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After His Son was Killed in Iraq, One Man Makes a Difference

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Operation Truth got this letter yesterday from Brian Hart. Brian is a hero and patriot. He and his wife Alma lost their 20-year-old son, John Daniel Hart, a soldier the Army's 173d Airborne Brigade, two years ago during an ambush in Taza, Iraq. Just days before his death, Private First Class Hart had called his father from Iraq to tell him that he and his fellow soldiers felt very vulnerable driving around in a Humvee that lacked bulletproof armor or even metal doors.(full story here)

Devastated, Brian turned his sorrow into action. He built a motivated network of soldiers, military families, politicians, and contractors to demand that the military strengthen its Humvees and better protect our troops. Brian has become an incredibly effective activist on behalf of our men and women in uniform, has appeared on CNN, and now runs an excellent blog called "Minstrel Boy", in honor of his fallen son. We all owe this courageous man a debt of gratitute. Here is the letter he sent us yesterday:

November 6, 2005

Dear Friend,

We received this photo by email from Sgt. Nick Pulliam in Iraq. An excerpt from the email was, “I attached a photo that you might want to post. The vehicle in question was hit by an IED on the road from …. The entire crew was o.k. thanks to the added armor. Our convoy witnessed this explosion and we were first on site to recover the vehicle. It now resides on our lot ….Thanks again for your, and Alma's, efforts on our behalf.”

(the sign reads "Thanks to: Brian + Alma Hart, Senator Kennedy, and everyone else who care for our wellbeing and makes an effort *you have saved lives)

I have stared at the photo in humble appreciation over the weekend trying to decide whether or not to post it. After all, we should be thanking the Pulliams of this world instead, the unheralded soldiers that did their job, those willing to go in harms way, come what may.

Since John was killed two years ago, Alma and I wanted to get the word out about the shortages of equipment with the simple mission of reducing casualties – of doing right by him for the comrades he was willing to die for. We never wanted to be the story – just get the problem solved and move on. But over time, somewhere, somehow, we became hopelessly intertwined in the prickly vines of our time that ensnare our hearts and threaten to smother the soul of our nation.

I would put Nick’s photo in a box safely away with similar photos of wrecked vehicles we’ve received and alongside the crude cardboard memorial built by John’s comrades as an ad hoc memorial – a simple frame made of wood from a crate, painted white – the collected treasures of our heart. The phrase in Nick’s picture written on cardboard with a marker that caused me to change my mind and forward his message along is, “thanks … everybody who cares for our wellbeing and makes an effort. You have saved lives.”

Alma and I are mindful of the great many that went above and beyond the call to get the issue of body and vehicular armor addressed over the last two years. To those that wonder if their individual efforts ever made a difference against the stupidity of uncaring bureaucrats and the insanity of our times. So I have decided to post this photo. Also I forward to you by email this humble letter of thanks as you were part of the solution and did something.

As I think over the last two years, I hardly know who to thank first. There are so many to whom we are indebted, and almost all of whom desire anonymity.
• We thank Sen. Kennedy for taking us seriously and going to bat for soldiers over 10 times now on vehicular and body armor procurement. He will never get the credit he deserves.
• We thank Sen. Reed of Rhode Island for being on the ball from the beginning;
• Mrs. B1 in Connecticut that cornered Rep. Shays in a diner and got him to agree to Rep. Meehan’s resolution on accelerated armor production if Rep. Simmons concurred; to Mrs. B2, another mother of a soldier that harassed Rep. Simmons office to take our calls and to Rep. Simmons for co-sponsoring Meehan’s resolution in 2004.
• To thank Mrs. B2 for taking in soldiers at Walter Reed as if they were her own and with dogged persistence seeing that they got the treatment they deserved
• To thank employees of Armor Holdings that went above and beyond the call to produce equipment,
• To Rep. Murtha who spent an hour and a half on the phone with me after Dr. Silber got him to take my call because he was willing to get to the bottom of the fact that Congress was being lied to by generals regarding humvee production capacity and their disheveling statements about funding and then he got the appropriations needed. Without his help and later Duncan Hunters I’m certain hundreds, if not a thousand more would be dead.
• Of Tommy in upstate NY, who collected antique military vehicles, who pointed out to me almost immediately that this problem had occurred before in Vietnam and who doggedly pursued congressmen, senators and talk show hosts from the cab of his wrecker to get the truth out. Now in his late 30s he has enlisted to do his part even though he is old enough to know better. God bless him.
• The many mothers of soldiers that tracked down their congressmen, especially those families from the National Guard.
• To thank Mrs. Patti Bader-Patton who runs Brandon’s Blog and founded Soldiers Angels because she showed me the power of the internet to get a message out and the benefits of unyielding tenacity. When wounded soldiers came in droves to military hospitals in Germany with nothing but a hospital gown, she raised thousands of dollars with Mrs. Saucier and Mrs. Nicholson to give them basic toiletries, and as much dignity as could be packed in a backpack.
• Congressman Young’s wife who visited daily the soldiers at Walter Reed and our friends there the Schieders.
• Of many thanks to soldiers that risked their careers to tell us the truth in emails and phone calls to cold and lonely graveside testimonials.
• Relatives and friends that wrote letters to officials, who tried to hand letters to Cheney who would not accept them.
• Sen. McCain that swung a few critical votes to keep the humvee plant running this summer when all else failed.
• Rep. Weldon that helped the Bernsteins.
• Soldiers for the Truth and Operation Truth for being a forum and honest broker of news for enlisted personnel unable to speak up for themselves.

I want to thank the many journalists that stood up and helped us and to shame those gray and timid souls that didn’t -- A public affairs statement from the Pentagon is not the whole news and sometimes not even the truth.

So I type our thanks with tear-blurred eyes and cloudy mind -- to everyone who cared for the soldiers’ welfare and made an effort to make a difference – together perhaps we did.

Brian & Alma Hart