Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson

September 19, 2008 by Philip Barron · 4 Comments 

Another troubling story of a “non-hostile” military death in Iraq, another military family desperate for answers from an uncommunicative Army. CNN reports on the death of Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson:

Darryl Mathis waits in his Pensacola, Florida, home for the body of his 24-year-old son to return home from Iraq. Mathis, a military veteran himself, was seething with anger Thursday as he spoke about the death of Army Staff Sgt. Darris J. Dawson.

Dawson, and Sgt. Wesley Durbin, 26, are said to have been shot and killed by another U.S. soldier on Sunday at a base south of Baghdad.

Darryl and his wife, Maxine (Dawson’s stepmother), say the military has told them nothing about the incident: no details on his death, no information at all.

His voice shakes as he says he believes that the military has let him down.

“I’m very disappointed — very,” he said. “If I would get a straight answer, if they would actually tell me what’s going on, I would have something to work on; but right now, I have nothing to work on. Everything I’m getting, I’m getting from the media.”

As with the case of PFC LaVena Johnson, the initial military response has been grudging, fragmented, and contradictory:

CNN phoned an Army base in Fort Stewart, Georgia, to ask for more details on the incident. CNN was then e-mailed another press release — this one written by Gen. Tony Cucolo, the commanding general of the Third Infantry Division — that a press officer said had been drafted on Wednesday.

That release also had not been e-mailed to reporters, as is customary.

“We do know one soldier, a fellow noncommissioned officer, allegedly opened fire and mortally wounded his squad leader and fellow team leader,” reads the statement.

A spokesman at Fort Stewart said, “A soldier has been taken into custody. The incident is under investigation, and that is all I can say.”

The spokesman would not even confirm information in his commanding general’s press statement.

It remains to be seen whether the front-page media attention given to Sgt. Dawson’s death by CNN will result in a more forthcoming response from Army investigators. We hope that CNN will broaden the scope of its attention to include LaVena Johnson, and other soldiers whose deaths in service remain shadowed.

September 18, 2008 by Philip Barron · Leave a Comment 

Dilemas, a new Spanish-language online publication by journalism students in Santiago, Chile, recently published a story on the LaVena Johnson matter written by its US correspondent, Fernando A. Torres. En espa

Deaths awaiting answers

September 11, 2008 by Philip Barron · 3 Comments 

The bleak refusal of Army investigators in response to the Johnsons’ call for a renewed investigation of LaVena’s death has been well-noted here and elsewhere on the Web. LaVena’s case is just one of many, however; stories of other soldiers whose deaths are shrouded in secrecy, and whose loved ones still await investigation and explanation by military authorities, are coming to light. In May of 2007, this website noted an article by Diane Farsetta, senior researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, titled

Second Oversight hearing on military sexual assault

September 10, 2008 by Philip Barron · 2 Comments 

A second hearing on sexual assault in the military is being held today by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, a branch of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing will be held in room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building and was to begin at 10:00 am Eastern. Slated to appear before the subcommittee is Dr. Kaye Whitley, chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office of the Department of Defense. Whitley had been subpoenaed to appear for the first hearing, but had been prevented from appearing by Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Michael Dominguez. The panel’s reaction to that earlier interference by Dominguez:

Full committee Chairman Henry Waxman called the DoD

Message board added to LaVena website

September 9, 2008 by Philip Barron · 5 Comments 

A message board has been added to the PFC LaVena Johnson website. The new forum, running on phpBB which will be familiar to many, provides space for discussion and community beyond the scope of website commenting. The style of the forum is provided by Brian Gardner, author of the Revolution theme for WordPress which the LaVena site employs.

Visitors are invited to stop by the forum, look over the posting guidelines, and begin the discussion!

The Jim Bohannon Show visits LaVena’s case

September 4, 2008 by Philip Barron · 2 Comments 

The parents of PFC LaVena Johnson, John and Linda Johnson, are scheduled to be interviewed on The Jim Bohannon Show on Monday night, September 8, during the 11 pm hour. Also scheduled, during the second half of the hour, is Coz Carson of US Talk Network, who interviewed John and Linda in August. Carson will speak about media coverage on LaVena’s story, particularly the role of alternative media outlets.

(Note: Coz Carson will return to LaVena’s story on US Talk Network with an interview of LaVena’s uncle, Joseph Johnson, at 2 pm Eastern on Friday, September 5. Carson plans to host someone connected with this story each week.)

You can find an affiliate near you that carries The Jim Bohannon Show by using the Bohannon site’s station finder. Alternatively, the program is available as a podcast; the URL and instructions are also posted at the website.

The Jim Bohannon Show is aired weeknights over the Westwood One radio network. Bohannon, a Vietnam veteran, is also the host of the weekday America in the Morning and the Sunday program America This Week.

“Army Strong”

September 3, 2008 by Philip Barron · 4 Comments 

You are doubtless familiar with the marketing slogan first announced by the United States Army in 2006: “There’s strong, and then there’s Army Strong.

In its battle to win the hearts and minds of recruiting-age Americans, the Army is replacing its main ad slogan — “An Army of One” — with one it hopes will pack more punch: “Army Strong.”

The new approach, the fruit of a $200 million-a-year contract with a major advertising agency, was announced Monday by Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey. He said “Army Strong” will be the centerpiece of a multimedia ad campaign to be launched Nov. 9, timed to coincide with Veterans Day weekend.

Army Secretary Harvey dispatched a message to “the Army family” extolling the concept:

Army Strong stands for a big idea. It speaks to the truth about the U.S. Army – that Soldiers develop mental, emotional and physical strength forged through shared values, teamwork, experience and training… that by making the decision to join the Army, an individual is choosing to recognize potential strength within him or herself and develop it further… that an individual Soldier is choosing to take charge of his or her future and career… that Soldiers actively choose to make a difference in their lives, their families, their communities and for their nation.

It is a big idea, echoed in television, radio, and online advertising, including the website. The focus here is on the personal development of the individual soldier and the fostering of a very special kind of strength – that only the Army can provide – to aid in that development. Buried here, however, is the question: Strength for what?

An army is a collective, and its value lies in its collective force. Any soldier will acknowledge the crucial importance of teamwork, the blending of strengths in a common task. One of the most crucial common goals is support for fellow troops: taking care of the man – or woman – at your side, and leaving no soldier behind. “Army Strong” should mean that much if it means anything at all – and, again, it is hard to imagine that any soldier would find fault with that.

When the Army fails to take care of one soldier, then the Army’s strength has failed.

I began blogging about LaVena Johnson and launched the original petition to the two Armed Services Committees because of the Army’s blunt dismissal of the concerns of LaVena’s family over the investigation of her death. The service’s bureaucratic refusal to answer the Johnsons’ questions about how LaVena died and how Army investigators arrived at their conclusion of suicide was evidence of a failure to care about family – one military family in particular and by extension everyone in what former Secretary Harvey called “the Army family.”

In the absence of this fundamental support from upper echelons, it is up to each individual soldier on the ground – the men and women who served with LaVena – to provide the last act of caring possible now, to step forward and speak on her behalf. That would be an act of strength.

Though I am a civilian – I have never served in the military – I want very much to believe in an Army that cares for its own and fosters individual strength for noble common purpose. But when I see or hear those “Army Strong” advertisements, all I can think of is LaVena.

New profile of LaVena posted

September 2, 2008 by Philip Barron · 1 Comment 

LaVena’s father, Dr. John H. Johnson, has submitted a profile of LaVena in order to provide a little more background on the kind of person she was as a daughter, a student, and a soldier. This essay has been posted on this website’s About page.