How Can You Do This to Your Families?
by Laurence M. Vance: The
Real Problem with the National Defense Authorization Act
27, 2010, to April 11, 2011, the approximately 1,000 Marines of
the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, based at
Camp Pendleton, and known as the “Darkhorse” Battalion,
suffered the loss of 25 men in the Sangin district of Helmand province
in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. An estimated
470 enemy fighters were killed. A favorable ratio to be sure, but
still 495 deaths too many.
past October 30 and ending on November 5, NPR Pentagon correspondent
Tom Bowman did a seven-part series for All Things Considered on
the Darkhorse Battalion called “‘Darkhorse’ Battalion and the
Afghan War.” Here is how the series was introduced:
A year ago,
nearly 1,000 U.S. Marine officers and enlisted men of the 3rd
Battalion, 5th Regiment deployed to restive Helmand province in
southern Afghanistan. By the time their tour ended in April 2011,
the Marines of the 3/5 – known as “Darkhorse” – suffered
the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the past 10
years of war. This week, NPR tells the story of this unit’s seven
long months at war – both in Afghanistan and back home.
sorrow, pity – this is how I felt after listening to some of the
shows in the series. I recently listened to the whole series as
well as a 50-minute
version. A timeline of the deadly Afghan mission is online here.
The seven shows with their descriptions as provided by NPR are as
Success Carries A Price For Commander,” October 30
Lt. Col. Jason Morris led the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, which
suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the
past 10 years of war. The “Darkhorse Battalion” commander
says the unit’s mission was a success – but he will live with the
burden of those deaths.
Afghan Hell On Earth For ‘Darkhorse’ Marines,” October
2011 A year ago, the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment
arrived in Sangin, a Taliban haven in southern Afghanistan, for
a seven-month deployment. Known as “Darkhorse,” the battalion
sustained a higher casualty rate than any other Marine unit during
the 10-year Afghan war.
Casualties Grew, So Did Marine Families’ Fears,” November
When the Marines
of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment deployed to Afghanistan, they
left behind families who were desperate for information and grew
frightened as the death toll grew. For 25 families, the news they
received was the worst possible.
Behind A Marine Unit’s Dangerous Mission,” November 2
of Darkhorse Battalion suffered a high rate of casualties during
their seven-month deployment to southern Afghanistan. Their mission
was to go after the Taliban in a place called Sangin – a crossroads
of insurgency and drug trafficking. At the time, officials in the
military and all the way up to the secretary of defense asked why
the Darkhorse Battalion was taking so many casualties. NPR Pentagon
correspondent Tom Bowman is reporting all week on the battalion.
On Wednesday, he speaks with Guy Raz about the strategy in Sangin:
whether the Marines made mistakes and what they did to reduce causalities
and complete the mission.
Marine’s Death, And The Family He Left Behind,” November
2011 When Marine Cpl. Derek Wyatt left for Afghanistan, his wife,
Kait, was pregnant with their first child. Three months later, Derek
was dead. A day after his death, Kait was induced, so she could
give birth and attend his funeral.
Wounded Marines, The Long, Hard Road Of Rehab,” November
Dozens of Marines
from Darkhorse Battalion returned home with missing limbs and other
injuries that will last a lifetime. Learning to cope with their
injuries and figure out their futures is a slow, arduous process.
Darkhorse Battalion and the Afghan War,” November 5
past week, All Things Considered has been sharing stories about
the Darkhorse Battalion – that’s the Marine unit that suffered the
highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during the 10-year Afghan
war. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman wraps up the series today,
as he tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan
about some of the people he met – both on the battlefield and on
the home front.
Here are the
names of the fallen from the Darkhorse Battalion. Most were in their
Oct. 8, 2010:
Lance Cpl. John Sparks
2010: Lance Cpl. Joseph Rodewald, Lance Cpl. Phillip Vinnedge,
Cpl. Justin Cain and Pfc. Victor Dew
2010: Lance Cpl. Alec Catherwood, Lance Cpl. Irvin Ceniceros and
Lance Cpl. Joseph Lopez
2010: Lance Cpl. James Boelk
2010: Sgt. Ian Tawney
Nov. 4, 2010:
Lance Cpl. Matthew Broehm and Lance Cpl. Brandon Pearson
Nov. 6, 2010:
Lance Cpl. Randy Braggs
Nov. 9, 2010:
1st Lt. Robert Kelly
2010: Lance Cpl. James Stack
2010: Lance Cpl. Arden Buenagua
2010: 1st Lt. William Donnelly
Dec. 2, 2010:
Sgt. Matthew Abbate
Dec. 6, 2010:
Cpl. Derek Wyatt and Pfc. Colton Rusk
Dec. 7, 2010:
Sgt. Jason Peto
2010: Lance Cpl. Jose Maldonado
2010: Lance Cpl. Kenneth Corzine
2010: Cpl. Tevan Nguyen
2011: Sgt. Jason Amores
to the 25 Marines that died in Helmand province, there were 184
that were badly wounded, including 34 that lost limbs.
But I want
to focus, not on what the Marines of the Darkhorse Battalion endured
in Afghanistan, but on what they did to their families back home.
In case you don’t have the time to listen, here are some excerpts
from the NPR series:
the families were frantic, wondering what was happening. Morris’
wife, Jane Conwell, started getting a hundred emails each day.
