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Part 2: Stop-Loss Real Life

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, November 05, 2007 3:34 PM EST
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S. MillerDuring her son’s first deployment, Miller says she just went through the motions of daily life. She put on her best face about the war, put a magnet in the back windshield of her car, half of a heart that says “keep my son safe.” But faced with the prospect of a second and even possibly a third tour of Iraq, Miller decided she had to do something to let the world know about stop-loss.

She’s not alone in objecting to the policy. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-NJ) says the stop- loss title is misleading and, “provides no clue to the many serious personal problems it creates for soldiers. It also reflects the administration's miscalculations and misunderstanding of the situation in Iraq — and its attempts to hide the painful truth," he says.

Sen. John McCain has similarly criticized the policy, calling it a “backdoor draft.”

Stop-loss has survived at least a dozen court challenges.  One of the more visible was filed by Oregon National Guard Sgt. Emiliano Santiago.  Two weeks away from the end of his eight year stint, Santiago was ordered to Afghanistan, his contract extended until 2031.

Santiago’s attorney, Steven Goldberg of Portland, Oregon sued (Santiago v. Rumsfeld, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 8461 (9th Cir. May 13, 2005)), saying the policy doesn’t apply to Santiago because without a declared war, Santiago had fulfilled the terms of his eight year contract.  But the court disagreed. Read the fine print of your contract the court said - “laws and regulations that govern military personnel may change without notice to me.”

Santiago lost in federal court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled he has no contract claim.

Michael Sorgen, the attorney representing a California Army National Guard reservist who filed the first legal challenge to the stop-loss program in October 2004, believes the military can survive any legal challenge. “There is just no point in doing this litigation anymore,” he says.

No longer keeping her political views to herself, Miller has now become the conservative Republican version of an anti-war activist. In addition to her public appearances and website, she has devoted hours to researching the conflict between Sunni and Shia factions. She is also pushing for hard data on deaths and injuries to soldiers in the stop-loss cycle.

In certified letters to both President Bush and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Miller issued Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on the number of casualties resulting from stop-loss.

“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request, and it’s something the Department of Defense should be able to put their hands on,” she says from her Jacksonville living room. “I simply want to know how many soldiers who were ‘stop-lossed’ were killed or injured.” She was told by an army official to check their website. 

In an April letter to the president, she prefaces her comments by saying she is “a Republican who voted for you in both elections,” and adds that, “I am beginning to greatly regret that decision.”

Suzanne and CoryCory doesn’t talk about his time in Iraq. But his mother opened his journal, sent home before he arrived for a recent visit, and got a glimpse of his experiences. A friend, an Iraqi interpreter nicknamed “Hot-Rod” was murdered by insurgents. A fellow soldier, a 20-year-old looking for a lost radio, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and killed. 

Cory's wife, Leslie, says he often wakes up at night screaming from bad dreams.  And when Suzanne hugs him, she says her nearly 6’3” son winces in pain from a suspected ruptured disk. The Army did an MRI on his back but promptly lost the scan. And pain does not preclude Cory from being sent back to Iraq.

“Mom, they just sent a guy back who walks with a cane,” he told her. The guy was reportedly told he could sit in a tank. As for his MRI scans, Suzanne, the nurse wants to see them. 

“Mom, they don’t have to give it to you,” Beard says.

The military may not have to answer to Suzanne Miller but, increasingly, it has to answer for its stop-loss policy.

On May 24, 2007, during a House hearing on the Military Treatment of Mental Health Issues, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) asked returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets about the psychological impacts of stop-loss.  “How invested is a soldier psychologically in the end date of their tour?” he asked.

SPC. Michael Bloodworth, a Kentucky National Guardsman, recalled being told on January 1, 2007 that his troop’s tour would be extended 125 days. “You could have heard everybody’s hearts breaking,” he told the panel.

Miller’s views on ending the Iraq conflict aren’t especially nuanced. She supports an immediate troop withdrawal and “let the Iraqis fight it out.” She suggests that disarming Iran’s nuclear ambitions could be accomplished with a show of force that wouldn’t require a single “boot on the ground.”

Miller doesn’t know how but Paramount Pictures found her. They sent Miller a camera to record commentary on stop-loss to run presumably as added material to a DVD of  Stop-Loss, the movie, set to be released in March, 2008.  She tells IB News, “ They reviewed the one and half hour tape and told me it was “fantastic” and would I be willing to do more.”

She says Senator Bill Nelson is now involved in trying to find out what happened to Cory Beard at Fort Stewart.  Technically they should have let him go after he was not deployed within 90 days after returning to the states.  And attorney Steven Goldberg of Portland, Oregon is interested in taking her son's case.

“I keep getting e-mails from soldiers who are stop-lossed and ask me not to quit.  I won’t, of course,” she says. 

She’s heard from Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Sens. Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid.  “Hillary Clinton’s camp does not want to get involved because neither my son nor I are New Yorkers.  What I have tried to explain is that this is not a Florida problem and it isn’t a Georgia problem, it’s a national issue that needs to be dealt with by Congress,” Miller says.

Cory Beard was supposed to have been deployed October 28, 2007 but instead is recovering at his Savannah home from leg surgery.  The missing MRI that the army lost for nearly two years has recently been found and it shows Beard has arthritis in his back. Despite that, he has been told to expect deployment sometime in mid-December.

Cory and Leslie Beard’s first baby, Emily Suzanne, is due in February. #


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