpreted as a more blanket order not to get arrested while on leave, it was still specific guidance as to how I could balance my responsibilities.

I have currently, to date, asked my squad leader, platoon sergeant, first sergeant, sergeant major, and commander for guidance. My squad leader, probably the most reasonable individual in my leadership, has health and safety concerns. I'm not supposed to go anywhere where someone who's been making threats against me might be looking to hurt me. This is completely reasonable, and I have no issues with it. My platoon sergeant has offered broad generalities, no orders, no real guidance, but has simply said that if I stop talking on my blog, I might get less threats. My first sergeant has said that he has no real concerns, I'm entitled to my beliefs, but the commander has some concerns over regulations. The sergeant major has said my life would be much easier if I leave the policies to the lawmakers and just do what I'm told without thinking about the big picture.

My commander, when asked for specific guidance, says that he doesn't think it would be appropriate to tell me what his concerns are. He says that he has some, and may press for punishment on them, but he won't tell me what they are. He will not tell me what he thinks is wrong for me to do so that I can avoid doing it again, and refuses to tell me what he would like from me.

Which is just great-apparently, counseling is OK and useful for all soldiers...except ones that apparently tick off major and influential figures. Or is it that these individuals are simply too into CYA to risk putting their thoughts and opinions about my actions in writing?

Is the Army Breaking Its Wounded Warriors?

A lot has been said by the Army in regards to WTUs, or Warrior Transition Units. These units are said to be the Army's new and more compassionate answer to its wounded warriors, where soldiers can get better medical treatment, and are enabled and encouraged to make all medical appointments.

What's left implied and unsaid is how often regular units do not let soldiers make their medical appointments, encouraging wounded soldiers to simply "suck it up and drive on". If the Army overall treated its wounded soldiers well, there would be almost no need for WTUs. But perhaps we shouldn't strive for the moon-we shouldn't ask that every Army unit treat their wounded soldiers with the standard of care they are entitled to. Instead, we will examine the WTU system.

The Warrior Transition Units at Fort Bragg are under investigation for punishing these wounded soldiers too often and too unfairly. But are they the only ones? First, let's take a look at what these soldiers had to say about care at Bragg.

SSG Jason Jonas, diagnosed with a sleeping disorder who has been demoted due to oversleeping formation: "In my 10 years of service I have often seen soldiers mistreated, abused or left hanging, but never have I seen an entire unit collectively mentally and physically break down its members"

Retired Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker."It creates a hostile environment where soldiers buckle and take a low-balled disability rating and benefits just to get out when they can"

Sgt. Sheree Snow, evac'd with tumours, a hysterectomy, and sleeping issues, and who was also articled for missing morning formation after medication problems: "The leadership isn't trained to work with wounded soldiers...I feel that the unit holds us to such high standards because they do not know better."

However, these aren't the only cases of problems and incidents. Fort Hood WTU soldiers report other cases of individuals who have lost rank for missing morning formation while on heavy sleeping medications. Cancer patients report being disciplined for taking "too much" legitimately prescribed pain medication. PTSD patients report receiving punishments for missing appointments that they couldn't remember existed.

Germany WTU soldiers talk of (and I have witnessed some of) multiple separate incidents where soldiers have received Article 15s for incidents that occurred in different units, previous to their WTU assignment. Someone's first impression might be that these are simply disciplinary incidents that started in the unit in which they occurred, and followed soldiers to the WTU. However, since soldiers are unable to transition to the WTU while they are pending UCMJ, the real answer is that upon getting to the WTU, the command must have made the decision to punish soldiers for incidents that their previous commands made the on-the-ground decision not to punish them for. There are also soldiers who note that they have been disciplined for substance-related issues after self-referring to ASAP (which is not supposed to happen). Sexual assault victims report being disciplined after making sexual harassment complaints.

It has been suggested to me that I stop. It has been suggested that I shut up and just make things easier for myself. That if I wasn't complaining, weren't talking about all the things that were going wrong in the Army, I wouldn't have so many problems. Things wouldn't be hard for me. ve been told that the way to stop my getting threats, the way to stop the hassle I'm getting from someone in my command, is just to be quiet.

But I'm not going to stop. Because I know this is what they want. I know they want me not to expose what's going wrong. They want me to pretend everything is okay.

My commander says if I live the Army values, I won't have any trouble. I don't know if even he believes it, but that's what he says. Well, I'm going to do it, whether he likes it or not.
He asks me why I say the Army values the way I do. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage. Selfless Service. Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Why don't I say it the way everyone else does...the tired way, the repeating by rote, LDRSHIP. He doesn't seem to understand that these things mean things to me. I don't have to work to remember them. They're important to me. Living by them is what has gotten me into the trouble that I've had. Living by them isn't going to make my life any easier, or less full of Army trouble.
But they're what I am. They're what I do. They're what I feel. They're inside me, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.

And they're not going away.