by BRIAN TROMPETER
The Persian Gulf War seemed like a piece of cake to those who watched it on CNN.
The ground war lasted merely 100 hours, U.S. forces lost only 299 of nearly 468,000 deployed troops and Iraqi soldiers surrendered in droves.
Sheehan-Miles, 30, a soft-spoken Vienna area resident, wrote a novel, “Prayer at Rumayla,” to help him heal his psychological wounds.
The book’s protagonist, Chet Brown, struggles to overcome his war horrors.
Arriving back at Fort Stewart, Ga., Brown cannot adjust to civilian life and the stateside military. He arrives late for duty, but that’s only the beginning of his troubles.
His fiancee runs off with his best friend and the base is commanded by officers who disdain the returning Gulf War troops.
The book’s narrative is gripping, even to those who know little about the military, weapons or combat.
The novel is written in first-person present tense, alternating between Brown’s angry antics at home and blow-by-blow flashbacks of battle.
Sheehan-Miles has Army lingo and procedures down pat. The reader has the sense of being a green recruit who’d better get up to speed quickly. One mistake could get everybody killed.
If Chet Brown seems vulnerable even in his 60-ton, armor-sheathed M1A1 Abrams tank, imagine the plight of ill-equipped, poorly trained Iraqi soldiers facing such awesome forces.
The novel also captures the – well, let’s say chicken-poop – nature of the military, with its pointless inspections, drudgery and sadistic, score-settling officers.
Sheehan-Miles self-published the book and hopes it eventually will be picked up by a publisher.
Chris Kornkven, former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center and an Army medic during the war, said readers will benefit from the novel’s honest descriptions of battle.
“His book really puts to rest the myth the Gulf War was a videogame war,” Kornkven said. “It should be read by a lot of people who think today’s wars are neat, clean and antiseptic. It also should be read by people who wonder why soldiers change after they come home from war.”
Fairfax resident Paul Sullivan, who served in a scout platoon during the Gulf War, said the book shows why the country must care of its combat veterans.
“Coming home is more than a parade,” he said. “It means taking care of the soldiers not only with physical wounds of war, but mental health wounds as well.”
An Atlanta native and son of a Vietnam War veteran, Sheehan-Miles studied history at Georgia State University and joined the Army in 1990.
Assigned to the 24th Infantry division, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia in August 1990, just days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
On the third day of the ground war, Sheehan-Miles fought at the Battle of Rumayla, an oil field located west of Basra, Iraq.
During the battle, U.S. forces blew up an Iraqi fuel truck, which splattered flaming fuel into a nearby truck loaded with soldiers.
The Iraqi soldiers, their clothing on fire, tried to run away, but were killed by machine gun fire.
Sheehan-Miles said it’s hard to live with shooting people in the back, but he and the other U.S. soldiers had no choice.
“In tactical terms, we did exactly the right thing,” he said. “You don’t let people come driving through your position.”
One of his unit’s tanks was destroyed in the chaotic battle; its crew escaped with minor injuries. Sheehan-Miles said the tank never should have been in a position to mix with enemy vehicles.
Sheehan-Miles left the military as a conscientious objector in 1992. “At one time, I envisioned a military career,” he said. “Killing people stopped that.”
After his discharge, he worked for American Technical Resources and Unisys Corp. before becoming a systems training engineer with Teligent Inc. in Vienna.
He lives in the Blueberry Hill subdivision with his wife Veronica and their children, Khalil and Amirah.
Sheehan-Miles also has been heavily involved in veterans’ issues. He was executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center and is a board member with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
He’s fought for a safer anthrax vaccine and championed the plight of soldiers who breathed radioactive dust from exploded depleted-uranium artillery shells.
He also forced the government to admit 120,000 soldiers were exposed to Sarin gas after U.S. forces blew up an Iraqi chemical dump.
Sheehan-Miles favors lifting the economic sanctions against Iraq, which by World Health Organization estimates have killed about 1 million people.
“It’s creating an entire generation of people who hate America,” he said. “Those people are going to come back to haunt us.”
Sheehan-Miles, who supported Ralph Nader during the 2000 presidential elections, said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. retaliations in Afghanistan have their roots in the Persian Gulf War.
“The Gulf War happened in large part because of corporate interests,” he said. “Our foreign policy shouldn’t be based on oil.”
“Prayer at Rumayla” costs $21.99 and will be available from booksellers on Jan. 17. Visit www.rumayla.com.
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