P.S. from Iraq

In an update to our recent cover story, Sgt. Garth Talbott tells us what the form letters left out

Long, hard slog: Sgt. Garth Talbott found made-in-America mortar rounds among the Iraqi caches.

Long, hard slog: Sgt. Garth Talbott found made-in-America mortar rounds among the Iraqi caches.

Courtesy Of Peter Sleeth, The Oregonian

Dear Garth:
Talbott can be reached at: BCO 307 En Bn 82D 2-BCT Unit # 96938, APO AE 09368-6993

Even as President Bush was blaming the media for portraying the situation in Iraq in a negative light, at least 11 newspapers across the country were duped into publishing an upbeat form letter signed by “hometown” soldiers reporting conditions there were improving. Meanwhile, the News & Review has received new communication from our source on the ground in Iraq that tells a very different story about morale among American soldiers.

Sgt. Garth Talbott, the young man from Chico stationed in Iraq since last March and whose letters to his sister, Anna, we published in September (“From the front lines, with love,” SN&R Cover, September 11), has sent another letter. This one was addressed directly to the News & Review and is anything but a generic form letter.

Dated September 28, the letter arrived October 8. Talbott, originally scheduled to come home in July, as were all members of the 82nd Airborne Division who arrived with him, has seen his orders to remain in Iraq extended to January or February.

And American soldiers are being killed on a daily basis.

“There are a number of reasons why I should be pissed off,” Talbott writes. “But really, only one thing about this whole ‘war situation’ manages to get my goat. Never mind that President Bush, the commander in chief, the zenith of my chain of command, the ‘lord high commander’ at the very pinnacle of the military rank structure, promised that no combat troops would be deployed more than six months. I guess he wasn’t including the 3rd Infantry or the 82nd Airborne.”

He tells of soldiers whose identification cards have expired because they “weren’t even supposed to be in the Army anymore.”

Talbott, while admitting that his sources of news have been reduced to “Stars and Stripes, Maxim and Hustler,” questions the shifting reasons for our invasion of the Middle Eastern country.

If Iraq was funding terrorists, he wonders, “why didn’t we do Saudi Arabia and Syria, too? And if that was valid enough reason, then why did the focus so suddenly shift to weapons of mass destruction?”

Why, if weapons of mass destruction were the focus, he asks, did the United States secure the oil fields but not the nuclear-research facilities?

Why did the focus then shift a third time to freeing the people of Iraq?

“Doesn’t it seem strange to anyone that we haven’t had one constant reason for starting a war?”

Stars and Stripes, the military and veteran newspaper to which Talbott refers, has published the results of a survey it conducted confirming Talbott’s report on the soldiers’ sinking spirits. One-third of the troops in Iraq said their morale was low, and one-half said they would not re-enlist.

Talbott’s letter notes that while he helped destroy caches of Iraqi mortar rounds, “there were plenty of American-made ones in there. They were just like the ones my friends were shooting at Iraqis back in April: ‘U.S.,’ stenciled on the cardboard packing tube.”

And what exactly, Talbott asks, is the president’s stand on veterans’ benefits?

“The way I understand it,” he writes, “the president is either trying to or already has made cuts in the benefits available to veterans. Huh? We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for two years, a quarter of a million Americans on the Iraqi front, who knows what’s next, and he wants to cut veterans’ benefits.

“There is a guy in my company who lost his leg up to the knee, his eyesight and some of his face doing his commander in chief’s bidding. Now the very man who sent this kid—he couldn’t even legally drink—to be mutilated and disabled for the rest of his life wants to scale back his entitlements to compensation.”

He ends the letter by saying that his three and one-half years in the Army have made him “numb to watching people hung out to dry.” What really bothers him, he says, was a photo he saw in Stars and Stripes of a sign at a gas station in the United States showing gasoline selling for $2.07 a gallon.

“Didn’t we secure the oil fields? Aren’t we a capitalist country anymore? Can’t we sidestep OPEC [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] now? Can’t we at least, somewhere in the midst of deception, half-truths and outright lies, catch an honest break?

“If we’re going to fight for a cause that isn’t known, get fired on by our own weapons, and get screwed out of our benefits, then at least, for God’s sake, give us something concrete to say we fought for—even if it’s as trivial as being able to fill our gas tanks for 98 cents a gallon.”

Talbott, who was promoted from corporal to sergeant since we last heard from him in June, adds this postscript: “If it’s not evident, a lot of the folks over here are starting to get pretty damn bitter, and with good reason.”