U.S. Soldier in Germany Question′s Obama′s Commitment to Peace

by Elsa Rassbach

 Berlin, June 4, 2009. What will President Barack Obama tell the wounded U.S. soldiers when he visits them in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany on June 5th? André Shepherd, 32, a U.S. soldier seeking asylum in Germany knows what he hopes Obama will tell them: "If Obama is serious about being the peace president, he will tell the soldiers that he will end the ’overseas contingency operations,’ including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and do so immediately."

Shepherd’s case has gained international attention because he is the first to apply for asylum in Germany since the "war on terror" began. But many other U.S. soldiers are also resisting, as they did under the Bush administration. Recent public cases include two soldiers from the U.S. Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, Victor Agosto and Travis Bishop, both of whom face court martial after publicly refusing last month to deploy to Afghanistan. As Agosto wrote in a military counseling statement to be seen by his commander: “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.”

This will be President Obama’s first visit to a hospital with recovering Iraq and Afghanistan combat wounded since becoming president. Landstuhl, built in 1938 as the campus of the Adolf Hitler School for Youth, is now the largest American hospital outside the United States and treats U.S. military personnel and some coalition military personnel stationed in Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan. According to Marie Shaw, Chief of Landstuhl Public Affairs, all wounded soldiers who not expected to recover within 14 days are evacuated from the fields of battle, and "all are brought to Landstuhl." They arrive at Ramstein Air Base and are transported from there to the hospital, only 5 kilometers away. The Landstuhl mission states: "We enable the warfighter to continue the mission of the US Armed Forces." However, ca. 90 percent of the wounded instead need to be sent to the United States for further treatment.

How many wounded are coming through Landstuhl? Dr. Evan Kanter, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, has said: "In Iraq the ratio (of wounded to dead) is 8 to 1, compared to Vietnam, where it was 3 to 1, or World War II, where it was 2 to 1...Today we can stabilize and airlift people to Landstuhl Air Force Base in Germany within 24 hours... As a consequence, we now have service members with dreadful injuries who would never have survived similar conditions in an earlier battle."

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the total number of coalition soldiers who have died in Iraq so far are 4624 (4306 from the U.S., 179 from the U.K., and 139 soldiers from other nations). 1167 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan so far (695 from the U.S. and 472 from other nations, including 30 from Germany, which has the highest casualty count in Afghanistan after the U.S.)

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a May 27th interview with Military Times: "...we’ve lost almost 5,000 people, and we’ve got some 36,000 plus — and the plus is not a small plus — that are injured, that are wounded." But many observers believe the Pentagon underreports casualties. An investigation by Veterans for Common Sense found that, as of June 2007, the underreporting was about 50%. Dr. Kanter, stated in June 2008 that the Pentagon’s figures "do not include suicides or post evacuation deaths induced by lethal wounds received in combat, nor even the deaths of over 1,000 private contractors. If we include all the wounded, the injured and the medically ill, we have a total of over 70,000...We’ve deployed over 1,600,000 personnel so far [it is now well over 1,800,000], looking at the PTSD and major depression cases alone will give you three to four hundred thousand psychiatric casualties."

On January 19th, 2009, just before he took office, Obama said, "In order to end this war responsibly, I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq." So far no troops have been withdrawn from Iraq. More U.S. and coalition soldiers have died in Afghanistan during the first five months of 2009 than during the first five months of any year since the war there began in 2001. Since Obama took office, there has also been a 14% increase in the backlog of veteran’s disability claims, which now total nearly 1 million. Last year, 140 U.S. soldiers committed suicide, a record high, but already during the first four months of 2009, 64 U.S. soldiers have committed suicide.

All of the wounded soldiers Obama will visit in Landstuhl were injured after he took office. For these U.S. soldiers and their families, the "change" Obama promised has not happened nearly fast enough.

Other U.S. soldiers face jail or, like André Shepherd, exile. Cut off from his family in the U.S., Shepherd now lives together with other asylum-seekers, mainly Iraqis and Afghans, in a facility provided by the German government. He hopes that Obama will not only speak to the wounded in Landstuhl, but also listen to them. He knows that he himself will likely not be able to go home until there is a change in U.S. policy and stated in a recent interview (Common Dreams May 28, 2009): "They’re still arresting people who refuse to fight. They’re still putting them in jail, giving them dishonorable discharges, and some are facing possible felony convictions. But Obama has yet to speak of the growing number of soldiers refusing to fight for him - well, first Bush, and now him. So I don’t see President Obama granting anyone clemency until the entire ’war on terror’ is finished, and Afghanistan and Iraq are part of the same war."

Elsa Rassbach: U.S. Soldier in Germany Question’s Obama’s Commitment to Peace, June 4, 2009

Keywords:    ⇒ Germany   ⇒ Militarization   ⇒ Military   ⇒ Soldiers   ⇒ USA   ⇒ War