THE WAR IN IRAQ IS PUTTING A STRAIN ON THE NATIONAL GUARD, AND ALL OF OUR FIGHTING MEN AND WOMEN -- Remarks on the Floor of the Senate, October 17, 2006
As we continue to hear the statistics about the loss of life in Iraq, and continue to debate our policies in the Middle East, it is easy sometimes to lose site of the impact that the war has on our fighting men and women, and on the readiness of our armed forces.
I know that all Americans, whether we agree with the war in Iraq or we don’t, we all support our troops. We want to see them come home safely, whenever that might be. One of the things that have troubled me the most about the debate over our Iraq policy is the suggestion from some war supporters that those of us who disagree are failing to support the troops. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a disagreement about what is in the best interests of our nation, and thus in the best interest of our fighting forces. I support our troops in Iraq, and I admire them for carrying out their mission as they are duty-bound to do. But I do believe the mission they have been given is misguided, and that they should be withdrawn now.
As we are together in this chamber for the last time before our great celebration of American democracy on Election Day, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about our soldiers.
First, I think it is important to recognize that in many ways they are a different collection of people than have fought previous wars. That has implications for our society as well as our military, and it has implications for this country’s views of the war. The military now is all-volunteer. While the Bush administration and its bellicose apologists have recently begun conjuring up images of Nazism and Fascism when telling us how important this war is, they apparently don’t consider it important enough to institute a draft. That raises this question: If this war is so critical to America’s interests, and if military experts on the ground in Iraq say we need more troops if we are to have any chance of accomplishing our objectives, and if military experts likewise say that the war in Iraq has our military so stretched to its limit that we would be unable to respond effectively to trouble in other spots on the globe, why isn’t the Bush Administration proposing a draft?
I think we all know the answer to that. If we were actually drafting young men and women from all strata of society and sending them to fight in Iraq against their will, we would have the very same riots and protests in the streets of our cities and on the lawns of our college campuses that we had during the Vietnam war.
Instead, we have a war being fought mainly by just two groups of people. The first is our all-volunteer army, which tends to be generally from the less affluent sectors of society. The second is the National Guard, which was never intended to be used as a routine long-term combat force the way the Bush Administration uses it today. Certainly, when men and women sign up for the National Guard, they do so under the full realization that they could be called up to fight at any time, and they have to be ready for that. But I don’t think it is right – either for them or for our country – that people with families and jobs are pulled away from home and placed on extended deployment the way many of our National Guard troops have been in Iraq. About one third of our troops on the ground in Iraq are Guardsmen.
Governors of both political parties have also expressed concern about the way the Bush Administration is using the Guard. Earlier this year at a meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, many said that Bush’s war was depleting both their equipment and their personnel, making it more difficult for them to respond to hurricanes, floods or other natural disasters which have been the traditional role of the National Guard. The same could be said of their ability to deal with a future terror threat here on our home soil.
At the NGA meeting, all 50 governors – 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats – signed a letter to the president about the situation. In part it read: “Unfortunately, when our National Guard men and women return from being deployed in foreign theaters, much of their equipment remains behind.” The governors asked the White House to re-equip Guard units “to carry out their homeland security and domestic disaster duties.”
Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican, said: “What we are concerned about, as governors, is that when our troops are deployed for long periods of time, and their equipment goes with them but does not come back, the troops are very strained, and they no longer have the equipment they were trained to use.”
For a completely different reason, a great deal of concern has surfaced about the safety of our troops – both those who are in uniform today, and those who will serve in the future. This fear is expressed mainly by people with a military background, who worry that Bush policies might now leave our soldiers susceptible to torture.
The Bush Administration has sought to unilaterally re-write the laws on civil rights in many ways, and in some cases they have gone to the Congress after the fact to try to have their actions approved. They have encountered some resistance, but unfortunately they have also succeeded to some degree.
On top of the well-documented abuses at Abu Graib prison, the Bush Administration also sought, among other things, to repudiate a portion of the Geneva Convention concerning what type of interrogation methods are acceptable, to eliminate the right to Habeas Corpus, to allow secret evidence that is never presented to a defendant, and to permit the use of coerced evidence.
They have used cruel and inhumane methods. They have detained people for lengthy periods of time, and detain them to this day, on flimsy evidence or no evidence, merely the vague suspicion or unconfirmed reports of terrorist ties.
People in Bush’s own party, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, who spent years in a North Vietnam prison camp, and Senator Lindsay Graham, who is a former military lawyer, fought Bush on his plans for a while. So did Colin Powell, Bush’s former secretary of state who was once chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were worried not only that we are sending the wrong message about the ideals that America stands for in the world, but also about potential repercussions on our own soldiers who end up as prisoners of war.
They stood up to Bush for a while, but in a sad case of bowing to partisan election-year pressure, they caved in and approved a piece of legislation that should give all Americans grave concerns about the repercussions on our own troops, not to mention human rights problems.
Lastly, I want to offer one more reminder about the fighting force that we have stationed in Iraq. For the first time, in this war, we have women seeing combat in substantial numbers. They are bearing the same hardships as men. In the case of women in the Guard, they are leaving husbands and children behind at home. They are taking the same risks as the men. In a war that has no defined battle lines but is fought instead in the streets and alleys of Iraqi cities, they are being wounded and dying the same as male soldiers.
Women are not suppose to be assigned to ground combat, but the nature of the fight in Iraq, as well our military being stretched thin, have led to that rule being essentially ignored by commanders in the field in many cases.
Our nation’s military death toll in Iraq now stands at 2,771. The wounded number 20,687.
As of the end of last month, 67 women were killed in either Afghanistan or Iraq, the vast majority of them in Iraq.
Pennsylvania women are among the fatalities. Today I would ask you to pay tribute of two of our daughters killed in Iraq.
Sergeant Jennifer M. Hartman, 21, of New Ringgold, Pa. was killed in Western Baghdad on September 14 of injuries suffered when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated in the vicinity where she and two other soldiers were located. Hartman was assigned to the 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
Staff Sergeant. Kimberly A. Voelz, 27, of Carlisle, Pa., was killed December 14, 2003, in Iskandariyah, Iraq. She was responding to an explosive ordnance disposal call when an improvised explosive device detonated. Voelz was assigned to the 703rd Explosive Ordnance Detachment.
Today I am going to mention a third Pennsylvania soldier killed in action. Sadly, there is no shortage of names of our fallen. Private First Class Shelby J. Feniello, 25, of Connellsville, Pa., died October 9 when a bomb exploded underneath his Humvee while he was conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
PFC Feniello was the nephew a former member of Sen. Logan’s Harrisburg staff.
In a story in the October 12 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his father said that his son often talked about not having adequate armor on the Humvees in Iraq. He said PFC Feniello was encouraged by the reinforced armor added to the sides of vehicles, but more armor was also needed on the undercarriages.
"He said the Humvees had no protection," his father said. "He didn't like driving them because they didn't have enough underneath protection."
"I feel for everybody still over there," said Mr. Feniello. "Those boys do a lot of good for us."
Sadly, Madam President, our president does not do enough for them.
Thank You Madam President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo