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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why strange things happen

The Breaking of a Marine
by ilona

I learned early that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by mythmakers - historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state...War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over. - Chris Hedges, veteran war correspondent and author of War Is a Force That Give Us Meaning

We're fighting them over there they tell us.

We sent our nation's finest young men and women over there, so we won't have to fight them over here. They promise us nothing will touch us. As if we can be insulated from war and everything that flows from it. As if our troops will come back undamaged and whole after their third, fourth, fifth deployments to hell and back.

They lied. The war has reached our shores.

The vessels of war are those service men and women who return to us broken, beaten, and hypervigilant. Sooner or later, even the best and brightest if pushed long and hard enough arrive at their breaking point.

Two marines break into Va. Beach home, terrorize residents
That was the headline this past week in Virginia Beach, VA. A tragedy on so many levels, a most horrible crime:

Two marines currently stationed and undergoing counterintelligence training at Dam Neck, broke into a Virginia Beach couple's home and severely beat the husband.

Police say that at around 2:20 a.m., they received a 9-1-1 call from a woman who said that her home had been broken into by two men who smashed down the front door and were assaulting her husband.

The woman had managed to rush upstairs as the two men, Sgt. Jerome Fenner and Sgt. Shawn Gianforte, smashed up her home and assaulted her husband. The two Marines had apparently been drinking all night, and chose a house at random.

They commanded the husband to get down as they beat him, telling him "I am the one in control." They accused him of being a terrorist and told the couple they would have to be killed.

Fortunately, police arrived on the scene at 2:35 with a tactical team, stormed the house, and found Gianforte still on top of the husband. Fenner (who is actually a counter and human intel instructor at the Dam Neck Training Center, Gianforte a student -- perhaps his) fled the scene but later was apprehended.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
View station 13 WVEC's report:

Had this been the end of the story, it would be heartbreaking. Just another combat PTSD-related OEF/OIF returning veteran incident to add to the others in the PTSD Timeline.

But it's not the end. It's just the beginning...

Sgt. Shawn Gianforte, 29, really has an incredible story to tell.

One that shouldn't have ended in that Virginia Beach house late Wednesday night. Details are few as far as what happened that night. Gianforte appeared in court on Thursday and Sgt. Jerome Fenner, 28, appeared on Friday. I wasn't able to learn of Fenner's combat status; but, Gianforte is an Iraq veteran who's served at least two tours with distinction.

Vigilance Pays Where Complacency Kills
Gianforte first appears in connection with the Iraq War in the August 4, 2004 Washington Post piece linked above. He was serving with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines -- the same battalion as James Blake Miller (aka The Marlboro Man or the Face of the War). Miller was with Charlie Company, and Gianforte was with Bravo.

Both men served together during Operation Phantom Fury (or the 'Fight for Fallujah') in November 2004. Gianforte was already on his second tour. His first was during the initial invasion of Iraq from March-October 2003, serving in Mosul. (Miller is now honorably discharged, but coping with post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Judging by this week's incident, Gianforte may very well have PTSD, too.)

The 1-8 deployed to Iraq in June 2004. Before getting their Fallujah orders, they were assigned to Anbar Province where they protected Haditha Dam, which churned out 1/5 of the country's electricity, and kept the roads safe and clear for military and civilian vehicles.

From the Washington Post:

The holes gouged from the pavement were a reminder, as if one were necessary, of the danger to Bravo Company as it rolled through the shimmering heat.

"Stop here," Lt. Vince Noble said quietly. His Humvee, guiding three others, eased to a halt 30 yards from a bridge. Noble, in the right-hand seat, peered through his field binoculars. He lingered, examining the dirt near the bridge with the care of an archaeologist. He was looking for a subtle change in color, scrape marks, any evidence of recent digging. Or, even more telltale, the wisp of the antenna of a walkie-talkie that would set off a roadside bomb.

When Lt. Noble was later wounded in fighting in Fallujah, Gianforte would be the first at his side. But right now IED's (improvised explosive devices) are their biggest danger. A small quote by Gianforte is found near the bottom of the article:

On a recent morning, men from Noble's company kneeled around him as they planned the day's patrol. They already were sweating in the fierce midmorning sun. In the open-top Humvees, they got hotter and dirtier. ...

