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LOCAL Interview :: Peace

Interview with Iraq Veteran Against the War Tomas Young

Kansas Citian Tomas Young was seriously injured in Iraq on the same day that Casey Sheehan was killed. He is a member of Iraq Veterans against the War and is an advocate for stem cell research. He was interviewed recently on "Tell Somebody" on 90.1 FM KKFI- Saturdays at 5:30pm.
Q: Tomas Young, tell me, when did you first go into the Army?

A: I called my recruiter on September 13, 2001…two days after the Towers. My first day of basic training was Valentines Day 2002.

Q: Right after September 11th, that had an impact on you, and you joined right away?

A: Absolutely. The reasons I joined the Army was partially for the patriotic reasons of September 11th, I wanted to exact some form of retribution on the people that had attacked us, and also I knew that neither myself or my family was going to be able to afford for me to go to college, so it was killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Q: So you were in the army for a while before you ended up in Iraq.

A: Right

Q: What kind of training did you get, where were you, what went on?

A: I was stationed down at Ft. Hood Texas, and I was an infantry soldier. We normally received training on war fighting tactics, however, we trained in the forests and woods of Ft. Hood Texas, central Texas. Now, granted, we did train for two weeks out of the year at a place in California that was more desert type tactics, but most of the year we were training in the woods, which didn’t prepare us at all for going to the sand land.

Q: When did you find out you were going to Iraq?

A: To say we found out we were going to Iraq, it would be kind of hard to put an exact date on that, it was just kind of a more general feeling that was mounting up, and finally one day it was announced. I basically personally just knew that was the way we were going all along, so the actual date and the announcement was just a foregone conclusion.

Q: You felt some response to 9/11 was something you wanted to be a part of. What did you feel about the Iraq War by the time you headed the way?

A: Because I was in the military and because that was my job, I really wanted to believe with all my heart the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ line that we were given. But then once that started to become more and more like a line of BS that was fed us, and then we were given another reason, the ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11, and then when that was proven to be untrue we were given another reason, and another reason. It sort of reminded me, like I’ve said before, of when I was a kid, and I would get in trouble and I would tell my mom a lie to try to get out of trouble, and when she figured out that was a lie, I’d try to tell another one and another one and another one, until finally I just ‘fessed up and took my punishment. I started to really get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach the more and more stories began to fall apart as to why we were going, and it became clear to me that the real reason we were going was because God was mean enough as to bury our oil under their back yard. And that was some of things I would say to that effect- when we got over there, I would tell my fellow soldiers, I would say “look at those oil fires over there in the distance. That’s the real reason we’re here, kids. Not to defend freedom and not for any of that other stuff. We’re here because we want what they have.

Q: What did the other soldiers think about that?

A: This may not surprise a lot of people, but the infantry soldier is not necessarily the most intelligent, generally, of those in the army. They don’t really have to score the highest on their entry tests to be qualified for that job. So there were a lot of them who didn’t appreciate what I was saying because they were more easily led into believing what George Bush had been telling them, because its normal for a soldier to believe the Republican Party more than anyone else because they’re the ones who are pro-troop and everything, so why would they lie to us?

Q: So you went to Iraq when?

A: March of 2004. Well, went over there in March, 2004- we spent two weeks in Kuwait waiting for the vehicles to come in and to set up, and then we went into Iraq, and I only actually ended up spending four or five days in Iraq because I was shot on April 4th of last year.

Q: And this was on the same day and in the same area where Casey Sheehan was killed?

A: Same day. Casey Sheehan and I were in the same division, the First Cavalry Division, although he was an engineer and I was, as I’ve said before, a grunt. We didn’t have the same job, we didn’t know each other. We were mostly sent on the same mission, just we were different cogs in that machine, and so we didn’t have anything to do with each other, we were just shot on the same day.

Q: So tell me about that day. You were on a mission in support of rescuing some downed soldiers or something?

A: Well, a few months before we deployed, I had decided that I didn’t want to be one of the front line soldiers, and there was an opening in the company for a company clerk position, and in my previous job in the Army when I had enlisted before, that was what I was trained to do. And since that was what I had trained on before, I decided, and I’m not ashamed to say it, that I wanted to try and get the safest job possible, so that I could come home. So I hadn’t trained with the company for a couple of months prior to deploying, and one day I was just sitting in the back of a vehicle and I was pulled to go on a rescue mission. We were to provide security while the medics did the rescuing. So we went to the place where the soldiers were down, the rescue mission went fine, and it was to my knowledge that we were just going to get back in the truck, and go back to base, and call it a day. But instead, we loaded back into the truck, and instead of going the safe route back to the base, we drove through to the heart of the city. And it’s also important to note that truck that I was in didn’t have a canvas top like it was supposed to have- it was completely open air- nor did it have any armor on the side. Now, granted, I realize the canvas top may not have stopped any bullets from happening, but it would have provide some sort of cover and concealment so that the soldiers didn’t have such an open aim into a basically just a barrel, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Q: So you were driving through like a town with buildings where people could look down into the truck..

