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Military spouses spar with CNN's Starr

Sep. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Longtime CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has apologized to two military spouses who were irked by her comments in an Aug. 29 report on possible military action in Syria.

In the report, Starr said there is no question that the military can afford another mission.

“And I don’t think it’s really going to affect military families at all,” she said, according to a transcript. “This is going to be, if it it is ordered, a cruise missile strike, no U.S. troops on the ground, Navy ships out in the eastern Mediterranean that would be on deployment anyhow. So the capability is there. The money is there. Because what we’re talking about is something that will last, we are told, just potentially a couple of days.”

In a letter posted Sept. 4 to the HuffingtonPost.com, military spouses Rebekah Sanderlin and Molly Blake, both journalists, wrote: “There is no such thing as a person-less war. Our military cannot afford for Americans to forget that wars and battles and military strikes are fought by troops, that troops are people, and that those people have families.”

As for being able to afford another mission, the spouses wrote: “In our military communities this summer we couldn’t even afford to pay federal employees for a five-day work week,” referring to the six weeks of one-day-a-week furloughs ordered for most Defense Department civilians.

The spouses described difficulty getting doctor’s appointments and counseling services to deal with problems created by 12 years of war.

“There’s no such thing as ‘no boots on the ground.’ We in the military community sigh and shake our heads when we hear talk like that from the people on TV. Perhaps you consider a relatively small number of troops to be the same as zero — but we don’t. We know that each of those service members is somebody’s somebody.”

CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Blake said Starr sent her a private message on Twitter after their piece posted, which said, “Sincere apologies again for inadvertent offense. In fact several times on air in recent days I have spoken on air on fam burden.”

“I certainly appreciated Barbara’s swift response and apology,” Blake said, “and I’m hopeful that she will continue to help spread the message that military families are always affected by war.”

Since 2003, Starr has made repeated trips to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, where she has embedded with troops, according to her biography on the CNN site. She has profiled numerous wounded troops and reported regularly on fallen troops. Before joining CNN in 2001, she reported on military and national security affairs for ABC News. She also previously worked for Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Vivian Greentree, director of research and policy for Blue Star Families, said Starr’s statement gave the impression that an attack on Syria would be “just be another day” for military families.

“Hearing someone like Barbara Starr say it’s not going to have an impact shows the disconnect” between the military and the larger population, she said.

It highlights the concern among military families, she said, “that the larger population doesn’t understand we are at war and what it takes to do that. ... It’s a lack of awareness. We’re still at war. We are still under sequestration.”

Sanderlin and Blake said the response to their letter from fellow military families has been largely positive.

“Most of the feedback I’ve received has been from people thanking us for writing it,” Sanderlin said.

“I think the issue is that military families are frustrated that when talk turns to future military strikes or the war in general, it rarely includes any thoughtful discussion about how it will affect the families,” Blake said. “It’s been happening for the past 12 years. Couple that with the devastating cuts from sequestration and it’s like salt in a wound.”

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