Contempt

By Robert Bruce Drynan

Closed Senate Hearing- Armed Services Committee

 

“For the record, will you please state your name and present occupation?”

     “Lt. Coronel JoAnne Rae Hazlet, United States Army. I have recently returned from Iraq and I have received orders to report to the Military Police Training Command at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.”

     “Ms. Hazlet, you have been called here before this committee in response to your public statement that female soldiers and marines have been actively engaged in combat in Iraq. “ The senator from a southeastern state pronounced it “EYE-RAK”. That is in direct contravention of the rules imposed by the Congress of the United States in 1994 that women were not to serve in a combat role. What brought about this impertinent public statement?”

     “First sir, I am normally addressed as ‘Colonel’ or ‘Lieutenant Colonel Hazlet’ and I have earned that rank. I will not accept sneering or patronization, as your tone of voice implied. Secondly, I was on post-deployment le…”

     The chairman interrupted, “Lieutenant Colonel Hazlet, I am not in the habit of answering to anyone for my, as you stated it, tone of voice, but your tone-of-voice and attitude could provoke a Contempt of Congress citation.”

     Colonel Hazlet continued without acknowledgement of the chairman’s interjection, “I was on post-deployment leave with my mother and father in the town where I was born and raised. My father is a decorated marine veteran of World War Two and the Korean conflict and an officer of the local American Legion Post. He organized a public gathering in my honor.

     "One of my high school mates, we shared a mutual dislike, stood up and disparaged my service as a soldier, stating that women had no place in combat, that they don’t have the strength, the aggressiveness or the courage to engage in combat. That last set me off. My reaction hit AP from our regional newspaper and . . . at first I regretted my spontaneous outburst, but later, after I cooled down and discussed it with my father, who told me how proud he was of my response, I’m glad I made the statement I did.”

     A second senator requested the floor. He was one of the few war veterans in the congress, he had been awarded two purple hearts in Vietnam, “Colonel Hazlet, I’ve read the AP article, but would you please paraphrase your public statement for the record?”

   “‘Courage,’ I said, ‘are you aware that over one hundred women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and several hundred more have received wounds, many permanently debilitating?’

     He interrupted me, ‘That has nothing to do with courage, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, probably sticking their nose in where they didn’t belong, collateral damage,’ he scoffed.

     “I hadn’t seen him since I went away to college, so I can’t image what got into him, but later my father told me he was an important player in the state legislature and had bigger ambitions. He had gone to great lengths to avoid service in Vietnam. In any case my response apparently did little good for his political ambitions.”

     “Please forget the editorializing Colonel and elaborate on your response, it is important to this inquiry.”

     “Please forgive my digression, Senator. I asked the man if he was aware that two women, one a medic in Afghanistan and a woman from my own unit, Sgt Leigh Ann Hester, had been awarded Silver Stars for valor under fire. As far as aggressiveness is concerned, Sgt Hester was part of a supply convoy escort when it was ambushed by insurgents in Iraq.

     "She was in command of her vehicle. Instead of taking cover this timorous . . . sorry sir, more editorializing . . . she ordered her driver to move into a flanking position that would prevent the attackers from withdrawing and with her team assaulted and killed 27, wounded six and captured one of them. She personally accounted for three of the dead attackers.

     Finally, I told him, ‘That accounts for your aspersions related to courage and aggressiveness, now as for strength,’ I told him and the audience, ‘there a many forms of strength, one would be weight carrying.

     An infantryman goes into battle, carrying an 83 lb assault load, then for example you might account for the weight of M-19 machinegun, 83 lbs or its tripod, 44 lbs. Standard body armor weighs 43 lbs. And consider that the average soldier, soaking wet weighs 165 lbs and if he were wounded and required assistance out of the line-of-fire, with or without wounded man’s combat load, he would be moving about 300 pounds.

     I agree that a 120 lb woman would be unlikely to handle that. But another form of strength would be carrying the weight of responsibility which certainly Sgt, Hester demonstrated, but to my way of thinking the most important would be strength of character.”

     Hazlet paused for effect, then finished with, “Mr. Chairman, of the qualifications listed by my critic, which would you consider the most important?”

     “You are not here to question my viewpoint, but to respond to our questions.”

   “The question was rhetorical, sir.”

   The only woman senator on the panel broke in, “Mister Chairman, I would like to address an inquiry to the colonel.”

     First she addressed her fellow panel members, “Colonel Hazlet is not here as the enemy, but as a friend of the court so to speak. Wouldn’t you agree Mr. Chairman?”

     The man shifted uncomfortably and frowned, but said nothing.

     She continued, “I believe this panel has gotten off on the wrong track. As I understand it, the colonel herself has been decorated for valor under fire, during the same tour of duty with Sgt Hester; Bronze Star with “V” device, if I’m not mistaken.” She directed her attention to Hazlet.

     “Yes ma’am.”

     “Colonel, I am most interested in your response to the underlying issue, the one we have yet to address this morning. Why were you and later Sgt. Hester ordered to missions that would take you in harm’s way?

     "Considering the clearly stated congressional policy of keeping women out of combat roles and even zones of combat, and taking into account the general masculine bias in the military against tasking women into hazardous duties, why didn’t you refuse orders contradictive to established policy and custom?”

     “Ma’am, there are several factors. I was a captain at the time. I was not being ordered to do something inimical to the rules of land warfare, nor against the basic moral tenets of our society. In fact I was ordered to fill a need that otherwise could not be met.”

     “Please amplify, Colonel.”

     “You are asking me to walk into a professional minefield . . . but at this moment I have decided to take the first step, so please forgive me if I falter occasionally. I have not mentally prepared myself for this and it’s far above my pay grade. But from the ground up I have a point of view based on experience and I’m angry enough state it.”

