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Letters to the Editor | Opinion | The Press and Standard

by | May 28, 2017 5:00 pm

Last Updated: May 24, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Remembering military service on Memorial Day

Dear Editor:

As Memorial Day approaches, I am reminded of where I was 18 years ago.  From the USS Kearsarge in the Aegean Sea, I made an amphibious landing in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1999.  Elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) then convoyed north through Macedonia and joined NATO forces in Kosovo.

Although Greeks tried to pee on our vehicles from bridges as we passed, the people of Kosovo, mainly women and children, were excited to see NATO forces.  The children shouted “Naught-TO” from the side of the road as the Marine convoy passed them. A young boy gave me a picture of the blue NATO star he had drawn on a scrap of cardboard. I placed it in the windshield of my HMMWV. Other children recognized the blue star and enthusiastically repeated the NATO cheer.

Serb soldiers, sitting on the few remaining Russian tanks that the MEU had hunted from the air, saluted us with a single finger as we passed.  While they waited for buses to transport them to Serbia, Marines liberated Kosovo.  Marines radioed Army Blackhawk helicopters to target roadblocks established by retreating Serbs that were used to rob people returning to Kosovo.  Without firing a shot, a company of Marines was able to persuade 170 combat-hardened Kosovo militia to surrender their weapons.

I got my first glimpse of the Serb atrocities when I stopped near a village.  People were carrying bodies that they hadn’t been allowed to bury.  Through an interpreter, I spoke to an 11-year-old blue-eyed blonde boy.  His parents had been killed because they were school teachers who happened to be Muslim.  The boy admired my uniform and weapons.  He wanted to be like me, a soldier.  Only, he wanted to be a soldier to avenge the death of his parents.

At another village, the people threw flowers on our vehicles and offered us a luxury they had gone without — cigarettes.  A young couple with an infant girl gestured for me to hold their baby.  After they placed their firstborn child in my dirty American arms, they stepped back as if they were going to take a picture — only they didn’t have a camera.  I represented the hope they now had for their daughter’s life — she would be 18 this year.  Even without a photo, I bet this story sounds better when she tells it.

Kosovo is a beautiful country and the Serbs did everything they could to preserve it while forcing Muslims out of the country.  A Serb recon squad was captured by Marines.  It may have been one of the Tiger teams Slobodan Milosevic deployed to Kosovo.  These were the squads that shot elderly people that were too old to leave.  They hid dead bodies in wells.  They forced 20 women and their daughters into the kitchen of a house and fired AK-47’s at everyone.  Then the Serbs used a tractor to collapse the walls of the house to make it look like it had been bombed.

Shielded by the bodies of their mothers, two young girls crawled out of the rubble and showed Marines where their mothers had been killed. The first casualty for the MEU surgeon was a 9-year-old girl who had stepped on a land mine.  She didn’t survive.

Some Christians that lived side by side with Muslims had stolen everything of value from abandoned homes.  One man’s house was filled with household appliances- a dozen stoves and washing machines.  Returning families attacked their neighbors.  Marines prevented a man soaked in gasoline from being burned alive.  Intoxicated angry men fired AK-47s at anyone- sometimes in crowded places.  A Marine sniper had to kill one these men to prevent him from killing others.  I remember the Marine from Texas examining his dead body and saying, “This fella has had a bad day.”

I notified the Weapons Company from the First Battalion Eighth Marines that the British had reported four tanks headed in their direction.  I was concerned because they didn’t have the means to defend themselves against four fast approaching tanks.

I had served with First Lieutenant Cherry in Monrovia, Liberia.  I shared a berthing area on ship with Staff Sergeant Ball.  A giant of a man, Ball was responsible for the 81 MM Mortars.  On ship, I noticed the Marines seemed more willing to clean up when SSgt. Ball was standing behind me.  I had selected Lance Corporal Ankner, their satellite radio operator, for this deployment.

I recognized LCpl. Ankner’s voice on the radio when he replied to my warning. Although they were out-gunned by the tanks, LCpl. Ankner immediately requested permission to engage the enemy.  The tanks didn’t attack and no Marines were killed in Kosovo, but Staff Sergeant Ball, now a gunnery sergeant, lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device in Iraq.  Fulfilling a promise to his wife, he lived long enough to return to the United States and speak to his family before he died a few days later.

