Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Forrrest Wilder, was published by the Texas Observer, August 17 2009.
In March, Michael Kern, 22, returned to Fort Hood after a year and a day in Iraq.
Shaken by his experience and disgusted with the war, Kern, a native of Riverside, Calif., tried to readjust by getting as hammered as possible. “Put it this way: For the first month, I was drunk at work, I was drunk 24/7.”
In Iraq the violence had been fast and furious. “We were going through all sorts of bad shit: mortars, IEDs, indirect fire. Anything you can think of we experienced the first day.”
On his second mission, Kern drew the short straw to drive the lead vehicle—a “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicle—in a convoy looking for a weapons cache near Baghdad. An IED exploded next to his vehicle, damaging his door. The platoon pulled back to base. The next day, April 7, on an identical mission, insurgents came after his unit with AK-47s, machine guns and IEDs. During the nine-hour firefight, a sniper killed Kern’s buddy, Sgt. Richard A. Vaughn. Two others, including Kern’s lieutenant, were seriously injured.
Kern tells me his story over two days in July at Under the Hood Café, a new GI coffeehouse and soldier-outreach center that opened in February. Since mid-May, when a drunken Kern first dropped in, Under the Hood has become his second home. While awaiting a medical discharge for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, he’s here almost every day, working out what happened to him in Iraq, planning anti-war events and helping other soldiers come to terms with their combat experiences. The coffeehouse provides a support network, friends who’ve helped him quit drinking, people he can call on day or night, and provides what Kern appreciated most about the military: a sense of camaraderie.
“If it wasn’t for this place, it’s sad to say, I feel like I would be dead. I feel like I would have killed myself,” Kern says.
Under the Hood is a rifle shot from the east gates of Fort Hood in a grim commercial zone of tattoo parlors, pawnshops, car lots, payday lenders, bars, strip clubs, and a place advertising “gold grillz” for teeth—establishments eager to drain young soldiers of their earnings. In this garrison town, the café has become a gathering place for dissident GIs, peace activists, veterans and active-duty soldiers who need help.
Inside, the walls are decorated with peace propaganda, including a map of the world pinpointing U.S. military interventions and a poster that reads, “You Can’t Be All that You Can Be if You’re Dead.” A bookcase is stocked with anti-war literature. For entertainment, there’s a dartboard, a foosball table and a big-screen TV with PlayStation. No alcohol is allowed, but there’s no shortage of cigarette smoke.
I came here to suss out efforts to build an anti-war movement within the Army. Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the country, has produced a smattering of war resisters in recent years. I met some of them at the coffeehouse, including Victor Agosto, an Iraq War veteran who refuses to deploy to Afghanistan, and Casey Porter, a mechanic who did two tours in Iraq. Porter, preparing to attend film school in Florida, recorded local life in Iraq, posting interviews with military personnel, battle footage and unvarnished street scenes.
Over the past four years, I’ve come into contact with scores of military personnel through my involvement with the Austin GI Rights Hotline, a group of volunteers trained to counsel service members about their rights.
Once a week, I sit on my couch and talk on the phone to soldiers, Marines and airmen who call with a dizzying array of issues, from the mundane to the impossibly complex. Many are stationed at Fort Hood. We get AWOL cases, people with untreated PTSD, 18-year-old enlistees who’ve found out their recruiter lied to them, middle-aged soldiers who’ve been stop-lossed, moms and dads calling on behalf of their kids, gay officers who’ve been outed—you name it. Some have made poor decisions; others are victims of a sometimes capricious, even cruel military system.
I got into it through my girlfriend. Katherine was in the news some years ago for being the first female conscientious objector to emerge from the war in Afghanistan. The military refused to recognize her as a conscientious objector, and after a long and painful process she was court-martialed and sentenced to 120 days in the brig. She ate lunch every day with Lynndie England, the young West Virginia woman best known for holding the leash in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos.
Joeie Michaels, Michael Kern’s roommate and an Under the Hood regular, used to dance at Babes, a Killeen strip club popular with GIs. Performing there, she made sure the troops left with a flier for the coffeehouse.
Under the Hood’s signal event was a Memorial Day peace march in the streets of Killeen, the city’s first since Vietnam. The Killeen newspaper reported about 70 participants. Cindy Thomas, the military spouse who manages the coffeehouse and plays den mother to the young, often-raucous soldiers, estimates about 10 to 15 were locals, including veterans and active-duty soldiers.
“It’s like a mother with a child,” Thomas says. “It’s unconditional love, and we help them any way we can.”
The building housing Under the Hood’s local antecedent, the Killeen coffeehouse Oleo Strut, is a few blocks away; it now houses an office complex. The Oleo Strut had a four-year run from 1968 to 1972, according to a history on Under the Hood’s Web site. Run by civilians and veterans, the Oleo Strut plugged Fort Hood soldiers into the Vietnam anti-war movement and spread their ideas in the barracks. An underground newspaper circulated from the coffeehouse, and the crowd there organized demonstrations and teach-ins. Musicians passed through, purportedly including a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“The tinder was very dry,” says Tom Cleaver, an Oleo Strut alum, Vietnam veteran and Hollywood screenwriter who helped raise money to start Under the Hood. “They ended up in ’69 and ’70 having big demonstrations there, a thousand guys marching in Killeen against the war.”
