NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In the weeks since President Bush announced his plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops into Iraq, debate over the war became an argument over the president's proposal in Congress, around the country and on TV.
During the Super Bowl, a new anti-war group called VoteVets.org opposed the build-up in an ad that featured vets, including an amputee.
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Unidentified Man #1 (Veteran): When it comes to Iraq, America's divided.
Unidentified Man #2 (Veteran): On one hand, you've got two-thirds of the American people.
Unidentified Woman (Veteran): A bipartisan majority in Congress, the Iraq Study Group.
Unidentified Man #3 (Veteran): And veterans like us, all opposed to the escalation.
Unidentified Man #4 (Veteran): On the other hand, there's George Bush, who supports escalation. If you support escalation, you don't support the troops.
Unidentified Man #5 (Veteran): Join the troops. Stop the escalation.
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CONAN: Up until that ad aired, most veterans' groups focused largely on health care - mental and physical - on what might be described as veterans' issues, rather than the war itself, much less a specific military campaign. No more.
Last week, both parties emphasized the vets who spoke in the debate on Iraq in the House of Representatives, and the issue seems likely to become more politicized rather than less.
In a moment, we'll hear from the head of VoteVets.org, then later from another Iraq veteran who supports the president and his surge. Later, the Dallas County D.A. teams up with the Innocence Project, plus your letters.
First, though, Iraq veterans and the debate over the war. We'd particularly like to hear from active-duty military and vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. What part should you play in the debate on the war? What parts should veterans' organizations play, and are veterans' organizations responsive to this newest generation of vets?
Our number, 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we start first with Stan Coerr. He was a major in the Marine Corps in Iraq from March to May of 2003. Now, he's a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He joins us today from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego, California. Stan Coerr, nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Lieutenant Colonel STAN COERR (Marine Corps Reserve; Former major in the Marine Corps): Good morning, Neal.
CONAN: And why is it, do you think, that this has become an issue so much that veterans are speaking on this issue so much, it seems, in the past few weeks?
Lt. Col. COERR: Well, it's obvious that they feel very deeply about it. And might I add, they feel deeply on both sides.
Lt. Col. COERR: It would appear that the sort of pro-Iraq, pro-war vets are not being heard, and that's because they're not organized. And a lot of that is the fault of all of us on that side. The anti-war group is much better organized and very obviously, with the elections last fall, especially in the House, a lot of those sort of folks were getting elected, the veterans themselves.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, well, both parties, I think, were looking for Iraq veterans and Afghanistan veterans to run in this past election cycle, and given the roles they gave them in the debate, those who were successful in the debate in the House of Representatives, you could see the attraction.
Lt. Col. COERR: Right, of course. And it's a volatile issue. It's an important sort of thing for our generation to think about. The Vietnam generation, of course - which is our parents - were very politically active, and perhaps this is one around which people are coalescing in my generation. But what is disturbing to me is that these people who went and are now speaking out against the war are taking on a really angry sort of tone, led by people like James Webb, who is, of course, a Marine Corps hero - to my generation at least.
CONAN: James Webb, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Virginia.
Lt. Col. COERR: Right, and he's one of our heroes and always has been, but he's so angry, and he's so anti-administration, and he's so anti-this-war that I think the good points those folks have sometimes gets lost in sort of the background noise.
CONAN: And where do you think the discussion - on what level do you think the discussion should be held?
Lt. Col. COERR: Well, I think the discussion needs to be: What is it that we as a country are all about? And a follow-on to that would be: What is it that our military is supposed to do?
All these people, of course, are volunteers. That seems obvious, but people kind of forget that in the sort of greater cacophony of the media, and all these people knew what they were getting into when they signed up. I myself do a lot of work down at the Marine Corps recruit depots right here in San Diego, and I see these young kids, fresh out of high school, getting ready to go. And the drill instructors are making no pretense about where these kids are all going.
They understand it, and the fact that re-enlistment rates are above quota for the Army and the Marine Corps among people who are there in Iraq I think is instructive as to what these people really believe.
CONAN: And is it appropriate for veterans and veterans' organizations to participate in discussions about what the commander in chief is doing?
Lt. Col. COERR: Oh, absolutely. As all Americans, of course, they have the right of free speech, and they can speak as loudly as they want to. And more to the point, those folks particularly have earned that right. And I would defend their right to say whatever they want as long as they want to say it, as long as both sides are being heard.
I think that a political process, especially in the primary-type season like we're in now - although it seems awfully early, almost two years out - it is, in fact, a permanent campaign. And it seems to me that the primary season tends to be centrifugal, that people are sort of thrown to the extremes of their parties - whether left or right, and the middle - the sort of centrist, sensible, thoughtful middle - a lot of times isn't being heard.
CONAN: Where is the sensible, thoughtful middle in this debate?
Lt. Col. COERR: Well, the sensible middle is on talking about something like the troop surge. I myself agree with the surge. I agree with our campaign there, but I agree with it only as a prelude to those people withdrawing. And in that sort of last piece, I agree with the anti-war people part and parcel.
I want our troops to come home just as much as everyone else does, and you can be darn sure the troops who are there want to come home. That should be obvious to everybody.
But the way to go about it is to come home in the proper way, and I think that this surge - which General Petraeus advocates and, of course, will command - is the right way to do it.
CONAN: Our number if you'd like to join the conversation is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. We're speaking right now with Stan Coerr, who was a major in the Marine Corps, and now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. Later in the program, we'll be speaking with Jon Soltz, who was an Army captain in Iraq from May to September, 2003 and now chair VoteVets.org, a political action group opposed to the war.
And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Mike, and Mike is with us from Warsaw, Indiana.
MIKE (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
MIKE: Well, I'd just like to make the quick comment. I have served in Iraq, and I am with the - actually, with the 76th Infantry Brigade out of Fort Wayne. And we served the year of '03 in Iraq, and I just want to say that, you know, I don't think the people in Washington really understand how deep they're cutting us when they say that they support the troops and not what we're doing over there. And I feel that it's just an inconceivable concept for them to say that, and I agree with your - the person you're talking to right now. And it's very saddening to hear, you know, our leaders in Washington going through saying that.
CONAN: And you feel the same way when you look at the public opinion polls that show the majority of people in the country at this point think of Iraq as a lost cause.
MIKE: Absolutely. It's not a lost cause. And, you know, the guys who are spending the real time over there right now, the men and women that are doing the day-to-day things that have to be done over there, they're making the progress. And it's unfortunate that the Hillary Clintons and the guys that are out there - Ted Kennedy is out there saying hey, stop the war. Pull the troops out, and they're wrong. And if they would spend some real quality time, take off their senator and congressman hats for a change and come over there and see what's really going on.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. You're in the National Guard?
CONAN: And you've done one tour. One of the many problems that people have been talking about is the disruption of people's lives who are in the National Guard. Yes, they signed up to be citizen soldiers, but not to be full-time soldiers.
MIKE: It is a hardship. As a matter of fact, me and my wife - I spent 24 hours with my wife right before she had our daughter, and it was a few days later we were shipped off. And this was early January of 03. But the thing is, you know, we train to do these things, okay. I know most of the country thinks that we're here to do quick response type things, but we're the nation's, you know, backdoor. You know, something happens, you know, that's why we put the uniform on every weekend, you know, two weeks a year, whatever it may be, and, you know, we train for war. And that's what the people need to realize. And that's how I feel about it.
CONAN: All right, Mike. Thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
MIKE: Very good subject, thank you.
CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, Stan Coerr, from what you were saying earlier, the anti-war people were better organized than those who were in favor of the president's strategy and his approach. You feel that the regular - we call them the regular veteran's groups - the Americans - Veterans of Foreign War and the American Legion, that these are not being responsible to the issues that you see are important today?
Lt. Col. COERR: Oh, no, they're quite responsive. But the issue would be sort of what you just mentioned, which is that those groups tend to be of an older generation. You don't see many people my age or younger involved in those groups. And more to the point, the political structure in Washington and the media structure in Washington and New York expects them to say certain things, which they then come out and say. So it's not news. It's not interesting. People who have been in war, supporting war somehow doesn't make the headlines.
Let me address something that your caller mentioned, which I think is exactly correct, and that is that if you supported the troops, you have to support the war. And more to the point, if you support the troops, you have to support what it is they pledge their lives and their honor to go out and do. They joined the Marine Corps, they joined the Army, they joined the Navy to go out and fight. And these people understand where it is they're going to go. So if you "support the troops," and I say that in quotes, you have to support the mission and the ideals to which they've sworn their lives.
CONAN: I think they swore to protect the constitution, which in their roles could definitely involve fighting, but some people would say what they're going through now - they don't think that this is in America's interest. They're not quite sure it's even constitutional.
Lt. Col. COERR: Well, indeed. And that debate should be taken on at the highest levels in Washington, and it should be going on in Congress. Now I was hoping to see last week when the House had their "debate" - and again, I use that word in quotes - about the war, when instead we saw was 435 five-minute declarations - five-minute statements. I would like to see an actual debate across the aisle. And to that end, now that things are moving to the Senate, the only people I think who are really thinking deeply about this issue are John McCain and Chuck Hagle. And they come, of course, from opposite sides of the issue.
Nonetheless, they both have extremely good points, and what I see in both of them is almost a disgust with the institution of Congress and the way they've handled this thing. If the Pelosi-led House truly disagrees with this war, then they should cut off the funding for it and they should stand behind their beliefs.
CONAN: Stan Coerr, stay with us, if you will. Stan Coerr served as a major in the Marine Corps in Iraq during 2003, now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He's with us today from the studios of Member Station KPBS in San Diego, California. Later in the program, we'll be speaking with Jon Soltz, the chair of VoteVets.org. We want to hear from the vets in our audience, too -800-989-8255. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today with Iraq vets about the debate over the war in Iraq. Our guest right now is Stan Coerr, who served as a major in the Marine Corps, now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. And a bit later, we'll be speaking with Jon Soltz, a veteran of the war in Iraq also, and head of VoteVets.org, which is an anti-war group. We welcome your calls, too - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And this, an e-mail we got from Corin(ph) in Moscow, Idaho: The administration, she writes, keeps repeating the enlistment rates are over quota, but I was under the impression that quotas were lowered and services are now taking high-school dropouts and people with criminal records. Does that help explain some of the reason for the enlistment rates, do you think, Stan Coerr?
Lt. Col. COERR: No, the enlistment rates I was talking about were reenlistment rates of people in Iraq and Afghanistan on active duty, not people that are coming in, you know, right out of high school. And I think the recruiters of all people have been the most surprised that, in fact, they're making - quote, unquote, "making their numbers." The career planners in the line units, Army and Marine Corps, both are getting people who want to see this thing through, and they're reenlisting to do that.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And as you look at this issue, the role that vets can play in this - they bring, as you suggested before, a very special and important authenticity to this conversation. They do know what's going on in the ground, at least in their patch of ground in Iraq.
Lt. Col. COERR: Of course, their patch of ground. And Jon Soltz and I, who -he's going to come on next, I believe.
Lt. Col. COERR: He and I both were there in 2003, 2004 timeframe. The war I was in was a no-kidding, full-blown shooting war with troops in the field. Now this counterinsurgency in which we're fighting now is a much different sort of combat, but, of course, it's equally deadly. And I think this troop surge is the only way we're going to extricate ourselves from Baghdad, from the Malaki government. But the surge itself and the military strategy has got to be followed, or even perhaps preceded by a political strategy, and that's got to come from the White House. I'm starting to see a lot more of that sort of thing that hasn't been there in the last couple of years, and I think the Malachi government is finally realizing we are not going to be there forever.
CONAN: Let's get one more caller in for you, and this is Jim - Jim with us from Sebastopol in California.
JIM (Caller): Hi, how are you? Great topic. Thank you for taking it on.
JIM: My position as a Vietnam vet and a nephew who's an Iraqi vet is that you bet your life we should be very active. This is what democracy's about. You know, I believed in John Wayne and apple pie, and that's why you have a great bunch of recruits going back into the Marine Corps, because we still swallow this stuff. But regardless of that, you need to have an active debate. I'm very upset that Berkeley is not up in flames - no pun intended - but Columbia and the schools done care. And it's very, very, very, very upsetting, to put it mildly.
CONAN: Well the difference between Vietnam and right now, as Stan Coerr pointed out before, this is an all-volunteer army, not the draft that existed for much of the Vietnam War.
JIM: Bring on the draft, because we need debate, we need active. Being franchised between 18 and 21 - which we fought for back in the '60s - 17 to 18 percent vote. That's disgusting.
CONAN: Jim, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
JIM: Okay. Semper Fi. Bye.
CONAN: And Stan Coerr, I wanted to ask you - to wind up your part of the conversation - obviously, whatever your position is, that caller, and indeed, those with other - on the other side of the issue say it really is the time to get up and debate.
Lt. Col. COERR: Absolutely. Absolutely. We should have this debate all day every day, because this is one of the defining events of our generation. I think it's interesting that, in a way, the way people think about war in this country has almost skipped a generation, which is to say that the World War II generation - represented by people the age of my grandparents - are full-throated, wholeheartedly in support of what we're doing there, in support of the surge.
They want to go in, hit hard and then withdraw like those folks did back in the 1940s. And the other thing is that they see, as I think many of us do, a real right versus wrong sort of idea that's driving this thing. They fought the Nazis, or the Imperial Japanese. All of us who went - Jon Soltz and I and all of our peers who went - fought against another genocidal, homicidal tyrant, and we overthrew this guy and we made the world a better place.
Now, no one is as much of a Pollyanna as some who say everything is going well in Baghdad. No one actually believes that. But what we can do is use our military force and the economic might of the lone hyper power - which is the United States - to do good in this world, and that's what the military is for.
CONAN: Stan Coerr, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.
Lt. Col. COERR: Thank you.
CONAN: Stan Coerr served as a major in Iraq with the Marine Corps in 2003, now a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He joined us today from KPBS, our member station in San Diego. With us now is Jon Soltz. He's the chair of the group VoteVets.org. And he joins us today from our bureau in New York. Pleasure to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Mr. JON SOLTZ (Chairman, VoteVets.org): Thanks for having me on, sir. Too bad I can't be on with my good friend Stan, but, you know, we just appreciate you guys doing this piece today and talking to the people who have actually fought in the war.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And talking to the people who actually fought in the war. Your ad during the Super Bowl really sparked a lot of this conversation among vets.
Mr. SOLTZ: Well, yes sir. I mean, I think it's important to talk about that ad from its framework. VoteVets, actually, is not a - it's not an anti-war group. We're a pro-military organization. We only support people that are supporting the armed forces at the lowest levels - the tactical level. You know, it's hard to be framed anti-war when, you know, our organization is very active in, you know, supporting operations that, you know, destroy terrorist networks across the world, including al-Qaida. But we ask the hardest questions in regards to the war in Iraq. And the Super Bowl ad obviously was framed as: You cannot support this escalation and support the troops. You just can't have it both ways.
You know, we have a situation on the ground in Iraq right now where as people who fought there, we understand that 20,000 more troops on Iraq is kind of like spitting in the ocean. And when in served in Kosovo in 2000, you know, I protected a Serbian church. It was 40,000 peacekeepers for almost 200,000 Serbs. That was one troop for every five civilians. And in Iraq, you've got about 26 million people and 20,000 more, it's just not enough. This is not a - it's not a Hail Mary pass by the president.
If the policy cannot work, what it is is he's planning the football for short-term security in Baghdad and passing this war off to the next president without taking the recommendations of a bipartisan Iraq study group report which called for, you know, larger diplomacy. It called for engaging all the regional partners in the area. And what he gave us was a political consensus. And now we were just shocked that he went with this policy of escalation, and that was what was behind our ad.
CONAN: And you say you're not an anti-war organization, yet I believe you're affiliated with organizations like MoveOn.org, which is definitely an anti-war organization.
Mr. SOLTZ: We're a part of a larger coalition that's called Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which includes the SCIU Service Union, which includes Center for American Progress, The National Security Network. So we're part of a larger coalition that's not dealing with, you know, when we leave Iraq or pulling out tomorrow or staying the course of these false debates we have, but specifically dealing with the issue of the president's policy in Iraq. And in looking to send a message to the president, not that we need to leave Iraq tomorrow, but that we need something that gives us political consensus in this country. Because without political consensus, we're going to have a hard time maintaining support for the war.
And, you know, what we're trying to say is to get that message to the president: This strategy's not working. And that adding 20,000 more troops is basically stay the course more. It's rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but the Titanic's still headed to the iceberg.
And we want to see a strategy shift. And that coalition is not about being for it or against it. It's about opposing the president's strategy that we have right now, because we need a bipartisan consensus or we're going to have disaster. And we cannot let this come down to, you know, cutting the money off or staying the course. These are false debates. America needs a strategy that's more like we had when we left Korea and not Vietnam.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's see if we can get a caller in. This is Eddie. Eddie's calling us from Washington, D.C.
