Category Archives: Member Blog

My Thoughts on Veterans Day AKA Armistice Day

I feel like a zombie. I don’t look dead or crave human brains for my next meal. I must look like my former self because people still recognize me …maybe just older and somewhat detached. I get up each day, do the usual things and go to sleep at night. Life goes on for everyone else and my anti-depressant dose is double what it used to be.

Everything appears normal on the outside, but a zombie resides inside of me. For the ??? time since 9/11 a pierce of my heart is deployed. I quit counting how many times my sons have been deployed. Such is the life of a triple Blue Star Mother.

“Sure I’m proud of their accomplishments”, I reply to well meaning people that ask about my sons.  And, “Yes. They enlisted”, I answer those who are trying to make the point that they must want to be deployed.  But those facts don’t matter a bit to a mother who is worried sick about her child’s life while he is deployed fighting in a war we know should never have happened in the first place .

Today, on the day we used to call Armistice Day, I will honor all my loved ones living and dead at the 11th hour, and pray that every military family finds peace.  Tomorrow I will go back to being a zombie because others who are not carrying my load will go back to business as usual.  I know many of my brothers and sisters in MFSO and other peace groups like Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War will continue doing the work needed to bring peace and I will have to let others carry my load while I am in the zombie mode where I need to stay until I know my son is home again and safe.

That is the way I roll. That is how others I know in Military Families Speak Out roll too. I am eternally grateful for the support from MFSO because they know what is in my heart. Thank you. I couldn’t make it without you.

Marcia Westbrook

Military Families Speak Out

West Virginia

How Many U.S. Troops Have Been Targeted by ANA Troops?

When a NATO troop is killed by an Afghan in uniform, that death is reported. But The Associated Press has learned from a U.S. official granted anonymity in order to give a fuller picture of the “insider” problem, that when an Afghan in uniform wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target, the attack is not reported. Nor are the number of troops wounded who were attacked alongside those who were killed reported.

In recent weeks a soldier in the Afghan National Army (“ANA”) opened fire on a group of American soldiers but missed the group entirely. The Americans quickly shot him to death. Not a word about this was reported by the International Security Assistance Force (“ISAF”).

ISAF also said nothing about an April attack in which two Afghan policemen in Kandahar province fired on U.S. soldiers, wounding two. Reporters learned of it from Afghan officials and from U.S. officials in Washington. The two Afghan policemen were shot to death by the Americans present.

The April attack that killed U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Andrew T. Brittonmihalo, 25, of Simi Valley, Calif., also wounded three other American soldiers. The death was reported by ISAF as an insider attack, but it made no mention of the wounded — or that an Afghan civilian also was killed.

The attacker was an Afghan Special Forces soldier who opened fire with a machine gun at a base in Kandahar province. He was killed by return fire. That attack apparently was the first by a member of the Afghan Special Forces, who are more closely vetted than conventional Afghan forces, and are often described by American officials as the most effective and reliable in the Afghan military.

Coalition officials do not dispute that such non-fatal attacks happen, but they have not provided a full accounting.

Jamie Graybeal, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, disclosed that in most of the fatal attacks a number of other NATO troops were wounded. By policy, the fact that the attacks resulted in wounded as well as a fatality is not reported because the coalition does not have consent from all coalition governments to do so. “All releases must be consistent with the national policies of troop contributing nations.”

 Graybeal said a new review of this year’s data showed that the 10 fatal attacks this year resulted in the deaths of 19 ISAF service members. Most of those killed this year have been Americans but France, Britain and other coalition member countries also have suffered fatalities.

Graybeal said each attack in 2012 and 2011 was “an isolated incident and has its own underlying circumstances and motives.” Last May, however, an unclassified internal ISAF study, called “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility,” concluded, “Such fratricide-murder incidents are no longer isolated; they reflect a growing systemic threat.” It said many attacks stemmed from Afghan grievances related to cultural and other conflicts with U.S. troops.

Until now there has been little public notice of non-fatal insider attacks, even though they would appear to reflect the same deadly intent as that of Afghans who succeed in killing their foreign partners.

The insider threat has existed for years but has grown more deadly. The U.S. and its military partners are working more closely with Afghan troops in preparation for handing off security responsibility to them by the end of 2014. Training ANA troops will be a major emphasis of U.S. military personnel in the next 12 years. It is likely that many more of our troops will be killed or wounded by Afghans in uniform.

