Mother’s Day has a bitter twist for Pat Gunn. Her son, Army Specialist Jason Gunn, was sent to Iraq on Mother’s Day 2003. He sustained horrifying injuries in an explosion there last November, and a military psychiatrist recommended that he be kept out of combat. Nevertheless, earlier this month Jason was sent back to regular duty in Iraq. Now, his family has learned that his Iraq duty, due to end at the beginning of May, has been extended another 90 days. There will be no peace for Pat Gunn this Mother’s Day.

Jason Gunn is one of thousands of soldiers, Guard members and reservists being involuntarily retained by the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” orders and returned to battle zones to defend the Bush administration’s failed Iraq occupation.

In a phone interview from her home in Lansdowne, Pa., Pat Gunn described her son’s experience. Jason, who turns 25 in May, was severely wounded Nov. 15 in Iraq when an improvised explosive device hit the Humvee he was driving. His sergeant, in the seat behind him, was killed, torn in half by the blast. Jason was riddled with shrapnel wounds, an artery in his leg was severed, his elbow was mangled, and he lost hearing in one ear.

He was sent to Germany for treatment. A military psychiatrist diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, prescribed two drugs – one for anxiety, the other a dream-suppressant, and recommended he be retained in non-combat duty. He was allowed to come home for a period of recuperation.

“There were huge holes in his body – hundreds of them,” Pat Gunn said. “The whole time he was home we were pulling rocks out of the holes” – fragments from pavement near the explosion. “Every morning and night I had to soak the packing, pull it out and put in new packing,” she said. While at home Jason had nightmares and sweats. “He was very frightened. He was a very different person from before,” she added.

On Jan. 1 he flew back to Germany, limping, walking with a cane. He went back with the understanding that he would be in a non-combat unit and would be able to continue his medications and therapy, his mother said. “As soon as he got back, he called. He said, ‘They want to send me back [to Iraq].’ We were floored.”

On March 24, the family received an official e-mail stating that Jason had been cleared for redeployment to Iraq. The memo said the return to Iraq would help Jason overcome his stress.

The Army produced a statement it claimed Jason had signed saying he was fit for duty. His mother says Jason could not have signed such a statement unless perhaps he were coerced or heavily medicated. Jason, a triplet, has two brothers stateside. His brother Justin, a veteran, studied a faxed copy of the statement and told his mother, “That’s not Jason’s signature.” It remains an unresolved mystery for the family.

“Officers told him he was a coward if he didn’t return to Iraq,” Pat Gunn said angrily. Just last fall, she noted, Jason received an award for bravery, citing him for risking “life and limb” while rescuing victims in the attack on the UN office in Baghdad.

When the war started, Pat Gunn said, “I believed we were going over there because Saddam Hussein was conspiring with Al Qaeda and they were harboring weapons of mass destruction … We needed to go over there to protect our country.” It turned out that “we were being lied to.”

Letters from her son told how U.S. soldiers were forced to act as a police force, shooting people for stealing petty objects. “They weren’t protecting our country,” she said. “They were all really starting to question what in God’s name they were doing over there.”

She is now an active member of Military Families Speak Out, marching and speaking to end the U.S. occupation and bring the troops home safe.

“A lot of other mothers are realizing what’s going on over there,” she said. “I’m really angry that we’re there, that we were lied to.”

“We’re the only ones who support the troops,” she commented. “The military is not supporting them with water, flak jackets, all the things they need to do their job.” Noting that parents have to send flak jackets and other supplies to their children, she repeated, “It’s the government that’s not supporting the troops.”

The author can be reached at here for Spanish text


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.