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GOP Senator Lashes Administration For "Insensitive" Troop Treatment

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Bob Geiger
In a vivid sign that George W. Bush's incompetent handling of the Iraq war has fully reached across the political aisle and become too glaring for even his Congressional allies to ignore, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) sent a blunt letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates late last week bitterly complaining about how another extension of Minnesota troops in Iraq has been handled. "I am extremely disappointed to hear that the President's decision to implement a troop surge in Baghdad will have a major, negative impact on the Minnesota National Guard," Coleman wrote in the letter. "These soldiers have made the ultimate commitment to serve our country and defend our freedom. They deserve better than to find out just two short months before their planned return that their tours will be extended for at least another 125 days. Most don't know when they'll be coming home at all, and none know what their extended mission will entail." The letter was prompted by the Bush-McCain Doctrine of war escalation requiring that the Minnesota National Guard's 1st Brigade Combat Team -- which includes over 2,500 Guard members -- have their stay in the Iraqi civil war extended by at least four months, when their families were anxiously awaiting a reunion around March 1.

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Coleman also said that the families discovered their soldiers' homecoming had been indefinitely postponed through the media, and not the Defense Department. "Their families also deserve better than the insensitive manner in which this announcement was handled," Coleman continued in his letter. "These families have been eagerly counting the days until they could welcome our veteran heroes back to the United States. To find out that their soldier's stay has been extended is heartbreaking. To find out by watching the news on TV is completely unacceptable." According to Army.mil News, the Minnesota troops went to Iraq in March of 2006, after four months of pre-deployment training and had been scheduled for a routine one-year tour of duty. Coleman's letter demanded that Gates provide the soldiers with their official orders including information on their mission and expected length of stay and make additional resources available to their families to cope with this sudden extension. The Minnesota Republican is one of Bush's own party who oppose the Administration's plan to escalate the Iraq war, saying flat-out "I disagree with the President's decision to provide a troop surge in Baghdad." KARE-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul had a heartbreaking report that highlights multiple problems, including one soldier's wife having to work three jobs to make ends meet for herself and their children while he is gone. Here it is:
Some families celebrate Christmas a little late. This family is celebrating today because mom finally has a day off from all three of her jobs. "You do what you have to do to make ends meet," says Stacie Emery, who's husband is currently serving in Iraq. Now they know not to wait on opening presents for dad because he has just been told he can't come home from work until July. "I think we are all running out of patience," says Emery. Stacie Emery is like thousands of other Minnesotans. She is the spouse of a National Guard Soldier who's duty in Iraq has just been extended for four more months. "Now, it's like, okay, now what do we do." For the last year and a half, Stacie has had the job of breadwinner. She has three jobs, one of which she is losing at the end of this month. And being mom and dad to her four daughters. "It's chaotic, it's chaotic." She gets pulled in at least four directions all day long. She works 60 hours a week to support her family and her soldier. "I love it, I do love it but there are days I wish I could just sit down and breathe." She had been expecting to sit down in March and breathe. Now, she'll have to wait 125 more days. "It's heartbreaking." For Stacie and the girls, who love their mother and miss their father so much, it seems that, in this family, daddy has more than one favorite little girl. Stacie says she could not work as much as she does without the help of her mother and oldest daughter. When Stacie works, they take care of the other children.
This truly highlights the hidden story of just how big a hit these military families take; Not only is their loved-one on the other side of the world and in mortal danger every day, but the families must also assume unbelievable burdens in their daily lives just to survive during the years the Republican, support-the-troops types have ruled in Washington. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty also weighed in on how his state's Guard troops are being treated and expressed frustration similar to Coleman's:
"I am extremely disappointed and frustrated that the tour of duty for 2,600 Minnesota National Guard soldiers in Iraq apparently will be extended. This decision by federal officials is not consistent with the expectation or understanding provided to our soldiers. It's unfair to them and their families. It's extremely important that all of us continue to support members of our military and their families in every possible way."
It is easy at times to miss the human cost of the incompetent and misguided Bush-McCain policy, but this kind of story truly spells it out in terms of harming families in addition to the larger implications for our country. And, as someone who recently visited this Guard unit in Iraq, Coleman has seen it up close and personal. "When I visited them a few weeks ago in Iraq, they were excited about coming home in March," he said. "At a time when our National Guard troops and families are making the ultimate commitment to serve our country and defend our freedom, they deserve better than to be told only a short time before their scheduled return that their service is being extended."
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Bob Geiger is a writer, activist and Democratic operative in Westchester County, NY.
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