Monday, October 08, 2007

John Bruhns, Iraq Veteran

Why I fight and why we all must.
by John Bruhns (DC) · 10/07/2007 11:39:00 AM ET
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(Bumped -- This is a MUST read from John Bruhns)

As the war drums were beating for Iraq I knew something was wrong. I was paying attention to President Bush as he continually accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction and being linked to terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda. Yet, there was no solid proof that any of Bush's accusations had any validity to them. I guess if you repeat the same lies over and over again they begin to sound true. How else could Bush have tricked the nation into an unjust and unnecessary war in Iraq?

At the time I was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. It seemed as if the moment I arrived there in June 2002 the only message being sent from the top down was to be ready for war with Iraq. We trained vigorously that summer for war. And in January 2003 my unit deployed to Fort Irwin, California for a month long desert warfare training exercise. Immediately upon returning from Fort Irwin my unit received orders to deploy to Kuwait for the military buildup to topple Saddam Hussein and his government in Iraq.

We scrambled to get our gear and equipment ready for what would be the inevitable war with Iraq. It took a couple weeks to prepare, get medically screened, and write out our wills. Then we were put on standby to deploy at a moments notice.

There was a mixed sentiment among the troops I had served with at the time. For some troops Bush's word was enough for them to go to Iraq to fight and die for what they believed was necessary for our country. There were some who didn't pay attention to the politics. They felt that they were soldiers who had no other option but to go to war and take their chances. In a sense, that is what good soldiers do. I felt alone for the most part because I kept paying attention to what Bush was saying and what the UN weapons inspectors were reporting. To me it just wasn't adding up.

But before I could blink my eyes I was on the border of Kuwait and Iraq ready to invade on day one. It wasn't long before we received our attack orders and pushed into Iraq.

It was a rough ride to Baghdad. Right from the start 150,000 troops were cluttered and stacked upon each other with our vehicles breaking down due to the harsh terrain of the southern Iraqi desert. We were in the middle of nowhere and out in the open. If there were ever a time for Saddam to use his weapons of mass destruction it would have been the perfect opportunity for him. We were in the perfect location for him to attack us -- out in the open desert with no other population. He could have launched the alleged stockpile of WMD directly upon the US military and killed no one but our troops. If Bush really was convinced that Saddam had such a massive WMD arsenal why would he place us in the most vulnerable position for him to use them on us? Probably because Bush knew they did not exist otherwise he never would have allowed such a stupid battle plan to take place.

We pushed into Baghdad facing heavy resistance from the primarily Shiite populated cities in southern Iraq. It was strange being that the Shiites were Saddam's enemies who he had oppressed for decades. To me it was clear that they hated us more than Saddam because we were invaders from the west. Saddam might have been a horrible man, but we were worse in their eyes. It was frightening to realize that the people who Saddam murdered by the thousands actually preferred him to us.

My stay in Baghdad was not much different. It was very confusing because the enemy was so unidentifiable. We didn't know who we were fighting, and that made it extremely difficult to distinguish between the civilian population and the insurgents. As time goes on you stop distinguishing between the two. My perception was that we were fighting the Iraqi people who resented our presence in their country -- not Al-Qaeda as George Bush kept drilling into the minds of the American people.

We were attacked almost on a daily basis by rocket propelled grenades, AK-47 assault rifles, improvised explosive devices, and mortars. This kind of violent activity led to thousands of pre-dawn raids on Iraqi homes. And when you kick in the door you enter the homes as if you are going after Bin Laden himself. In a sense we started to treat the Iraqi people as if they are all terrorists causing them to resent us even more. In the following days of each raid violent activity would double and for some reason no one could understand why.

I participated in the training of the Iraqi Security Forces. Their training cycle was one week long and it was extremely insufficient. There was no trust factor between us and them. During their weapons qualification I can recall being told by my range NCO to stand directly behind the Iraqi soldier just in case he tried to turn the weapon on us. My instructions were to "jump him and kill him." When the training cycle was over we incorporated them into our units to accompany us on missions in order to train them. Prior to the missions we never told them where we were going because we were positive that the insurgency had infiltrated the Iraqi Security Forces. If they knew where the mission would take place they could tip off the larger insurgency element and set us up for an ambush. Almost all of them covered their faces out of fear or shame of being seen with American troops in their communities. As a rifle team leader leading a team of Iraqis wearing hoods and carrying AK-47 assault rifles down a narrow alley in Baghdad it is needless to say that my anxiety level was through the roof.

Before I left Iraq I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to stop this war if I was lucky enough to make it home.

Upon honorable discharge from the US Army in February 2005 I relocated to the Washington, DC area. I immediately became a vocal critic of the war and traveled the halls of Congress going door to door hoping to share my experiences with those who empowered Bush to send us to war. For a few months it fell on deaf ears, but after a while some members of Congress began to listen.

From there on I spoke at rallies, demonstrations, town hall meetings, and on behalf of anti Iraq war candidates running for office. I joined the Democratic leadership in promoting legislation that called for an end to the war.

It's been years now and sometimes I feel out of breath and tired from screaming at the top of my lungs for end to this madness in Iraq. But we are still there and it appears that there is really no end in sight.

Even General Patraeus can't say that we are safer because of the war in Iraq. During our troop surge the Iraqi government fell apart. We have granted amnesty to Sunni militias in Anbar with American blood on their hands, and we are now arming and financing them out of desperation to stop the violence. We are doing the same for Shiite militias loyal to Al Sadr who is a mass murderer of US troops. The Iraqi government, police force, and security forces are rampant with corruption. Is this the Iraq that our troops were sent off to die for? If Bush cared the slightest bit I would love to ask him that question.

Now it has been suggested by General Petraeus that the surge has been such a success that we can bring home 30,000 troops by this summer. Really? That would mean that if there were any gains made by the surge they will evaporate almost immediately into thin air. We will be right back were we started with fewer troops in an extremely hostile environment -- The Rumsfeld Doctrine. What then? Do we have another surge? Is that possible with a broken military? OF COURSE NOT.

Bush and his loyalists in Congress won't even allow our troops to rest after mulitple deployments that go above and beyond the call of duty.

During the last Democratic presidential debate the front runners for the nomination could not even guarantee that our troops would be home by the end of their first term in 2013. For me that is just tragic to hear.

The American people want an end to this war so badly. If the politicians will not listen it is our duty as Americans to make them listen. We owe it to our country and our troops to ensure that our members of Congress no longer allow themselves to be bullied by a coward like George W. Bush. If Bush vetoes legislation for our troops and an end to the war Congress must shove it right back in his face. We must act now while there is still a chance to make Congress do their job as a co-equal branch of government and start bringing this war to an end. They need to be equally as defiant as Bush has been for the last 7 years and fight fire with fire when it comes to this President. After all, that is what we elected them to do.

I will fight for an end to this war with my last breath. We all must.

John Bruhns
Iraq Veteran

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