One wife was convinced she heard the doorbell ring in the middle
of the night, that Marine officers were there to announce her
husband’s death. “The families, especially the spouses, really
almost lost their minds,” Morris says.
At home in
California, Ashley Tawney remembers waking up from a nap on her
couch. It was the middle of an October afternoon. The house she
and Ian had recently bought had several French doors. Through
the glass of one of them, she watched two Marine officers pass
by. She didn’t have to open the door to see them standing there.
“It was just a real solemn … very eerie sight. It’s just
like the movies, just like the movies,” she recalls. To this
day, she doesn’t know how she made it to the front door. “I,
like, floated over there or something,” she says. “And
everything was kind of in slow-motion. And I opened the door,
and then they started off with the whole spiel … and I was just
in shock.” “I remember my cat was playing with the chaplain’s
uniform. … Then they started to do the paperwork … the whole,
me going to Dover to meet his body, and that’s when it hit me,
and I just covered my face with my hand and was like, ‘Oh my God,
oh my God.’ There’s no goodbye and there’s no nothing. I couldn’t
fathom that he was gone,” she says.
was just talking about an IED explosion and how many people were
injured. There was one KIA. I remember making the comment to some
of my colleagues, like, wow, my son’s unit, somebody died, that
really hits close to home,” he recalls. Boelk went about
his day. Five hours went by. “Then I got a call from our
daughter. And she said there were two Marines at our house, and
immediately, kind of lost my composure at work, obviously. There
was just total silence in the office. Of course, what can they
say? I just shut off my computers and picked up my bags, and told
them I had to go home,” Boelk says.
on Dec. 6, Kait Wyatt was up early, making breakfast, when the
doorbell rang at her home on the Camp Pendleton Marine base. She
opened the door. Two Marines stood there. “I wanted it to
be them telling me that he was OK, that he was hurt or something
along those lines. But I knew,” Kait recalls. “I automatically
knew Derek had passed away,” she says. Her husband, Cpl.
Derek Wyatt, was serving in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion,
5th Regiment, known as “Darkhorse.” Kait was pregnant:
She was due to give birth in just a couple of weeks, in mid-December.
The Marines began the ritual, and Kait, who was 22 at the time,
began to sob.
was sleeping, and I got the phone call. ‘Is this Mrs. Romo …
Jacob Romo’s wife?’ And I knew right away who it was,” she
said. “I started to hyperventilate, and I need to breathe
because I’m pregnant. And the guy was very sweet, he was so sweet.
All I needed to get out was, ‘Is he alive?’ ‘Yes, he’s alive.’
And I could calm down and take a couple of breaths.” The
Marine who called her was reading from a statement – something
about a bilateral amputee. At first, she wasn’t sure what that
meant. And then she was told his legs were gone.
So we talked
to some of these wives, and, you know, some of them would wake
up in the middle of the night thinking a doorbell rang, thinking
there were Marine officers there to say that their husband had
been killed. It’s very, very difficult for them. So I think that’s
what surprised me the most.
do you do this to your families?
Based on the
words of various Marines interviewed or talked about in this series,
I say to those who made it through what I wish I could also say
to twenty-five young men who didn’t:
If you just
wanted to feel the trill of leading men in battle, then shame on
you. If you just couldn’t find a job so you enlisted in the Marines,
then shame on you. If you just wanted to experience the mental and
physical challenge, then shame on you. If you just enlisted because
your father was a Marine, then shame on you. If you just wanted
to go to war, then shame on you. If you just thought you were defending
our freedoms, then shame on you. If you just wanted to die a hero,
then shame on you. If you just felt you had to complete the mission,
then shame on you. If you just enlisted because you thought your
government needed you, then shame on you. If you thought there was
just no better job than being a Marine, then shame on you.
I have no doubt
that the Marines of the Darkhorse Battalion fought valiantly. I
am not questioning their manhood, courage, or determination. But
I also have no doubt that each of the deaths of those twenty-five
Marines from the Darkhorse Battalion was preventable, unnecessary,
Josue Barron, who lost an eye, a leg, and some of his close friends,
at the end of a discussion about whether everything that happened
in Afghanistan was “worth it,” said: “It was worth
it. If I say it wasn’t worth it, what about my friends that died?
I’m disrespecting them, like they died for nothing.”
as much as you may not want to face it, and no matter how many times
you tell yourself that it was “worth
it,” your friends died in
vain just like those unfortunate U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq.
Likewise, the only thing that the Marines in Afghanistan died for
was a lie.
The most maddening
and depressing thing out of all that I have heard from this series
on the Darkhorse Battalion is the closing paragraph from Tom Bowman’s
Battalion will deploy again sometime next year, but this time
they’re going on what’s known as a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
They’ll head on ships across the Pacific making port calls and
being ready for anything from a humanitarian disaster to a rescue
operation. The families are relived, but many of the Marines we
spoke with just want to go back to Afghanistan.
Go back to
Afghanistan? Marines, why do you do this to your families? I plead
with you to heed the words of U.S. Marine Corps Major General Smedley
Butler (1881-1940), a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner
who came to the conclusion that:
War is a
racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily
the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one
international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits
are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
Shame on you
for putting the Marines above your families. Shame on you for making
a god out of the Marines.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn’t, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
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