     Hazlet paused gathering her thoughts and the panel gave her the benefit of time to reflect. The chairman, clearly unhappy with the direction of the inquiry, fidgeted and huffed.

     “Many of you will remember when Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki strongly and publicly differed with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz on the numbers of troops that would be required to invade and secure Iraq. The assault on Shinseki was vigorous and in my view as a soldier, vicious. They thought they could have their war on the cheap. It hasn’t turned out cheap and you and the American public have no idea yet what the true cost will be, but it can’t be hidden much longer.”

     The chairman sat forward, clearly angered, “You’ll address what this panel wants you to address. Address the Senator’s question and nothing more.”

     “Yes sir. Our combat units were plunging into Iraq, toward Baghdad at mind boggling pace, but our support units, short of personnel and rolling stock couldn’t keep pace: our supply train was desperate to keep our combat troops in ammunition, food and of course, medical supplies.”

     She glared at the chairman, “We were critically shorthanded.” Military police were drawn into service as escorts, manning fifty-cal machineguns on humvees, driving trucks and even riding shotgun. Women medics were drawn from field hospitals and put on the line with forward combat units.

     PFC Monica Brown, a medic assigned to a combat unit of the 82nd Airborne that was ambushed in Afghanistan, under fire rescued wounded soldiers and dragged them to nearby arroyo. When the arroyo came under fire she prostrated her own body over the injured men to protect them. If there had been sufficient boots on the ground, we women would have been kept out of the combat zone.”

     Without a glance at the chairman, the woman senator shot back, “But you were still violating official rules of engagement and established policy, yet you went without protest?”

     “Ma’am, I know you are being rhetorical, but I will answer. The simplest answer is Duty, Honor and Country, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We in the army, or the marines, and special ops folks, notwithstanding all the bad press about sexual abuse by a minority in the services, we are a family, a team. Up country they desperately needed what we could bring. Later after the initial victory it got worse, not better. How could we have done otherwise?”

     The woman senator smiled with satisfaction, and the Vietnam veteran clapped. The red-faced chairman growled and gaveled. “I think we have just about exhausted this matter . . .”

     “A senator, a man of the same party as the chairman who had remained silent throughout the hearing, spoke out, “Mister Chairman, I have a question before we adjourn.”

     The chairman peered down to that end of the panel and likely concluding that the man wanted to put his stamp on the transcript and would follow party line. He gestured with his hand.

     “Colonel Hazlet, you made reference to a hidden cost in this war that cannot remain hidden much longer. What is being hidden and what do you mean by cost?”

     “Hazlet, if you answer this, you could put paid to your career,” the chairman interjected.

   She didn’t even glance at him, and fixing her eyes on the questioner, “Sir, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have escalated into a guerrilla war employing IEDs, improvised explosive devices.”

     “We know what they are,” growled the chairman, “get on with it if you must.”

     “I’m not going to report my source; he also has much to lose,” she glared at the chairman. At this point in the two wars we have over three thousand men and women diagnosed with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, over a base of 1.9 million deployed that seems a small percentage.

     It is labeled as a psychiatric disorder that can be treated, and macho soldiers won’t admit to the problem and as they say, soldier on. That is the tip of the iceberg. Medical researchers have been investigating the effects concussive brain damage, TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury.

     Several professional football players have committed suicide, willing their brains to medical science. A disproportionate number of professional contact sport athletes have suffered degenerative mental capabilities, mimicking, some doctors say, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” The concussive force waves of newly employed IEDs are at least 4 times greater than the highest wind generated by Caribbean hurricane. The brain is battered inside the skull, like Mexican jumping bean.

     Hazlet’s gaze passed to and held the eyes of each of the panel, with exception of the chairman, and continued, “This month suicide deaths among young troopers on deployment, awaiting deployment or no longer on active but with a history of severe or frequent exposure to IEDs exceed the total number of actual combat deaths since the initial invasion of Iraq. Most are young men, but with rising numbers of women who have been exposed while on convoy duty. And now we are seeing older personnel, senior NCOs in particular who have also been exposed and affected.

     “The Pentagon knows about this . . . at the highest level. They have thrown a tight wrap over the whole matter and have made difficult or impossible to conduct autopsies of the suicides over which military command has control, and gone to some lengths to impede similar research of those outside of their immediate reach. A directive has been circulated from the very top of DOD prohibiting any discussion of the issue, particularly with representatives of the press, but also any other persons not directly under the control of the military.

     “What this means is, that at the expense of so many heroic, patriotic young men and women, the Pentagon and the White House have sold a spurious, cheap war, as a noble mission to bring Democracy to the benighted Iraqis and Afghans. The downstream economic costs to the nation of caring for these poor damaged human beings, and the public moral soul searching are a price that defies calculation. Thank you for asking,” directing her attention to the man who floated the question.

     “Do you have any more questions? Mr. Chairman.”

     “I have one last question for Colonel Hazlet, the woman senator interjected, “Why did you do this, commit career suicide, and possibly worse considering the attitude of our committee chairman, not to mention the powers in the Pentagon?”

     “Ma’am, in the officers’ corps of the United States military we are faced with the necessity of sending those who rely on us into harms’ way. We are imbued over and over with the litany that our responsibility is to see to their well-being in small and large ways, before we see to our own needs. But above all, not to spend their lives on spurious missions, as too often our politicians do.

     To answer your question, ma’am, all they can take from me is my career. They’ve squandered the lives and health of our nation’s most precious asset, our selfless youth.”

     “Don’t count on it just being your career, Colonel,” growled the chairman.

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