U.S. Army E4 specialist Jeff Englehart was roughly halfway through his one-year tour of duty in Iraq when the platoon he was with was called to the aftermath of an explosion at a market, to provide security for a regiment of the Iraqi fire department. Amidst the chaos, says Englehart, as the firemen hosed blood and gore into the gutter, a sight caught his eye: a child’s foot wearing a pink sandal. The rest of the body was nowhere to be found.
In the immediate wake of a 2005 explosion that took 70 civilian lives, says Englehart, he was numb to what lay before him. “But not now,” he says, speaking from his home in Olympia.
Now, looking back on his year there, on the carnage and violence he sometimes witnessed, the 26 year old says he believes the continued United States presence in Iraq carries a heavy toll. “That’s the cost of war,” he says, “the maiming and killing of innocent civilians.”
These are the kinds of hard-hitting tales that Englehart shares as a speaker for Iraq Veterans Against the War, a national organization of vets and active-duty servicemen and –women whose mission it is to bring the troops home. Now.
It was while stationed in Iraq for 12 months, beginning in February 2004, that his activist leanings developed. By the time he returned to the United States, he says he was ready, willing, and able to tell people about war’s cost. Though, in a strange way, it was a cost of another type that led Englehart to the erstwhile Mesopotamia: the cost of a secondary education.
Back when he was 20, and living in Colorado, Englehart says that he wanted to get out of his dead end job. Along with wanting to see the world—his heart was set on visiting Germany, he says—he also wanted to go to college. But tuition was beyond his means. Looking for an outlet that might provide the monetary assistance to pay for a bachelor’s degree, he sought out the military. “Giving the military three years of my life and getting some college money seemed a good idea,” he says.
So, he says, he enlisted into a delayed entry program, one that would call him for service when an opening at a U.S. Army base in Germany became available. It was only later, he says, that he found out the contract he signed was not binding. But by then, the World Trade Center had been felled by jets and, in October 2001, he was going through basic training at Fort Knox.
War drums, at the time, were beating for military actions in Afghanistan, and Englehart says he hoped he might be able to miss a tour there. In the autumn of 2002, his prayers were granted: He was called to serve a nine-month tour, not in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, but to Kosovo. It was while in the Serbian province, he says, he remembers seeing a CNN news item that reported the Army’s 1st Infantry Division would eventually be deployed to Iraq. It was his division. “At that point, I went, ‘Oh, this sucks,’” he recalls. But with only a year left until his enlistment was to finish, he thought he still might never see the Middle East. The Army had other plans: Invoking what’s known as a “stop loss order”—which forces a soldier, if deployed overseas, to remain in the service for a full 12-month-tour, even if the end of the scheduled tour date stretches longer than the soldier’s voluntary commitment— Englehart was informed he was being deployed to the Middle East.
Stationed as a cavalry scout in Baquba, some 35 miles northeast of Bagdhad, he says that all the doubts he’d harbored about the war’s legality were only amplified by what he saw. “There was war profiteering by Haliburton,” he says of the defense contractor. Vice-President Dick Cheney once sat on the company’s board. “You saw it in Kosovo, too, but to see it on the level [it was] in Iraq, It was absolutely ridiculous.”
Transferred, months later, to a unique platoon that protected an Army colonel, he says that worse than seeing the war profiteering, was seeing innocent civilians killed through military actions. “That all weighed heavily on my mind,” he says.
He and another solider, unknown to his higher-ups, maintained a blog of all they saw. Coupled with this, he says they spoke to other soldiers about Bush, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, oil for profit, and other causes of the occupation in Iraq. With these informal talks, he says, his call to activism grew. He knew, he says, that when he got out, he would tell people who would listen all that he could.
Commanding officers often dehumanized the Iraqi people, he says, sometimes causing the impacts of their deaths to not fully register. But when a U.S. Bradley tank overturned in a roadside irrigation canal, claiming the lives of five soldiers who drowned as the 30-ton behemoth sat immobile in 15 feet of water, he says he and his division mates were overcome with grief. “I hope this administration is happy: five good soldiers drowned,” he says he remembers thinking, as their bodies were pulled from the military vehicle.
When his tour was done, in May 2005, all these visions and more, he says, drove him to activism, to speaking out against the war’s inhumanity. “That’s why I can’t sit back and watch this war continue,” he says.
That, and the memory of the pink sandal he saw at the market that hot afternoon, he says. Recalling the death of that young child, Englehart wonders if the destruction wrought by the war is a cost the country, and the world, can bear: “Was that little girl worth it?”
By ROSETTE ROYALE, Staff Reporter
Iraq Veterans Against the War, along with providing information to vets and current enlistees, also schedules speakers to attend events. To learn more: www.ivaw.org
To read Jeff Englehart’s blog, check out: www.ftssoldier.blogspot.com
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/14/mar-14-2007-entire-issue