The following is a speech delivered by Iraq war veteran and former Infantry sergeant, who is a co-founder of Our Lives, Our Rights, at a mass anti-war protest on March 19, 2011 in Los Angeles. It was originally published by March Forward!.
On this day last year, Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who I served on a tour in Iraq with, hanged himself in his barracks room. He was found dead on March 20th.
This date also marks the date of the brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States. These two dates now mark two specific but not isolated atrocities committed by this government.
Derrick Kirkland was killed by this government—for sending him to a war we had no reason to fight, then neglecting him when he asked for help.
He was in Iraq on his second tour and was sent home early because the pains of PTSD and other issues were to much to bear alone. Kirkland had tried three times before to kill himself. Despite 3 suicide attempts, Army psychologists labeled him a “low” risk for suicide. He was ridiculed and mocked by his chain of command, who then placed him in a barracks room by himself. He was there only 3 days before he took his life.
As someone who has battled though the Army medical system, I can tell you that it is not designed to help anybody. In fact, it sets up barricades to ensure soldiers stay in the military, despite seeking help. There are only a fraction of the number of psychiatrists that are needed. Appointments are months apart and treatment is reduced to nothing more than “checking boxes” to make soldiers legally ready for another deployment. Kirkland is not an isolated incident. In 2009 and 2010, more soldiers killed themselves than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers are killing themselves on an average of one per day.
If you want to know how much our chain of command cares about us, just look at what our executive officer Major Keith Markham, in memos he sends to other officers: “We can accomplish anything we put our minds to ... with an endless amount of expendable labor.” The “expendable labor” this officer is speaking about is Derrick Kirkland, and every other soldier who has lost their life to suicide, and in combat.
Officers build their careers off of the backs of enlisted soldiers. Officers like Major Markham, General Petraeus, and everyone in the Pentagon, don’t care about its soldiers—our friends, loved ones, husbands, daughters, sons and wives. If this government does not care about its own soldiers then why would we even begin to think it cares about “liberating” peoples of another nation? This is why we say ‘this is not our war’ and service members have an absolute right to refuse orders to Afghanistan and Iraq!
We can stop these wars, but we need each other to do it. Those of us who mourned Kirkland’s death, those of us who were sent to die in these wars, we know that this government cares nothing about us; we’re just the cannon fodder in their wars for the rich. Those experiences have woken us up, and we are fighting back, and we will fight back until we stop these criminal wars!