Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Consequences of war felt by real people in real time

Consequences of war felt by real people in real time

Consequences of war felt by real people in real time
By Michael Hastings
Article Launched: 05/14/2008 01:32:02 AM PDT

In July 2006, four young U.S. Army officers sat at an Italian restaurant in Sackets Harbor, N.Y., about 20 miles from Fort Drum. Three lieutenants and a captain, they were all friends, all platoon leaders in the 10th Mountain Division; one was my younger brother, Jeff, then 23 years old. It was their last meal together before deploying to Iraq.

Two years later, they've forgotten what they ate but remember what was said: "Statistically, one in four of us is going to get injured or killed over there."

A month later, they arrived in Baghdad, right before the "surge."

On Oct. 2, 2006, Capt. Scott Quilty, 26, was leading a foot patrol in Rustimullah, a town south of Baghdad. An improvised explosive device, or IED, detonated near him. He lost his right arm and right leg.

The best worst injury

On Dec. 21, 2006, Lt. Ferris Butler, 26, my brother's roommate at Ft. Drum and in Baghdad, "got hit" on a road in another town along the Euphrates River. Another IED. He lost half his right foot and, to use the military acronym, had a "BK" on his left leg, a below-the-knee amputation, which soldiers universally agree is the best worst injury to have - a BK on the "non-dominant" leg while the rest of the body is fine.

Lt. Gregory Cartier was my brother's neighbor at Iraq's Camp Stryker. They'd been in the same platoon in Ranger and Airborne school. On May 8, 2007, Greg was filling potholes and IED craters in Iraqi roads.



Soldiers handed sandbags down a fireman's line, with Greg in the first position closest to the hole. After throwing in several sandbags, a bomb in the hole exploded.
Greg awoke in a bed a week later. He couldn't see anything, but he heard a familiar voice and felt someone touch his arm. "Greg, it's me, Scott, can you hear me?" Greg's first thought was, "What is Scott doing back in Baghdad?" He didn't understand that they both were at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Greg had wounds all over his body; he lost his left eye and suffered a traumatic brain injury ("TBI," in military speak).

My brother, now 25, returned to the United States in November after completing his 15-month tour. He survived more than 200 combat missions - on the same roads, in the same towns, in the same Humvees - and received a Bronze Star; his three friends also received military decorations with high honors.

I first heard the story of their eerie 2006 conversation when I met all four for the first time in Atlantic City, N.J., in December 2007. It was a dark reunion: Ferris and Scott were in wheelchairs; Greg wasn't quite himself; and all three were still living at Walter Reed.

When I saw them this spring, great changes had occurred in how they were dealing with the aftermath of the war. Greg was on his way out of the Army and into law school. He said he no longer wants to be defined as "a wounded warrior - I'm just a guy who got injured in a war." Ferris was out of the wheelchair and walking, had met a wonderful woman who had come to volunteer at Walter Reed, and felt he was a completely "new person." Ferris was on his way out of the hospital, with an internship on Capitol Hill lined up for the fall, his application to business school accepted at the University of Maryland. My brother was preparing to leave the Army for medical school.

Scott had started working for the Survivor Corps, formerly the Landmine Survivors Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to "helping each other overcome the effects of war and violence."

Loss close to the heart

This was the first time I'd really gotten to know other Americans who live with the consequences of the war. While I was in Iraq covering the war for Newsweek for two years starting in 2005, the woman I planned to marry was murdered in Baghdad by insurgents on Jan. 17, 2007. Her name was Andi Parhamovich; she'd come to Iraq to work for the National Democratic Institute, a non-governmental organization. After she was killed, I returned to the United States and started writing. It was an act of survival, a way for me to try to make sense of what happened and to give the beautiful woman I loved a lasting tribute.

We all chose to go to Iraq. We were under no illusions about the risks. I don't think anyone can fully grasp the risks until whoosh, wham, through the looking glass you crash on the way to the rehab center at Walter Reed or a funeral parlor in Ohio.

Iraq often gets treated by pundits, writers and politicians - all those thoughtful cheerleaders turned war critics - as an intellectual exercise. It's not. Hundreds of thousands live personally with its consequences every day. The tens of thousands of Iraqis who've been killed, the families of 4,074 American servicemen and women killed, the more than 900 contractors killed, the more than 29,000 U.S. wounded. The individuals who make up such statistics - and those who loved them - understand what the war actually costs


I wonder if the powers that be, President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Doug Feith and the others at the center of the decision to invade Iraq have read this story and how it affected 4 families intimately with real injuries, loss and unanswered questions..........war is hell ask the people who serve in them war is not an abstract theory it has real consequences....

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