Military family members have been at the forefront of exposing the conditions faced by soldiers in Iraq. Wayne, whose brother Ryan is a reservist serving in Iraq, speaks out.

Why did Ryan join the reservists?
Basically, he didn’t have the grades in high school or money to go to college, so the military was the only option he saw to acquire a skill for a decent job in the future.

How long has he been away?
He was sent over in 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.

Describe the pay and conditions.
The majority of troops are reservists with only two weekends a month of training. Reservists get $900 per month, taxed, for a 60 to 70 hour week, including compulsory overtime. McDonald’s 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.

How has Bush’s war on the poor found its reflection in the military?
Bush sought unsuccessfully to cut housing supplements for those soldiers who live in private accommodations. 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% fewer bed spaces with this new arrangement. Free hospital care for veterans has been taken away.

Will Ryan have his old job back if and when he returns?
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 cutbacks in the army itself will swell the ranks of the unemployed. Ryan is learning to be a helicopter mechanic, which should stand to benefit 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 or alcoholics, as with many Vietnam War veterans.

So what is the overall impact of Bush’s attacks on the thinking of rank-and-file troops?
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 weapons of mass destruction has had a dramatic effect. Soldiers are moving into the anti-Bush camp in droves.

Have we arrived at a situation where veterans from Iraq are taking the lead in the anti-war movement, as was the case in the latter stages of Vietnam?
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 who see beyond the Democrats and need to build a real political alternative to war and corporate greed.

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