EDDIE (Caller): Hi, it's a pleasure to talk to you today.
CONAN: Thanks for calling.
EDDIE: I'm a WestPoint graduate. I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom II in the Battles of Najaf and Fallujah (unintelligible) Fallujah. And I patrolled every single day, often numerous times a day, and I can tell you that I'm of the opinion that we never have had enough troops there, and that an extra 21 to 22,000 is not going to do it. And I don't understand why we are continually trying to disprove the (unintelligible). Why don't we just send the U.S. Army there and stop the redeployment mess and send the amount of troops that it's going to take to actually bring the situation to a head?
CONAN: So you're not necessarily, you know - you want to win the war, and the way to win the war is not with a small dollop of increased troops, but a massive increase of troops?
EDDIE: Yes, absolutely. If we want to have the same ratio of troops in Iraq that we had in Bosnia, which was one for every 50, then we would have to have 320,000 troops on the ground - which, by the way, is not what we had even in the first Gulf War when we had 380,000 troops on the ground, not including forces from the coalition.
CONAN: And not, coincidentally, not far off from the number that General Shinseki talked about before the war began. But anyway, let's see if we can get a response from Jon Soltz.
Mr. SOLTZ: Well, sir, I think he raises an incredibly valid point. Like I had said, in Kosovo, we had4 40,000 troops when I was there for 200,000 Serbs to protect. And, you know, this administration, their policy has been the high-end weapon systems, not an increase in the size of the army. It took six years for this president to grow the size of the force. And prior to the invasion, you know, they canceled the deployment order of cavalry division out of Fort Hood, Texas. So we went in what we called light, with about 120,000 troops. And that just wasn't enough to stabilize the country.
Unfortunately, in the last four years, we've mobilized almost the entire National Guard and Reserve to a point where last month, the secretary of defense had to reset what we call everyone's clock, which makes them all able to be mobilized again. You know, the third infantry division's on its third tour in Iraq, so 90 percent of our army's allocated to Iraq.
So, unfortunately, we don't have an army that's large enough to send that many troops into that country for, you know, with a rotational basis. So the Army's not designed - after Vietnam, when Creighton Abrams redesigned the force to a volunteer force - he designed that we had to incorporate the Guard and Reserve for this missions.
So it was designed not to be engaged in like a liberal, nation-building war protracted across the world. And that's exactly what this administration did to the Army. So, in a sense, he took an army that wasn't designed to fight a war like this and fought it on the cheap. And the time for more troops was in 2003, like the caller said. He's absolutely right. Going with the 250…
CONAN: And he's saying that the time is now for massive numbers of troops.
Mr. SOLTZ: Well, unfortunately, there's just not, the army's broke. And it's - and they broke it. And now we're in a situation where we have a volunteer military, where it would be extremely hard to sustain those types of troop levels for this period of time…
CONAN: Eddie, what do you think?
Mr. SOLTZ: …to be successful.
EDDIE: Well, I partially agree with him. And I understand the history of Creighton Abrams' decision to get more of the nation involved by making sure that the guard troops would go. However, I think that your argument is only valid if you continue to say to do it on a rotational basis. I'm saying do not do it on a rotational basis. World War II was not done on a rotational basis. And I'm tired of hearing the emotional arguments with oh, well, our troops want to come home. Yes, I understand it's more comfortable to stay at home than to go to war, but how about you go to war and stay there until the situation is taken care of?
CONAN: For the duration, in other words. Yes.
EDDIE: Right, stay there. And I realize it sucks, but that's the nature of war.
Mr. SOLTZ: I mean, the only thing I'd offer back on that is now that we're moved into almost the fourth stage of the war Iraq, which is more of a proxy war with Iran, and we got the Sunni fighting the Americans, and we've got the Shia and the Sunni fighting each other, and we have the Shia fighting the Shia - their two militias - and we've got the Iranian influence, that it's unfortunately now to a situation where we've lost control of the security situation that we never quite had.
And, you know, as many troops as you have for an extended period of time, as the Iraq Study Group pointed out, it would break our volunteer force and it would be detrimental to our ability to deal with our real threats across the world, such as the emergence of the Taliban back in Afghanistan. So I think it's unfortunate, but out hands are almost tied because unlike World War II, we have a volunteer force now. And, you know, it's a force that has to want to stay in the military. It's not like we have them on lockdown.
