What a bloody waste

If have any doubts about the social class of the American troops who are being killed over in Iraq this story gives us an idea.

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2005; C01

Under the glare of a midmorning sun, Staff Sgt. Jody Hayes stands sweating in the hatch of his M-113 armored vehicle, scanning for insurgents. Hayes and his Iowa National Guard crew have been stalled for nearly 30 minutes on a risky, slow-moving mission to clear road bombs, and he's getting nervous.

Suddenly he hears the snap of a sniper's bullet flying past his head. The round pierces the neck of the soldier next to him, Spec. John Miller, entering the two-inch gap between his Kevlar vest collar and helmet.

"Get down!" Hayes yells. Miller falls heavily against Hayes's leg, and at first Hayes believes his friend is taking cover. "Man, he got down pretty quick," he recalls thinking. Then he glances down and sees Miller bleeding at his feet.

Sgt. Ty Dermer, who is manning a .50-caliber machine gun within arm's reach of Miller, radios for help: "We got a man down! We need a medic, ASAP!"

Hayes drops down and cradles Miller's head in his lap, while Dermer rips open a pressure dressing and places it on the neck wound. Each man grabs one of Miller's hands and feels for a pulse. They still haven't found one when medic Spec. Jaymie Holschlag pulls open the back door of the M-113 and rushes, breathless, to Miller's side.

"Doc," Hayes says, looking up at her. "He's gone."

Holschlag begins checking Miller's pulse herself, as if she hasn't heard.
"Doc," Hayes repeats, louder. "He's gone!"

It is 10:18 a.m. on April 12, and John Wayne Miller is no more.

In the frenzy to save Miller, no one was thinking about why the war had snatched away the gangly 21-year-old Wal-Mart stocker from West Burlington, Iowa. Only later, as darkness falls and details of the day's horrors ricochet through their camp, do that question and others begin to haunt Hayes and his tightknit Iowa platoon. With a fifth of its soldiers killed or wounded, the platoon is reeling from the trauma of repeated loss, facing a constant threat from bombs and gunfire on Ramadi's streets, or mortar strikes on their base. They are angry, anxious, wracked by guilt -- one soldier suffers from combat stress so acute that he is unable to go on missions, and stays behind camp walls.

Holschlag runs to Miller. When the platoon medic sees that insurgents have taken out another of her "boys," she swears, grabs her medic's bag and walks back to her Humvee, slamming the side of it with her fist. Then she pulls out the gray body bag she has learned to carry at all times, and waits for a vehicle to evacuate Miller's body.
To Holschlag and many in the unit, Miller was their "boy," their "kid," and in his sudden death, the good-hearted but awkward young man was mourned as a family member. "You live on top of each other. You get used to working together . . . then you go out one day and -- boom -- he's gone," she says.

"In 2 1/2 seconds, for no particular reason, because we found their weapons cache, they took him out," she says. "And never again will John Wayne Miller steal my Pepsi"

"J-Dub," as platoon mates called Miller, was an unlikely hero. His mother died when he was a teen, and his father was in and out of jail, they said. After high school he found a job stocking shelves at Wal-Mart on the graveyard shift, which he liked because it let him devote his days to his real passion -- video games. Miller had a one-bedroom apartment on Prairie Street in West Burlington and a mean pet ferret. Other than that, they said, the lanky young man didn't have much going on in his life. So one day in March 2002, more for friendship than anything else, Miller signed up for the Iowa National Guard.

This is the war the chickenhawks support, but won't fight in. As long as Wal Mart employees do the dying, it's fine.

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