“Rebuilding” A Deployment: Incidents

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The other day I shared with you all how I’ve worked backwards in my attempt to rebuild my deployment for the purposes of explaining the type of role, responsibility, and burdens of that service to the VA.  I understand informing you about the total number of casualties doesn’t give you enough clarity alone.  While it is hard enough to go through the daily burden of receiving casualty information knowing we couldn’t undo those situations, it also made me stressed about people I knew going outside the base and my own safety on the few occasions I traveled outside Blue Diamond.  (It’s going to sound a little crazy but while on deployment, mortar attacks were pretty normal.  It’s only been in the last few years being close to fireworks again that my body had developed an adverse response to what I know is not a threat but my brain treats differently.)

War is a combination of intentional actions and just as our military employs various weapons our service overseas exposed us to dangers of all kinds from enemy combatants.  Small arms fire (SAF), rocket-propelled grenades, (RPG’s) improvised explosive devices (IED’s), vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED’s), and mortars. At the end of the day, our maps would be marked by various patterns of heinous activity and accidental circumstances.

I’ve mentioned previously I am only scratching the surface of the deployment by presenting data for deceased U.S. service members.  There are real barriers to getting a true representation of my deployment and I do not wish to do a disservice to the many persons wounded on my deployment.  Their stories are equally as important as the many service members who were killed, but I have such an incomplete picture of this time period based on how different sites collect and present data related to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Here are some key differences to shed light on this matter (and like one of my former professors mentioned, it’s important to not ignore inconvenient data).  The table, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) U.S. Casualty Status,  presents a challenge as it included the entire conflict from the early stages, including areas outside of Iraq.

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Table courtesy of Defense.org

Other sites also try to appropriate inform by collating the recorded numbers in a different format, but again, it’s hard to separate out the casualties that would have occurred on our watch from the ones my counterparts would have dealt with for their service in other command centers during other portions of OIF.  iCasualties.org helped me a bit to get a better idea of how this part of my deployment could have looked through various sorting categories.  The table below from iCasualties.org has an option to look at wounded data by month and service branch but it is not province specific.  Even if we look at just the Marine Corps and Army for this time period (keeping in mind August and February were not full months in country) our activity reports would have covered some portion of the 4,936 personnel belonging to these service branches.

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Table courtesy of iCasualties.org

I have some other grievances with the iCasualties.org website including how the filters aren’t functioning and sorting the way they should.  I recognize the sight picture of my deployment will be incomplete but at least looking back, I have tools to help me explain my deployment to others.

Getting back to the data I can truly work from, below I have provided a chart I created covering the types of incidents within the Al Anbar province from August 8th, 2004 to February 22nd, 2005.  I chose to combine various types of enemy action under ‘enemy action’ than to list each subcategory I discovered in the Military Times records.  When I tried to be more precise in the pie chart, it was far too cluttered.  For this reason, I am also providing a better snapshot of the complexity of the recorded violent events and breakdown of the non-combat related fatalities.

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Thanks again for your patience regarding this difficult subject.

It is my hope that what I’ve worked through for personal reasons can help others understand a different side of war that is underrepresented in discussion.  I do not wish to tread on anyone’s feelings regarding personnel who go out of the wire on conveys or vehicular and foot patrols but it does help to recognize what burdens are placed upon support personnel.  We have an opportunity to revisit training and support services for our service members who handle information for the killed and wounded and/or their personnel belongings/effects.  I would also hope civilians can see why we need more nuanced discussion about war and its consequences in the classroom.



“Rebuilding” A Deployment: Casualty Numbers

I am nearing the end of pulling together documentation for my VA claim, so here’s a bit of an update with some additional clarification on past discussions.  From my research, I learned the Al Anbar Province of Iraq is equivalent in size to the state of North Carolina.  I spent two separate seven month deployments to this region, but the deployment I speak (for you new readers) most of is the one I served under 1st Marine Division and is what I am discussing tonight.

Unpacking my military service with fellow graduate students from 2014 to 2016 was the first time I started to look more critically at my time period of service, my branch of service, changes to military policy, and how bases on deployments reinforce, create, and challenge certain societal expectations and behaviors. My first attempt of reviewing the casualty information related to my deployment was one of the most stressful things I’ve done since leaving the Marine Corps but I hope others saw the good intentions behind my actions and the knowledge I shared.  I felt it was tough to have a classroom full of peers, many without any personal connection to war and conflict, criticize an experience I lived through and my deployment was marked by trauma not well discussed by our nation’s media.

I write to you of an imperfect journey started last spring.  When I first braved the idea of sorting through the U.S. service member casualty data, I did so with the intent of educating collegiate students about modern war service in a support capacity; I also gathered information, as best as possible, about Iraq casualties through Iraq Body Count. The hardest piece of information to gather was for insurgents killed as I could not find it broken down by province by the best available data came from Stars and Stripes Insurgent ‘Body Count’ Records Released article published October 1, 2007.

After my second look (solely focused on US service members), I saw I made a mistake in my numbers, adding one extra casualty, from the time period of August 13th, 2004 to February 25th, 2005 because I misread my Excel spreadsheet.  I am embarrassed by this mistake, but with a clearer head this time, I know why the mistake was made.  I was crazy exhausted pulling together this information for my graduate applied project while also pulling 40 hour work weeks.  I could have asked someone to take a second look, but I was–and still am–personally invested in telling of my experiences a certain way.  I do not like when someone takes my words and shapes their own agenda, skewing what I said to imply something else.  I’ve seen when such oversight creates a larger misunderstanding and I do not want someone else to misrepresent my experiences.

