A Navy Chaplin's Email from Iraq
Discussion Board on this Respect item
Chaplain Unger is from MCCDC Doctrine Division. He's been in Iraq for the
past four months.
30 May 2004
This is my third letter from Iraq. I have been working myself into the
right mood to do this. Today is the day. In my last two letters I have
leaned toward being as upbeat as possible. This time will be different;
today I want to talk about Memorial Day, but I will start off by giving my
perspective on the Abu Ghraib prison problem.
First off, the investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib
began back in January. That is why the first court martial was ready for
trial in May. The senior people here knew about the investigation; the
rest of us didn't. By the time the media "broke" the story, the
investigation was almost done and the soldiers who had committed the abuses
had already been rotated home.
Second, I (we) don't see all the news coverage that you in the states see.
I do see some Fox News and CNN. Fox editorializes toward the right wing;
CNN is the voice of the anti-war movement. I wonder that if CNN had been
around in 1942 we might all be speaking German and Japanese. I can tell
you this, everything I have heard on CNN is so biased, negative, and
out-of-touch that I will never watch CNN for the rest of my life. That
being said, when the rest of us found out about the abuses we were shocked
and sickened. I think maybe more so than people back home because we are
here; these are the people I see every day. The people I see every day
who are going out to fix: schools, hospitals, reservoirs, power plants, and
sewer systems. They do these things risking sniper fire and hidden
explosives. These soldiers are not a handful of bad apples like those at
Abu Ghraib, these soldiers number into the thousands. Now think for a
second, how much have you seen about that on the news? I believe Abu
Ghraib should have been reported, but when I see the fixation of the media
on the actions of a few, when the courage shown in reconstruction and the
restraint shown in combat by thousands of our people is never shown, I
believe this is inexcusable. For the real story of what our people are
doing here, go to www.cjtf7.com/index.htm.
Click on Coalition News and then
Third, what happened on that cellblock of Abu Ghraib is what happens when
leadership is not out walking around. That is true in the military or in
college dorms. I haven't seen it reported in the news, but other soldiers
turned in the soldiers who did this. If the dirt bags that committed those
abuses had been turned loose among the troops here it would've been ugly.
I haven't heard any comments about them coming from soldiers that didn't
express a hope that they would get the maximum punishment. A few leaders
need to get demoted too.
As per the "outrage", if you were "outraged" by this, good. I was.
However, I would like to ask Arab governments and our own media elites,
"Were you just as outraged by what happened under Saddam? If so, you
didn't show it."
Here is what people need to understand: the interrogation of prisoners of
war is a little tougher than what the typical thug gets by the local
police. I went to Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape (SERE) School back
in 1995. I am more proud of completing that course than anything I have
ever done. Also, I would never do it again. After playing hide and seek
with "bad guys" in California in March, we all got caught, knocked around,
froze, went hungry, sleep deprived, threatened with worse, and then
interrogated. Here's the deal: when interrogation is done correctly,
people don't break so much as they leak. (The purpose of SERE is to teach
you how not to leak. That is the classified part of the school.) The
interrogator wants them to leak in a way so that the prisoner doesn't even
know he is leaking. When someone breaks, as opposed to leaking, they
usually give out a data dump of gibberish and then physiologically shuts
down. A good interrogator avoids that. If you hurt them or scare them too
badly, they quit leaking. Interrogators ask the same question about ten
times, ten different ways. Disoriented people leak and they don't even know
it. What most Americans think of when they think of POWs being
interrogated is what they remember of our pilots in North Vietnam. The
abuse our people went through in Vietnam wasn't to get intelligence; it was
to exploit them for propaganda purposes. I mention this to put the term
"abuse" in context. When a terrorist here in Iraq or jaywalkers back in
the states report jailhouse "abuse," what does it mean? When we catch a
guy red-handed restocking his weapons stock and question him, withholding
his TV privileges isn't enough. He won't be happy, but neither will he be
destroyed or scared for life. He will tell his buddies, "I didn't tell
them anything." In fact he will have told us a lot.
As I said, I had to work myself into a mindset to talk about this. To work
around horror without out letting the horror seep into your soul is a
spiritual battle. This week I worked with a National Guard soldier who had
to clean up after a convoy of civilian aid workers were killed when an
Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off on the road into Baghdad. He is
a carpenter in civilian life, but this week he was out on a highway picking
up arms and legs while watching out for snipers. He was cleaning up after
monsters. Some other young Americans were put in charge of guarding
monsters and then became monsters. Care of the soul is serious business.
That is part of the reason why I became a Navy Chaplain.
The other reason is the people. The folks I have known in the military are
more interesting to be around than anybody else I know. This leads me to
Memorial Day. Earlier this month I went to Camp Cooke at Taji. (To lend
perspective, Taji is really north Baghdad; I am in west Baghdad.) The 39th
Brigade (Arkansas National Guard) is stationed there. I didn't know any of
them, but I wanted to see my home-state Guard here in Iraq. So I badgered
my way into flying up there for two days. They are stationed in the old
Iraqi army air defense school. Unlike downtown Baghdad, the old air
defense school was turned into rubble. It is getting better, but it was
like living in a junkyard.
Their first month in Iraq was tough. These soldiers patrol the roughest
part of Baghdad. While I was there, the Chaplain of the 39th told me this
story: One of the old troopers who came was a 52 year-old Sgt. who had
already done his 20+ years and had retired. But his son was in the 39th,
and when the father found out they were coming over here, he reenlisted.
On their first week in country, Camp Cooke was attacked by rockets and the
first rocket that landed killed the father.
I was born in 1958 and came of age when the Vietnam War and the anti-war
movement were both in full swing. It has taken me years to put this into
words, but I believe that as bad as that war was, the legacy of the
anti-war movement was worse. The anti-war movement gave rise to the moral
superiority of non-involvement and non-commitment. While that may have
worked to help draft-dodgers sleep at night, it's not much of a strategy of
how to go through life. Taken to its logical conclusion the message is:
don't commit to your county, don't commit to your spouse, and don't commit
to your kids, church, or community. Don't commit to cleaning up your own
mess or any cause that demands any more from you than rhetoric.
This was the mindset in which our country was firmly stuck. Until 9/11,
some woke up. Kids came down and joined the service. To the dismay of
some of their teachers, parents, and the media elites, they came down here
and raised their hand in front of the flag. And they are still coming to
the shock of the non-committers. The Marines have more enlisting than
their two boot camps can handle.
And we are all here together for Memorial Day 2004. Old National
Guardsmen, grandfathers, and single moms, Texans and Mexicans, Surfers and
Rednecks. A few weeks ago an Illinois National Guardsman, mother of
three, was hit six times, saved by her body armor, but lost part of her
nose. She stayed on her 50 caliber, firing on the bad guys, protecting the
convoy. She said she was thinking of her kids and the guys she was with.
Commitment is love acted out. It is sad that the non-committers missed
that. They and their moral high-ground haven't been near a mass grave. The
kids I see and eat with every day still want to help this country, in spite
of getting shot at while doing it. That is love acted out. You either get
it, or you don't.
During my time in Iraq I won't be able to see any of the Biblical sites
that are here. But a few weeks ago in Taji I got to stand on some holy
ground, where a father died when he went to war just to be with his son.
Steven P. Unger
LCDR, CHC, USN
Multi National Corps-Iraq