Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In Memorial

In honor of many fallen soldiers, I'm republishing this issue of the Invisible Warrior Report in honor of the memory of a young woman whose death, remains unanswered, and a cover-up in our Government. I hope that there are those who will continue to search for answers.

LaVena L. Johnson was sexual assault, brutally beaten, murdered, and evidence of the rape was covered up. This was truly misjustice for her, and her family.

Natalie and Nat King Cole singing together  posthumously I

Unforgettable, that's what you are,
Unforgettable, though, near or far,
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you,
Does things to me,
Never before, has someone been more.

PFC LaVena Johnson with Her father John Johnson
As I watched a video of Natalie Cole singing an amazing duet with her father, the late and great Nat King Cole, my thoughts rushed forward to the heartache of John Johnson, a veteran and father of PFC LaVena L. Johnson, who died in Afghanistan in 2005. She undoubtedly has become "unforgettable" to many of us who know her tragic story. It is painful for any parent to lose a child under any circumstances, but when the reasons are under a cloud of suspicion and a cover-up, we are restless in our spirits for answers. Perhaps no one is more restless or heart broken than her parents, John and Linda.
The military seems to be attempting to move forward in trying to correct its bad record of sexual assaults in its ranks, but the mysterious death of this young woman and others, killed while serving in the theater of war, still hovers over the military, as they undoubtedly hope that time will erase the memory of this crime.

Trigger Warning! Graphic Subject!

An Unforgettable Crime

Yes, I said crime. Because the evidence is staggering. I've poured over the details of her death, read countless news stories, and watched interviews with the Johnson's, and LaVena's death is still haunting.
A young young woman who by all accounts was positive, out-going and a true patriot, wanted to serve
LaVena was an honor roll graduate
her country after 911. LaVena, the oldest of 3 children, was determine to go to college, but not place a heavy financial burden on her parents, and believed that to serve her country and then pursue her education afterwards would be a great solution. John Johnson remembers that LaVena approached him about signing up. His reaction was that of pride that his daughter wanted to forge her own future.
"My daughter LaVena was a very patriotic person she love this country and she thought she was doing something good; she thought she was doing something right. She first had discussed this with her dad. I was not in agreement with this at all because ---I just thought she was just going straight on to college. She was an honor roll student; she was a very good student ---and the most beautiful daughter than any mother would want to have. She had discussed this with her dad first and finally told me." ---Linda Johnson
 The most daunting thing any parent can do is to let go and allow your child brave the unknown. LaVena was an unforgettable daughter and friend. She was well liked; always had a smile and a cheerful disposition. That is what makes this story so painful: that a sweet person of 19 would die in this horrific manner, and that her killer, or killers still go unpunished.
Also the unforgettable way this young woman was treated by the US Army and those whom she served. Conflicting reports show that LeVena's body had contusions, she had missing teeth, a bruise under her eye and a gun shot wound to the head. It is impossible for a person that was only 5'1" to shoot herself with an M-16 military rifle. As a Vet myself, I know the sort of damage an M-16 can do up close. The most horrific damage was done to the vaginal area, where apparently acid of some sort was used to destroy the evidence of a sexual assault. But in spite of this botched cover up, and the fact that someone tried to set the KBR contractors tent on fire with LeVena's body in it, her death was ruled a suicide by the Army, and a Congressional Subcommittee endorse their ruling. This can only lead me to believe that this investigation was criminally negligent, and a huge cover-up by our government.

"We know that the people we're dealing with, lie easy as they breathe. So that's why we
LaVena With Mom Linda Johnson
need the congressional hearing; so that people can be under oath to tell the truth. We want justice for our daughter because I believe with all my heart my daughter was murdered. I cannot look at the pictures; I don't have to look at the pictures. I've heard enough from my husband. And it took him awhile to even let me know the things that have been done to my precious daughter--- and to know that my daughter was set on fire and someone tried to burn her body--- it was heartbreaking." -
Linda Johnson

The Johnson's Sharing grief and outrage "We deserve better than this." 28:00

Can you imagine remembering the last time you saw your daughter alive was when she was running with open arms across the tarmac to greet you like a child? And now you're at the same airfield months later, to receive her body in a box? This story is surrounded in a mystery, involving straight-faced liars, and an ineffective Congress who backs up rape and murder with silence.