Although some of the people of Kosovo painted the Marine Corps’ symbol of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the walls of their houses, I was ready to be relieved by the United States Army.  I watched as the U.S. Secretary of Defense and the American commander of NATO forces reminded the commanding officer of the Army’s Big Red One that the Army had to quickly replace the 26th MEU, which was too small for the mission.

Soon after that meeting, I returned a prisoner to his place of capture.  He was one of several prisoners, but he was the only one yelling at me in a language I couldn’t understand. He had recently returned to discover that a neighbor had confiscated anything of value from his vacant home.  Using an interpreter, I spoke to the man before releasing him.  The man told me he was abused as a prisoner.  Captured the day before, I told him I had slept less than a hundred yards from him and knew no one had harmed him.  Having heard his complaint, I shared a personal observation with him, which gave him a new perspective.

“Kosovo is a zoo.  Do you understand what a zoo is?” I asked through the interpreter.

The man nodded yes.  “I am the zoo keeper,” I said pointing at my chest covered by a flak jacket.   “NATO is the zoo keeper, and you,” I said, waving my arm to indicate his neighborhood, “you all have become animals.”

The man clearly understood what I said and was embarrassed.  He turned his eyes to the ground and slowly walked toward his home.  He didn’t ask for this war, but he was now a critical part of it.  His actions would determine how quickly Kosovo recovered.

Sometime in August, I returned to the USS Kearsarge.  GySgt. Ball and I were back to persuading Marines to clean the berthing area.  While in port at Brindisi, Italy, I was promoted on the flight deck of the USS Kearsarge.  In Rota, Spain, I discovered a photo of me in Soldier of Fortune Magazine.  Most importantly, on August 21, 1999, I received a Red Cross message from Camp Lejeune, N.C.  The last line read, “My wife and newborn son are fine.”

This Saturday, my 17-year-old son Ryan will graduate from Colleton County High School.  He received an academic scholarship from Clemson University and plans to major in systems engineering.  Two weeks ago, my oldest son Jared graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in mechanical engineering and a lot of tassels.  The Secretary General of the United Nations spoke at the USC graduation.  Watching the USC graduates receive their diplomas was one of the most memorable events I have ever witnessed.

Before deploying again in 2001, I attended a meeting at the II MEF headquarters.  A Marine at the meeting had recently returned from Kosovo and had postcards that included photographs of Marines from my platoon in 1999.  Our conversation drew the attention of other Marines.  The Marine became upset and asked if I didn’t believe he had been in Kosovo. I assured him that I believed him and with the other Marines listening, I added that I guess I was there before they made postcards of Marines.  Gunnery Sergeant Ball would appreciate that joke.

Semper Fidelis

J. K. O’Quinn


Affordable Care Act: What it means to those who really need it

Dear Editor:

Of the 633,800 people who were homeless on any given night in 2012, about 99,900 of them could be described as severely mentally ill. Many are chronically homeless, meaning they have been without homes for at least a year or have been homeless at least four times in the past three years. Their mental conditions make it impossible for them to remain stably housed for long without intensive help.

Anyone experiencing homelessness, for any reason, may confront challenging conditions like depression, anxiety, or addiction. They may also experience trauma which could have caused their homelessness, or as the result of their homelessness.

For many of the most vulnerable people, access to proper mental health care services can help them avoid or escape homelessness for good. The Oregon Health Insurance Study, showed that people who obtained Medicaid coverage were better able to access health care services and, as a result, suffered less from depression and had fewer financial worries. One promising source of funding is the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which offers increased Medicaid coverage for mental health and substance abuse services.

Homelessness and health concerns often go hand in hand.  An acute behavioral health issue, such as an episode of psychosis, may lead to homelessness, and homelessness itself can exacerbate chronic medical conditions or lead to debilitating substance abuse problems. At the most extreme, a person can become chronically homeless when his or her health condition becomes disabling and stable housing is too difficult to maintain without help.

Many of these individuals have multiple, complex physical conditions such as diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV, and asthma. While homeless medical service providers can help manage these conditions in a primary care setting, many need specialty care, residential treatment and interventions not possible without Medicaid or other health insurance. Some homeless individuals would like to get back into the labor force, but without proper medical care they are unable to work. Access to appropriate health care can give these individuals the opportunity to get off the streets.

