Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 36 October 12 - 18, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
State of Mind: Calls from soldiers
among some war-weary GIs in Iraq is so low that a growing number of soldiers -
including some now home on R&R - are researching the consequences of going
AWOL, according to a leading support group.
GI Rights Hotline, a national soldiers' support service, has logged a 75 percent
increase in calls in the last 12 weeks, with more than 100 of those calls from
soldiers, or people on their behalf, asking about the penalties associated with
going AWOL - "absent without leave" - according to volunteers and
staffers who man the service. Many of the calls have come from soldiers who are
among those now on the first wave of 15-day authorized leaves that began almost
two weeks ago. Some hotline callers have indicated they may not return, staffers
would happen if I just don't go back" to Iraq, one soldier asked a worker
at a GI support-line center. "I'm going to shoot myself in the foot,"
said another, referring to his solution for getting home.
soldiers are so desperate that they have called directly from the war zone,
contacting the hotline when they can get satellite-phone access or after waiting
in line for hours in the desert for a military phone. So worried is military
brass about the prospect of desertion that many soldiers say they have been
encouraged to take their leaves in Germany - a stopover - to avoid temptation
military is aware of how low troop morale is," said Teresa Panepinto,
program coordinator of The GI Rights Hotline, a service that dates back to the
Korean War. "They're concerned these people are going to come home and not
throughout the country take live calls and respond to messages left by soldiers
who want to know their rights. One call base is in a small office in a building
on Lafayette Street in the East Village.
said monthly calls to the hotline have risen from 2,000 to 3,500 in the last
three months. She said many soldiers complained about the length of the Iraq
campaign, the rough desert conditions and a U.S. death toll that has risen well
above 300, including nearly 180 soldiers killed after President Bush's May 1
declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.
officials said they had no up-to-date numbers on soldiers who have gone AWOL
since the Iraq campaign, but an affidavit that surfaced at a recent court
martial for a soldier charged with desertion put the number at more than 50.
Most of those charged were reservists who were activated and did not report,
said Steve Collier, a lawyer representing a soldier charged with desertion.
for going AWOL range from a bad-conduct discharge to a court martial and jail
time. Military officials maintain that morale remains high among soldiers, who
are paid more in combat zones, and that authorized leaves are being granted as
"an investment in readiness." Maj. Pete Mitchell, a U.S. Central
Command spokesman, said the military code of justice is a significant deterrent
to unauthorized absences.
is a possibility that somebody would make that decision," Mitchell said.
"We're going to extend good faith that people are going to make the right
the GI Rights Hotline staffers, Manhattan resident Julie Garfield said she would
never encourage her nephew, Aaron Garfield, to desert his posting as a reservist
in Iraq. But if he did, she would probably cry tears of joy, she said.
who has never indicated that going AWOL is an option for him, has been in
Baghdad six months. "If he went AWOL I wouldn't blame him," said his
aunt, who has been the significant adult in his life. "They ripped him away
from his life and education. He spent nine months in Bosnia. It's enough
recent e-mails, Aaron says soldier morale is low because reservists are forced
to stay while active-duty troops are being allowed to leave, if only for two
weeks. "There is no morale here," he wrote his aunt. "The
leadership just doesn't care about us. I don't want anything to do with this
Gen. James Helmly, chief of the 205,000-mem- ber Army Reserve, warned recently
that there could be an exodus of active and reserve forces if the United States
fails to get other countries to join the Iraq campaign. Jos Alvarez, an Army
corporal now on duty in Iraq, has told his wife he will not re-enlist when his
obligation ends next year. He's angry that when his wife, Wendy, suffered a
miscarriage recently, his unit refused to grant him an emergency leave.
"I'm definitely getting out," he wrote his wife. "To heck with the Army." "He hates it and he's not re-enlisting," said Wendy from her home on a military base at Fort Hood, Texas. "He basically has given up."
October 5, 2003 -- EXCLUSIVE