A: We drove through the heart of the city where people could just look down into the bed of the truck. The bed of the truck also was a space large enough to hold eighteen soldiers with gear, however we had twenty-five soldiers with gear, so the quarters were a bit cramped, and I myself was lying on my back with my legs crossed Indian style to provide more room for people. There was so little room that not many of us could get a clear shot out the side of the vehicle to provide the 360 degrees of vision and security that we were supposed to have, so I couldn’t get a clear shot off even if I had seen anybody other than women and children.

Q: You were just crammed in there like sardines, basically.

A: Basically like sardines, yes.

Q: But you said you saw a lot of women and children?

A: Well while we were driving we were supposed to be looking out to see if there was any hostile enemy wanting to do us harm, but instead all I could see were women and children running away from all the gunfire that was going off, so I didn’t fire a single shot while I was in Iraq. Now, there were shots being fired from the truck, and that’s not to say that, you know, those people didn’t see anything, but I imagine a lot of it was reacting out of fear, because I can certainly attest that I was quite scared.

Q: So, somewhere driving through town you were shot.

A: We were just driving through town and all of a sudden my body went completely numb, and there was a tingle all the way throughout my body and I didn’t really know what had happened, and it took me a few second to realize that I had been shot and paralyzed because of the numbness and everything, and once that had happened I started to scream for anyone in the truck that was within earshot to make it so that I wouldn’t have to deal with living with a life of paralysis, but as it is, I couldn’t yell, all that could come out was kind of a hoarse whisper, because I couldn’t catch my breath..

Q: … make it so you wouldn’t have to deal with a life of paralysis?

A: Put me out of my misery so to speak, you know…So we’re driving and somewhere along the way the truck overheats, and completely stops, which it had been doing for the entire length of time we had been in Iraq, which was why it had been staying inside the base basically going on food and water runs and not going out on any missions, and in fact, that day that we had gone out, it was supposed to be with the mechanics being worked on. So here we were, the truck had just stalled in the middle of Sadr City, and there were about three or four other guys who had been shot also. But none had been as seriously injured as I was, however, they were spitting up blood, and blood was more visible on them, so it was assumed that they were more seriously impacted by the gunfire. So, finally one of the other soldiers who had not been hit jumped out and took an Iraqi bus hostage I guess, and we loaded up us wounded soldiers onto this bus, and I’m fairly confident we didn’t just take the bus from the Iraqi gentleman, we just had him drive us to the base so that we could download the injured soldiers. Once we all got back to the base, it was there that us wounded were loaded onto Blackhawk helicopters and taken to Kuwait to be worked on. It was in Kuwait where they did surgery to remove bone and metal shrapnel from my back, and my knee where I had been shot after I had been paralyzed, thankfully, so I didn’t have to feel that pain. And it was from Kuwait- I spent a few days in Kuwait kind of doing some initial recovering and it was from there that I was airlifted to a hospital in Germany, Landestuhle. I spent a few days there, and then after that I went to Walter Reed hospital in Washington D.C. where I did a lot of my initial rehab before going on, back here to Missouri to do a lot more rehab and finally be released back to the general public. I made it back home on July 16th of last year.

Q: And for our listeners who haven’t heard you on Democracy NOW! or read about you online, your condition now is..

A: I’m paralyzed from the chest down. And that condition will either be permanent or corrected through stem cell research which is the big thing I’m working on now. I’m trying to figure out why it is I can go voluntarily fight, and possibly die for a president, but then when I come home that president is not interested in giving, not only me, but the thousands of other soldiers and regular people who have been affected by spinal chord injuries and any number of other disabilities and diseases that embryonic stem cell research could fix. That is the big fight, and the reason I went to Crawford, Texas. When Cindy Sheehan was down there at the ranch, I was watching and I began to think, well if he’s (George Bush) going to use as his reasoning for not meeting with her that he had already met her, my life has been severely impacted as well. I wanted to go down there and see what reason he would give for not meeting me. Or if he would meet me, I wanted to get an explanation as to why my life or any other person in my condition’s life, isn’t as important as than of an unfertilized embryo.

Q: I think he said he wants to “err on the side of life.”

A: Well, then he also used as his reason for not doing embryonic stem cell research, he didn’t want to destroy life to save life. But then, we’re in Iraq. Destroying lives to save lives. And then he supports the death penalty where we, I guess, in essence, destroy lives to save lives. So I just want, you know, to be a level playing field all around. If he’s going to not do embryonic stem cell research for this reason, then he shouldn’t do these other things where he’s using the same logic. It bothers me in a lot of ways.

