Letters from the Issue of January 6-12, 2005

Not Just Nail-Pounders

Navy Seabees can handle bullets as well as bulldozers: First allow me to congratulate Eric Alan Barton on a very well-written and touching portrait of the realities of war in his article "The Deadliest Day" (December 30). However, I feel he failed to do his homework, and as a result did a disservice to the Seabees in the story and to the thousands of U.S. Navy Seabees serving around the world. To quote the article: "None of the Navy reservists from Mobile Construction Battalion 14 was supposed to have been anywhere near the fighting. The men were part of a Jacksonville-based unit of construction workers called Seabees. They're heavy-equipment operators, welders, and drywall specialists, more likely to be carrying tool belts than guns." This theme is repeated throughout the article.

The Seabees and in particular the Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) are the Navy's elite combat-engineer battalions. They were forged in the combat of World War II and are designed specifically to provide direct combat support to the U.S. Marine Corps and other combat units. The Seabees and Navy SEALs are the only naval units specifically organized and trained for direct ground combat. They are routinely stationed with the Marines and in fact are trained as a unit to provide for perimeter security at any large Marine combat base to which they are assigned.

The illusion that they are mere construction workers and not subject to combat is the result of the NMCBs being used in noncombat construction-support operations during times of peace. I do agree that our current NMCBs and in particular the reserve NMCBs have not received the level of combat training they should have. But this is true throughout our reserve and National Guard systems and reflects the political influence that local politicians have exerted over the training and use of these units.

Keep up the good work and keep the pressure on to ensure all our troops have proper training and equipment when we choose to put them in harm's way.

Donald R. Justin, USN (Ret.)

Flint, Michigan

Giving New Meaning to the Term "Market Forces"

Something is very wrong when mercenaries are treated better than our soldiers: First I saw "The Deadliest Day" on the cover of New Times, then I saw this December 31 Miami Herald headline: "Iraq job companies calling up Colombian ex-soldiers." What the hell is going on? Our military serving in Iraq -- getting crap pay, risking and giving up their lives -- are doing so to make us all safer at home. Our reserve units of older men and women with very little combat training are doing likewise. But our government doesn't think enough of them to extend health insurance to their immediate families.

Meanwhile well-connected private companies are raking in so much money they're hiring people from the private sector to do the same jobs as some of our soldiers -- but for six-figure salaries. There is an awful stink here, and it's not just dead bodies.

Alan Rigerman

Northwest Miami-Dade

I'm Humbled to Be Your Mayor

And first my first official action will be a power grab: Tristram Korten's column about Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's plans to increase the mayor's powers ("The Fidel Factor," December 23) reminds me that it seems like every time a mayor gets elected in Miami, he decides he needs to change the government. This is a perfect example of why Miami is truly a banana republic!

Instead of working hard to honor his promises to clean up the government, Alvarez is trying to change his job, something that will take a lot of time and effort. That's not why the people voted for him. His actions amount to a betrayal of the public trust. He seems to be a typical Miami political hack whose foremost concern is his own personal power.

A.V. Batista


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