Ann Wright, Retired Army Colonel, and advocate against the Iraq war, actively help the Johnsons to find the answers to LaVena's murder. After setting up a meeting with the Johnsons and Congressman William Clay Jr. (D-Mo) she was barred by the military from attending the meeting. No doubt this was because the Army feared Ms. Wright a former Army Col. would be a formidable person that would not accept their bullshit.
Retired Lt. Col Ann Wright
"We know the military has misinformed many military families to include Tillman family--- Karen Meredith whose son Ken was killed by Iraqi trainees--- Kemisha Block who was shot in her barracks and the family told she was killed by friendly fire-- one shot--- it turned out she was killed by five shots and her killer which was one member of her unit committed suicide right in her barracks--- and yet the family was not told this for over eight months. So there's a lot of misinformation that's going on with the families, and I firmly believe that if we can get the Congress to hold hearings and require people to come forward under oath that indeed we can get to the bottom of what happened to LeVena Johnson." Col. Ann Wright

Unforgettable Cover Ups

There are many men and women who have gone to serve in both Iraq, and Afghanistan since 911. Sadly many lives have been lost due to honorable combat. Even sadder is when some of these protectors died not by the enemy but by other means, and the military attempts to cover over the details.

Spc. Kemisha Block 
Spc. Kemisha Block was a female soldier who was fatally shot by Staff Sargent Paul Norris. Norris was an insanely jealous suitor and a rage-aholic who abuse the young female soldier during her time at Fort Hood, and somehow managed to pull some strings to be stationed with Block at Operation Iraqi Freedom. The relationship was against Army regulations, but his superiors seemed to look the other way. Fellow soldiers feared for her safety, and even Kemisha attempted several times to get transferred from Norris's command. When her plight did reach the proper authorities, Norris was ordered to stand down and cut off his relationship with Kemisha. He responded by appearing at her barracks one evening and shooting the unarmed soldier in the face 5 times. The Army listed her death as being casualty of Friendly Fire. Sadly Kemisha's family did not unearth the real truth for months. The Army allowed this crazed NCO to terrorize this soldier until his jealous obsession with her became Kemisha's end.

Pat Tillman who was famous for walking away from a lucrative football contract and a stellar career in
Corporal Patrick Tillman
the NFL, signed up to do his bit for America following 911. Because of this celebrity status his death was propaganda for the Bush Administration, and their war on terror. When Pat was reported dead, his widow first received the news that he had been killed in a gun battle in Afghanistan. His mother described his death as too contrived. It was something you'd see in a John Wayne movie.---Charging up a hill to protect his fellow Army Rangers. Sadly the unadorned truth was that Pat was killed by "friendly fire." Instead of coming out with the truth that Tillman and an Afghan Militia Forces allied soldier were shot and killed even as he called out to his band of brothers to cease firing. Rather than to tell the family and the public the truth, a deliberate lie was put in place to cover up Tillman's death.
Pat's mom Mary said in an 60 Minute interview; "When you're lied to, your brain goes all over the map, and things that aren't really true can appear to be true."

Lance Corporal Anne Dryden
Lance Corporal Anne Dryden came from tough stock. She was a sweetheart but a tough devoted Marine as well. Again another casualty death while deployed overseas. He body was found in a portable latrine following a friendly wrestling match where Dryden suffered a concussion to the head. Her parents were told that her death was a friendly wrestling match gone bad. Her mom was suspicious, but got scared away from the original finding. She refused to do interviews about Anne's death, and advised her ex-husband Scott to do the same.  As it turns out Scott Dryden refused to back down, and received completely different version of events. Yes, there was a wrestling match, but it was not so friendly.  This was re-accounted to him over the phone by someone who later just disappeared. He set out to find out what really happened. For one thing; female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been told to never go to the portable latrines without a buddy. And then to find her body left in a latrine like that leads one to suspect possible rape and murder.  Of course, it was up to the Commander to make the decision whether press charges. Hello? Do I have to tell you how well that worked out?
Ann Wright Questions Military's Finding in deaths
"Women are supposed to go to the latrines only with a buddy, as so many rapes have occurred near the porta-potties," she says. "That's why many women carry knives in Iraq and Afghanistan for protection. Predators in a war zone," says Wright, "usually follow a rape with intimidation because the victim is already surrounded by violence and confusion. They'll say, 'You're going to be dead by tomorrow. Raping you is just the cost of war. We'll just chalk it up [your death] to unsafe security.'" She believes this may be what happened to Annie Dryden. Anne Wright

Sadly the disrespectful way many of these soldiers died, and how their families were lied to is an inexcusable shame that will not go away with time, medals, or military honors. I hope that the roll call of these men and women who died under suspicion circumstances will echo and ring in the ears of the military for years to come. Because they choose to lie to us us about these unforgettable lives.

Please remember these soldiers and their families in your special way this Memorial Day. They are gone but remain "Unforgettable."