Fort Hood at that time was a holding station for soldiers returning from Vietnam with less than six months left on their enlistments. Before being discharged, many were deployed to suppress domestic riots and protests, including those at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Here they come back to America, and what does the Army want them to do?” Cleaver asks. “Fight a war in America. That radicalized a lot of guys. They came back with bad feelings about the war, and now they were supposed to go defend the war.”
There’s no draft now, nor is there a broader social counterculture, to tap into. Given that, Thomas says, one of Under the Hood’s primary functions is giving soldiers a place to speak openly.
“The military, they don’t want you to think for yourself,” Thomas says. “They don’t want you to be informed; they don’t want you to know that you have support because they function by fear and intimidation over these soldiers. So when you have a space where you can talk freely and find out what your rights are, you have that support, you have that kindness. It is a threat to them.”
One coffeehouse regular, Spc. Ben Fugate, told me that after his commander spotted his name in a Killeen Daily Herald article about the Memorial Day peace march, his unit was lectured for two hours on the dangers of protesting.
Fugate, who describes himself as “very conservative,” had been quoted in the paper saying, “I lost three buddies in my platoon in Iraq, and for what? Why lose more when we don’t have to?”
Kern, seated on a couch in a cozy back room at Under the Hood, explains how he became a coffeehouse fixture. It’s a Thursday in July, and he’s wearing a T-shirt that asks, “Got Rights?” He’s pale and swallowing tranquilizers to suppress panic attacks.
“I’m fucked up,” he says. “I know it.” Later, he says, “You know how they say a teenage boy thinks about sex every eight seconds. Every eight seconds I think about Iraq.”
Kern, a tanker, says his unit averaged about two and a half missions per day.
At first, Kern says, he was gung ho: “I was an excellent soldier. I took joy out of killing people in Iraq. It was such an adrenaline rush. I craved it.”
Over time, bravado faded into depression, guilt and a strong feeling that the war was wrong. When Kern deployed to Iraq he took a small handheld digital video camera and a laptop with editing software. He fixed the camera to his vehicle’s turret and captured hours of patrol footage.
Some of that raw video has been distilled to a 10-minute film called Fire Mission that’s available online.
In the film’s last minutes, Spc. Steven Pesicka, a soldier in Kern’s unit, narrates what he calls a “mortar mission for shock and awe” near an Iraqi village. The first mortar lands near a house, and the forward observer calls for the next one to be targeted 200 meters farther from the village. The mortar team thought that was too far away, Pesicka says. The film shows the second mortar hitting the town. “Oh fuck,” the forward observer is heard to say. “They did not drop 200 [meters], over. They hit the town.”
Minutes after the explosion, the soldier describes dead bodies being loaded into the back of trucks.
Such experiences led Kern to a radical form of empathy.
“If you just take a step back and you think, I mean, I’d be doing the same thing if Iraqis were in the United States,” Kern, dressed in battle fatigues, says in Fire Mission. “I’d be the dude trying to plant a bomb under the road. I’d be trying to kill them. Oh, hell yeah, get the fuck out of my country.”
Beginning in May or June, Kern started having nightmares, sometimes while he was awake. On several occasions he hallucinated an Iraqi child with half his skull missing, as real to him as the desert heat. His psychiatrist says the child might represent guilt, but all Kern knows is that it scared the shit out of him. In January, on his birthday, while his unit was on patrol, he told a commander—in confidence—that he was going to see a mental health specialist. The doctor prescribed Zoloft and sent him on his way. Back with his platoon, Kern discovered that the commander had ratted him out to his platoon sergeant.
“I was called out in front of the entire platoon, was made an example of, saying why are you going to mental health. This isn’t a war. This isn’t bad.” The next day, on a mission, Kern talked openly of suicide. “Still to this day, my buddy doesn’t know he talked me down, but I really wanted to kill myself on that mission. I had three loaded weapons sitting right next to me. I could have done it real easy.”
Back home, Kern avoided his demons, drowning them in drink. Thomas and Michaels encouraged Kern to open up.
“They’d be like, ‘How was Iraq?’ I’d say ‘Oh, it was just Iraq.’ I kept brushing it aside and stuff. They kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna break, you’re gonna break. You need to get help.’ ” Kern relented.
Michaels found a psychiatrist in Austin whom Kern has been seeing twice a week for free. In May he visited Fort Hood’s mental health services office, but was told he’d have to wait six weeks to see a doctor.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi child had followed Kern back to Texas. On the first of June, Kern was in the bathroom at Under the Hood when the child made an appearance. Afterward, Thomas and Michaels found Kern sitting outside under a tree. “The look on his face was just empty. His eyes were hollow,” Thomas says. Kern entered the 12-bed psychiatric ward at Fort Hood’s military hospital. He spent the next week there, emerging with a diagnosis of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Doctors put him on five medications, including tranquilizers, antidepressants and antipsychotics, which he carries in a small orange pillbox.