Q: Is there some organization promoting stem cell research that you’re working with, or are you just trying to speak out on your own?

A: I’m not working with anybody yet, I’m just basically freelancing. I’d been approached by a group – I don’t need to necessarily mention their name, but they didn’t want me to have an antiwar stance. They wanted me to just be neutral on that aspect, and I couldn’t in good conscience join that group because it didn’t feel right and it wouldn’t feel honest for me to be supportive or neutral to a war that left me in this condition.

Q: And you are a member of Iraq Veterans…

A: I’m a member of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War, which, despite my own political leanings, is a nonpartisan group made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents, just soldiers who had returned home from the war and saw things that they didn’t want to see anymore and didn’t want to have other people go through.

Q: At one of the little counter demonstrations to Cindy Sheehan’s that I saw given great prominence on television, I heard a woman saying “what part of ‘support the troops’ don’t you understand?” What do you say to people who want to support the troops and think that any criticism of the effort while they’re over there undermines that?

A: I don’t understand how you can support the idea of them possibly dying. If you support the troops you should support the idea of them being as safe as possible. Of them not being used in an improper way. I also don’t see… the thing that bothers me about the pro-war effort is that the percentage of it that is comprised of young males and females between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four that are of prime enlistment age that would rather choose to stay here at home and throw their support behind a war effort that they don’t seem willing to go participate in. And that’s what bothers me. I love and respect to death the eighteen to twenty-four year-old men and women that are against the war effort and support the troops and want them to come home because they’re at least throwing their allegiance behind…oh I guess I’m not really explaining this right but, they’re at least pure of heart and well-intentioned, and they’re not… I don’t really know what word I’m looking for right now, but they don’t flip-flop. They don’t say one thing and do another.

Q: And you think that questioning the politics of the war is not contradictory to supporting the troops?

A: No, not at all.

Q: And just to play devil’s advocate and be a little blunt, maybe some people would say “well, he went over there and got hurt and now he’s bitter about it and maybe that’s why he’s against the war.” Do you have a response to them?

A: Of course I would imagine that I would be a little bitter, but I would be bitter if this had happened to me and the war was for a just cause, I would be bitter. But because of the bad things and everything surrounding this, the bitterness is not the reason I’m against the war effort. I’m against the war effort because I don’t want any more of my brothers and sisters, the people I served with, to be shot, to be wounded or killed, or have any sadness befall them. Because even if a soldier makes it through their entire deployment unscathed physically, they’re definitely for the most part probably going to come home with some psychological scars, and there’s going to be some family issues that they’ll probably end up having to deal with as well, and that’s why I’m against the war. It’s not because I’m bitter because of what happened to me, it’s because I don’t want any more of my fellow soldiers to have to deal with what I’m dealing with.

Q: Regarding what you’re dealing with, we sometimes hear of problems with veterans’ benefits. Are you getting pretty good care?

A: Financially I’m taken care of because the government basically has no choice. They were the ones that sent me to be put in this position, so they’re supposed to take care of me financially. But as far as medical care, that leaves a bit to be desired. And it’s not the fault of the employees of the VA system by any means. It’s the fact that the VA system was set up to take care of World War II and Vietnam veterans primarily, and it’s not equipped to handle the massive influx of Iraq veterans that are coming in. And to top that all off, there are in the VA systems a lot of problems that stem from the fact that they don’t get the funding that they need. So in the end you have VA’s that have hospital beds that are being stuck together with duct tape. There are some stories of soldiers actually having to have their prosthetics held on with duct tape.

Q: Literally with duct tape?

A: Literally with duct tape. It’s just because they can’t get the amount of funding they need. Recently there was and $82 billion appropriations bill put before the House and Senate to pay for the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a Democratic congresswoman from Colorado introduced an amendment to put $2 billion of those dollars towards helping the VA system, and every Democratic congress man and woman voted in the affirmative of this amendment, and one Republican congressman. But every other Republican congress man and woman voted no, to not give the $2 billions dollars to the VA.

Q: “Support the Troops”

A: And that was what really got me involved with all this. If the Republican party is going to look the American people in the eye and say that they are the pro-troop pro-veteran party, they should start to do things that prove it. And that was what really got me started in this whole boondoggle.

Q: Tomas Young, I wish we had more time, but it’s about gone. Any final words you want to leave for our listeners?

A: If I could, I don’t know if this is the type of thing you do, but if there’s any listeners out there that would like to either let me know that they support what I’m doing or offer me some criticism, then I’d appreciate their emails at
TomasYoung8 (at) aol.com.
If anyone wants to drop me a line, I’d appreciate it.

Q: Tomas Young, thank you very much for talking to us today.

A: Well, thank you sir.


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