NY Times:Tending a Fallen Marine,With Skill, Prayer and Fury

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  1. November 2, 2006
    Tending a Fallen Marine, With Skill, Prayer and Fury
    By C. J. CHIVERS

    KARMA, Iraq, Oct. 30 — Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby clutched the injured marine’s empty helmet. His hands were coated in blood. Sweat ran down his face, which he was trying to keep straight but kept twisting into a snarl.

    He held up the helmet and flipped it, exposing the inside. It was lined with blood and splinters of bone.

    “The round hit him,” he said, pausing to point at a tiny hole that aligned roughly with a man’s temple. “Right here.”

    Petty Officer Kirby, 22, is a Navy corpsman, the trauma medic assigned to Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines. Everyone calls him Doc. He had just finished treating a marine who had been shot by an Iraqi sniper.

    “It was 7.62 millimeter,” he continued. “Armor piercing.”

    He reached into his pocket and retrieved the bullet, which he had found. “The impact with the Kevlar stopped most of it,” he said. “But it tore through, hit his head, went through and came out.”

    He put the bullet in his breast pocket, to give to an intelligence team later. Sweat kept rolling off his face, mixed with tears. His voice was almost cracking, but he managed to control it and keep it deep. “When I got there, there wasn’t much I could do,” he said.

    Then he nodded. He seemed to be talking to himself. “I kept him breathing,” he said.

    He looked at Lance Cpl. Matias Tafoya, his driver, and raised his voice. It was almost a shout. “When I told you that I do not let people die on me, I meant it,” he said. “I meant it.”

    He scanned the Iraqi houses, perhaps 150 yards away, on the other side of a fetid green canal. Marines were all around, pressed to the ground, peering from behind machine-gun turrets or bracing against their armored vehicles, aiming rifles at where they thought the sniper was.

    The sniper had made a single shot just as the marines were leaving a rural settlement on the western edge of Karma, a city near Falluja in Anbar Province.

    The marines had been searching several houses on this side of the canal, where they found five Kalashnikov assault rifles and bomb components, and were getting back into their vehicles when everyone heard the shot. It was a single loud crack.

    No one was precisely sure where it had come from. Everyone knew precisely where it hit. It struck a marine who was peering out of the first vehicle’s gun turret. He collapsed.

    Petty Officer Kirby rushed to him and found him breathing. He bandaged the marine’s head as the vehicle lurched away. Soon he helped load the wounded marine into a helicopter, which touched down beside the convoy within 12 minutes of the shot.

    Once the helicopter lifted away, he ran back to his vehicle, ready to treat anyone else. He was thinking about the marine he had already treated.

    “If I had gone with him,” he said, and glanced to where the helicopter had flown away, over the line of date palms at the end of a field. His voice softened. “But I’m not with him,” he said.

    He turned, faced a reporter and spoke loudly again. “In situations and times like this, I am bound to start yelling and shouting furiously,” he said. “Don’t think I am losing my mind.”

    He held his bloody hands before his face, to examine them. They were shaking. He made fists so tight his veins bulged. His forearms started to bounce.

    “His name was Lance Cpl. Colin Smith,” he said. “He said a prayer today right before we came out, too.”

    “Every time before we go out, we say a prayer,” he said. “It is a prayer for serenity. It says a lot about things that do pertain to us in this kind of environment.”

    The only sounds were Doc’s voice and the vehicle’s engine thrumming.

    He recited the prayer. There was a few moments of silence. “It’s a platoon kind of thing, if you know what I mean,” he said.

    He listened to his radio headset and looked at Lance Corporal Tafoya, relaying word of the marines’ movements. “Right now the grunts are performing a hard hit on a house,” he said. He turned back to the subject of Lance Corporal Smith, 19.

    “The best news I can throw at anybody right now, and that I am throwing to myself as often as I can, is that his eyes were O.K.,” he said. “They were both responsive. And he was breathing. And he had a pulse.”

    He listened to his radio. “Two houses they’ve hit so far have both been swept and cleared.”

    He looked at the reporter beside him. “Do you pray?” he asked. “Do that. I’d appreciate it.”

    After a few minutes he started talking again. “You see, having a good platoon, one that you know real well, it’s both a gift and a curse. And Smith? Smith has been with me since I was...”

    He stopped. “He was my roommate before we left,” he said.

    He refilled his lungs and raised his voice. “His dad was his best friend,” he said. “He’s got the cutest little blond girlfriend, and she freaks out every time we call because she’s so happy to hear from him.”

    He sat quietly again. A few minutes passed. “The first casualty we had here — his name was James Hirlston — he was his good friend.”

    “Hirlston got shot in the head, too,” he said.

    He said something about Iraqi snipers that could not be printed here.

    Then he was back to the subject of Lance Corporal Smith.

    “I really thank God that he was breathing when I got to him, because it means that I can do something with him,” he said. “It helps. People ask you, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ It helps, because if he’s breathing, you’re doing something.”