[see http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2012/04/ap-isaf-under-reporting-attacks-afghan-allies-043012/ for full story]

What malaria meds may be doing to our troops

by: Anna Berlinrut, Mid-Atlantic MFSO Board Representative

Nine days after Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly massacred 17 unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, including young children, a top-level Pentagon health official ordered an emergency review of the military’s use of mefloquine an anti-malaria drug, commonly known under the trade name of Lariam (made by Hoffman-LaRoche).

The normal dosage of Lariam is one pill before going into an area known to have malaria-infected mosquitoes and one pill each week the patient is in that area. Normally, tourists take only a couple of Lariam pills during a vacation. But our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan take many more pills — the average deployment for Marines is seven months and the average Army deployment is twelve months. Many troops have been deployed over five times in the war zones in more than a decade of war.

Scientific journals reported dangers associated with Lariam to tourists as early as the 1980s. A study in the British Medical Journal (August 31, 1996) found a significant excess of adverse neuropsychiatric events of intermediate degrees of severity associated with the use of mefloquine compared with alternative drugs.

A 2006 study conducted at Walter Reed Medical Center found that rats given a single dose suffered impairment of motor function and degeneration of brain stem nuclei, as well as activity that suggested sleep disorders. The data also suggested the drug could lead to permanent damage to the central nervous system.

The FDA’s website reports: Mefloquine may cause psychiatric symptoms in a number of patients, ranging from anxiety, paranoia, and depression to hallucinations and psychotic behavior. Rare cases of suicidal ideation and suicide have been reported.

“Lariam Action” support groups have been formed in the U.K., the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland by victims of side-effects of this drug. The Roche (Australia) product information website lists side-effects including panic attacks,“epileptic type” seizures, headaches, visual and auditory hallucinations, aggression and thoughts of suicide which have been reported to continue long after Lariam has been stopped.

A recently released report by the U.S. Army entitled “Generating Health and Discipline in the Force” describes a fighting force more prone to inexcusable violence and an “epidemic” of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). An average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day. Military analysts credit more than a decade of war with repeated deployments as a cause. The report notes that the average infantryman in World War II in the South Pacific experienced a total of 40 days of combat during the entire war. Our troops are in constant danger from IEDs and snipers in a very different type of war. But could Lariam also be a cause of personality changes?

The Army nearly stopped using mefloquine in 2009 because of its dangers and the fact that it should not be given to anyone with symptoms of a brain injury, depression or anxiety disorder, which describes many troops who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The Army’s new choice for anti-malarial protection is doxycycline, a generic antibiotic. The Air Force is no longer giving it to Air Force pilots.

Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a former Army psychiatrist wrote in the Time magazine “Battleland” blog, “One obvious question to consider is whether he [Bales] was on mefloquine .” “This mediation has been increasingly associated with neuropsychiatric side effects, including depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.”

The Army has refused to say whether Staff Sgt. Bales was taking mefloquine, citing medical privacy issues, but they did leak that Bales had at least one traumatic brain injury and that he was using alcohol the night before the massacre. The Army apparently picks and chooses what information it considers to be a privacy concern.

Knowing the side-effects of mefloquine, should it ever be given to our troops?

Sick & Tired

How often in our lives have we heard the phrase ‘sick and tired’ either from the mouth of our mothers or from our own mouths for our children? I remember a comedy routine by Bill Cosby when he was referencing his childhood and his mother was scolding him with the beginning of the phrase ‘sick’ and he finished the ‘and tired’ and said he doesn’t remember anything after that. It is a phrase uttered by mothers when they are just at the end of the line and fed up with whatever situation is going on with the family.

I am a mother of a soldier now veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I’m not a politician, lawmaker, general or leader of a country. I do not make the decisions to send soldiers off to war but I do see first hand the destruction that war produces – not only on the body but on the spirit of the soldier as well as the family and those who love them. And yes, I’m sick and tired of wars in our world. As with so many mothers it isn’t the labor of pain that is unbearable, it is watching one’s child in pain – whether physical, mental or spiritual that is the most unbearable pain of all. I can look at my son see gaping wounds in his soul that need to heal for they are festering wounds of the horror the war left behind. I know my son doesn’t see the wounds that his family sees. He believes if he just gets his life back in order everything will be okay as before his multiple deployments.

