Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Mother of slain Sgt. Matthew Sitton wants more answers — and in person

LARGO — Cheryl Sitton's questions are simple. To her, the answers should be, too.

And so far, she's not satisfied with what top U.S. military officials have explained in the wake of the death of her son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton. So she'd like the chance to talk to them in person.

On June 4, Matthew Sitton wrote a letter to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. In it, Sitton asked for help. For months, he wrote, his platoon had been mandated to patrol empty fields and compounds littered with explosives. His objections, and requests for an explanation, were disregarded. He was told to quit complaining.

About two months after writing that email, Sitton stepped on an explosive and died. He was 26.

Young, deeply disturbed by Sitton's message and subsequent death, sought answers. A response came from the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno.

Young called Mrs. Sitton and, in basic terms, detailed explanations that satisfied neither of them.

The congressman told her that, according to the general, the commanding officers who had mandated those patrols would be given different assignments when they returned to the United States.

"That's not fixing the problem. That's moving the problem," Mrs. Sitton said Friday. "Now that these guys aren't going to be putting Matt's men's lives in danger, they're going to be putting some other guys' lives in danger."

Mrs. Sitton says she doesn't want anyone to lose a job, but a mere reassignment won't change a culture in which she believes it was acceptable to issue orders that forced American soldiers, including her son, into death traps.

"That is unacceptable to me," she said. "That's an unacceptable answer."

The Army's other response offered even less clarity — and more frustration.

The Taliban was especially strong in the area Sitton's platoon patrolled, she said Young had been told. Her son's men were the best the Army had, so they were assigned to that area.

"Our question was not why they were there. That's not the question. We know why they were there," she said. "Our question was: Why are they doing the two-to-four-hour foot patrols in areas that are littered with bombs?"

Through Young, Mrs. Sitton said, Odierno has requested to speak with her. She agreed, but declined to do it over the phone. She wants to meet with him in person.

Sitton's death, though not unlike many others in recent years, has drawn widespread attention because it prompted Young, R-Indian Shores, to announce that after a decade of war, he believes it's time for America's soldiers to leave Afghanistan.

He's received more than 200 emails from constituents since the announcement. Only two of them, he said, were critical.

Many of Young's Republican colleagues, whom he declined to name, have also voiced support.

"They've been waiting for somebody to say it," he said, "and they're glad I said it."

Like Mrs. Sitton, though, Young's work on this issue has just begun. He wants clear answers from the Army about why Sitton, and many men like him, have died. He wants to know that it won't happen again.

"I just don't think we are protecting the soldiers to the extent that we should be," he said. "The threat is growing, and I don't see anything being done about it."

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.

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