Thursday, February 5, 2009

Our fallen warriors' families should NEVER need a United States senator

Our fallen warriors' families should NEVER need a United States senator to find out how their loved one died. Yet, one did. Thank you, Senator Bob Casey for stepping in when no one else would to help an anguished mother and her family learn how her son died. Another thank you for exposing the weakness and decay developing in the military.

On January 2, 2008, Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a highly decorated Army ranger and a valuable national resource, stepped into the community shower of his Iraq building. Perhaps looking forward to a relaxing shower, young Maseth reached out to turn on the water and died, a victim of electrocution.

According to a CNN Special Investigations Unit story by Abbie Boudreau and Scott Bronstein from attorney statements, when fellow soldiers kicked down the door, they smelled burning hair, and they rushed over, saw Sgt. Maseth lying there unconscious, and one of the rescuers himself was shocked electrically and sustained a fairly good jolt because the water and the pipes were still electrified. The next day, Cheryl Harris, a mother with three sons serving in Iraq, was informed of his death.. She had feared such news might come one day. An article shortly after his death demonstrates clearly both the anguish of Sergant Maseth's family and a bit about the man.

"I did ask exactly, 'How did Ryan die? What happened to him?' And he had told me that Ryan was electrocuted," Ms Harris said. That was not the full story and after misleading statements, a US Senator, Robert Casey, D PA, was needed to uncover the complete answer to that question. What developed was a story of military officers betraying their troops; DOD civilians protecting private contractors rather than soldiers and very likely negligent homicide.

Now, I know the public has visions of soldiers dying "taking the hill" or "sweeping the skies in sleek fighters" but reality can be so horribly different, mundane even. Roads, of necessity, swept too quickly and soldiers die. A soldier on routine patrol takes off their helmet to wipe the sweat from brow and a sniper takes that moment to put a round through the soldier's skull. A soldier uses a latrine at a "safe" base and a stray round takes the soldier's life. These things happen. The US military was the leader in controlling these types of loses. Because, emotional and family feelings aside, the loss of Sgt Maseth hurt US military capability and reduced our ability to fight the Iraq war. This is the real bottom-line. This is one of the major reasons why we have Red Flag and Top Gun etc; so we can learn to prevent these losses in the confusion of actual war. Things appear to have changed.

According to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review story; "Report: U.S. troops exposed to 231 shock incidents" by Robin Acton,January 29, 2009:

....The 45-page document -- a high-level request for corrective action generated last fall -- found that Texas-based military contractor KBR Inc. failed to properly ground and bond its electrical systems, which contributed to soldiers "receiving shocks in KBR-maintained facilities on average once every three days since data was available in Sept. 2006."

... The report adds that government search results of a KBR-maintained database revealed that 231 electrical-shock incidents occurred in the period from September 2006 through July 31, 2008 -- indicating that the activity continued long after the death of Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, who suffered cardiac arrest after stepping into his Baghdad shower on Jan. 2, 2008.

A January 30, 2009, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial, "Death by shower: Punish those who betrayed the troops in Iraq" acknowledges what came next.

.. Subsequently, his parents filed a wrongful death suit in Allegheny County, against Houston-based KBR Inc., alleging that KBR allowed U.S. troops to continue to use electrical systems that it knew to be dangerous. The soldier's mother, Cheryl Harris, also testified to Congress.

For his part, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has been zealous in keeping this issue alive by demanding explanations from the Defense Department. The combined pressure seems to have paid off: The Associated Press reported last week that an Army investigation now deems the soldier's death a "negligent homicide" instead of an accident...

U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) kept the pressure on The Department of Defense (DoD) to determine that there were at least 18 deaths by electrocution in Iraq and he is working to eliminate the causes and to demand accountability from all involved. For the problem is not just employing unqualified, non government contractors but the integrity of officers and civilians throughout the Army and DoD. U. S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-SD) said:

I believe DOD has been less than truthful to the families of soldiers who were electrocuted at military bases in Iraq because of shoddy contract work. It's time for some straight talk about accountability.
Last year Senator Dorgan chaired a Senate Democrat Policy Committee hearing into the electrocutions of soldiers in Iraq. Following that hearing, Senators Dorgan and Casey requested that the pentagon conduct a theatre-wide investigation into KBR's electrical work in Iraq. Astonishingly, the Army agreed, then used KBR to do much of the review. The result was continued work for KBR with a request for improved performance.

Now times are changing. The same January 30, 2009, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial said it better than I ever could:

"Sen. Casey is still pressing for answers -- and anyone who supports the troops should stand with him. He and Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who has held hearings on contracting abuses, are demanding accountability for the death of Sgt. Maseth and others. It is overdue. Praise the heroes and punish those who hurt them."
Not just for just for our fallen but for the safety of our nation. If the military is unable to rely upon the honesty and integrity of its officers and NCO's, then the effectiveness of our military and the safety of our nation are in jeopardy.
Why does a family need a Senator to learn the truth about how their Army son in Iraq died, why couldn't DOD tell them the truth upfront?

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