Anyone who saw last week's testimony given by Jessica Lynch and the Tillman family should be as livid as I am. The exploitation of these young troops' stories, and the terrible and unnecessary additional suffering the Pentagon caused their families, is simply unconscionable. That those at fault still haven't been held responsible makes it even worse.
On the fourth anniversary of the "mission accomplished" speech, it is no wonder less than half of Americans believe that the military is giving the public an accurate picture of the war.
But the most infuriating part of this scandal is the fact that the military brass and Pentagon PR consultants thought they needed to invent stories at all.
Over 1.5 million troops have served with honor in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their stories are rarely caught on film in time for the evening news, so they aren't easily packaged for a ratings bounce or a public distraction from an unpopular and poorly-planned war. I wrote about the thirty-eight heroes I had the honor of leading in my book, Chasing Ghosts. At IAVA, I have had the privilege of working with thousands of these heroes, and I'd like to share two real-life stories with you.
Meet Mike Zacchea, who spent a year in Iraq training the Iraqi Army and leading them in combat. When he was wounded in an RPG attack in the Battle of Fallujah, he refused to be evacuated, unwilling to leave the side of the Iraqis he had trained. Mike was awarded two Bronze Stars for valor and a Purple Heart, but he doesn't usually talk about that. Instead, he'll tell you about a different award, one he received from interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi: the Lion of Babylon Medal for service to Iraq.
Meet Brad Kasal, a Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross for his valor during the Battle of Fallujah. You probably don't know his name, but most Marines do. On Nov. 14, 2004, Marine Sgt. Major Brad Kasal risked his life to pull another wounded Marine out of the line of fire. Although he was severely injured, he insisted on giving up his medical supplies to his fellow Marine. Then, as a grenade landed a few feet from the two injured Marines, Kasal instantly reacted to use his own body to shield the other Marine from shrapnel. According to the Defense Department, by the time he was evacuated from the battle "Kasal had lost approximately 60 percent of his blood from more than 40 shrapnel wounds and seven 7.62 mm AK-47 gunshot wounds." An excellent book about Kasal's incredible story is out this week.
Zacchea and Kasal are heroic examples of incredible courage and sacrifice on a battlefield. And there are numerous others that have emerged from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. But I guess their stories aren't the type that PR flacks in Washington like to hold press conferences around.
Jessica Lynch and Kevin Tillman showed incredible patriotism last week, when they bravely held the Pentagon to account for their lies. As Jessica Lynch said so clearly, "I'm still confused as to why they choose to lie and try to make me a legend, when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary."
We have real heroes. The sad part is that some generals and politicians don't believe that real heroism is enough.