Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lagniappe: Sean Huze's Gripping Story from the Front Lines in Iraq - The Gambit Weekly, a fine New Orleans weekly newspaper, has in its current issue a great story by Eliza Strickland on Sean Huze's experience as a marine on the front lines of the Iraq War when it began in March of 2003.

Sean Huze volunteered the day after 9/11 and, according to his own words, went to war with full faith in George W. Bush's arguments. Although Huze still supports the troops and wants the U.S. effort in Iraq to succeed, he returned from the war feeling deceived by the Bush Administration. Here are some of what I think are the more important pieces in this story:

Don't get Sean Huze started on the subject of yellow ribbons.

"I really have a resentment against these freaking yellow ribbon magnets, I really do," says the former Marine, a veteran of the Iraqi Freedom campaign and a Louisiana native. "It's not the ribbons themselves. But I think people stop there, and that's not real support. A yellow ribbon magnet on the back of your car is not supporting the troops."

So what is supporting the troops? Not sending them to die in battle unnecessarily, Huze says. Providing support for families left behind. Properly arming and equipping those soldiers in the war zone, and making sure they're not stretched too thin. And taking care of returning veterans who bear the physical or psychic wounds of war.

Huze believes the Bush administration has failed on all counts. He also thinks the American public hasn't insisted that its government do better.

Huze left the armed forces in the fall of 2004. When he returned to the United States, he wrote a well-received play about the war titled The Sand Storm: Stories From the Iraqi Front. He also serves as a spokesman for Operation Truth, a non-partisan veterans organization that has frequently criticized the Bush administration for its management of the war and its treatment of soldiers and veterans.

"The voice of the troops on the ground is something that's not reaching America," says Huze, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "People will listen to a general who can't even tell you what gunpowder smells like, but they won't listen to a private who has had to take a life and see his comrades fall in battle. It blows me away."
Here's another section of the piece where Huze defends the troops ...
Huze's battalion soon came to be called "The Destroyers" by the Iraqi troops who encountered it. They fought battles in Al Kut and Tikrit, and fended off surprise attacks in non-descript towns and on nameless roads. Huze earned his share of commendations for his role, including a Certificate of Commendation citing his "courage and self sacrifice throughout sustained combat operations"; the Combat Action Ribbon; Meritorious Promotion for Corporal; the Presidential Unit Citation; and the National Defense Service Medal.

"We were certainly effective, and we all made it home," says Huze, speaking in measured tones. "So there's something to be said for that. We were also responsible for a lot of carnage. Unfortunately, as in any war, the civilian population pays a pretty heavy toll, especially when we were engaged throughout the war in urban areas. It's not like you're in an open battlefield and it's two armies going at it. All of it was in densely populated areas. You see a lot of things you'd rather not see.

"I've met so many people out here in the past months who'd like to portray the military as a collection of trigger-happy fools who love killing women and children," Huze continues. "It's a disgusting lie to perpetuate. You're in an urban environment, you are taking fire, and you've got tenths of seconds, not even seconds, to make the decision. Mission accomplishment is always No. 1 priority, so you do what you have to do to push on with your mission."
And here's Huze relating his feeling of being deceived by the Bush Administration and of being put off by Bush's arrogance ...
Before long, Huze would discover other ways in which his war experiences had changed him.

"At the time I went to Iraq, I was a sucker like about 90 percent of us," says Huze. "I believed the justifications, I believed what the president said."

Throughout his time in Iraq, Huze says, he continued to take comfort in the rationale for war that he believed the Bush administration had presented: that Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda and that Iraq's stockpiled weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat to the United States.

But back at Camp Lejeune, after the glow of his hero's welcome had worn off, Huze began to question those assumptions. On July 2, 2003, a presidential press conference changed his uncertainty to anger. Answering a question about the burgeoning Iraqi insurgency, Bush replied with a challenge: "Bring 'em on." To Huze, it seemed that the president was more concerned about his "Texas tough guy" image than the lives of the troops. "He was surrounded by body guards, while the guys I knew were the ones who were really putting it on the line, who would have to bear the repercussions of his statements," Huze says.

As Huze began to doubt the war, he became more troubled by his memories. If the war wasn't fought for the cause of thwarting terrorism, how could he justify the dead Iraqi civilians the Destroyers had left in their wake? And how could dead American soldiers rest easy in their graves?
Huze, being an actor, put his experiences and his reactions as a soldier on the front lines into a theatrical production that has met with success. It's called The Sand Storm and I hope to be able to see it some day.

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