Sunday, May 18, 2008

 

Winter Soldier Stories

(UPDATE: I had originally incorrectly attributed a story to SGT Goldsmith in the post below, as pointed out by a commenter. Now corrected.)

The malcontents and miscreants of Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are at it again, invited to testify before a Congressional “Progressives Caucus” this week.

In perfect accord with their previous efforts, their “Winter Soldier” circus this time was a mix of pretenders with phony or hyped up resumes, exaggerated stories fuzzy of facts but overstuffed with fabulisms, or outright falsehoods.

As reported in foreign and alternative progressive media, it seems as if IVAW needed to retire several of their former speakers and bring in some new blood. (I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with how badly the last batch were discredited.) (Link to the Breitbart article courtesy of Drudge).

Several MILBLOGGERS (here, here, here, here) and other conservative media jumped all over this lede:
Matthis Chiroux is the kind of young American US military recruiters love.
"I was from a poor, white family from the south, and I did badly in school,"
the now 24-year-old told AFP.

"I was 'filet mignon' for
recruiters. They started phoning me when I was in 10th grade," or around 16
years old, he added.
The Case of Chiroux

Interesting that this “filet mignon” who did so poorly in school managed to have the wits and wherewithal to earn selection as a Public Affairs Specialist, military occupational specialty (MOS) 46Q, and spent between five and six years in various Public Affairs Offices (PAO) in Japan and Germany. As a staff writer and photographer, and a pretty good one at that.

Here’s another possibly discrediting feature of his story:
He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.
Now according to the many stories he’s allowed to be written about him, SGT Chiroux claims to have joined right out of high school, shortly after June 2002. Maybe he went in right that summer, maybe into the fall, but accounting for basic training and advanced individual training, that brings him into sometime in 2003, no doubt as a Private or PV2.

A Private (PVT) Matthis Chiroux was already in Japan, working for a PAO there, likely sometime in 2003, given the background information contained in this news report with which his name was associated.

There’s one aspect of a military journalist’s career that makes his career a little easier to piece together – if he’s the kind of Winter Soldier, like John Kerry, who doesn’t want to make primary documents like a DD 214 available for public inspection.

Do a google on Matthis Chiroux, and you’ll get dozens of PAO and other Army publication articles and photos with his byline. These became a helpful means of tracking his career. He can be traced as first a PVT, then PFC and then SPC while posted in Japan, and then USAREUR in Germany.

Now it’s entirely possible that PVT Chiroux started his PAO career in Japan in 2003, then spent some of late 2003, early 2004 in Afghanistan. But it does seem odd, since PFC Chiroux was next in evidence writing for the same PAO in Japan in November 2004. If PVT then PFC Chiroux and done a combat tour in Afghanistan, you’d think the associated medals and awards would have gotten him the Specialist in that time frame. That, and I am thinking that lower ranking PAO soldiers would be less likely to be returned to the same duty station for subsequent assignments, at least that soon.

A remarkable photograph Chiroux, of a helicopter carrier landing seen through an aviator’s goggles, showed up in early 2005. There are evidences of him in Japan in February and April 2005, but by July 2005, he shows up at USAREUR in Germany.

He contributed numerous articles and photographs during the rest of 2005, 2006 and 2007, with pieces appearing in September and November 2005, throughout the Spring and Summer of 2006. He appears on a promotion list to Sergeant in January 2007.

Funny thing is, if he was reassigned or deployed to either Afghanistan or the Philippines, he oddly has no bylines or photographs credited from those locations.

Throughout his time in Europe, he contributed numerous articles and photographs for various stories in Europe, about training events, NATO military exchanges, and increasingly, stories about units and soldiers training for or returning from Afghanistan or Iraq, and even a story about preparations for a unit to go to the Philippines. These stories may have come in handy for burnishing an otherwise combat free military record.

It may be a telling detail that in news stories for which Chiroux has been interviewed, he is always identified as a soldier who “served” in Afghanistan and the Philippines, and while one might logically assume he was stationed or did a combat tour for OEF, I haven’t seen a single article or statement making that claim. But I’d bet 95% of readers of articles on the now conscientious objector would assume that’s his background.

