SV: Why did Ryan join the reservists?
WSF: Basically he didn’t have the grades or money from high school to go to college so the military was the only option he saw to acquire a skill for a decent job in the future.
SV: How long has he been away?
WSF: He was sent over March last year initially for six months, then a year and now it’s indefinite. He was home briefly last Christmas and has since missed the birth of his daughter.
SV: Describe the pay and conditions.
WSF: The majority of troops are reservists with only two weekends a month training. Reservists get $900 per month, taxed, for a 60 to 70 hour week, including compulsory overtime. McDonalds and Burger King treat their staff better. The Generals, who do none of the fighting get $15,000 a month. Private mercenary security workers get $500 dollars an hour.
SV: How has Bush’s war on the poor found its reflection in the military?
WSF: Bush sought unsuccessfully to cut housing supplement for those soldiers who live in private accommodation. Veterans’ hospitals are closing and being replaced by clinics (privately owned but state funded) which won’t give the same level of long term care to the maimed. There will be 20% less bed spaces with this new arrangement. Free hospital care for veterans has been taken away.
SV: Will Ryan have his old job back if and when he returns?
WSF: Jobs used to be secure. Now companies are only obliged to keep a position open for a year so he will return to no job. Future cut backs in the army itself will swell the ranks of unemployed. Ryan is learning to be a helicopter mechanic, which should stand to him. Many don’t learn anything of use outside the military. 70% only learn to kill. Other than being a mercenary they are likely to end up being addicts, alcoholics as with many Vietnam War veterans.
SV: So what is the overall impact of Bush’s attacks on the thinking of rank and file troops?
WSF: From 9/11 up to the invasion of Iraq no effort was required to recruit. Recruitment has since dropped off. The deteriorating conditions, having to risk their lives to guard the investments of the Halliburtons combined with the gradual exposure of lies over WMD has had a dramatic effect. Soldiers are moving into the anti Bush camp in droves.
SV: Have we arrived at a situation yet with veterans from Iraq at the helm of the anti war movement as was the case at the latter stages of Vietnam?
WSF: Too few have come back from Iraq. High numbers of off duty soldiers have attended the demonstrations. The desperation of many to see Bush being kicked out has driven them behind the Democrats. But there is an openness to discuss and debate with those whose see beyond the Democrats and need to build a real political alternative to war and corporate greed.