War with Iraq: A Personal Perspective

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There are many children and other family members of public housing tenants nationwide currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some are fighting in the War with Iraq, and others are on active duty maintaining the peace in other countries at home and around the world, while some are being prepared for land, air and sea warfare at various basic training camps nationally.

My two sons, nephew and brother are part of this military effort. I am a 42-year-old single parent of six children – three boys and three girls, ages 24 to 11, who were reared from 1989 to 2002 in the infamous Chicago public housing “projects.” My soon-to-be 21-year-old son Antonio Johns is an Army Specialist by rank and a welder by trade. He is part of the maintenance crew from Fort Riley, KS. He was scheduled to go to Kuwait but since the war ended, that plan is now on hold.

Antonio enlisted straight out of Englewood Technical Academy, a high school on the South Side, in 2000, where he attended ROTC for 4 years as an honor roll student. My 18-year-old son Alonzo Johns is a Seaman Apprentice in the U.S. Navy. Alonzo attended Hyde Park Community Academy in 1999 but completed the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy program for high school dropouts in June 2002, earning his General Educational Development (G.E.D.) diploma. He enlisted soon thereafter, and graduated from basic training in Great Lakes, IL this January. He is currently undergoing submarine training at the naval base in Groton, Connecticut.

My 19-year-old nephew Marchello DeeLuchiarono is a private first classman with the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, TX. He is part of the reinforcement crew that was ordered for battle in late March. Marchello also enlisted straight out of high school in 2001 after he graduated with honors from South Shore Technical Academy in Chicago. He scored high on the Armed Forces’ mandatory educational test for newcomers, which gave him the option of working in the personnel department.

But that was somehow changed to tank training when the talk of war with Iraq began. After completing tank training in South Korea for a year, he was assigned to Fort Hood, TX and immediately given his command papers to leave for Iraq as a Tank Operator. My 37-year-old brother Harry W. Youngblood Jr. is Specialist Sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division. He is part of the 50th Medical Company, a paratrooper that rescues the wounded during combat.

Harry has been serving in the military for about 17 years. He served in the first Gulf War and is back again for this conflict. Before the War with Iraq began, very few people asked me why I let my children enlist in the Armed Forces. When they found out, their response was, “That’s great. That will help them down the road. I wish them well.”

Since the war started, however, people have on occasion asked me why I didn’t stop my sons from enlisting in the military. To keep it real, I respond, “What’s out here for them?” I don’t agree with U.S. President George W. Bush, who vowed to dethrone Saddam Hussein in order to supposedly “liberate the Iraqi people” from Saddam’s longtime fear tactics and tyrannical actions, such as using chemicals weapons on many of his own people, and killing thousands of them during the 1980s War with Iran.

But I don’t see why I should have stopped my sons from enlisting. They are young Black men from a low-income background who wanted to work and go to college to better themselves. But the opportunities for them outside the military – at least the opportunities they could access in the time they wanted – have proven to be slim to none.

I’ve made a successful transition from welfare to work, but not from welfare to rich. With two of my children still at home, family members in need and an ever-increasing flow of bills, I knew – and my sons knew – that I wouldn’t be able to handle the expenses of college tuitions, books and class courses, and trying to assist with paying back student loans to keep them out of debt.

Jobs are scarce for many these days, and the ones that currently have employment, their jobs are threatened as companies and corporations fold and declare bankruptcy because of the economy. People continue to be laid off from their jobs and are seeking unemployment at a fast pace.

Nothing but cuts, cuts and more cuts in low-income programs. Even now, middle-class students attending private universities are finding it hard to pay for attending college. Experts on the subject of colleges and universities fear that a growing number of students from low-income to middle-income families who have attended public universities could soon face increasing college costs.

Colleges are even expecting cuts in their budgets, which could mean the loss of student jobs and elimination of popular freshman courses. My sons said they wanted to join the Armed Forces for reasons like the ones I’m sure many of the other soldiers have said to their loved ones. It will take care of a place to live, provide for all other living expenses, contribute greatly with the college financing, and they could travel the world. And with the above in mind, I agreed without reluctance.

I’m sure that even though it was explained to them that they might have to engage in mortal combat, I don’t think that they fully contemplated the real danger of warfare until now. But that is a choice that they made and I agreed to. Frankly, I see similarities between fighting in military combat trying to escape flying bullets with living in Chicago’s infamous public housing “projects.”

Living in the “Jets,” there is a constant threat of being hit by enemy crossfire. You never know when bullets will be flying past you while trying to get home from work, school or wherever. Your nerves are constantly on edge while waiting at the bus stops near public housing sites that are in the vicinity of ongoing gang warfare over drugs and property that doesn’t belong to them.

My thoughts are constantly with all of the courageous men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way during these dangerous times of warfare. My son Antonio recently told me during a phone conversation in early April that he would not be taken prisoner.

He said, “I am not going to be a POW. They will just have to kill me.” The thought of being captured, tortured and perhaps killed appeared to be more unbearable for him than to die on the battlefield. This really threw me for a loop, and caused me great concern. So, to keep Antonio, Alonzo and Marchello encouraged while being in the military, I’ve sent them little fictional comic strips that I created, featuring them as the main hero during warfare and using their nicknames as the title characters such as “U.S. Super Ninja Tony ‘Main Love'” for Antonio, and “Mister, The Mighty Naval Conqueror” for Alonzo, and “U.S. Super Cott Man, The Notorious Outlaw,” for Marchello.

I’m currently working on a comic strip for my brother Harry, who is in Mosul, Iraq right now. I recently received a letter from him in which he provided me with the information on where to send him letters and other items that remind him of home. It took a while for me to receive the letter. It was dated March 20 and stamped March 22, but I only received it on April 4. In the letter, he asked me to send him some Hot Stuff potato chips, some Fabreeze to guard off the odor that is steaming off his clothing that he has worn since the war began, and some sunflower seeds.

I also think about the other brave and courageous young men and women currently fighting in mortal combat. Many of them are straight out of boot camp and have young children at home. Whenever possible, I remind my sons, nephew and brother to not only pray to the God of all creation for themselves during these trying and dangerous times, but to also remember their fellow comrades in arms.

I pray for them as well and include my children at home in my daily prayers, too. After all, you can just as easily die on the mean streets of Chicago as anywhere else, for that matter.

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