The second look at the casualty data from Military Times Honor the Fallen  was done for personal reasons.  I needed this information to help support my claim with the VA that my anxiety-induced chest pains are service connected.  My military record is sparse as I grew tired coordinating with–and lacked trust in–military medical facility staff.  For all the great things I experienced in the Marine Corps, medical care is not one of them.  The culture of the Marine Corps,too, creates some undue pressure to avoid medical care, both to avoid the label of ‘malingerer’ and to remain deployable.

Looking back, I realize I had a choice and I didn’t use my voice to speak up when medical staff dismissed my physical symptoms as a ‘runner’s stitch’ although I was repeatedly adamant I never experienced a chest pain during physical activity.  For this look, I included the dates that matched the dates of service listed on my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement citation (posted below as a snippet).  I don’t need to go down the road with the VA on why I believe looking through my last day of service at Camp Blue Diamond is important nor do I think providing them with the Iraqi casualty information will be helpful because I cannot pinpoint which deaths are tied to my period of service overseas, same for the insurgent data.

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The citation hides, in plain language, what a significant event is, and for us, it was mostly information about the killed and wounded (friendly, civilians, and enemy combatants).  This type of work was classified secret, so without access to military records, I have used the readily available information at hand from Military Times, Iraq Body Count, and the Stars and Stripes article to give you some semblance of my Operation Iraqi Freedom 2-2 deployment.  (My second Iraq deployment was OIF 5-7, for anyone who is interested in Iraq rotations.)

Military Times Honor the Fallen Data

Most accurate data as I individually recorded for Al Anbar Province and by individual day (Military Times does not have a ‘sort’ feature by province)

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***I am providing more detailed information to the VA than what I am sharing with you all today.

Iraq Body Count Data

Medium Accuracy: Province specific, not date specific

Maximum Recorded Killed by Month

Stars and Stripes Data

Least Accurate Data: Not Specific to Al Anbar Province Nor by Individual Day

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As my weekend permits, I want to also share a more intimate look at the U.S. Service member casualty information.  There is a lot to dissect about causes of death, incidents that affected multiple personnel, and operating in constantly stressful environments, but it’s best to have a separate discussion.

The journey to complete my second review, while not as stressful as the first, was still stressful.  This deployment changed my feelings a lot regarding personal safety, how I approach my work, my personal relationships, and how I viewed my place in this world.  I am better for serving, but like many others, I still have work to do coping with the aftermath of this part of my life.


What is it with People?! From Shoe Size to Public Tragedy, You Always Have the Right to Limit the Sharing of Your Personal Details.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Today I had my first encounter with a quite strange individual on Instagram.  His undue comments, see below, loosely tie in with what I originally wanted to talk about today, the Las Vegas shooting.

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We live in a society where people currently feel they are entitled to information about total strangers and are subsequently personally affronted when that privacy door is slammed in their faces.

Before I get to my sentiments about the Las Vegas shooting, let me tell you the guy was affronted about me not wanting to share my shoe size.  Mr. Shoe/Foot Fetish was a bit pissed that I didn’t want to give him this little detail about my body.  Although all comments related to this little spat are deleted after he asked if I minded (Yes, I mind being asked.) I gave the following response:

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It’s simple, right?  I do not owe anyone any part of my personal life that I do not wish to share.  I don’t owe someone details about what I had for breakfast.  I don’t owe someone a sneak peek or my sentiments of my financials.  I do not owe anyone an explanation of my military service and subsequent troubles getting the VA to understand the anxiety-related chest pains I’ve dealt with for the last 12 years.  Yet, there are times I CHOOSE to share this information.  The key thing is I’m talking about choice.

I don’t condemn people for wanting information in the wake of a public tragedy but the more we continue to presume, via our social media presences, that small details of others’ lives are ours to know the more I see this problem seep in how tragedies are documented and discussed.  I feel so awkward listening to some interviews and news stories; the exploitation of people fresh in their personal grief aggravates me.  This morning, in particular, it was hard, as a mother, to hear a small boy on tv give testimony about how he was without his mom now.  Seriously, right now he needs the safe embrace of loved ones, not the media coming in to repackage his trauma, pulling at fellow Americans’ heartstrings.

I say these things because I’ve been in similar shoes on two occasions.

After losing my friend, Bart, in 2002, I watched, with utter disgust, how the media camped out in his neighborhood.  My friends know I didn’t handle it well and I cussed at those local reporters.  None of us expected he would die so young or that he would become a murder victim.

In the other situation, away from prying media eyes, I sat besides my parter in 2004 (we’ve been exes for quite some time) as strangers asked him if being shot changed his belief in God.  Are you freaking kidding me?!

The fact people are willing to ask such things is not an overnight phenomenon.  It’s the small questions over time, chipping away at personal boundaries–real and imaginary–that encourage and emblazon others to think no question is off limits.

So, to the person who asked me about my shoe size today, I had good reason to tell you know.  I had more than one reason to tell you know and I only gave you one response.  You weren’t even OWED a response!

To our Las Vegas shooting victims, I apologize for any infringement you suffer in the wake of this intimate and public tragedy.  I will watch the news, with a critical mind, and I will cringe when I see those vignettes that border on the inappropriate.

For everyone still wondering those things that I’m seeing, here’s one tidbit from The Washington Post.  It is frustrating to see that question, Do you know someone who died?  

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I want to close with some information I found from the organization Trauma Intervention Programs’ “When Tragedy Strikes” regarding dealing with the media.  You can always say no.  You can choose how to share your sentiments.  You can choose who in your family is interviewed and who is excluded from interviews.  You have the right to complain about the process and persons involved in interviewing you.  You have the right to know how your story, as you’ve shared it, is being told.  I am touching on so little of this process, but we are all people with the rights to our personal lives and you owe nothing to anyone else that you do not wish to give.