Individuals who are homeless, generally have limited access to health care because they are often unemployed and living in poverty. As a result, many people experiencing homelessness have had to rely on emergency room visits and uncompensated hospital care, resulting in poor health outcomes, higher mortality risks and higher public costs. The Affordable Care Act closes a long-standing gap in Medicaid eligibility that has prevented people living on the streets, in shelters and those doubled up with family and friends from accessing comprehensive health care.

The Affordable Care Act helps to prevent homelessness by making private insurance more affordable and preventing personal bankruptcies due to medical debt, and by better stabilizing health conditions. It ensures coverage of health care services that can help support people as they exit homelessness including behavioral health care, rehabilitative services, and tenancy supports. The Affordable Care Act shifts the focus of health care delivery to outcomes and value, emphasizing a holistic view of health and encouraging partnerships between health care and other needs like housing and social services.

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, 11 million people have gained coverage in expansion states. Homeless patients are nearly five times more likely to have gained insurance since 2013 if they live in a state that has expanded Medicaid.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act is a repeal of Medicaid expansion. If this happens, the most vulnerable people will be disproportionally impacted including many people experiencing homelessness.

Rachel Schreck


The Russians are coming, the sky is falling

Dear Editor:

Since President Trump defeated Hillary, the liberals have gone on a wacked out version of Chicken Little and his warning: “The sky is falling.” Early comments by the progressive liberals included: “The world is going to end.” The vitriol spewed by Democrats was matched by the vindictive reporting made by NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC,CNN and Public Television. Their attacks and ridicule is 24/7 and studies show 95% of their coverage has been negative toward President Trump.

As a result of Hillary losing the election, the progressives searched for ways to blame someone or something besides Hillary. Her lies and illegal email server had to be covered up. “The Russians are coming” led to the Russians getting credit for controlling our election and then the coup de grace came with Trump being accused of conspiring with the Russians. Not one single iota of proof has been found by the FBI or NSA; yet, progressive talking heads spout accusations and innuendoes in a daily barrage.

When FBI Director Comey declared back in July during a news conference that, in spite of a litany of wrong doings, he could not recommend an indictment, the liberals were delirious. They raved “Comey is a good man and he has done the right thing.” Senator Shumer, the leader of all things negative, was one of Comey’s biggest fans.

Then Comey said he was investigating emails that ended up on the computer belonging to Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, Hillary’s personal secretary. He suggested maybe thousands of these emails were classified documents. Immediately Comey was painted by the liberals as being incompetent, with no integrity and should be made to resign. First they love him, then want to fire him — and now they love him again because Trump fired him.

The beat goes on as liberals now turn their guns to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. As is their style, they have to make every move a world shaking event suitable for prime time so they dig up a 44-year-old comparison to the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre” that took place in 1973 during the Nixon Watergate scandal. There are several things wrong with that analogy. Nixon did not fire his FBI director, who happened to be J. Edgar Hoover who had been serving since 1929. On a Saturday afternoon, he fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. As a result, Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his Deputy William Ruckelshaus resigned. One firing was described as a massacre. Only big liberal media can create a massacre with one firing and two resignations.

If the liberals want to use a more recent and closely related bit of history as an example, why didn’t they use President Bill Clinton? Clinton, after only six months in office, fired his FBI Director William Sessions, based on a recommendation by his Attorney General Janet Reno. Maybe the liberals should name this firing of one man, “The Tuesday Afternoon Thumping”.

Since the Trump victory, we have seen nothing but angry personal criticism from the left. From his hair, to his family, to his wealth — nothing is sacred and free from attacks. On the political side, boycotting his inauguration, sitting in silence at the State of the Union Speech were showboating tools of the Democrats. It is too bad they did not see how stupid they looked.

Ordinary talking heads on the news have become psychiatrists, giving Trump a diagnosis of everything from being narcissistic to schizoid personality disorder to being paranoid. The second most remarkable thing about their opinions is that they have never interviewed Trump and many have never met him personally. Only liberal news reporters have claimed this remarkable ability. Maybe next they can explain how and when they became clairvoyant.

They are using the Russian thing as a smoke screen. Now they have Comey to wail about. All of this is just an effort to sow chaos and confusion at the White House until the 2018 election. A recent poll shows that Trump would win the popular vote in a rematch with Hillary if the election were held today.

The majority of voters do not appreciate the childish temper tantrums of the Democrat party. If the trend continues, many of these angry congressmen and senators will turn into snowflakes and melt away. Hillary lost because she was not in touch with the average American. Progressives are continuing that tradition.

Noel Ison


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