    There had been many Iraqi civilians outside a few minutes before the sniper made his shot. Most of them had disappeared. Now an Iraqi woman walked calmly between the sniper and the marines, as if nothing had happened.

    She passed down the street.

    Petty Officer Kirby began to list the schools he had attended to be ready for this moment. Some he had paid for himself, he said, to be extra-prepared.

    In one course, an advanced trauma treatment program he had taken before deploying, he said, the instructors gave each corpsman an anesthetized pig.

    “The idea is to work with live tissue,” he said. “You get a pig and you keep it alive. And every time I did something to help him, they would wound him again. So you see what shock does, and what happens when more wounds are received by a wounded creature.”

    “My pig?” he said. “They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47 and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. And then he was set on fire.”

    “I kept him alive for 15 hours,” he said. “That was my pig.”

    “That was my pig,” he said.

    He paused. “Smith is my friend.”

    He looked at his bloody hands. “You got some water?” he said. “I want some water. I just want to wash my wedding band.”

    He listened to the tactical radio. The platoon was sweeping houses but could not find the sniper.

    The company started to move. It stopped at another house. The marines were questioning five Iraqi men. Doc watched from the road, waiting for the next call.

    “I would like to say that I am a good man,” he said. “But seeing this now, what happened to Smith, I want to hurt people. You know what I mean?”

    The marines had not fired a shot.

    They took one of the men into custody, mounted their vehicles and drove back to Outpost Omar, their company base, passing knots of Iraqi civilians on the way. The civilians looked at them coldly.

    Inside the wire, First Lt. Scott R. Burlison, the company commander, gathered the group and told them that Lance Corporal Smith was alive and in surgery. He was critical, but stable. They hoped to fly him to Germany.

    Doc had scrubbed himself clean. A big marine stepped forward with a small Bible, and the platoon huddled. He began with Psalm 91, verses 5 and 11.

    “Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day,” said the big marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson. “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

    Then he asked for the Lord to look after Lance Corporal Smith and whatever was ahead, and to take care of everyone who was still in the platoon.

    “Help us Lord,” he said. “We need your help. It’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”

    Doc stood in the corner, his arm looped over a marine. “Amen,” he said. There were some hugs, and then the marines and their Doc went back to their bunks and their guns.

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    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
  2. The Difference Two Years Made
    The New York Times | Editorial

    Sunday 05 November 2006

    On Tuesday, when this page runs the list of people it has endorsed for election, we will include no Republican Congressional candidates for the first time in our memory. Although Times editorials tend to agree with Democrats on national policy, we have proudly and consistently endorsed a long line of moderate Republicans, particularly for the House. Our only political loyalty is to making the two-party system as vital and responsible as possible.

    That is why things are different this year.

    To begin with, the Republican majority that has run the House - and for the most part, the Senate - during President Bush's tenure has done a terrible job on the basics. Its tax-cutting-above-all-else has wrecked the budget, hobbled the middle class and endangered the long-term economy. It has refused to face up to global warming and done pathetically little about the country's dependence on foreign oil.

    Republican leaders, particularly in the House, have developed toxic symptoms of an overconfident majority that has been too long in power. They methodically shut the opposition - and even the more moderate members of their own party - out of any role in the legislative process. Their only mission seems to be self-perpetuation.

    The current Republican majority managed to achieve that burned-out, brain-dead status in record time, and with a shocking disregard for the most minimal ethical standards. It was bad enough that a party that used to believe in fiscal austerity blew billions on pork-barrel projects. It is worse that many of the most expensive boondoggles were not even directed at their constituents, but at lobbyists who financed their campaigns and high-end lifestyles.

    That was already the situation in 2004, and even then this page endorsed Republicans who had shown a high commitment to ethics reform and a willingness to buck their party on important issues like the environment, civil liberties and women's rights.

    For us, the breaking point came over the Republicans' attempt to undermine the fundamental checks and balances that have safeguarded American democracy since its inception. The fact that the White House, House and Senate are all controlled by one party is not a threat to the balance of powers, as long as everyone understands the roles assigned to each by the Constitution. But over the past two years, the White House has made it clear that it claims sweeping powers that go well beyond any acceptable limits. Rather than doing their duty to curb these excesses, the Congressional Republicans have dedicated themselves to removing restraints on the president's ability to do whatever he wants. To paraphrase Tom DeLay, the Republicans feel you don't need to have oversight hearings if your party is in control of everything.

    An administration convinced of its own perpetual rightness and a partisan Congress determined to deflect all criticism of the chief executive has been the recipe for what we live with today.

    Congress, in particular the House, has failed to ask probing questions about the war in Iraq or hold the president accountable for his catastrophic bungling of the occupation. It also has allowed Mr. Bush to avoid answering any questions about whether his administration cooked the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. Then, it quietly agreed to close down the one agency that has been riding herd on crooked and inept American contractors who have botched everything from construction work to the security of weapons.

