Families want troops home
Jimmie Atchison sits in his wheelchair, disabled by war injuries, worrying about his 39-year-old daughter Georgina, who's been in Iraq since November.
A member of Army intelligence, she flies in Cobra helicopters, equipped with missiles and cameras that send photographs back to command headquarters.
She was supposed to come home from Iraq on Aug. 5. On Aug. 4, she learned that her return had been indefinitely postponed - again.
Jimmie Atchison is no stranger to war. During World War II, when the armed forces were still segregated, he flew with the "Tuskegee Airmen," a famous squadron of African American fighter pilots. "We knew we would be judged as black men and we were plenty proud of what we did," he said. Later, he was called back to duty as a flight engineer and served in the Korean War.
Still, the 80-year-old Sacramento resident is devastated that his daughter won't be coming home anytime soon. Georgina's intelligence work takes her away from base camp on 10-day sorties, during which he anxiously awaits her safe return. "I really sweat it out until I get that first e-mail and know she's OK. "
To her father, Georgina describes friends and colleagues who are profoundly demoralized by the duration of the occupation. "She's emotionally and physically drained," says Atchison. "She assisted in the rescue when two Americans died in a helicopter crash and still hasn't gotten over that."
Atchison is proud of his daughter, although he opposed the war. He calls it an "oil-oriented war" led by a "warmongering" president. He also believes "the government has shortchanged the military troops" by sending too few soldiers for an occupation. "As a result," he says, "some of the soldiers don't trust what their leaders tell them, especially what the war is about or when they're going to go home."
But he doesn't discuss these opinions with his daughter. "I try to be 100 percent supportive of her," says Atchison.
Other military families share Atchison's anxieties and anger. After Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition troops in Iraq, announced the extension of tours of duty to one year, followed by the government's proposal to cut the combat pay of troops (quickly withdrawn when it became widely publicized), soldiers and their families posted blistering criticisms on the Internet.
On the "Military Families Speak Out," a Web site for military families opposed to war in Iraq, relatives expressed their anxiety about the anger directed at American troops in Iraq. They raged against the troops' insufficient water rations and the fact that some soldiers have succumbed to heat stroke. Most of all, they railed about "mission creep" - a lightening war turning into an indefinite occupation.
Many military families have read a widely circulated commentary, written by Pfc. Isaac Kindblade of the 671st Engineer Company, titled "We Don't feel Like Heroes Anymore," which appeared Aug. 5 in the Oregonian.
"When the war had just ended," he wrote, "we were the liberators, and all the people loved us . . . Somewhere down the line, we became an occupation force in their eyes. The rules of engagement are crippling. We are outnumbered. We are exhausted. We are in over our heads. The president says, 'Bring 'em on. ' The generals say we don't need more troops. Well, they're not over here."
Even the Army Times has weighed in with a critical editorial accusing the Bush administration of "Nothing but Lip Service," - waging war on the cheap, using private civilian companies which have failed to provide decent living conditions for the troops.
Atchison knows other families share his concerns, but this is small comfort to a father who anxiously waits an e-mail from his daughter. "She's my eldest, " he says softly, his voice heavy with emotion. "I love her so much; I just want her to come home alive and well."
This article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 18. It is reprinted here with permission of the author. E-mail Ruth Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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