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Warehousing Soldiers in the Homeland

Posted on Aug 9, 2009

By Dahr Jamail and Sarah Lazare

(Page 2)

Echo Platoon, however, seems to be made up of a contingent of wayward soldiers the military does not know what to do with. Captain Kevin Thaxton, commander of the 82nd Replacement Detachment, of which Echo Platoon is a part, offers this explanation: 

“While the entire replacement detachment contains 500 soldiers, there are 40 AWOLs in Echo and about 20 in for holdovers/personnel issues and post-UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] Punishment, totaling about 60 people.

“Some are given the opportunity to go back with their unit and deploy. Those who accept do not exactly have their records cleared, but they do get to start over, keeping in mind we know this person has had problems before. We don’t advertise that they went AWOL, but the commanders and the NCOs know about it. Not many have this opportunity. It depends on how long they’ve been AWOL. You have to say OK, would I trust a person who decided they didn’t want to serve at one time, someone who is always on the fence?”

“Having a Head Full of Insanity”


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One soldier in Echo Platoon, Specialist Dustin Stevens, had gone AWOL before the invasion of Iraq, and did so because he was opposed to all wars. On turning himself in, he’s been in the holdover section for six months now awaiting AWOL and desertion charges.  He may not be halfway through his purgatory. Others in the platoon have been held for more than a year in a no man’s land of small-scale arbitrary punishment in which, according to soldiers in Echo Platoon, officers in charge regularly verbally abuse them as well as make physical threats.

Kevin McCormick describes his experience this way:  “You’re less than human to the commanders. [They act as if] you don’t deserve to be alive. A sergeant told us he wanted to take us out and shoot us in the back of the head. We get threatened all the time there.”

On being questioned about such threats, Captain Thaxton played it safe. “I can’t confirm or deny verbal abuse,” he responded. “It depends on if a person is angry after something has been done.”

On average, two new soldiers are assigned to Echo Platoon every week, according to Stevens. Resigned to a long wait, Stevens sums up life in the platoon this way: 

“I’ve been here almost seven months, and only a few people have gotten out during that time. There was a Purple Heart veteran who was here and is now serving a 15-month jail sentence. One guy, gone for 10 years, got two years in prison without pay, although he had a newborn daughter. It doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, our sentence does not take into account the time served here. Some of us get paid, albeit the E1 or entry level wages, but I’d gladly give them the money back if I could go home…

“[Soldiers in Echo Platoon] don’t… get the benefits others get. You are pretty much a prisoner. You can’t do anything. They say you are not confined, but you can’t go more than 50 miles off post. It’s almost impossible to get leave unless in dire emergency, so we’re just sitting here, day by day.”

Downplaying the punitive nature of the platoon, Captain Thaxton admits only that “people who get in trouble are restricted to post. It keeps them from getting in fights with other soldiers. However, they are allowed access to Post Exchange [shopping], the chapel and dining facilities along with a 50-mile radius for travel.”

Thaxton repeated several times that soldiers in Echo Platoon “can go to behavioral health [care].” While the soldiers themselves admit this is true and that they do have access to mental-health care, they say it is of very poor quality. Doctors, they claim, just focus on “drugging them up,” rather than giving them adequate therapy in order to help them deal with their specific problems. The platoon’s soldiers regularly confide suicidal urges to each other.

In Echo Platoon the deleterious effects the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are having on ordinary soldiers are clearly visible. By December 2006, it was already estimated that that 38% of all Army personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan had served multiple tours of duty. By October 2007, the Army reported that approximately 12% of all combat troops in Iraq were coping by taking antidepressants and/or sleeping pills.

In April 2008, the Rand Corporation, a military-affiliated think-tank, released a study stating: “Nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan—300,000 in all—report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”

Like others who have turned against America’s wars after multiple deployments to Iraq, Michael St. Clair has his regrets: 

“I had always idealized the military, like we were going out to fight the Nazis, and had real moral high ground. When I got over [to Iraq], I was shocked by the brutality. My whole first tour, I can honestly say I never saw an Iraqi guy who deserved to die, who had weapons or was attacking us or anything. In many instances American soldiers took really bad decisions that killed innocent Iraqis. I had a hard time reconciling that with what I had thought I would be doing. By the time my second tour was over, I had morphed into a killer. A lot of people don’t understand what war actually is. I don’t know what’s worse: being charged with felony or having a head full of insanity.”

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By Bart Roberts, August 12, 2009 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
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Unpopular wars of questionable import to the motherland. A dwindling economy. Both the civilian population and troops bothgrowing increasing disaffected.

Looks like a powder keg to me.

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By Jim Yell, August 12, 2009 at 5:33 am Link to this comment
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It is an old story. The rich are glad to use the lives up of the poor, but do not feel any need to compensate for the harm they do.

The reason we don’t have a draft to keep the military manned by fresh troops is that the leaders themselves know that there isn’t a good enough reason for anyone to be dying in those forsaken lands. We have no interests except the greed of corporate America. If everyone were at risk of being sent to these horrible places the rich and powerful might lose their hold upon this country.

Treason starts in high places.

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By Paul_GA, August 10, 2009 at 10:53 am Link to this comment

That’s what most war is all about, Mr. Hanks.

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By John Hanks, August 9, 2009 at 9:03 pm Link to this comment
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And to think that all of this sadness and misery is due to a few imperialist adventures to make the rich even more rich.

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