Soldier's E-mail Changes House Defense Chair's Position on Afghanistan

An Army team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Sitton of Largo, Fla., upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on August 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton knew there was the threat of casualties when he deployed to Afghanistan for his third tour of duty, but he said he was "totally on board with sacrifice for [his] country."

What he didn't agree with, though, was his chain of command, who mandated Sitton's 25-man platoon to take twice-daily patrols through fields littered with explosive devices. The platoon was averaging an amputee a day, Sitton said, and since the patrols didn't have an end goal, he didn't see the point of risking such extreme danger.

Sitton was so concerned with his platoon's safety and morale that in June, he wrote a measured letter to Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., who chairs the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

"I feel myself and my soldiers are being put into unnecessary positions where harm and danger are imminent," Sitton wrote in an e-mail. "There is no endstate or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain time standard."

"We are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives," he wrote.

On Aug. 2, less than two months after he sent the email, Sitton, 26, was killed by an IED blast. He left behind a wife, a 9-month-old son - and an 81-year-old Congressman with a new perspective on Afghanistan.

Young is the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, and he has continuously voted against troop drawbacks from Afghanistan, or even for setting a timetable for troop withdrawal. But after Sitton's death, Young noted a change of heart.

"I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can," Young told the Tampa Bay Times this week. "I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die."

Young's new position on Afghanistan comes as President Obama's troop drawback plan marks another milestone. Last June, Obama ordered the U.S. military to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this summer, effectively ending the troop "surge" he deployed in 2009. Today the last of those troops left Afghanistan; 68,000 American troops remain.

The plan also calls for those American troops to be out of Afghanistan by 2014. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney supports this timetable, but Young's influential position in the House could mean more GOP support for the drawback.

In a meeting with Tampa Bay Times editors, Young said he's come to a new realization throughout the past three months, as he visited Veterans Administration hospitals and met with veterans about their time in the field.

Sitton's death also played a role, he said. Young said the Army Ranger predicted his own death in that e-mail, adding, "What he said would happen, happened."

Young has served in the House of Representatives since 1970 and is now running for his 22nd term.