In the lead Humvee, Lance Cpl. Mike Riggle, 21, from Youngsville, Pa., steered to the center of the road, away from the right side, where bombs would be placed. He edged over only to let traffic pass. All eyes in the convoy swept the roadside for suspicious scenery.

"We've been up and down this road so many times we can tell what pile of dirt is new," said Sgt. Shawn Gianforte, 27, of Caledonia, N.Y.

Operation Phantom Fury, or al-Fajr (Dawn) began November 7, 2004.

Gianforte was one of the Marines interviewed by author Gary Livingston for his book, Fallujah, With Honor. He served as a machine gun section leader for the Fire Support Team (FiST) in Bravo Company's Weapons Platoon as they entered that city on the Euphrates.

He shared some experiences:

  • Making it through the breach the evening they made their initial push ("Here it goes," he thought. "I have to haul ass, keep my head down and if I get through there, I'll be good,")

  • A close call from airborne friendlies ("Yeah, I'd better get down, too.")

  • Getting caught in some stray 'Willy Pete' raining down on them one morning ("I looked back as I was running, the white phosphorous had an umbrella shape to it. A few of the FiST Marines got it on their packs.")

  • Marvelling at the strength of the resistence and the accuracy of Marine artillery ("The fire was just awesome to watch as it came in on the enemy targets. It was unbelievable how accurate the Marine artillery was from firing so far away.")

  • Memories of a great holiday meal after weeks of MRE's ("I remember Thanksgiving Day. They brought turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy into the city for us. It was good.")

He also remembered the intensity of the battle. While the entire battalion used only 1,300 to 1,500 rounds of artillery, their FiST used 1,000 to 1,200 supporting B Company. They'd answered 30-35 calls for help. Quite an achievement, indeed.

Homecoming, February 2005

I haven't been able to confirm later deployments past the first two for Gianforte. He may very well have gone back again before returning stateside to begin the Dam Neck training in counter and human intel he was enrolled in presently.

I did find a real heartwarming account of Gianforte's arrival home last year. His family and community gathered at the local American Legion and celebrated their hero's safe return.

We learn more about Gianforte's personal life:

A 1994 graduate of Caledonia-Mumford High School, the Sergeant says as a young boy he was influenced by the popular action figure, G.I. Joe, and wanted to be just like him. He married his high school sweetheart, Lisa O'Hearn Gianforte, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps directly after graduation. His first tour of duty came in 1996 when he was deployed to Okinawa, Japan and then to Guam where he was part of a humanitarian effort assisting Kurdish refugees from Iraq. ...

Marine Sergeant Gianforte, his wife and three year old daughter Zoie will return next week to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where Lisa's job is to assist and support the other Marine wives that are dealing with their husband's absence. She says that keeps her busy, along with caring for their daughter, and helps her deal with her own husband's absence. "I know it's his job," Lisa said of her husband's service in Iraq.

My heart can't help but go out to this family, as it does to the couple that became victims to the obvious drunken and manic rage of Gianforte and Fenner. Tell me again how PTSD doesn't effect us all?

Please keep them all in your thoughts today...

What can we do?

Not all of them have reached their breaking point. But the stress of their experience courses through their veins as they seek to find a way to co-exist among us again.

We must advocate to:

* Properly and fully fund the Veterans Administration.
* Make VA funding mandatory (like Social Security).
* Reduction of tour length to six or seven months.
* Decrease the amount of times troops may be deployed into combat.
* Force the DoD to follow their own regulations.
* Improve post-deployment assessments.
* Remove stigma/punishment for those seeking help.
* Require completion of a `boot camp in reverse' transitional training program.
* Extend health insurance coverage for the National Guard and Reserve service members to 3 years.
* Stop closing VA Hospitals and Vet Centers.
* Increase funding to community service boards.
* Increase Vet Center program offerings.
* Provide complimentary counseling to all family members.
* Increase personal data security and treatment anonymity.
* Demand the DoD and VA do a better job of communicating with veterans.
* Create a free-standing toll-free PTSD hotline.
* Improve the VA claims process

Or the car which crashed into Kos's tech guy's house driven by a drunk soldier.

Obviously this is a crime which needs to be punished, but there is more going on here. Random home invasion? They were lucky they weren't killed by the owners.

posted by Steve @ 3:12:00 PM

3:12:00 PM

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