The Costs of War

It’s early Monday morning and I should be asleep, but for some reason I haven’t been tired and so I decided to check out the Frontline site to check on the latest documentary. I came upon a program called Bad Voodoo’s War, which followed a National Guard platoon during their tour of Iraq.

Their story wasn’t glamorous. In fact, much of their work guarding conveys all through the country was tedious. And yet, it was also extremely dangerous for they never knew when an IED was going to hit, and during the program they documented at least two attacks that originated in close proximity to Iraqi military checkpoints.

The central focus of the program was SFC Toby Nunn, the platoon sergeant who led the Bad Voodoo platoon. Sergeant Nunn had served in the Balkans, Korea, and in Iraq multiple times. Sergeant Nunn was a typical soldier. He didn’t really want to be deployed again, but he was a professional with a job to do, and his loyalty to keeping his men safe was evident in everything he did. It was a great documentary that may be one of the most realistic portrayals of what we are asking of our military in Iraq that I have seen, and an important addition to understanding the story.

The program (which aired in April) ended with a note that the platoon was scheduled to return in May and and encouragement to check out the web site to obtain further details about their deployment and return home. The stories of these soldiers had been compelling enough that I decided that I had to find out what had happened, so I checked out the web site, only to find myself shocked by the following message:

Bad Voodoo Platoon has finished its tour in Iraq and most of the men have now returned to the United States.

FRONTLINE has learned that following the broadcast of “Bad Voodoo’s War,” the U.S. Army launched an investigation of Sfc. Toby Nunn and Spc. Jason Shaw. According to the Army, the investigation centered on the question of whether the men received permission from their chain of command to participate in the making of the film.

Sfc. Nunn reports to FRONTLINE that the Army punished him for his participation in the film “with a letter of reprimand in my permanent record so that I cannot be promoted or reenlist.”  He says that “nothing illegal happened and proper protocol was followed” and that he is appealing the Army’s decision to ensure that “I leave with an honorable discharge instead of a general discharge and I am trying to clear my name and record as well.”

They also included a note from Sergeant Dunn:

Bad Voodoo has returned to the states and have started the demobilization process and are getting back together with their families. Several of us leaders have to stay on for a few more weeks and complete some education requirements and I am trying to get my reputation reintact. I was punished for my participation in the Frontline documentary by getting a letter of reprimand in my permanent record so that I cannot be promoted or reenlist. This is a painful and hurtful piece of paper that has painted me out to be like the enemies I dedicated my life to fighting. There was an investigation into the documentary but it did not involve anyone that participated in the film. Due process was ignored and the findings of the investigation clearly do not support the punishment I have received. By all counts my career is finished and I will complete my contractual time then get out. I am ensuring that I leave with an honorable discharge instead of a general discharge and I am trying to clear my name and record as well.

All early indications suggest that the producer and director of the film had a long history in working with the military and was well versed in obtaining the proper permissions for Sfc. Dunn to participate in this project. While the military is not commenting publicly on this, it is much more likely that Sfc. Nunn’s punishment is due to his honesty in the program in suggesting that our some of our Iraqi allies might be the same folks who are setting bombs against us (something that surprises no one) and being honest about the good and bad of his job.

I share this for Sfc. Dunn is another cost of the war. He is a person who has faithfully carried out his job for the United States in a professional manner. He was well loved by his men, and it appears that he got his platoon through their deployment without any losses. And yet, when he honestly shares his feelings and experiences, both good and bad, painting a picture of he war in Iraq that we all need to experience, he is attacked and his career is ended with little concern for all the good he has done in the past. He is a victim, just like all of the other victims of this war who will never be the same because of it.

I am not sure what to do in this situation. Part of me wants to encourage all to campaign on his behalf, holding the military accountable for the service of this man to all of us. Another part fears that a coordinated campaign would only serve to alienate the military and lead to more intransigence.

Certainly there are people who have paid the ultimate price in the loss of their lives because of this stupid war. But we must take care to recognize that for every life loss, this war effects affects hundreds of others, and we will be living out the legacy of what we have allowed for many generations to come.

3 thoughts on “The Costs of War

  1. Great post about the cost of war – to me this is another example of how we have changed the definition of patriotism and the meaning of war.

    We are not allow to criticize the military or the administration and when we do, we are accused of being against our troops. We need to support our troops and give them the support that they need so that they can speak out. The Pentagon would probably tell us that there is a need for the chain of command to be maintained in order to maintain discipline. But if the chain of command is not listening to the troops, the troops have to know that they can speak out when things are not right.

    Blind obedience to authority is not patriotism but the mark of a culture that is losing its freedom.

    We have seen with repeated stories about the lack of support for veteran’s care that we no longer care what happens to our troops. We send them off to fight and then we forget them. If they come home, we just want them to fade away.

    Let us make sure that no veteran is forgotten and that this weekend is directed towards remembering why many die.

    Let us work to make sure that no death or injury is for reasons unknown or forgotten.

    Let us work to make sure that each individual trooper knows that they are important and that our leaders know that they cannot see them as simply pawns in some game.

  2. From “Judge Your Neighbor”:

    “Is this true? Can you absolutely know that it is true?
    How do you react when you believe these thoughts?
    Who would you be without these thoughts?”

    P.S. It’s “affects”, not “effects” in your last paragraph.

  3. I can see how they are giving them the shaft, and totally disagree with it. Typically a letter of reprimand is given to officers (career ender), and enlisted are given article 15s when there is a sticky situation where they try to punish, but there might be little foundation to the charges (not always a career ender, etc). I did not see the series, but if it went on for a while and the Army did not request it be stopped from airing, someone else could be also in trouble. The CYA concept occurs in all careers, and hopefully others learn to gather documents supporting their permission to be filmed. I recorded my own videos during OIF, but keep them to myself or close friends. Opsec (Operational Security) is the worry, so if the film showed common routes, times, tactics, etc, this could be why the chain of command viewed it, and saw where it could (and likely is) being used for inteligence by the enemy. They have the internet and can get many tv channels. I hope they do not get a general discharge because that is the same as others who have intentionally offended, etc. There should be a fair appeal process that hopefully they can win. Definite unfair cost of war…

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