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A Military Wife on Bush Plan for Troop Increase
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A Military Wife on Bush Plan for Troop Increase

Opinion

A Military Wife on Bush Plan for Troop Increase

A Military Wife on Bush Plan for Troop Increase
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To put a personal face on President Bush's plan to send 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, Farai Chideya talks with Kristi Marino, whose husband, David is being called up for a third tour in Iraq, and journalist Brian Palmer, who met David as he was embedded with Marines in Iraq.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

A troop increase of 20,000, if it occurs, would affect hundreds of thousands of spouses, children, siblings and friends. For a look at the human cost of the president's plan, we're joined by freelance journalist and filmmaker Brian Palmer.

He's been embedded with Marines in Iraq three times. On one of those trips, Brian met Sergeant David Marino. Marino served two tours in Iraq. He's now in the U.S. and being called up for a third tour. Sergeant Marino's wife, Kristi, joins us by phone from their home at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Welcome to you both.

Ms. KRISTI MARINO (Wife of Sergeant Marino): Hi.

Mr. BRIAN PALMER (Journalist; Filmmaker): Hello.

CHIDEYA: How are you doing? Well, Kristi, you know, I can only imagine what is going through your mind at this time with your husband being called up for a third tour. What do you think of the president's plan to increase troops?

Ms. MARINO: I think that - obviously, I don't want to see my husband or a fellow friend in our Marines going to war. I mean I don't want to see them go again. They've all already gone at least twice, and sometimes three and four times. So, I mean it's really hard for them and for us back here. So, I don't want to see any more soldiers have to go over there.

CHIDEYA: The new secretary of defense made a speech this morning where he said that, in general, folks in the military would have two years on home duty or non-war duty and one year over in Iraq or some place similar, and it's become a one to one ratio. Is that what happened to your husband? Has he been kind of one year in, one year out?

Ms. MARINO: No. He actually volunteered his first two tours and he was promised that he would stay in the States for, like, about four years and then, you know, have to go back to the Infantry. And as soon as he got back, they, you know, they were like, no, actually you're going to go again even after he had volunteered those first initial two times, so.

CHIDEYA: Do you consider that a broken promise?

Ms. MARINO: Yeah, I do.

CHIDEYA: Well, Brian, let me turn to you. You've worked with Marines on the ground in Iraq. What's your perception of their needs? Do you think that an increase in troop strength can fix whatever is wrong there?

Mr. PALMER: Well, Farai, I have to say that I listened to the speech, the president's speech last night, and I was sort of shocked. I was expecting to hear something new, and I didn't. So I slept on it and I listened to it again on the Web, and then I read it again. And I saw nothing new. I heard nothing new. It's based on flawed assumptions that - the first of which is that we can just kind of wipe the slate clean after three and a half years of sacrifice and death and the president gets a do-over.

And the second assumption is that you can essentially - sorry, I forgot my second point, but the idea that you can just sort of do something over and start afresh given the fact that tens of thousands of people have already been killed. Over 3,000 service members have been killed is actually kind of unconscionable.

CHIDEYA: Last time we talked, Brian, you told us about a program for U.S. troops to help them be more diplomatic on the battle field, learn how to deal with Arabic speakers. What do we need to get right with these 20,000 new troops that we haven't gotten right before?

PALMER: That was the other fundamental flaw that I forgot, Farai. The assumption is that you can solve this problem by sending more troops, by essentially putting more military force on top of a problem that hasn't been solved by military force.

I patrolled with Staff Sergeant Marino on the streets of cities like Musayyib and Hit. And the Marines do an excellent job doing what they're trained to do, which are sort of tactical things, kicking down doors and finding people.

The problem is you have to sift through a civilian population you can't communicate with, and that's the fundamental flaw. It's like trying to do heart surgery with a jackhammer. You can't reach the enemy because you don't know who the enemy is, so you have to sort of smoosh a lot of people in that process, and that's what's been going on for three and a half years.

So the idea that 21,500 troops is going to change that is ridiculous because the troops can't speak Arabic. The troops have terrible intelligence. They don't know who they are going after. The Marines and the Army have not been providing adequate interpreters. I mean, some of the interpreters that Staff Sergeant Marino's platoons had - they were from Sudan, they were from other places in Iraq. The Iraqis couldn't understand their Arabic and the Americans couldn't understand their English.

CHIDEYA: Kristi, I want to ask you a question: How long have you been married?

Ms. MARINO: We've only been married about a year and a half but we've been together about five years.

CHIDEYA: Out of those five years, how long have you actually been together, given how often he has been away?

Ms. MARINO: He has been away, I'm going to say, at least 70 percent of the time. I - it's not common for us to be together, which is sad to say. So he's been gone a lot and, you know. He's a Marine and I understand that, but I don't want to see him go ever.

CHIDEYA: And you're just 21 years old. What - I mean, what has this do to you as a person? And what do other wives or other spouses do when you're just left alone so much of the time; I'm sure you're worried.

Ms. MARINO: Ah, yeah. There's an incredible amount of anxiety when they are gone. I mean, I can't even begin to tell you - sorry…

CHIDEYA: It's OK.

Ms. MARINO: I can't begin to tell you, you know, how it feels to constantly wonder, you know, is my husband coming home, you know, are my kids going to have a dad or, you know, is he going to come home OK. And, you know, they always come home different. I mean, that's another thing.

