4 years, 10 months ago
Good friend of The Captain’s Journal John Bernard is in the news.
NEW PORTLAND, Maine — It was the last way John Bernard would have wanted his voice to gain prominence in the national debate over the war in Afghanistan. The retired Marine had been writing to lawmakers for weeks complaining of the new rules of engagement he believed put U.S. troops at unacceptable risk in the insurgency-wracked country. He got little response.
Then Bernard’s only son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard — a Marine like his dad — was killed in an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province, the latest victim of a surge in U.S. combat deaths.
Three weeks later, Joshua became the face of that toll when The Associated Press published photos of the dying Marine against his father’s wishes and John Bernard was thrust into a national debate about the role of the press in wartime.
Suddenly, for all the worst reasons, John Bernard’s voice was being heard.
The loss of his son and the furor over the photo have given new resonance to his view that changes must be made in how the war is fought before President Barack Obama sends any more troops to battle the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“For better or for worse, I may be the face of this. That’s fine,” said Bernard, sitting on his porch as he drank coffee from a Marine Corps mug. “As soon as someone bigger can run with it, they can have the whole thing.”
Bernard’s criticism is aimed at new rules of engagement imposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, five weeks before Joshua Bernard was killed. They limit the use of airstrikes and require troops to break off combat when civilians are present, even if it means letting the enemy escape. They also call for greater cooperation with the Afghan National Army.
Under those rules, John Bernard said, Marines and soldiers are being denied artillery and air support for fear of killing civilians, and the Taliban is using that to its tactical advantage. In a letter to his congressman and Maine’s U.S. senators, Bernard condemned “the insanity of the current situation and the suicidal position this administration has placed these warriors in.”
“We’ve abandoned them in this Catch-22 where we’re supposed to defend the population, but we can’t defend them because we can’t engage the enemy that is supposed to be the problem,” he said in an interview with the AP …
The Taliban “are tenacious and you have to fight them with the same level of tenacity,” Bernard said. “If you’re going to try to go over there as a peacekeeper, you’re going to get your butt handed to you, and that’s what’s going on right now.”
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It’s been a little more than a month since Joshua was buried in a small cemetery about five miles from their 1865 farmhouse in the rolling hills of western Maine, where the leaves of maples, oak, birch and poplars are turning fiery red, orange and yellow.
Bernard has accepted the loss, but his grief is obvious. He pauses from time to time to take deep breaths as he speaks of his son. Several times, he closes his eyes, as if remembering …
Bernard, 55, joined the Marines in 1972 and served 26 years on active and reserve duty, leading a platoon as a scout sniper in the first Gulf War in 1991. Physically fit, with closely cropped hair and a Marine Corps tattoo on his arm, the retired first sergeant remains a competitive shooter.
He and his wife, Sharon, raised Joshua and their daughter, Katie, 25, in New Portland, population 800. The family attended Crossroads Bible Church in nearby Madison.
Father and son shared the same philosophy: service to God, family, country and Marines — in that order, Bernard said.
Joshua was quiet, polite and determined. He led a Bible study in Afghanistan and earned the call sign “Holy Man.”
It looks as if the family is happy and having fun, Josh is physically fit and has a medium-reg haircut. This is good. It’s the way he should be remembered. Visit John at Let Them Fight.