Special thanks as always to 
Rosie Palfy
and special thanks to 
Elizabeth Grous 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Easy To Be Hard

How can people be so heartless 
How can people be so cruel
Easy to be hard, easy to be cold
How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud, easy to say no

Easy To Be Proud

Hagel (L) Dempsey (R) Make a PSA
Regarding Sexual Assault 
awareness In April
I would grant you that the military is not for everyone, to quote Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) "Our men and women didn't sign up to get raped." And yet it happens even in the face of new legislation and the promise by our Military to change. And yet the change that we were promised seems to be a public relations campaign to give the Military a gold star for effort. Feeling the pressure from some in Congress, and with the media spotlight set on Hi-beam, the Pentagon and Chain of Command is attempting to show us that they care. During this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have seen the emotionless faces of the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the Chairman of The Joint Chief's of Staff, Martin Dempsey in Public Service Announcements speaking (we can only assume) to the general public about preventing Sexual Assault."They speak to us about what we can do to prevent sexual abuse. These PSA's are professionally done, but lack depth and a sense of truth."

NCIS Reenacts a military sexual assault case 
The real public service came in April when CBS aired a powerful episode of NCIS depicting the sexual assault of one female midshipman. I enjoyed the episode on several levels. First, because the pattern of this epidemic has caught the public eye, and will continue to stay before their consciousness; second, this particular episode depicted the way our military justice system should work for the victims, and not for those in charge. Sadly this is just another TV show bringing justice to an imaginary Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps in 43 minutes plus commercials. Sad is because Hollywood seems to be ahead of the problem, addressing the issue in a drama that really has no obligation to make this an issue.  We see a thorough investigation of
NCIS Confronting a Rapist. Something
w'd all like to see.
everyone involved. We uncovered the people who tolerate this type of behavior, and the ones who see this victim as their friend. I won't give away too much for those "spoiler alert" sensitive types but I can say say it was worth my time. (Thank you PTSD Queen for alerting me.) I don't usually endorse TV shows, mainly because they exploit issues, but this one is a 10, and should get an Emmy. This was really art imitating life.

Evil And Social Injustice

Very First Superman Comic includes justice for a battered victim
Even Comics have spoken out on the subjects of domestic violence and sexual assault. Action Comics number 1 from 1939 shows Superman dispatching a husband beating his wife.
Amazingly it was a time in our country where wishful thinking of an imaginary Superhero would step in to protect the weak and powerless. Nothing to debate or argue about; no such words as legitimate rape, or non-consensual sex would be considered. Justice in the pulps were handed out firmly, swiftly, and without plea bargaining. Artists and independent movie producers would continue to share this message. After The Invisible War came out, Doonesbury creator/artist Gary Trudeau gave his thoughts and artistry to this subject.

Gary Trudeau artist of truth in satire
"In my research of PTSD, I came across Military Sexual Trauma--- MST. And in particular I encountered something--- the chilling descriptor Command Rape and I began to to try to understand what that was. And command rape is actually not violent rape. It's coercive rape---its a subordinate submitting to a superior out of fear and retribution.  

Doonesbury's Melissa Wheeler MST Victim
So I created this character Melissa Wheeler who starts out--we know from her back-story is a strong capable soldier she's a mechanic in aviation--- when she finds herself in a command rape relationship--- is traumatized by it and leaves military---and I think we, as a nation, have a very strong responsibility to reach out to men and women who have gone through this hell, and try to bring them back home.

So Heartless, So Cruel

This is a good time to transition into the topic of command rape. It happens to some men and
women all throughout the military. And it is important to talk about in lieu of the Jeffrey Sinclair case. The Brig. General dodged the bullet of doing prison time when a female Captain under his command testified that Sinclair harassed, threaten, and sexually assaulted her. After coming forward with allegations of sexual conduct, many in the public seemed baffled that Sinclair's accuser would make those charges, because they were seen in each others company. Command rape is hard to prosecute according to current judicial standards of out-cry and resistance. Most defense lawyers will argue that real rape involves resistance and out-cry on the part of the alleged victim. Then of course she will be painted as someone who was attracted to his power or position, and she was trying to get Sinclair to leave his wife. Does that sound like an overused movie plot? Actually it's a misogynistic ploy to discredit mostly women who could destroy a man's career.

Command Rape or Coerced Rape puts a person in the position of either submitting or losing a career, status, or reputation. Many female recruits can be prey to these monsters who wield a great deal of power, or who are in the chair of command. Command rapists usually start out as your supervisor, or commander, who do little favors for you, or allow you to have privileges that your peers don't.
A Very Perky and Positive  Virginia Messick
before her rape 
"When I first got to Basic Training, ---about second week. that's when he started letting me use the email, and Facebook, to talk to a friend in Afghanistan which was clearly prohibited but he was telling me that everyone needs a friend while they were on a deployment--- so I thought it was in a professional manner." 
When you're a scared private in bootcamp any kindness someone shows is really appreciated. This of course can be a set-up for an unassuming recruit who is told she must follow every order. Command Rape happens because a man or woman believes that they have no choice but to comply or suffer the consequences.

"He told us he was God--- that the Air Force wasn't going to believe anything we said over him--- That he controlled us--- that we were basically worthless. ---He told me that I was going to do what he wanted me to do or else."
Reporting a your assault to your rapist who could be
in your chain of command? Doonesbury Comics 2013
After the assault, the dilemma Virginia faced was, she couldn't report the assault to her chain of command, because it would start with her rapist. (Does that makes sense to you now Congress?) How do you deal with something as offensive as rape when you have to report to your rapist?

Virginia and others like her have been encircled from all sides by the military, by politicians, and people of indifference or cynicism, keeping justice outside and the victim in total isolation. Some claim they need to study the problem, or that the person is a liar, or has health issues, or they say, "We're taking care of the problem, and will not tolerate this sort of behavior." And yet they do.
Because they refuse to make any real changes that will clean up this sort of behavior. Their talk is about as effective as spitting on a bond fire.

The In Crowd

And now we have a new report that shows sexual assaults have gone up 50% from the previous year. In Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's mind that is a good thing.

Latest report from the Pentagon: Sexual assaults are up by 50%
White House and Defense Department officials characterized the much-anticipated study as a welcome sign that victims are more comfortable reporting assaults and that victims perceive the Pentagon to be taking the problem seriously. But critics of the study said there was no way to know if the increase in reporting meant that there were more sexual assaults over all last year. Unlike in previous years, the study did not estimate how many sexual assaults took place over all last year. In 2012, a confidential Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted. Of those, 3,374 cases were reported.- NY Times May 1, 2014
Isn't it amazing that these political and Military types, who keep our victims and advocates at arms length, and yet know just what these numbers mean? How do you know the heart and mind of the person who servers, when you don't listen? And even if these numbers did reflect a soldiers confidence in reporting, why is that cause for them to pat each other on the back, and give high five? And why
should such a report make you happy? Are you saying it's all about the Military Commanders, and not the victims?  In truth this increase no matter how you see it, should unnerve us. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) finds the numbers to be alarming.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) unnerved by the new numbers
"Nonetheless, Ms. Gillibrand said the study was a troubling look at sexual assault in the military: The Pentagon said that of the 5,061 reported cases, 484 went to trial, and 376 resulted in convictions. The numbers, she said, “should send chills down people’s spines,” because less than one of 10 reported cases proceeded to trial."NY Times May 1, 2014
Congress appears to want to fix the problem, but keep the status quo. They want to pacify all sides without making real changes. (If my atheist friends will allow me to indulge a thought:) There is a Biblical Proverb. "No one can serve two masters, he will hate one and love the other." Basically, you can't serve two people, or believe in two ideas, that oppose each other. Politicians want to come down soft on rape in the military, because radical reform has been called for.  But at this point to allow the chain of command to still control the issue of rape in the military shows a complete disregard for real justice for victims.
"In the end, the case against reform boils down to an insistence that “we”—the military—“know best.” This reflects an assumption that Congress should defer to the military, rather than the other way around. The noisier and more gossamer the military’s objections, however, the more obvious it is that the current battle is over more than simply whether commanders ought to keep their 18th-century power to decide who should be prosecuted by court-martial for what everyone agrees are serious criminal offenses." The Slate Dec. 6, 2013 Good Bye to George III

The Problem continues because our ideas and even our laws have not been aimed at making leadership changes, but in adjusting the laws to give us a feeling of security that our leadership can be trusted.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You can't change the system without changing the leadership.  It is easy to be hard and say no when you won't look out for even those who can't look out for themselves.

Sources : Slate.com
 NY Times  
Doonesbury Comics

Dedicated To My PTSD And MST Friends and Family
Barbara Jackson
Brian Lewis
Elizabeth Grous
Ginny Leern
Heath Phillips
Jennifer Norris
Kate Weber
Michael Matthews
Noelle Silverman
Rosie Palfy
Vanessa Grimes
Victoria Sanders
Unite Women of America
And Others 

Coming next:  Memorial May And Lest We forget.