Altman: Emails illustrate starkly different realities of military life
TAMPA - Over the past several months, two streams of emails have consumed a good part of my life. Both are focused on the military, but in very different ways. They only capture a small window of time and likely don't represent the full context of the situation but are nonetheless illustrative of how different life is between the home of MacDill Air Force Base and downrange. On May 14, Mayor Bob Buckhorn received this email: Dear Bob,Today I will be hosting a group of VIP's visiting from Afghanistan Pakistan and Napal, here by the authority of the State Department with the purpose of to exchanging Trade & Commerce in the Tampa Bay area. As the Ambassador to the Coalition, I will taking them to Centcom with the great assistance of Gen Mattis & Adm Harward. However, following their VIP Centcom tour, these distinguished Visitors will be coming back to my Residence for a gourmet Lebanese Maza (over 15 amazing course) As the Mayor of Tampa, I would like to include you to be part of this great International Exchange. Please join us at 6pm at my home for dinner. (or stop by for a Baklava) I hope to see you tonight. Sincerely Jill A little more than two weeks later, a young woman in Riverview named Sarah Sitton received an email about the same part of the world — but worlds apart from the one the email to Buckhorn talked about. The email was from her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Matt Sitton, who was writing from a small command outpost (COP) in the Arghandab River Valley area, a far cry from the palatial waterfront manse on Bayshore Boulevard where the 15-course meal was served. Yesturday our little cop got flooded. A local farmer was flooding his fields and his barrier collapsed and all the water started to flood our cop. Now our cop is about the size of our old front yard. Not very big. And on top of that. We have to piss in what is called a slit trench. Basically a giant hole that we dug in the ground. So when the cop flooded, all the water ran through our slit trench and basically flooded everything with piss water. So now we are covered in urine and instead of telling us to go back, get cleaned up and get all the piss off of us, they said just load everything up in the trucks and move outside of the cop and conduct your patrols out of the trucks. So now we have to go walking soaked in urine and patrol in the heat. The first email is part of a now-iconic electronic flood emanating to and from South Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who's cozied up to the likes of David Petraeus, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, U.S. Central Command leader Marine Gen. James Mattis and Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a Navy SEAL and Mattis' second in command. Emails to and from Kelley famously helped torpedo the career of Petraeus, who resigned his position as head of the CIA over an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and put a chill on Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. His nomination to head NATO forces in Europe has been put on hold while the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General investigates his email exchanges with Kelley (which, while voluminous, are not worrisome content-wise, according Rep. Tom Rooney, who was briefed by the FBI). The second stream of emails was from a platoon leader in the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. This, too, set off a chain of events, though with far less cacophony and, so far, only symbolic results. A day after writing to his wife, Sitton emailed Rep. C.W. Bill Young, complaining, among other things, that his brigade was "averaging at the minimum an amputation a day … because we are walking aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives." On Aug. 2, Sitton, 26, on his third combat tour, was killed by an improvised explosive device in that same field, along with 1st Sgt. Russell R. Bell. His death spurred Young to change his views on Afghanistan and call for a more immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. Young was so enraged by Sitton's death that he had a congressional hearing Sept. 20 to find out what the military is doing about IEDs. Back in Tampa, meanwhile, Jill Kelley's party scene continued apace. On Sept. 25, she invited Buckhorn to another bash with Centcom's No. 2. Bob Hope you're well. Tomorrow Bob Harward will be joining Us at the Stone Crab party at the Yacht Club. Would you and Cathy like to join us? Your friend, Jill Five troops died last week in Afghanistan: Staff Sgt. Rayvon Battle Jr., 25, of Rocky Mount, N.C., died Nov. 13 in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 38th Engineer Company, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Sgt. Matthew H. Stiltz, 26, of Spokane, Wash., died Nov. 12 at Zerok, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. Capt. James D. Nehl, 37, of Gardiner, Ore., died Nov. 9 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, from small arms fire while on patrol during combat operations. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Bennett, 26, of Glendora, Calif., died Nov. 10 in Sperwan Gar, Afghanistan, from injuries from an improvised explosive device during combat operations. He was assigned to the 53rd Ordnance Company (EOD), 3rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Spc. Daniel L. Carlson, 21, of Running Springs, Calif., died Nov. 9 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Carlson was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii There have now been 2,141 deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.