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September 01, 2011 < Previous Entry | Next Entry >

Army Widow Calls for Recognition of Husband’s Service After He Commits Suicide Ahead of Redeployment

On Tuesday, Democracy Now! spoke with Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, the widow of a U.S. Army Ranger who confronted former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about her husband’s suicide on Saturday ahead of his eighth deployment overseas.

In part two of our interview, Joppa-Hagemann calls for a military memorial for her husband, and notes she has not received a condolence letter from President Obama. We also speak with Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of Coffee Strong, a veteran-owned, veteran-operated GI coffeehouse just outside of Ft. Lewis, Washington. He’s a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who joined Joppa-Hagemann in confronting Rumsfeld. "Our campaign right now is called Operation Recovery, which is calling for to end the redeployment of all traumatized troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, whether they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, [or] military sexual trauma," says Gonzalez.

Click here to see Part 1 of the interview with Ashley Joppa-Hagemann.

READ THE COMPLETE RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: Was there a memorial for Jared at Ft. Lewis after his death?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Why not?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: No, still hasn’t been one. They keep changing their story. They first told me they didn’t want media coverage. They didn’t want the media to get the story. Then they said its pending investigation, the outcome of the investigation. Then they said, absolutely not, there’s not going to be a memorial.

And, all I want is a memorial. I want a letter of apology from the Ranger regiment. They were the ones who were supposed to be responsible for my husband to take care of him, and they did not. I did everything in my power. They didn’t. And I don’t see why its so hard to give me those two things.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think they should have done?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: Well I can tell you what they haven’t done. It would have been nice if they actually came over to me and expressed their condolences. If the Rangers actually treated us like–Rangers are supposed to be a brotherhood, take care of one another. They’ve never done that. Even after my husbands death, nobody’s called me unless I called them to get answers. And even when I called, they don’t call me back.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they inform you that your husband was dead?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: I had the two officers come, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you received a condolence letter from President Obama?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: No. And um, as it seems I will not be receiving one because my husband was not killed in action. I guess they’ve been talking about how, if they take their life, then they might be able to receive one. But that excludes my husband, once again, because he did it on Ft. Lewis and he wasn’t overseas when he did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there a memorial, any kind of memorial service for Jared, for your husband?

ASHLEY JOPPA-HAGEMANN: We had his funeral down in California. He wanted to be buried with his family. That was part of the reason why, I wanted to be sure if I buried him down there, that they would have a memorial for him up here. They told me, 'Ya, if that's what you want, we can do that. Ya.’ Then they told me, 'Nope.' As soon as we buried him they told me no.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ashley Joppa-Hagemann. Her husband committed suicide on June 28 at Ft. Lewis. He had been deployed somewhere around 8 times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was an Army Ranger.

We’re also joined in the Seattle studio by Jorge Gonzalez, executive director of Coffee Strong, a veteran-owned, veteran-operated GI coffeehouse that’s just outside Ft. Lewis, Washington. He served 15 months in Iraq, is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He was with Ashley Friday when she confronted Donald Rumsfeld.

AMY GOODMAN: Could you describe the scene, Jorge, from your perspective, as Ashley was handling Donald Rumsfeld on a book tour the funeral program from the funeral for her husband?

JORGE GONZALEZ: Hi, Amy. The scene was very quiet. Normal kind of stuff going on. Amy handed the funeral program to Donald Rumsfeld and started telling him who Jared was. And that’s when security started putting their heads up, trying to see what is going on. Ashley did a great job, she did not let up on Donald Rumsfeld. And then that’s when security agents grabbed us both and drug us out of there.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you give the former Secretary of Defense his book for him to sign for you?

JORGE GONZALEZ: Yes, I had to buy a book just to wait in line. You write on a post-it note what you want the book to say. I wrote, "To Coffee Strong. Fighting the war, after the war." He asked me what Coffee Strong was. I told him its a GI Coffee House that provides resources and links for veterans and GIs for PTSD, TBI, Military Sexual Trauma. Its owned and operated by veterans. He said, 'Oh that's interesting.’

AMY GOODMAN: And so at what point did you both get taken out?

JORGE GONZALEZ: I think it was about 20 to 30 seconds into what Ashley was telling Donald Rumsfeld, that Jared joined the military because of his lies. He died because of Donald Rumsfeld’s lies. That because the military was not giving him the adequate resources he needed to get better. Twenty to 30 seconds into it.

