After the Military
I've had to think about this for a long time. And I am still not sure it is the right or wrong thing to do.
Here is a letter I wrote to send to my chain of command and I had thought about my congressman & stat senators. So far I have only sent it to my chain of command. And because I raised such a stink they are going to finally have an awards ceremony for me in 8 February 2008. I was discharged from the military on 10 June 2006. So it took my bitching about it and writing this letter to get anything done.
Insults, Injuries and the 81st Brigade
I joined the Army in June 1978, initially for an education. As my career progressed, so did my love for serving my country. Throughout my training, the Army values became a part of who I am to this day. After my active duty career came to an end in August 1992, I realized how much I missed the military. As a result, I joined the National Guard two years later.
I was a member of the Washington State National Guard when the entire Brigade was activated in November 2003. Assigned to Bravo Company 181 SPT Battalion, I worked as the Platoon Sergeant for the Ground Support Platoon. Not long after the company’s arrival at Fort Lewis, I became the acting 1st sergeant. Captain Chargualaf, who was the commander at the time, said he wanted my position to be official. For me, that would mean a promotion to E-8. Unfortunately, do to the excess of E-8’s in the Brigade, one would be sent to our company instead. Shortly after, I was appointed to the position of 1st sergeant in Delta Company, with high recommendations by my commander. Delta Co. at that time was not an official company. It was a security detail which combined soldiers of all ranks with in the Battalion. Because Delta Co. lacked the status of existing as a company, there was no 1st sergeant slot and no promotion for me. Undaunted, my time was dedicated to training and motivating the soldiers who were led by me.We were stationed at LSA Anaconda outside of a small town called Ballad, in Iraq. Our mission was to control the North Entry Control Point (NECP). I ran my company efficiently. My crews controlled and monitored movement in and out of the base, monitored the outside perimeter and worked with the local villagers, including members of the Iraqi National Guard. Seven months later, I was informed that I was needed to oversee the East Entry Control Point (EECP) as well as the trash pit. Although I was extremely dedicated to my last position, I reluctantly accepted the position.
19 October 2004, I was just learning the operations and what my job would entail, when I was suddenly shot. This event, along with the chain of events that followed, is the main purpose of this letter. Upon being shot, I was immediately rushed to the Combat Area Support Hospital (CASH). They were able to save my life and the leg in which I was shot. Once stabilized, I was transported to Laundstual Medical Center in Germany for three days. While in Germany I was informed by the liaison officer for the 81st BDE that my parents would be meeting me at Walter Reed Medical Center. When I arrived at Walter Reed they were not there. I spent five more days alone before my parents were flown in by the Army. They arrived at the medical center at 1AM and shortly before their arrival I was informed that I was to be transported to Madigan Army Medical Center the same morning.
I spent approximately three weeks at Madigan. My Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel Abbott stopped by twice to see me. He was home on his mid-tour leave. When I was discharged from Madigan I went to live with my sister & her family who became my primary caregivers in Snohomish, WA. In December Sergeant Major Eden came to see me while he was home on his mid-tour leave. This would be the last time anyone from my chain of command would visit me while I lived with my sister. (Nov 2004- Nov 2005)
My unit returned from Iraq in March 2005. No one bothered to contact me or notify me as to when they would be arriving. I would have loved to see my comrades again. Two months had gone by since their return to the US and still no one had contacted me. Finally in May 05 Chaplain Stiles, the Battalion Chaplain, called and then paid me a visit. It was during this visit that I voiced my dissatisfaction and hurt due to the lack concern shown by my chain of command.
I had been shot by “Friendly Fire” with an M240B machine gun which fired a 7.62mm round. The person operating the machine gun at the time was untrained and should have never been touching it let alone trying to load it. The soldier who shot me was served with an Article 15 on the charge of negligent discharge of a weapon. There is no mention anywhere in the Article 15 about the fact that due to her misconduct she seriously wounded a fellow soldier. She was demoted from the rank of E-4 to E-3, lost one month pay and had extra duty for a month. I strongly feel that this was not enough punishment for the severity of the offense. I contacted Lt. Col Abbott about what I perceived to be a “slap on the wrist” and asked why the punishment had not been stiffer. His reply was that the soldier felt very bad about the incident and would have to live with her actions and that there were other soldiers just as responsible. I asked if any of these other soldiers had been held accountable and his reply was that there were too many and he did not know who to hold directly accountable. I still feel strongly that something more should have been done. On a side note the soldier who wounded me is still in the National Guard. She has since gotten her E-4 rank back and was just recently promoted to the rank of E-5/Sergeant.
I also discussed my dissatisfaction, about the lack of contact from anyone in my Chain of Command, with Lt Col. Abbott. Days after our meeting I received an email from Capt. Chargualaf. He went on to explain that due to my disgruntled attitude he had felt it better not to contact me. He also made it quite clear to me that he had a life outside the Guard which had also hindered his efforts to contact me. I assumed a man in his position would consider his soldiers an important part of his life. I do understand that he has a life outside the military; however he chose the path of a commanding officer and therefore has a responsibility to his soldiers.
To add insult to injury, when my gear was finally returned to me from Iraq I found a lot of it missing. YES!! Other soldiers stole my personal and military property. When I brought this matter to the attention of my chain of command I was told they could not help me. Again here is another case of my chain of command not wanting to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
Due to the circumstances in which I was wounded I am not eligible for a Purple Heart. This has been a hard bone for me to swallow. I understand what the regulation reads but do not fully agree with it. During this time of war, I feel that legislation should be introduced to provide for a Purple Heart if injured in a combat zone, even if the wound was by friendly fire.
While I was still on active duty I was submitted for a Bronze Star due to my actions while serving as 1st Sergeant of the Security Company. I was never awarded this award. Also since retiring from the Army National Guard in June 2006 I have never received an End of Service award, retirement ceremony, or been presented an American flag for my service, all of which is customary for a soldier who has served his country for almost 28 years.
Currently I am a retired Sergeant First Class/E-7 from the US Army with a disability rating of 60%. I also finally received my disability rating from the Veterans Affairs and am rated at 80%. My rating would have been higher but I do not have my medical records from while I was in the guard. Some how during the time I was with the Med Hold unit they were misplaced and my unit could not find them.
Before being deployed I was a state worker at the Yakima Training Center as a federal technician. Due to the requirement that I must be in a drilling status with the Washington National Guard to keep my technician job, my job came to an end on 31 September 2006. So this accident, that no one wants to talk about, has ended not only my nearly 28 year military career, but has made me unemployable with any of my current skills.
I have scars that are so bad the doctors felt that pictures should be included with my packet for the Army medical board. I have nerve damage to my lower right leg that leaves me in pain most days, sometimes to the point that I cannot walk or stand. I will never run again, play catch or tag with my children. I am very well aware of the fact that there are many who have been injured far worse than I, but with all the little things that have happened to me I feel the need to let someone know.
I fully realize I cannot change the past, believe me I would if I could. But perhaps with my bringing these things to someone’s attention, other soldiers will not be treated so badly.
What am I looking for out of all this?
1) I would like those in charge held accountable for their lack of action after I was wounded.
2) I would like our state and federal leaders to know how their soldiers are being treated so that others may not have to go through what I have.
SFC Richard E. White Ret