Funny thing about a lot of these IVAW members and associates: many of them have never served in Iraq, or have never had any real exposure to combat, or have greatly distorted and manipulated what little experience they have. In many cases, they are careful not to make any direct, specific claims as to names, places and dates, but rather fuzzy, indistinct assertions. This allows them, for example, to create an impression of knowledge, experience, or exposure they don’t in fact have, but do not leave themselves open to falsification.

Fables and Photos

Another soldier quoted and discussed in the Breitbart article is SGT Kristopher Goldsmith:
Former army sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith told a half-dozen US lawmakers and scores of people who packed into a small hearing room of "lawless murders, looting and the abuse of countless Iraqis."

He spoke of the psychologically fragile men and women who return from Iraq, to find little help or treatment offered from official circles.

Goldsmith said he had "self-medicated" for several months to treat the wounds of the war.
Goldsmith and his alarming testimony is widely quoted in articles published in Middle Eastern Arabic media, and heavily publicized by Islamic groups who offer cover, apologetics, or support for terrorists.

Here is an anecdote attributed to Goldsmith that often appears in these kinds of propaganda pieces:
During the last day, photographs of nameless Iraqi dead flashed on large screens. Army Sgt. Kristofer Goldsmith took the photos on May 15, 2005, a day he remembered as "very hot, uncomfortable and miserable." Goldsmith was ordered to photograph a dozen Iraqis who were presumably murdered and dumped in a large landfill. But the photos were not taken to identify the dead or assist the Iraqi police investigation. "They were used for morale purposes," Goldsmith remarked bitterly. "[Soldiers] bombarded me to copy my pictures. They made videos of them to send home to their friends and families to brag, 'This is war. This is what we did to the Iraqis.'"
A careful study of this anecdote shows it is of a piece with earlier IVAW stories, such as those offered by IVAW’s Millard, in which anonymous soldiers make statements or show callous disregard to Iraqi civilians. In each of these kinds of accounts, there’s no command directive, no organized effort; rather, fellow soldiers ask for grisly memento or trophy photos, and there’s a heavy implication that this was with command or leader approval or consent. These photos were taken of a mass grave of Iraqi civilians, likely killed by terrorists or armed sectarian militias.

However crude or offensive, such behavior is proof of nothing more than that some soldiers are crude and disrespectful, even racist. This should not really have any value as news, though it retains value as propaganda.

Re-Reported Misreporting

The Breitbart article also includes these claims, both false but widely reported in antiwar media outlets:
Some 300,000 of the 1.6 million US soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the psychological traumas of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or both, an independent study showed last month.

---

Goldsmith accused US officials of censorship.

"Everyone who manages a blog, Facebook or Myspace out of Iraq has to register every video, picture, document of any event they do on mission," Goldsmith told AFP after the hearing.

"You're almost always denied before you are allowed to send them home."

Officials take "hard facts and slice them into small pieces to make them presentable to the secretary of state or the president -- and all with the intent of furthering the occupation of Iraq," Goldsmith added.
The independent study referred to here actually stated that 300,000 of the 1.6 million soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan exhibit one or more symptom associated with PTSD, depression or both. To put this in perspective, a survey of teachers, lawyers, college professors, or information technology (IT) professionals would show the same results, since alcohol or substance abuse, loss of sleep, nightmares, nervousness, bursts of anger, isolation, thoughts of suicide, lack of appetite, excessive weight gain, weight loss, can all be signs or symptoms of PTSD or depression. And all it took was one “yes” answer on the survey to, “have you ever…”

As to blogging, any of the MILBLOGGERS at the sites quoted above, and I can personally as well, that bloggers are not being censored. All of us are asked to register, that’s true. Some commanders are using OPSEC excessively to limit potential security breaches, but the idea that any of us are nothing more than Army public relations or completely controlled by DoD is patently absurd.

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