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge, can you talk about what is happening in the military? Coffee Strong is right outside Ft. Lewis. There were 5 suicides alone in July. So that doesn’t even count Jared, who killed himself at the end of June. What’s happening? What kind of support are soldiers, or Rangers, or folks on the base getting?

AMY GOODMAN: Jorge, can you talk about what is happening in the military? Coffee Strong is right outside Ft. Lewis. There were 5 suicides alone in July. So that doesn’t even count Jared, who killed himself at the end of June. What’s happening? What kind of support are soldiers, or Rangers, or folks on the base getting?

JORGE GONZALEZ: Very unsurprisingly, its not very much help at all. Thirty-two suicides just in the Army this year is going on. Unfortunately this is not the first big number and it probably won’t be the last big number. The suicides are going to keep going up if soldiers do not get the help they need. They need counseling, they need to talk to people instead of just getting drugged up, put on these medications, and not taken care of. This is not going to stop, unfortunately, unless we actually do something about it and bring awareness to people out there, to the military base, to officials, to the doctors, to soldiers themselves, that this is not what they joined the military for. They didn’t join to just become puppets, to become cannon fodder for these government officials.

Even though Donald Rumsfeld does not have an official title, he is still on watch, we are still watching him. He was one of the main architects in this war. So we’re not going to let up on Donald Rumsfeld, on Dick Cheney, on George Bush–on anybody in that cabinet at that time in that administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your own experience in Iraq?

JORGE GONZALEZ: I deployed June ’06 to Mosul, Iraq. Joined the military, very patriotic. I was fighting for my country, fighting for the freedoms of U.S. citizens. Halfway through my tour I really started to see, not what, not what we were really doing there, but I saw no reason to be over there.

One experience is I was given an order. I was on a Striker and we had two missile launchers on top of the striker. I was told to shoot at this building that had seen two guys with AKs run into this building. I can see 3,000 meters down the road in my vehicle, and I looked at the building and saw nothing but women and children, and there was a school. And I was told my my captain that, 'Blow it up.' And I said, 'Is this the building?' I described it perfectly and he said, 'Yes, that's it.’ And I’m like, 'Can you see it from where you're at?’ 'Yes, I can see it." So he can see what's going on over there. So I made an excuse, I said I cannot do this. I lied to my captain and I said, 'I do not have a clear shot.'

That’s one of the first times that my humanity actually came out, instead of what I was doing in the past. It wasn’t my only experience where I stood up, and it wasn’t my only experience where I didn’t stand up and say something. But I’m very glad I did at this time.

And coming back from Iraq, I suffered, and I still do suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I still suffer with depression, I still suffer with thoughts of suicide. I was rushed out of the Army. I never got the adequate medical attention that I requested, that I needed. I was put on drugs, I was kept away from my family, I was kept away from my unit. I was put aside just like Jared was, to the S-5 shop. Instead, they put me in a room by myself, in the barracks, and that’s how I was taken care of. And its not the first time, there’s other soldiers exactly the same.

Sgt. Crookland, same example, killed himself because they put him in a room by himself when he was deemed a low risk after three suicide attempts. Its widespread in the military.

AMY GOODMAN: And then what happened to him?

JORGE GONZALEZ: He finally committed suicide. Sorry, it was two times in Iraq that he tried to kill himself, then he was brought back to the United States, where he saw a medical professional. He was then deemed a low-risk for suicide. His chain of command back on base made fun of him, called him a wuss, called him all these names I can’t say on TV. Then they gave him a room by himself, which Army regulation says you’re not supposed to if you’re under any kind of suicide risk–whether it be low, high, medium. And he finally hung himself, and he was still ridiculed after his death.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Iraq Veterans Against the War is calling for?

JORGE GONZALEZ: We are calling for the end of, for all soldiers to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, from overseas. We’re calling for reparations on all citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan. We’re also calling for full  veteran benefits, for GIs to get the benefits and medical assistance that they need. Our campaign right now is called Operation Recovery, which is calling for to end the redeployment of all traumatized troops from Iraq, Afghanistan. Whether they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, military sexual trauma. They’re having a big campaign right now at Under the Hood Cafe in Fort Hood, where Gen. Campbell is being kept on watch. They’re trying to pressure him to stop the deployment of traumatized troops.