So it's a very difficult situation that's unfortunate right at this point. But at this point because of an administration, like I said, that made, you know, dedication to weapons systems in the sky and super-duper missile, you know, defense systems that cost billions of dollars that we have a weak tactical force for a manpower standpoint.
CONAN: Eddie, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
EDDIE: Thank you.
Mr. SOLTZ: Thanks.
CONAN: We're speaking with John Soltz, an Iraq vet and chairman of VoteVets.org. You're listening TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get Ted on the line - Ted with us from Boise, Idaho.
TED (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen. As I told your interviewer - I'm a Vietnam vet. I have two sons who are currently in the military. Both are captains and have that responsibility. I don't know where to begin with your guest other than, he says he's not an anti-war group. But everything he said is completely opposite that. My only question, and I'm - and I agree with his first statement, you cannot support the troops and not support the action in this war.
I would like to ask this gentleman, does his group advocate and are you advocating for Congress to stop the funding in the support of our troops that are over there?
Mr. SOLTZ: Well, first of all, I like to say, welcome home from Vietnam.
TED: That's about 40 years late. But thank you, go ahead answer…
Mr. SOLTZ: Well, I wasn't alive back then, but every time I talk to a veteran, I always welcome them home.
TED: I'm feel like that I am upset with your stance, your (unintelligible)…
SOLTZ: Well, I'd like to answer - I'd to answer your questions.
CONAN: Go ahead and answer the question.
Mr. SOLTZ: I'd like to answer the question. But I'm not calling for the, you know, cutting of any funding for our troops. But I would like point out that we - our job is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. Not fighting liberal, nation-building wars halfway across the world that are designed - you know, that is more of a babysitting war, so I think that's an issue that we disagree on.
Mr. SOLTZ: But I would like to say that the issue here is for a new strategy. A strategy that brings us success on the war on terror. And in the situation in Iraq right now is we have 90 percent of our Army allocated to a nation-building conflict, and we need a strategy that works. We need a reasonable diplomatic stance that talks to Syria that deals with Iran. (unintelligible) out of this…
CONAN: Which you said before, but let me get back to Ted's question. In other words, the president says I want to send 20,000 more troops. Congress is raising questions about maybe this is the right thing, maybe it's the wrong thing. And Congressman Murtha says we need to cut off funding for those additional forces.
Mr. SOLTZ: No, sir. That's not what Congressman Murtha says. What Congressman Murtha says is for the first time in six years, we're not going to send troops like my unit that didn't have body armor or up-armored equipment.
CONAN: But his goal…
Mr. SOLTZ: No, sir. No, sir.
CONAN: Excuse me. He's deliberately said that the purpose if this is to stop the troop increase. He's couched it in terms which will make it difficult for Republicans to vote against it. Nevertheless, are you in favor of that plan?
Mr. SOLTZ: I support Congressman Murtha in a sense that soldiers shouldn't be going to war without the right equipment. But this has nothing to do with cutting off troops for money in the field. What this is saying to the Republican and Congress and the president is for the first time in six years, you're not going to send a guy over there if he doesn't have an up-armored Humvee. You're not going to send a guy over there that doesn't have a SINGAR radio and hasn't been trained in it in appropriate, you know, mode station.
You know, I trained soldiers at Fort Dix last year. We didn't have SINGAR radios. We were transforming, you know, artillery into BMPS that you have to get the appropriate training, you need the appropriate equipment. But see, Congressman Murtha understands that just like the story that came out of Walter Reed yesterday. There's some issues inside DOD with the way tactical troops are taken care of.
Our group does not support cutting off money for any military operation. It's the president of the United States who's responsible for these operations, not the men and women who have to fight them. They deserve all of our respect, and they deserve all of our support. But you cannot support the troops by putting them into a policy that we already know is failing.
CONAN: John Soltz, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. SOLTZ: Thank you, sir.
CONAN: John Soltz is the chair of VoteVets.org, a political action group. He served as a captain in the United States Army in Iraq from May to September 2003, now serves in the Army Reserves.
When we come back from a short break, the new district attorney in Dallas invites the Innocence Project to death row. Craig Watkins wants to fix what he calls a failed system in that county, and he joins us next. If you have questions about what he's doing in Dallas and what effects it might have, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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