The author is a co-founder of March Forward! and an Iraq war veteran who deserted the military, refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan in 2007.
On the morning of April 16, an Iraq war veteran, Jesse Charles Huff, entered the emergency room of the VA Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio. After having been refused treatment, Jesse returned several hours later, this time dressed in Army fatigues and carrying a military-style assault rifle. Moments later, he was dead. The rifle may have fired the rounds that took Jesse’s life, but the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon brass pulled the trigger.
According to the Dayton Daily News, a medical Center spokeswoman, Donna Simmons, declined to answer questions about Huff’s treatment, citing privacy laws, but did say that Jesse was a regular patient at the hospital and said his suicide was “an unfortunate incident."
Jesse left no suicide note. Though the VA and police claim they knew of no ominous statements he made to employees while inside the medical center hours before his death, the signs were certainly there.
Making a statement
Jesse joined the U.S. Army in April 2003 as an infantryman and was sent to Iraq in 2006 at which point he was wounded by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. He had chronic back pain ever since and at the time of his death was suffering from depression. He, like every soldier and marine sent to kill and occupy the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and like every Afghan and Iraqi living under occupation and war, was unable to cope with this life-altering experience.
“He was a really good guy. He just went through a lot after he got out of the Iraq war,” Jesse’s cousin, Jason Osbourne told reporters in a phone interview. “It really affected him mentally. He wasn’t the same when he came back.”
Scott Labensky, the father of Jesse’s roommate, agreed. “He never got adequate care from the VA he was trying to get,” Labensky told the Dayton Daily News. “I believe he [killed himself] to bring attention to that fact. I saw him two days ago. He was really hurting.”
The fact that Jesse took the time to put his military uniform on once again and killed himself at the military institution, representing the same system that sent him to war, that refused to treat him is, without a doubt, a political statement. To call it anything other than that would be a mischaracterization. The police claim that he left no note. Given the political statement he made and that police were so concerned that bomb squad technicians blew up a backpack Jesse had carried before his death, the absence of a note means little.
Politicians, Pentagon brass’ hands covered in blood
The politicians in Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon brass continue to wage illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing and physically and psychologically wounding millions. At the same time, the blood of every U.S. military man and woman stains their hands.
Like Jesse, all of us have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to die for the profit of a few. The U.S. officer corps, wearing its 50 cent, nickel and brass painted military insignia, claim to be our leaders and that our lives have value to them, but this simply isn’t the case. These same officers send us to act as human bait at outposts in Korengal Valley to die in battles with Afghans who wish nothing more than to live in a country free from foreign occupation. We are sent by officers to forcefully remove Iraqi families from their homes and detain them with no real charge. We are sent to “bring democracy”, not through diplomatic layers but while carrying assault rifles and grenades.
And when we come home and tell the military doctors and the same politicians to simply provide help for us, after all the suffering they forced on us, and after all the pain they caused us to witness and partake in, like Jesse, they send us away, refusing to see us. And just like Jesse, hundreds of us have no other place to turn.
The Pentagon brass is the reason suicides have increased
On Feb. 26, while at a funeral in Hawai’i, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was asked why he believed suicides have increased. His answer? “The fact of the matter is, we just don't know”. The general must either be completely detached from reality or simply lying. The facts are clear.
2009 was the year of the soldier suicide, during which more than 300 active-duty service members took their own lives. The generals knew then, and they know now, why there has been an increase in suicides. Constant deployments which keep us isolated from our loved ones, the forced participation in brutal occupations, seeing our sisters and brothers in uniform slowly die, or watching them killed instantly before our eyes, the haunting memories of every moment, of every deployment. This is the cause of the increase in suicides.
Gen. Casey is partially right when he admits he just doesn’t know, but it isn’t because he hasn’t been told or that he doesn’t know these things. The reason Gen. Casey doesn’t know is because he sits at a desk and is chauffeured in limousines around military bases and Washington, D.C. When the General comes to Iraq or Afghanistan, he doesn’t take part in patrols, he doesn’t witness “enhanced interrogation techniques” being used on innocent men, women and children, he doesn’t pull security in raids or see the faces of the dead after they are killed by Apache helicopters and jet fighters.
Like all military officers, the General lives a life of extreme comfort. He has personal security teams and never has to fear for his life, since he is never in a position that would be considered dangerous by any means. We, as the enlisted class of marines and soldiers, do all the dying, all the killing, all the suffering! Of course Casey and his West Point graduates would never understand this fact—they don’t share our experience. This is no excuse, however, and March Forward! exists to ensure the officer corps is never allowed to send us away and get away with it.
It is important to note that the funeral Casey was attending was for a former Army chief of staff, Gen. Frederick Weyand. A member of the bourgeoisie in military uniform, Weyand died at the age of 93. The women and men whose lives are thrown away by the politicians in Washington—the military brass barking orders from desks in the Pentagon and the doctors at the VA who refuse to diagnose and treat service members for PTSD—do not have the luxury of living a long full life.
Their lives, like Jesse’s life, have been stolen from them at a very young age by a government which pays lip service to veterans and service members when voting season is near, but allows 107,000 veterans to be homeless on any given night and twice that amount will be homeless over the course of a year. The same government sends thousands to their deaths yearly, to suffer physically, psychologically and emotionally all across the globe.
The people of Iraq and Afghanistan are not our enemies!
It is in the interest of every enlisted man and woman to refuse to take part in these wars. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan were ever threats to the people of the United States. Neither country had taken part in the attacks of September 11, or provided aid of any sort. The Taliban offered to turn over Osama bin Laden to a third country, provided that evidence was given to them concerning the individuals which carried out the attacks. The Bush administration, after hearing this, said “no negotiations!” and launched a brutal bombing campaign on the innocent people of Afghanistan. A campaign of propaganda and straight-up lies surrounded the invasion of Iraq, after a decade of illegal sanctions which killed nearly 2 million Iraqis.
March Forward! calls on all soldiers, sailors, airmen/women and marines to refuse carrying out their illegal and immoral orders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Peace, stability, freedom, democracy and every other word that U.S. politicians use when they reference the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, do not come through occupation and war. We have more in common with the people in Iraq and Afghanistan than with those that send us to war to kill and die.
March Forward! also demands the indictment of all those responsible for the death of Jesse Charles Huff and the many thousands more of our sisters and brothers who have lost their lives to the military machine. We send our condolences to the families of all service members who have lost their lives as a consequence of these senseless wars.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen/women and marines, when we refuse to fight their illegal wars, we ourselves and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan will finally be free to determine our own destinies!
This is not our war!