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"Reflections on Return": Injured Soldiers Speak About Coming Home From Iraq

StoryApril 19, 2004
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Mark Benjamin

UPI Investigations editor. He has been closely following the hidden US casualties from the Iraq war — the thousands of servicemen and women who have returned home injured. Last week he was awarded the American Legion’s top journalism award for 2004 for his reporting last fall on the plight of hundreds of sick, wounded and injured soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga. The troops, many of whom served in Iraq, were held in hot cement barracks without running water while they waited, sometimes for months, for medical care.
- Read Mark Benjamin’s reports here.

Over the weekend, the 700th U.S. soldier died in Iraq. Nearly 12,000 more have been injured since the invasion began. Today we hear a piece produced by Youth Radio capturing the voices of several of those injured soldiers recovering at Andrews Air Force Base. [includes rush transcript]

As many as 11,700 US soldiers have been wounded in Iraq since President Bush ordered the invasion on March 20th. All of the injured GIs returning to the United States go through Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland. Since Andrews is the first stop home, it‚s where soldiers start the process of healing and reflecting on what it means to be injured and a war veteran. Youth Radio produced this audio postcard of some young soldiers and the nurses taking care of them.

  • Reflections on Return, produced by Youth Radio
  • Ursula Mehl, Youth radio producer

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! As we turn now to focus on another community radio group, and that is Youth Radio, in the Bay area. As many as 11,700 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Iraq since President Bush ordered the invasion. The injured G.I.'s go through Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland. Since Andrews is the first stop home it's where soldiers start the process of healing and reflecting on what it means to be injured, and — and a war veteran. Youth Radio produced this audio postcard of some young soldiers and the nurses taking care of them.

NURSE: This is the area where we on and off-load patients three days out of the week, generally speaking, from Germany. But that’s the buses go out and pick them up and they offload them here. So, we can go in here.

NURSE: We work in the tennis court area. It’s a huge tennis court that we have. We have 50 beds in it. We take care of our patients here. We do vital signs, chart anything that we need to keep them stable and healthy.

SOLDIER: It’s just interesting what we see, like when we first roll into the country. Kuwait was desert, but it was a bit nicer. As soon as we rolled into Iraq. You could see how bad the country actually was.

SOLDIER: Explosions such as grenades or land mines are common, and they’ll have maybe a broken leg, maybe gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds from an explosion.

SOLDIER: The worse I seen was an Iraqi man in the Baghdad hospital who was the victim of an improvised explosive device, which can be boxes, dolls, car tires, from what I was told, he lost his sight, a lot of physical damage to his face. Since he has to live through that the rest of his life, I think he probably has it worse than a lot of people do. We see that leaving that country made me feel guilty.

SOLDIER: I just got off the phone with my best friend back home, and I know he’s calling me an idiot and all of this stuff for joining the army because he didn’t want me to join. With my injuries, I may not be in the army very much longer. I will be a 21-year-old freshman in college and a war vet at that with a Purple Heart.

SOLDIER: What you do see is the change in the troops that go over there, from before they have gone over there. When they come back instead of being flighty, in a manner of speaking, they are less worried about video games and stuff like that and are worried about the politics and stuff, which most young people not always are.

SOLDIER: There’s a lot more people over there getting hurt and — and more people are getting hurt all around you and getting shot and getting blown up. From what they’re saying here, it was over — there wasn’t anything going on. The orders were — they started making peace.

SOLDIER: It wasn’t true. No. Not by any case. I don’t feel that way, anyways.

NURSE: I have met some patients that have turned 18 over there in Iraq. It’s very sad to me. It’s hurtful to see them come back hurt in that condition whether they got it from an accident or they were actually fighting for their lives. I love being here, being able to help these soldiers out, so I assist them the best way I can, and they do the best they can.

SOLDIER: I just turned 21. I have done more in my life between the ages of 17 and 21 than most people will do in their whole life. It makes you just feel old because you have done so much in your life, and you — and then you look and see how much of a life you still have left.

AMY GOODMAN: Reflections on Return From The War In Iraq. Produced by Youth Radio, based in D.C. The voices you have been listening to include U.S. Army Specialist, Layman Frank and Collin Sr., Airman Woodward and Lieutenant Colonel Hayward. Special thanks to the reporter, Enrique Rivera. Joining us in the studio is a producer of Youth Radio here in the Bay area. You can tell us about Youth Radio.

URSULA MEHL: Yeah. Youth Radio is based in Berkeley and basically it’s a training program for 14 to 17-year-olds, and we train youth in broadcasting to give them broadcasting skills, engineering skills, skills, journalism. It’s really an amazing program.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a remarkable piece.

URSULA MEHL: Yeah. I mean this is —- this is definitely one of the best pieces to come out of Youth Radio of course and basically, the way youth radio works is students will sign up and then they will go through the classes and once they are through with the classes, then they can intern at Youth Radio and do any number of things. Everything from where we have community outreach programs to working in the newsroom. We have a fully operational newsroom, to actually helping to peer teach the classes and teach -—

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you broadcast your pieces?

URSULA MEHL: We broadcast our pieces all over the place. We broadcast them on KPFA. We actually have an hour-long show every Saturday morning on KPFA. But we also — we have pieces to KCBS, and we have broadcast pieces on KISS — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Ursula Mehl, producer with Youth Radio.

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