I mean, a typical day for a military wife is, you know, stay busy, stay busy, you don't really think a lot about yourself. You're really worried about them and, you know, is they're going to be OK in what they are doing and it's just - it's hard.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. I definitely can't imagine. Well, you know what, I would like to ask you guys a couple more questions. There are so many issues on the table here that I think we don't hear enough about what the human costs are to people who serve and to the families who are also left to pick up the pieces.

So Brian and Kristi, what I'm going to do is ask you to stick around and we're going to continue for another couple of minutes. We're going to have a short break. And we thank you so much for sharing your story, so just hang on the line with us.

And again, we are speaking to Kristi Marino, who is the wife of Marine Sergeant David Marino who might get called up for a third tour in Iraq, and also with Brian Palmer, a freelance journalist and filmmaker.

Just ahead, Congress reviews sentencing laws, and the No Child Left Behind Act is up for revision.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: This is NEWS & NOTES. I am Farai Chideya.

We're going to go back to our usual Roundtable in a second, but first we're going to talk a bit more with independent journalist Brian Palmer and with Kristi Marino. She is the wife of one of the Marines Brian covered while embedded in Iraq.

Thank you for staying with us.

Kristi, if you had a chance to speak directly to the president about what your costs are as a wife, as part of a military family, what you talk about with other spouses, what would you say to him?

Ms. MARINO: Oh, wow. A lot, I'm sure. I think the major thing that I would want to get across to him is just, you know, put yourself in my shoes for just one day, even half a day, while your spouse is deployed. And come back to me and, you know, see what your views and takes are.

And then - I can't really say off the top of my head, but that would probably be one of the major things that I would try and get across to him is just, you know, how it feels and, you know, how would he feel if he was me. And, you know, feeling the anxiety and, you know, the loneliness and the unfairness of it. I think that would be probably the major things that I would want him to know.

CHIDEYA: Brian, you spent a lot of time with different guys on the ground, the Marines that you were embedded with. Do you have, I mean I know this is a broad question, but do you have a sense of what they think would make their stay, their tours in Iraq better? Do they actually want more troops on the ground? Do they want better and different kinds of armaments and equipment? Do they want better translators? What do the Marines want to make their jobs better?

Mr. PALMER: Wow. Huge question, Farai. And I mean the responses I think run the gamut from people who would say just give us more troops and everything will be fine, and the other people who are telling me in Anbar province earlier this year that these people don't want us here and we can't find the enemy. They don't want us here; we should just leave.

But fundamentally, Marines are not the kind of people who are going to second guess the leadership. One of the great things we have in this country is the tradition of military subordination to civilian leaderships. So these guys, when they talk to me, they usually just stress the fact that let us do our job.

Well, the job is very difficult and they kept saying we wish these guys, these insurgents, this resistance, would just, you know, line up in the streets, you know, so we can go toe to toe with them. That's never going to happen. So, you know, you've got to fight the war that you have, and they're just not equipped to fight that war at this point.

CHIDEYA: So what you're saying is that the Marines that you met are very loyal and may not want to express any displeasure with the plan as it's being laid out by the government to fight this war?

Mr. PALMER: Semper fidelis, always faithful. I mean that's what Marines do. And I hear Kristi in the background - I mean, Staff Sergeant David Marino took me out on the streets of Hit, and this is a man who kept me from getting killed in firefights. So I take this situation very, very seriously. He is a Marine's Marine.

We didn't always agree on, you know, on particular points of policy and politics. We didn't really get into that that much, but what I do know is that he will follow the president's orders. The president should give him good orders. These are not good orders. He is sending more lives into a situation that is untenable.

Essentially the Marines and the Army are a finger in the dike that was shaky to begin with. And what the president is telling us now is that OK, well, if we pulled that finger out of the dike, then all hell is going to break loose. And that, to me, is just kind of a Sisyphean struggle.

CHIDEYA: Kristi, do you agree with that? Do you think that at this point there is really just a thin line of soldiers trying to do some things - soldiers and Marines, I realize there is a difference between soldiers and Marines; I have both in my family and there is all that language - but do you think that Marines and soldiers are being asked to do something that is almost impossible?

Ms. MARINO: I think in some aspects of it, yes. In some I'm not really sure. Like Brian said, you know, my husband is a Marine's Marine, so to speak. He, you know, he's always going to try and do his best at whatever job he is given. So, you know, from, you know, being his wife and, you know, hearing his points and seeing where he comes from, you know, I mean our Marines want to do the best that they can. And I don't - I personally just - I think that it should be up to the Iraqis to take care of themselves, I guess. I don't know how else to put that.

CHIDEYA: And how do you, and this is - I'll let you go, but how do you take care of yourself? What do you do to comfort yourself and to get through the moments when, you know, things seem very bleak?

Ms. MARINO: I stay very busy. I go to work. I go to school. I don't tend - I tend not to sleep too much because it's hard to do when they're gone. I don't really know what I do for me. I try to focus on him because, as hard as I think it is here for me, it is 10 times worse for him. I mean I at least can sleep in our bed at night and he is sleeping in a dirt hole in the ground. So I really try not to focus on me, but him, and what he is going through and what I can do to help him, so.

CHIDEYA: Well, Kristi and Brian, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. MARINO: Thank you.

Mr. PALMER: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: That was independent journalist Brian Palmer and Kristi Marino. Her husband could be deployed to Iraq for a third time.

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