    After the revelations about the abuse, torture and illegal detentions in Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Congress shielded the Pentagon from any responsibility for the atrocities its policies allowed to happen. On the eve of the election, and without even a pretense at debate in the House, Congress granted the White House permission to hold hundreds of noncitizens in jail forever, without due process, even though many of them were clearly sent there in error.

    In the Senate, the path for this bill was cleared by a handful of Republicans who used their personal prestige and reputation for moderation to paper over the fact that the bill violates the Constitution in fundamental ways. Having acquiesced in the president's campaign to dilute their own authority, lawmakers used this bill to further Mr. Bush's goal of stripping the powers of the only remaining independent branch, the judiciary.

    This election is indeed about George W. Bush - and the Congressional majority's insistence on protecting him from the consequences of his mistakes and misdeeds. Mr. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and proceeded to govern as if he had an enormous mandate. After he actually beat his opponent in 2004, he announced he now had real political capital and intended to spend it. We have seen the results. It is frightening to contemplate the new excesses he could concoct if he woke up next Wednesday and found that his party had maintained its hold on the House and Senate.
  3. Both are linked from the Bruce springsteen site.

    Use your voice. Vote on Tuesday.

    Two recent articles worthy of your interest:
    Tending a Fallen Marine, With Skill, Prayer and Fury (free link to article)

    The Difference Two Years Made (free link to article)

    Insulting Our Troops, and Our Intelligence, by Thomas L. Friedman
    New York Times, November 3, 2006

    George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld think you're stupid. Yes, they do.

    They think they can take a mangled quip about President Bush and Iraq by John Kerry -- a man who is not even running for office but who, unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, never ran away from combat service -- and get you to vote against all Democrats in this election.

    Every time you hear Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney lash out against Mr. Kerry, I hope you will say to yourself, "They must think I'm stupid." Because they surely do.

    They think that they can get you to overlook all of the Bush team's real and deadly insults to the U.S. military over the past six years by hyping and exaggerating Mr. Kerry's mangled gibe at the president.

    What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to the U.S. military than to send it into combat in Iraq without enough men -- to launch an invasion of a foreign country not by the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, but by the Rumsfeld Doctrine of just enough troops to lose? What could be a bigger insult than that?

    What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than sending them off to war without the proper equipment, so that some soldiers in the field were left to buy their own body armor and to retrofit their own jeeps with scrap metal so that roadside bombs in Iraq would only maim them for life and not kill them? And what could be more injurious and insulting than Don Rumsfeld's response to criticism that he sent our troops off in haste and unprepared: Hey, you go to war with the army you've got -- get over it.

    What could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in uniform than to send them off to war in Iraq without any coherent postwar plan for political reconstruction there, so that the U.S. military has had to assume not only security responsibilities for all of Iraq but the political rebuilding as well? The Bush team has created a veritable library of military histories -- from "Cobra II" to "Fiasco" to "State of Denial" -- all of which contain the same damning conclusion offered by the very soldiers and officers who fought this war: This administration never had a plan for the morning after, and we've been making it up -- and paying the price -- ever since.

    And what could possibly be more injurious and insulting to our men and women in Iraq than to send them off to war and then go out and finance the very people they're fighting against with our gluttonous consumption of oil? Sure, George Bush told us we're addicted to oil, but he has not done one single significant thing -- demanded higher mileage standards from Detroit, imposed a gasoline tax or even used the bully pulpit of the White House to drive conservation -- to end that addiction. So we continue to finance the U.S. military with our tax dollars, while we finance Iran, Syria, Wahhabi mosques and Al Qaeda madrassas with our energy purchases.

    Everyone says that Karl Rove is a genius. Yeah, right. So are cigarette companies. They get you to buy cigarettes even though we know they cause cancer. That is the kind of genius Karl Rove is. He is not a man who has designed a strategy to reunite our country around an agenda of renewal for the 21st century -- to bring out the best in us. His "genius" is taking some irrelevant aside by John Kerry and twisting it to bring out the worst in us, so you will ignore the mess that the Bush team has visited on this country.

    And Karl Rove has succeeded at that in the past because he was sure that he could sell just enough Bush cigarettes, even though people knew they caused cancer. Please, please, for our country's health, prove him wrong this time.

    Let Karl know that you're not stupid. Let him know that you know that the most patriotic thing to do in this election is to vote against an administration that has -- through sheer incompetence -- brought us to a point in Iraq that was not inevitable but is now unwinnable.

    Let Karl know that you think this is a critical election, because you know as a citizen that if the Bush team can behave with the level of deadly incompetence it has exhibited in Iraq -- and then get away with it by holding on to the House and the Senate -- it means our country has become a banana republic. It means our democracy is in tatters because it is so gerrymandered, so polluted by money, and so divided by professional political hacks that we can no longer hold the ruling party to account.

    It means we're as stupid as Karl thinks we are.

    I, for one, don't think we're that stupid. Next Tuesday we'll see.