PTSD falls heavy upon the soldiers but it also falls upon the family and friends of the soldier. My son is a veteran of two terms of deployment in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was sent to Iraq at the beginning of the war, remaining 12 months; came home for six months, went back for 12 more months, returned home for a year and then was sent to Afghanistan for 15 months. He is now out of the military at his choosing because his young family fell apart while he was at war on his third deployment and his children needed him home. It was a painful decision because he loved being a soldier and the military life. He is the type of soldier the military needs but the destruction that he could not stop, the protection he could not provide was happening to his young family and he made the decision to leave in order to be more for his children.

For so many years I spoke out against the abuse of our soldiers by our government for treating them as robots and androids as though their lives and their families’ lives are expendable. A few years back I had the privilege to sit down with six other military families members to speak to Ohio Senator George Voinovich. I brought the picture of my son and his family and showed him that my son is not a robot or an android but a human being putting his life on the line for our country. I wanted justification for the multiple deployments that ignore the needs of the humanity of the soldier. I also had the privilege of being included in a conference call with Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown in which I asked him when all our soldiers are finally home from these wars and later into their lives when all the horror they experienced comes vomiting out of them – who will be there to help clean it up and to help them heal.

There are two losses from such wars – the physical loss of life and the loss of a part of one’s soul/spirit. The men and women from these two wars have experienced over and over again and again one deployment after another without having a chance to heal from the last deployment. It didn’t help that a representative from Ohio commented that the lives our young men and women was a small price to pay for this war. It doesn’t help that the military and society has this hang-up about seeking mental help – viewed as a weakness more than a definitive need. And it certainly didn’t help when the country was told to look away and ‘pretend’ there is no war and to go about our lives as though everything is just fine, while a certain segment of our society – the military suffered in so many ways.

Those of us in military families who have spoken out against the war are met with ugliness and destructive comments from our fellow citizens among which we are called unpatriotic and un-American. I’ve had friends tell me to stop speaking out because it would ‘hurt my son’s career!’ Really? He’s been thrown into the fires of hell with several deployments for a war that was a lie and I’m hurting his career? Of course none of them had a loved one in the military so I ignored their ‘concern.’ I had other friends tell me that, hey, this war isn’t as bad as Vietnam – there haven’t been that many deaths! I sat and wondered – well tell that to the mother and dad, or the wife and children of the soldier who just died or to the young mother of the warring country holding her dead toddler in her arms and tell them that this isn’t as bad as Vietnam.

As a mother I want to just explode and say to others who seek war, who seek to destroy our world that “I’m Sick and Tired!” Somewhere leaders and fanatic religious within our world have decided that children – our children are needed to fight ‘their wars – their beliefs.’ As mothers of the world, who are we allowing to take our babies we now nurse and turn them into killing machines? As mothers of the world, who are we allowing to convince our children that suicide is a good thing to promote fanatic beliefs? As mothers of the world who are we allowing to use our children as robots while ignoring the humanity our child?

Have we learned nothing from our past histories that violence and killing only causes more violence and more killings? Holy prophets of all the great religions have been sent to give the message of peace and love. Why do powerful leaders and religious fanatics seem to always turn a deaf ear to such messages and why do they seem to have such a fear of these messages? Even in what they call justified wars it often leads to more wars and more killings of the innocents.

As a mother, I want to take these leaders who want war and killings and put them into a room and sit them down. They will be forced to come to a conclusion or never leave the room. Basically a permanent time-out until matters are resolved. However if they insist that fighting is the only answer then they are to strip and be naked of clothing and weapons, along with no food or water; just four walls and a concrete floor. The room could be freezing cold or horrifically hot. There will be no bodyguards, no one protecting them. It’s not about making things nice for them it is about facing their decision and not using others to make it happen. War is ugly and if they choose to fight then so be it – but no longer on their terms of using others. They will have to face each other because mothers around the world have decided that our children are not going to be used by such people for their agenda of violence.

No I’m not a politician, lawmaker, general or leader of a country. I’m also not naiveté of the powers of evil within our world or the need for military presence. I’m an American citizen and a mother of a veteran who has had enough. There is a March for Life happening every year in our nation’s capital with the focus on the life of the unborn. I believe that if people take the time to march for the child within the womb, then they must not stop “marching for life” once the child is born.

I’m a mother who is just sick and tired of the fact that we fail to learn these many years the destruction that war does to a person, to a family, and to a nation and ultimately the world. It must never be a knee-jerk reaction but the very last resort and then think again. I’m a mother who is so sick and tired of those who feed into violence as the only solution to a challenging situation. It is time for mothers to state; ‘not with my child and mean it.’

By Susan Handle Terbay