Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Guard is getting weary

The Minnesota National Guard is getting weary, pulling 48 to 72-hour shifts. Sleep deprivation is clouding their judgement, they have equipment shortages and the mission keeps shifting.
"All I'm asking for is the people to realize that their friends, families and loved ones have been through hell," [Staff Sgt. Doug] Heller [of Duluth] wrote. "If there is a way for me to prevent this from happening in the future, I will try anything, at the cost of my rank." (Duluth News Tribune; reg. req'd)
This is not surprising, given the chaos, disorganzation and general malfeasance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Except these guys aren't in Louisiana or Mississippi. They're in Iraq, and they are speaking out despite a general order not to talk to the media. Sgt. heller's unit is severely understaffed because it was split in half, one half sent to guard a contractor's compound in Saudi Arabia, the other "sent to hell," i.e., to Iraq. It's not hard to figure which half got the better deal:
Those in Saudi Arabia live in a renovated palace with private rooms and access to a swimming pool and bowling alley. Soldiers in Iraq live in a compound where electricity has been intermittent, sand fleas swarm during the rainy seasons, and soldiers bathe in gritty water from the Tigris River.
I haven't seen any data, but I wouldn't be surprised if the water in the Tigris is as polluted as that in New Orleans. The Ganges, where hundreds of thousands bathe and drink has colony counts that exceed those in New Orleans. But while the Gulf deployment is limited, the Iraq one just goes on and on, under similar or worse conditions:
Early this summer, the battery was ordered to step up patrols and provide new security support for two Iraqi Army compounds. Trips through the streets of Baghdad increased dramatically during the new mission, Silda said, and soldiers sometimes slept for three to five hours every other day.

"The real kicker here is we are doing all this with 60 people, while other full units, over 120 people, are doing the same job," Silda said. Soldiers resorted to drinking Red Bull and other caffeine-rich drinks to help them stay awake, Silda said.

Sleep deprivation may have caused at least one serious accident in Iraq, Doug Heller believes. After a series of long shifts, a senior noncommissioned officer was severely burned when he used a lighter to check the fuel level in a generator. Fumes from the fuel tank ignited, causing burns to the officer's face and upper body.

Hervas confirmed the incident. He said the officer "pushed himself pretty hard" and was working on about five hours of sleep a night. Such sleep patterns were "not uncommon for us over here," Hervas said.
Hurricane Katrina. Bringing a little bit of Home to our boys in Iraq.