Monday, December 25, 2006

It's A Wonderful Lie

So Mister Man has apparently made his mind up about this "surge" thing -- even though there's been a surge in Baghdad since mid-summer -- and now he's gotten the heretofore recalcitrant generals to back his carefully considered strategery to give it yet another one last shot.

Commanders have been skeptical of the value of increasing troops, and the decision represents a reversal for Casey, the highest-ranking officer in Iraq. Casey and Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East who will step down in March, have long resisted adding troops in Iraq, arguing that it could delay the development of Iraqi security forces and increase anger at the United States in the Arab world.

The defense official said commanders had not determined the exact number of extra troops they would request.

Military officers have debated an increase of about 20,000, about five extra combat brigades. But while some officers think five extra brigades will be difficult to muster, others believe more troops will be required.

So what happens if this one last shot doesn't pan out? Well, you fob the blame off on to the nearest sucker, kick the can another Friedman or two, and by then the next wave of douchebags are rearranging the electoral deck chairs, and we start the dance over again. Sound good?

And for the record, these are the folks who will comprise the "surge":

Staff Sgt. Rob Puckett cradled his 6-month-old son, Blake, in the lap of his camouflage pants, lovingly tugged at the baby's tiny fists and cooed. Blake giggled. Puckett's wife, Marcie, 26, and daughter, Emily, 4, cuddled in the shadow of a glittering Christmas tree. Jasmine, the yellow Labrador puppy, flopped on her back on the living room floor, begging to be scratched.

In a few days, Puckett, 31, will throw his duffel bag in the back of Marcie's black Nissan Pathfinder, and she will drive him to the Army base at Fort Stewart, Ga., 10 minutes away. They will exchange teary goodbyes. Then Marcie will head home, and Puckett will go to Iraq for a year.


"What really hurts is not just that we're going," Puckett of Clarksville, Tenn., said as he tickled Blake's chin, triggering a fresh cadence of baby giggles. "It's that we have to be going back so soon."

The war in Iraq, now approaching its fifth year, has put an extraordinary strain on soldiers' families across the nation. But few have felt the burden of separation as profoundly as the Pucketts. The sergeant's unit, the 2-7 Infantry Battalion of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, is scheduled to deploy to Iraq next month for its third grueling combat tour since the war began in 2003. No other Army unit has been deployed to Iraq three times.

So far, 15 of Puckett's comrades have been killed and scores more wounded since the war began, including 41 injured during their 2005 deployment.

But for the soldiers, the war's toll is not limited to deaths and injuries or the incessant stress of fighting against an elusive and increasingly lethal foe. It is in the missed birthdays and anniversaries; in a child's first steps unseen; in marital bonds strained, sometimes to the breaking point.

"I thought it was a test, to see if I could handle a deployment," Christina Teasley, 31, wife of Sgt. 1st Class John Teasley, 33, said of her husband's last tour in Iraq in 2005. "I passed. Now we're doing it again."

While time away from families is nothing new in the Army, said Lt. Col. Douglas Crissman, commander of the 2-7, "you never had 12 months away, and then 12 months at home, and then 12 months away again."

"That changes the equation," said Crissman, 40, of Fairfax, Va., an 18-year Army veteran who took over the battalion in June. "Families are beginning to feel the stress of being in the Army."

What makes the forthcoming deployment harder is the uncertainty surrounding it. The soldiers know they will leave sometime in early January. But they do not know the exact date, and may not know it until a day or two -- or even hours -- before they depart.

"Last time, he came in and said six hours before he flew: 'I leave today,' " said Drema Tisdel, 31, wife of Sgt. Tim Tisdel, 28, from Fresno. "We live from day to day, waiting till they say it's time to go."

Just as unclear is when the soldiers will be coming back. One-year deployments are frequently extended. The 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which is currently in Anbar province, was ordered to stay 46 extra days to allow the 2-7 and other 3rd Infantry Division units more time to prepare for their third deployment.

It's more than life and limb that is at stake here. It's families, marriages, relationships with children, stability, sanity. All the things we take for granted on a daily basis, getting snatched away on a whim, to save face, so a swaggering wuss and his deferment-seeking henchman can pretend to be tough at election time.

If it even appeared as if there was some sort of coherent plan in place, it would almost make sense. Nobody wants to inculcate a sense of futility by leaving "the job" undone, certainly. And in a more practical, personal sense, what genocidal wolves would the civilians be left to, between the militias and the corrupt police?

But the job is ill-defined; the means of achieving it, infinitely more so. And when even a lifelong company man like Colin Powell finally steps up and talks about structural problems forming in the armed forces, it's just not worth taking the chance anymore. So more people get stuck with yet another tour of duty, because the terminal jerkoff at the top didn;t know what he was getting into, and still has no clue how to get out of it. This is a volunteer army, as is frequently pointed out, but I haven't heard anyone seriously postulate that our service personnel signed up for this, three or more tours of duty refereeing IED warfare while the bozos upstairs try to figure out their cover story.

Thank God we've got our priorities straight. There is a chunk of the economy that does rely on shopping and consumerism (though that is a huge chunk of last-minute money, on what I have no idea), and I think most of us try to keep others in mind during the Christmas season. But more may be ultimately required, as our fatuously dense preznit still does not seem to get that in a democracy, the people at least nominally decide what they want. They have made that decision, and it's looking like they may have to enforce it. Protests aren't just for former soviet satellites. It could be an interesting spring.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas, or Festivus, or whatever you happen to celebrate.


Anonymous said...

Hey, merry Christmas, Heywood. Or some other thing like that; go easy on the turkey, a'ight? The Left Coast can't afford its Taibbi to linger in bed a week, nursing an indigestion. Rock and roll, dude.


Firestarter5 said...

Merry Christmas!

Heywood J. said...

Thanks, guys. Hope you and yours had a great Christmas as well. I did go easy on the turkey (ham, actually), but made sure to get extra helpings of mulled wine and hot buttered rum. 'Tis the season and all.