Winter Soldier: Fight to Survive

Story Transcript

Fog of war

MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST: I’m at the final day of Winter Soldier, where I’m going to speak to Garrett Reppenhagen, a former sniper in Iraq and writer for the military blog Fight to Survive.

GARRETT REPPENHAGEN, IRAQ VETERAN, SNIPER IN DIYALA: A lot of times, you know, we fire into a crowd because we see a muzzle flash, even if that crowd has civilians in it. It’s just collateral damage to us. It’s very difficult. Oftentimes you just can’t determine who’s who. While I was in Iraq, the testimony that I gave yesterday, I accidentally killed deputy governor bodyguards that we thought were insurgents, plus in that same firefight we actually killed three civilians who were driving in a car towards us, plus they ran into a man hiding on the side of the road that was riding a bicycle.

PALEVSKY: And would you call these atrocities?

REPPENHAGEN: I mean, I think the whole war’s an atrocity. It’s hard. I mean, I can’t even fault the major who’s in charge of that unit, because he was trying to do the best that he could to get his unit home and safe and alive ’cause it was his responsibility. And it’s just hard to pin down on the individual soldier. When you use that word, it just really put the blame on the lowest man, and I don’t think that’s fair, ’cause I think the highest man in command is in charge of putting us there, especially the civilian leadership that decided to send us to this war without much purpose and without very much direction, without very defined goals. And we’re in this ambiguous environment where we’re not wanted by the Iraqi people, and the majority of Iraqi people support violence against US soldiers. Even if they don’t actually take part in it, they support it, and it’s very hard to operate as a US soldier in that environment without going to war with the actual people of that country.

PALEVSKY: So was your testimony and the panel you sat on about rules of engagement meant to show people ways in which this war is being waged that are wrong? Or simply that when you wage war that these kind of things happen?

REPPENHAGEN: I think that the causes, the conduct, and the consequences of this war are wrong, and I think it’s all of it together. It boils down to the rules of engagement, how they’re purposely skewed to make it easier to have these sort of events occur, and how people hide behind them once these events happen, and how there’s no guidelines in defined I guess SOP of what the rules of engagement are, because they’re so frequently changing and they’re so misunderstood.

PALEVSKY: Do you think Americans generally understand the realities in war?

REPPENHAGEN: I think if Americans took the time to listen to veterans’ stories, without the ideology of either left or right, but just the straight stories of their war experiences, honest and true, I think that most Americans would make the reasonable decision that the war is wrong and we need to pull out.

PALEVSKY: Unlike Vietnam, just about everybody today says that they support the troops. You see bumper stickers everywhere. When you were in Iraq, what made you feel supported?

REPPENHAGEN: You know, not much. I mean, when I was there, you know, Bush still had something like a 75 percent approval rating. He just got reelected. I mean, I didn’t feel very supported. I guess I felt the most supported when I saw mostly antiwar activists talk about how they love the soldiers and care for them and want to bring them home, because they feel so deeply connected to them, that they want to be safe and want to be back home [inaudible] justly, and I thought that showed a lot of support.

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