Wednesday, October 07, 2009

KBR, military suicides

"My nose would bleed for 5 to 10 minutes," said West Virginia Staff Sgt. Russell Powell, a beefy 34-year-old medic with a thick southern twang. Last month, Powell joined Kimberling and two other Guardsmen at a hearing in front of the Democratic Policy Committee (DPC).
Like the Indiana unit, Powell and his fellow soldiers from the 1092nd Engineering Battalion out of Parkersburg, W.Va., provided security for KBR employees tasked with restoring Qarmat Ali. The plant treated water that was injected into oil wells to help maintain pressure flow, a critical process in oil production.
Despite suspicions by Pentagon officials that Qarmat Ali, like many sites around the country, had been sabotaged by Saddam Hussein's fleeing army, U.S. military personnel were not told to take precautions.
The orange chemical was "almost impossible to avoid," Powell said, covering some areas in drifts four feet deep. Fierce and frequent windstorms sent it swirling into the desert air and raining down on soldiers' clothes, equipment, vehicles—even their food. "It constantly got on our skin, our eyes, in our mouths and noses," Oregon Sgt. Rocky Bixby told the DPC.
And in sweltering summer temperatures that climbed to 120 degrees, remnants of the noxious powder would stick to soldiers' sweat-soaked fatigues and be carried back to base, exposing other members of their battalions.

The above is from Adam Lichtenheld and Byron Moore's "No Contractor Left Behind Part I: KBR, the Pentagon and the Soldiers Who Paid" (DC Bureau). That is part one of what is planned to be a four-part series. Staying on the topic of service members, Keiffer Wilhelm died in Iraq. Dropping back to the August 21st snapshot for details:

Today the US military announced that Staff Sgt Enoch Chatman, Staff Sgt Bob Clements, Sgt Jarrett Taylor and Spc Daniel Weber are all "charged with cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates . . . The four Soliders are alleged to have treated Soldiers within their platoon inappropriately." CNN states they are accused of "cruelty and maltreatment of four subordinates in Iraq after a suicide investigation brought to light alleged wrongdoing, the military said Friday." Michelle Tan (Army Times via USA Today) reports, "The alleged mistreatment consisted of verbal abuse, physical punishment and ridicule of the subordinate soldiers, Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for Multi-National Division-South wrote in an e-mail to Army Times."

Chris Roberts (El Paso Times) has reported that Keiffer Wilhelm "was abused by his 'first-line supervisors,' Sgt. Brandon LeFlor wrote in an e-mail. He is a spokesman for Multi-National Division-South in Basra, Iraq." We noted the case most recently in the September 24th snapshot:

"A loss in any family is hard to take," Shane Wilhelm, father of Keiffer P. Wilhelm, tells Cary Ashby (Norwalk Reflector). Keiffer Wilhelm died of "a gunshot wound to the head" in Iraq August 4th. It is thought he took his own life and that this resulted from abuse he suffered from other soldiers. The US military has charged four soliders in the matter and the military states a date has been set for the hearing, however, it isn't giving out the date. Ashby explains, "Shane and Shelly Wilhelm, Keiffer's stepmother, want to attend the hearing. The couple said Sept. 14 they're not sure if the military will allow them to attend or testify, but they want the chance to share their side of the story and the impact Keiffer's death has had on them." Marcia noted earlier this month that the First Merit Bank of Willard has set up a Memorial Fund for Keiffer Wilhelm to raise money for the family to attend the hearing (419-935-0191, Cari McLendon for more information and donations can be sent by mail to First Merit Bank, 501 Ft. Ball Road, Willard, OH 44890).

Today Erik Shilling (Mansfield News Journal) reports that the military has deicded to toss out any murder charges which "means extended jail terms and dishonorable discharges are likely the stiffest penalties the accused will face." Schilling reports:

Stateside, Keiffer's father has been trying to cope. His son's body was cremated shortly after a memorial service in Willard on Aug. 13, and Shane said he plans to place a headstone in Keiffer's honor at a church in Greenwich.
A fund Shane started to defray the costs of flying to Iraq in a couple of weeks for the arraignments of some of the soldiers has garnered about $9,000 so far, he said, enough to pay for plane tickets for Shane, his wife and an uncle.
"We've got all the forms filled out, the Army gave us permission, and we're definitely going to go," he said.
Shane expects to recover his son's clothing and laptop. As for an iPhone, Army officials originally told Shane it was recovered, but "now it's disappeared," he said.
The trials will be overseas, Shane was told, because that's where the evidence and witnesses are, and a stateside trial would be too expensive.

Suicides are on the rise in the military. Jeanette Steele (San Diego Union-Tribune) reports on a Defense Dept panel will examine the issue. Steele provides stories from survivors of loved ones who've taken their own lives such as this one:

Gunnery Sgt. James F. Gallagher always said, "I'm fine. I've got it." A career military man, he mentored young Marines in his Camp Pendleton infantry company.
But his world crumbled soon after his seven-month combat duty in Iraq in 2005, during which his unit lost men, including the company captain.
Back home, he got stuck in a classroom and then was transferred to another unit, which meant staying behind while his men deployed to Japan and a perceived loss of status.
Gallagher, 40, showed none of his despair.
Not until one day in 2006 when his wife, Mary, got an odd series of phone calls. Gallagher rarely telephoned to chat midday. He kept telling Mary that he loved her. For once in his life he said, "I don't think I can do this."
She was puzzled. But never, never did she expect to find her husband dead by his own hand when she and their children returned home. Gallagher hanged himself in their Camp Pendleton garage.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends