Soldiers recently returned from Iraq gave an unfiltered and unflattering
assessment of the war’s human toll as they detailed their war experiences
to a crowd of Oakton Community College students and faculty Wednesday in
Des Plaines.

One officer lost more than 38 pounds in the Iraqi desert when his unit ran
low on food and water. Another was sent to the front lines without body
armor. They witnessed soldiers blown to bits and mourned the loss of others
who killed themselves when they returned home — often excluded from the
government’s official body count.

And they’ve been frustrated with buddies who have had to wait months for
medical services or for their claims to be decided by the Veterans Affairs

‘People are unaware’

“There’s a tremendous human cost of this war, and America isn’t prepared
for it,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Army infantry platoon leader from
New York and founder of Operation Truth, a national soldier organization
that is touring college campuses to present an alternative view of the war.

Rieckhoff criticized the military for not releasing the entire number of
those killed or injured in Iraq, a figure he said is far greater than the
1,416 listed as killed and 10,622 listed as wounded by the Defense Department.

“It takes guys like us to embarrass [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld
before things get changed,” he said. “The military is being run into the
ground, and the American people are unaware of what’s really going on.”

The group showed a documentary in which former soldiers from Iraq — many
of them amputees — were angry about how the government treated them once
they returned, complaining they were met with a “nightmare of paperwork” to
get medical and disability benefits


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