My eye was directed there by a scholarly international relations website, Atlantic-Community.org, who published a link to an ill-informed, sensationalist and generally dreadful Op-Ed piece by Bob Herman on Afghanistan. While Herman's piece displayed the depth of soup ladle, it reminded me to check for Ms. Alvarez' recent writings. Since she repeatedly displayed her predilection (and that of the NYT) for combat vet character assassination, I've occasionally checked to see if she has gone back to her bread and butter.
She has. Almost a year to the day from the piece that had me spitting spent casings in Afghanistan, she has produced this intellectual giant: "A Focus on Violence by Returning G.I.’s."
I'm a few days late on this one, which ran on January 3rd, but I did catch it. In the meantime, Ms. Alvarez has gone on from her poisoning of the well; but I will attempt to scathe her as thoroughly as I can. Now, I understand her fascination with the idea of PTSD. It is, as it should be, part of our national dialogue. Why, just this week, milblogger Susan Katz Keating has addressed the same issue on her blog, exploring the DoD's recent decision not to grant Purple Heart Medals for those diagnosed with PTSD. PTSD is also a big issue in the Army. You cannot come home on leave from a combat theater until you've got your chit that you've been through the awareness class at Ali Al Saleem Air Base in Kuwait. I think I still have mine somewhere. It's an issue of some conversation both inside and outside the military. I even saw a news clip on the Pentagon Channel News today about a DoD round table addressing depression and suicide in the military.
As she did last year, Lizette found a well-meaning senior officer who was willing to talk to her. This officer, MG Mark Graham, has lost a son in combat and another, an ROTC cadet who struggled with depression and ceased his medication for fear that it would cost him his Army career, to suicide. MG Graham has understandably made soldier mental health one of his prime concerns as the commander of Fort Carson, Colorado; which happens to be the focus of Alvarez' piece. Lizette took advantage of MG Graham's willingness to speak openly about such issues to couch her article in authority.
General Graham, whose oldest son, Jeff, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq a year after another son, Kevin, committed suicide, has made mental health a focus since taking command of Fort Carson in 2007. “I feel like I have to speak out for the Kevins of the world,” he said. ~ Lizette Alvarez, NYT, 3 JAN 09
As you can tell from the screaming title of her article, the target is clear; violence by returning vets. In her triumphal return to her pet subject, Alvarez announces somberly that in the past three years, there have been nine murders perpetrated by current and former members of the 4th BCT, a unit stationed at Fort Carson. There apparently weren't any from the remaining units on Fort Carson, judging from her reporting.
Alvarez even refers to her multi-installment assault on the reputations of combat veterans last year, a series that drew fire from multiple quarters, including mine.
Last January, The New York Times published articles examining the cases of veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan charged with homicide after their return. At the time, it counted at least 121 such cases. In many of them, combat trauma and the stress of deployment appeared to have set the stage for the crimes. ~ Lizette Alvarez, NYT 3 JAN 09
Was that the same series of articles that the NYT apologized for the shoddy research on, Lizette? Was that the same series of articles that pointed out through the research of others, not yourself (though a staff of nine... count 'em nine reporters worked on it,) that returning combat veterans were actually less likely to kill you than non-veterans? Would that be the same series?
Uh, I'll take "Yes" for a thousand, Alex.
Now, for those of you who are not in the military, I will explain a little bit about an aspect of military life that tends to drive soldiers a touch insane. We'll start with this example; a question: In the civilian world, when you ride a motorcycle, what is required? Answer: A motorcycle, a motorcycle endorsement on your license, and in some states, a helmet (though helmets are not required in all states.) In the military, to ride a motorcycle you must wear boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, a helmet, and a day-glo vest or belt slung diagonally across your body.
On the larger FOB's in Afghanistan, in hours of reduced visibility (at night,) you must wear, with your ACU uniform, a day-glo PT belt. If you wear PT gear at any time of day, you must wear a PT belt. Is that insane, or what? The Army issues you all this camouflage gear and while you are in a combat zone you must wear an item that makes you easily visible?
Yep. Someone got hit by a vehicle on some FOB and it was decided that the new ACU's made that soldier invisible. In response, the entire Army belted up in day-glo to prevent further hazards to its highly trained and alert combat soldiers.
Are you catching the pattern here? The Army will react to what is in the civilian world a hazard of living and walking (or riding) and respond to a degree that you will not see in civilian life. (Thank God, or this would be like the ultimate police state.) Generals and such have just that kind of power, and it's senior NCO's who bear the brunt of enforcing those GAB standards, the same ones the Privates and Specialists bitch about so entertainingly on their blogs.
Disclaimer: I was never a GAB Nazi or a Smoke-Zone Nazi. I was at all times a "don't flag people with your weapons" Nazi. Thankfully, we had lots of Bull Fobbit Sergeants Major to take care of the first two parts. Oddly enough, they didn't seem to notice the flagging issue much. They could, however, spot a Specialist in a tower who was not wearing his gloves from a thousand meters. At night.
The point is that the Army micromanages risk. You should see the Risk Assessments that have to be done for any training exercise. You should see the Risk Assessments that are done for combat missions. They almost didn't let me out of the wire at Bagram on numerous occasions because we didn't have as many vehicles as was their norm. The Army is risk averse. If there is any uptick in any negative activity, the Army will come down on it with both feet and will determine the proper belt to wear to prevent further occurrences. MG Graham has developed a commission to look into the occurrences related to Fort Carson and is looking for preventable causative effects. The Secretary of the Army is considering appointing a commission to look into the same thing on a wider scale. Ms. Alvarez fairly crows.
Now the secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, says he is considering conducting an Army-wide review of all soldiers “involved in violent crimes since returning” from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a letter sent to Mr. Salazar in December. Mr. Geren wrote that the Fort Carson task force had yet to find a specific factor underlying the killings, but that the inquiry was continuing. ~ Lizette Alvarez, NYT 3 JAN 09
You've got to read the article. Lizette Alvarez does such a wonderful job of telling salacious and tragic tales of murder and mayhem, just as she did last year. She's quite talented at drawing on the heartstrings, that woman. The best propagandists are usually quite skilled at stirring emotions. Let's look at the bigger picture.
Alvarez reports that the census of Fort Carson ranges from 11,000 to 14,500 people at any given time. We'll take 12,000 as an average. About 15% of the Army is female, so we'll just throw that percentage out and we wind up with abut 10,800 soldiers. Just as a swag, about 60% of those would be junior enlisted, the group most likely to fall into the 18-24 age group. That would be about 6,480 males between 18 and 24 years old. 20% of these soldiers would be black, going by Army statistics from the office of the G-1. According to a paper quoted in the NYT by James Alan Fox of Northeastern University, we could expect about 1 in every 5000 white males between the ages of 18 and 24 to commit a murder in 2007, and we could expect 1 in every 500 black males in the same age group to do the same.
The simple arithmetic shows that we would have about 5184 white males soldiers between 18 and 24 and about 1296 black males in the same age group, on average, at Fort Carson during those three years that Alvarez refers to. We would expect about 1 murder a year from the white males and about 2.25 murders a year from the black males on base if this were just a slice of America instead of an Army base full of slack-jawed PTSD-suffering combat veterans. That's 3.25 murders a year just from the 18 to 24 year old males that we could expect to be present. Over the three year period, we could expect 9.75 murders from just over half the population of the base. They've had 9; which is still 9 tragedies, the repetition of which the Army is trying its hardest to stamp out, but it's less than you would expect from a similar slice of 18 to 24 year old Americans of similar demographics.
This is totally disregarding the other 5,520 people that we could expect to find on base at during the same period. It's quite possible that we could come up with a quarter of a murder in a three year period somewhere in that woodpile, don't you think? That would put Fort Carson's murder rate a full murder low. Of course, we are not counting the fact that two of these murders did not take place at Fort Carson, and I have not added in all of the discharges (at least those two were discharged personnel, but still clearly linked to Fort Carson.) In other words, I have left out chunks of people who would help me make my case and still am coming up with Fort Carson having a lower murder rate than a similar bunch of 18 to 24 year old males from a slice of America.
I don't personally believe that Lizette Alvarez or the NYT is too stupid to have done the simple arithmetic and figure out the above. They are the ones who printed the murder rate demographic study. If you read her series from last year, and this article, it's really hard not to spot a consistent message; an agenda; stigmatizing combat veterans.
Congratulations, Lizette; you've just identified another serious danger to America. You have also managed to have published in a major paper another Deer Hunter episode replete with tragic and frightening stories which will paint combat veterans as a danger to themselves and Americans in general. You've done us all a wonderful service and raised public awareness with your righteous cry.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my ***. You should be dating Nick Meo. I could possibly arrange an introduction, if you'd like. He's sure as hell not working in Afghanistan anymore. You two would be perfect for each other, since you like to defame soldiers so much.
It pisses me off to see some snooty New York journalist mess with soldiers like that. If you can read that article along with the series she wrote last year and not smell an agenda, let me know. In my service I have met what are probably the finest young men and women that this nation has to offer. While others are self-absorbed in their search for money, stuff and status, these young soldiers go an do what most find unimaginable. In the past year, veterans and soldiers have been nearly the sole target of her writings, and not once in a favorable light. If it's not to tell a sad story of violence, it is written in pity. If you look at the list of her articles, it's not an agenda; it's a campaign. That's just not right. The NYT bears responsibility for this, too. Maybe it's time to start researching their advertisers.
Note to senior officers: When are you gentlemen going to realize that talking to Lizette Alvarez is like serving your own soldiers arsenic sauce for their future pudding? Gentlemen, this is an information fight in more ways than just in the Afghan villages. Lizette Alvarez will take your concern for your troops and your efforts to keep your soldiers healthy and to keep the murder rate of soldiers and veterans to much lower than the national average for their same demographic groups and turn it into a spectacular story of death and carnage at the hands of demented soldiers; she will use your concerned efforts and words as authority for her painting a picture of your boys as tainted criminals-in-waiting. Read her articles, for Pete's sake. Remember how hard it was for returning Viet Nam veterans, who were painted with that same brush. You are not helping your soldiers with your "transparency" on this issue with this reporter. The ones who talked with her last year regret it. Don't be next. When Lizette Alvarez shows up at any military base she should be shunted directly to a diligent SSG at the PAO's office and given a polite tour and a goody bag of recruiting brochures and refrigerator magnets. Maybe a nice coffee cup. I urge you gentlemen to quit helping her make your soldiers look like Jason-in-training. Please, gentlemen, have some discernment; don't help this "journalist" stigmatize your soldiers. This war is hard enough on them already.