By Kay B. Day
Elizabeth Kilbride—Betty to those who get to know her—has a special place in her heart for people who serve in the military. Her father served in the U.S. Army; her brother served in the U.S. Marines. She grew up in Levittown, N.Y., the first planned community for veterans in the U.S.
By the time Kilbride reached adulthood, there wasn’t much she didn’t know about the military. From the social atmosphere at VFW posts to the military fondness for acronyms, Kilbride had an inside view. And by the time the U.S. entered the War on Terror after being attacked, Kilbride found herself in a unique position, that of observer and writer. She traveled to Iraq, embedded with a Marine Corps unit. She recorded her experiences in the just-released book ‘Soul of American Warriors’ (Fathers Press, 2009).
Few writers and virtually no one from elite journalism circles share the perspective Kilbride has. Her book is shaped as a memoir, and she shares information no other media has covered. It comes as a surprise that in a country where the enemy is not readily identifiable, at a time when violence was raging, locals were preparing and serving our soldiers’ food.
Kilbride was surprised to find pink and white light fixtures in one chow hall—“God only knows why.” She was even more surprised to find the workers weren’t Americans. “They were either locals or from other countries in the region. I felt as though they were continually watching me…” She noted the troops eating there with “a look about them as if to say, let me eat my meal and get the hell out of here as soon as possible.” Obviously, the environment offered little respite to the men and women who ate there every day.
Another surprise Kilbride delivers relates to a company often vilified by neoliberals—Halliburton. A subsidiary of Halliburton runs the chow halls. That same subsidiary dates to the Great Depression, and the company gained considerable influence through two Democrat nobles, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. Few realize or admit the subsidiary owes much of its success to Democrats.
Kilbride recounts her journey in straightforward prose, and the overriding takeaway for the reader is the author's protective attitude towards those who serve in the military. Her own upbringing and the loss of a close family friend killed in Vietnam figure in that attitude. Like many others, Kilbride also witnessed the lack of respect and outright disdain leftwingers showed troops returning from Vietnam. Her approach manifests an attitude of “never again.”
Asked why major media often view troops with an unsympathetic eye—indeed, media rarely report on the bridge building, relief supply efforts and other humanitarian activities our military engages in—Kilbride believes the cause isn’t really politics. Of major branded media, she said, “They tend to only look at their ratings and getting their piece on the air…These cases don’t give them the ‘If it bleeds, it leads factor’ for a nightly news piece. Instead of helping raise awareness of how al-Qaeda operatives work, they would rather run a story with little or no substance instead.”
One example is another revelation in Kilbride’s book. Major branded media tend to paint Saddam Hussein as a benevolent tyrant because of the infrastructure he built. But that paints an incomplete picture. The Euphrates River water treatment plant was built in the 1970s, but once Hussein gained power, the plant wasn’t maintained. Kilbride wrote, “It was to have serviced a large area of Iraq…the plant, which had once produced running water and electricity, became dormant under his leadership…”
Why did a perfectly good plant lay idle? Because Hussein used it as a weapon for control. Kilbride wrote, “When he shut down the water plant, he was then able to control them. They became dependent upon him for everything, from food, water, to necessities of life.” And in a country where air conditioners could be life savers, Hussein’s policies caused prices to remain out of reach for many who lived in villages.
Not unexpectedly, Kilbride is at present advocating for 3 Navy SEALs and a U.S. Army captain facing charges stemming from detainee accusations in Iraq. Many conservatives believe current political policies will have an impact on troop morale. “Morale in Iraq and Afghanistan is high within the ranks,” Kilbride told The US Report. But she pointed out that policies from both politicians and The White House “are demoralizing to those in uniform.”
Kilbride, however, acknowledges circumstances leave little time for troops to worry about politics. “Their mission comes first. Staying alive comes second. Unfortunately, with the current rules of engagement that are in place, a warrior can’t be concerned whether he or she will be charged with murder while in a combat zone.” She wrote that doing so “could potentially cost them their lives.”
Kilbride said she “never envisioned becoming a writer” when she was young. But she always enjoyed writing. And she said she “never thought that passion would take me to a combat zone one day.”
Americans are eager to show support for the troops, and the author suggests a number of ways to do that. “Ask them what their experience was like while in country.” But leave the politics aside. “Ask them the positive questions, not about death and destruction.”
It’s also helpful to get involved with military-related charities, or to sponsor events to help troops and their families. She suggested contacting your local VFW, American Legion or Patriot Guard Riders to see what’s needed.
Kilbride’s book is a rare firsthand account. Because she wasn’t a salaried employee of major branded media, she didn’t have an editorial agenda in place beforehand. Because she didn’t have to support a political ideology, she reported on what she saw and felt towards the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.
Kilbride's book is an intriguing account of what life in a war zone is really like, from the cumbersome life-saving equipment soldiers wear to the bare bones living conditions in some outposts. She assembles a complex scenario where politics, military and war entwine.
If you talk with her, you’ll quickly realize Kilbride is pretty fearless. Asked if she would go back to Iraq or Afghanistan if given the chance, she didn’t hesitate. “In a heartbeat!”