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Wednesday, July 06, 2005 

A Soldier Speaks

Virgil Butler is a former Army Ranger who spent years doing America's dirty work and has seen the horrors of war at close range. He wrote to us a little while ago, relating much of the story he tells here, and I wanted to share it with our site visitors. Butler talks about his own experience, that of a young man close to him recently recruited for the National Guard, and the differences between them.


I have found it interesting that, even in this "red state" where I live (rural Arkansas), I have yet to find a single solitary soul who supports this war. And especially not the vets. Those of us who have lived and survived combat, killed and seen our buddies die, know all too well the horrible sacrifice that war is and that there is absolutely nothing glorious about it. We also recognize the fact that really nobody is the "hero" the media, the military, and the administration make them out to be. Most "heroes" who are awarded the highest medals are awarded them posthumously, and the rest will tell you that there was nothing brave about what they did. They will tell you, as will I, that they were scared shitless, and doing all they could not to die.

I still have nightmares, even though I got out 15 years ago. Lately they have become much more frequent. I finally watched Black Hawk Down last week. One of those guys was a friend. I can't tell you how hard it was for me to watch that. And I haven't had a single good night's sleep since where I wasn't sleepwalking in a nightmare, coming under fire. Hell, I am almost afraid to fall asleep anymore anyway. Too many nightmares. Tired of waking up on the floor after tripping over something, or outside with a knife hunting sentries to cut their throats. I receive psychiatric care, including medication, for all of this, having been diagnosed with PTSD.

I also pay for this on my own, receiving private care and shouldering the entire financial burden, even though I haven't had a steady job since November of 2002. The one time I talked to the VA about getting help, they told me that they might be able to work me in about six months later.

I saw a man in my doctor's office who had taken his granddaughter in for care because his son was wounded in Iraq and couldn't do it himself, having lost his right leg at the hip and his right elbow. The man told me that his son received the same answer I had when he tried to get help from the VA, so I decided that I wouldn't even pursue that course and possibly take away time and resources from someone like the man’s son, who obviously needed help even more than I did.

If we can't even take care of the veterans that we now have, then how can this already overstretched system do anything but fail those who have put everything on the line for this country? I am completely disgusted at the lack of care given to veterans once they are no longer of value on the battlefield.

Laura, my other half, has an only son who was duped into joining the National Guard when he was 17 (though he turned 18 in December). She obviously is quite upset about this and wants him out and certainly not sent to Iraq. He has completed boot camp and goes off to AIT the 6th of July. His is an armored unit, and he lives in Shreveport, LA. She has been writing letters to all of our representatives, writing letters to the editors of papers, signing petitions, and generally fighting to stop this before they send her only son into battle for this illegal and immoral war. She can't even talk about the possibility of it without breaking into tears.

The poor kid is only now starting to realize the enormity of his mistake and that of his father for signing those damn papers and believing the lies the recruiter told them. The recruiter actually told them that National Guard troops wouldn't be sent to Iraq, even though at that very moment there were thousands of them over there. That's just how ignorant Laura’s son and his father were about what was really going on and why that recruiter was able to get him signed up with promises of a great career and college.

At first her son believed everything the military told him, and it is still hard to break through that. He is 18, after all, and what do we know, since he believes he has the "inside line" through what the military tells him, which is so very different from what we tell him. But he is starting to listen. He watched Fahrenheit 911 a couple of months ago, had a few long talks with his mother about what I went through and still go through, and now he just wants out. He believes that even if he survives physically, he will "go crazy."

There's a very wide difference between the training I received as an elite Airborne Ranger and what little he has received as Army National Guard. Add to that the fact that I was brought up in an abusive home environment, raised rough in the Ozarks in desperate poverty so severe that I was beaten if I wasted a bullet by missing an animal I was hunting for the family's supper. I worked a full-time night job catching chickens at 14 to help support my younger siblings, in addition to going to school and graduating. Looking at this kid's relatively easy city life playing Nintendo and basketball, there is no comparison between our respective backgrounds.

I was a mean, tough, trained killer that took my first deer at the age of eight, whereas this kid is loving and compassionate. He doesn't want to kill any innocent Iraqi women and children. I tortured people for my country without flinching during the "dirty wars" in South America, but we are afraid that he will come home mentally damaged from seeing people die—innocent or not, friends or not—even if he survives without being physically wounded or killed.

Laura’s son is also one of the ones who would have been kicked out of the military years ago - dropped out of high school, didn't show up for a drill, etc. But they want that fresh blood in there so badly that they are lowering requirements, taking basically anyone that can hold a gun. All that's doing is getting even more kids killed. That makes this situation even worse.

We had a definite beginning and end to the war I was in, whereas the Bush administration refuses to even set any sort of timetable for withdrawal or ending this nightmarish quagmire we are in now. It's just not the same, any of it. Iraq was no threat to this country, and when you take into account that this was a pre-emptive war based on choice and supported by lies, being waged with a complete disregard for the troops and the poor Iraqi civilians unlucky enough to be caught in the middle, how can anyone justify what is going on over there?

What mother would want her son or daughter sacrificed for a war that makes fat cats fatter, creates more animosity towards our country, undermines our national security and increases our debt to the point that there is now what is being called a "birth tax" of $150,000 on every child born in this country?

It certainly makes no sense when the reason for the violence is our mere presence there. How long should we continue to "stay the course" and allow more of our young people to die and be maimed for life in a war that is so utterly indefensible? How long before enough of the American people demand those responsible for this war be held accountable for their actions? How many more of America's sons and daughters must die before we scream, "ENOUGH!”

War is hell, and the best way to "support the troops" is to get them the hell out of there. I feel the need to do something, now. Every American calling themselves "patriotic" and waving flags everywhere should feel the same and take action to change things. Not later—now.

Virgil Butler, Pine Ridge, AR

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