A week after being released, Kern started a blog, “Expendable Soldier.” In his first post he wrote, “I still hate myself and everything I do. No matter what I am doing any day of the week I some how am still reminded of the things I did while I was in Iraq, and sometimes it gets so bad that I believe I am still in Iraq. ... Sometimes I wish I never came back.”
Still, Kern reports for duty at the coffeehouse every day. He’s working on restarting an Iraq Veterans Against the War chapter in Killeen and talking to other soldiers about the coffeehouse. Does he feel like he’s become part of an anti-war movement? “I am part of an anti-war movement,” he says. “There’s no ‘feeling’ about it.”
The Resistors is a new film made for Under The Hood Cafe.
Now I know how I spelled "Resistors". But I did spell it that way for a reason. "...produces a voltage across its terminals that is proportional to the electric current..." They provide balance to the system. See how these Soldiers and civilians work together to create that balance and support each other where the Army fails.
The events told in this film took place in 2008, and the interviews taken in 2009 near the end of the same deployment. I ask that when you watch, do not think of them as "the people over there" or as "just Iraqis". But imagine them as if it was your neighborhood that was hit, your family members that where killed.
This column, by Seth Ewing, was originally published in the Merced Sun Star, December 27, 2008
As a returning veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I would like to address some areas of concern in the local Merced community that affect our returning veterans who currently study at Merced College and UC Merced.
First is the issue of the Individual Readiness Reserve, or IRR. Many people are unaware of what the IRR is. People who are familiar with it refer to it loathsomely as "the back-door draft." Every service member signs an eight-year contract, regardless of how many years are spent on active duty.
For example, if a soldier signs up for two years active duty, he or she will have to wait out a remaining six years on the IRR roster. A majority of young people join the military in order to receive money for college. This is especially true for the community of Merced, where poverty is a major affliction.
The problem is that there is no special protection for student-veterans who are being recalled into active duty. Some feel that soldiers and other members of the military deserve everything that happens to them in Iraq or Afghanistan simply because they volunteered for it. Such apathetic thinking is absurd.
Young veterans who've come home as I did look at war in many ways. Some continue to believe in the truth and worth of their mission. Others, as I have done, question whether their commitment was worthwhile.
Every member of the military takes an oath to defend the United States, uphold the Constitution and obey the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The notion that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is vital to our defense is absurd. Iraq never harbored al-Qaida until the United States made it possible by removing the previous government, therefore creating a suitable environment for anarchy.
Al-Qaida in Iraq has now grown into a myth that is a moral justification for an illegal war unsanctioned by the United Nations. The United States is a member of the U.N., and, as a member, the U.S. is required to follow the rules of the U.N. The U.S. is in no way exempt from following those rules.
It is important to remember that the reason for the initial invasion was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass-destruction. It's now known that there never were any of these weapons, and some suggest that Vice President Dick Cheney forged the evidence of WMDs. This raises the question: is it possible that if the government lied about Iraq, could it possibly be lying again? The answer is yes -- it is possible.
Afghanistan is even more easily refutable. The true intentions of the Bush administration are to set up an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea, through Pakistan, Afghanistan and finally ending at the Indian Ocean. The Caspian Sea is one of the world's main sources of crude oil and natural gas.
Hamid Karzai, the Bush-appointed president of Afghanistan, is a former Unocal employee. The exact hour is now known when Osama bin Laden crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan, eluding the CIA and U.S. forces in 2001. The only reason the Bush administration keeps letting him get away is so he can be their Orwellian Snowball, the pig in "Animal Farm" who received all the blame for anything going wrong.
Pakistan used to be No. 1 on the list of terrorist states until 9/11 when it became an ally of convenience that could facilitate the pipeline. It should also be noted that each and every 9/11 terrorist had a Pakistani visa stamped on his passport.
The final clause in a service member's oath states that a service member must obey the orders of the president. This is true. But what do you do when the orders of the president are unlawful -- as proven previously.
In a free society, leaders are held to the same laws as the citizens. When you break the rules, you must be held accountable.
It seems only just that when the Bush administration leaves office that some of its members be put on trial for their unlawful actions. These include fraud, abuse of power for financial gain and the murder of innocent lives, among many other crimes including the legalization of torture as an interrogation technique.
It is unfortunate that an act of free expression -- the incident of Iraqi journalist Al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at President Bush -- has shifted attention away from the Bush's most recent treaty guaranteeing U.S. occupation until the year 2011. This undermines President-elect Obama's authority, whose plan calls for a full troop withdrawal by the end of 2009.
It is unconceivable that even now, veterans who have left the Army are now getting recall orders in their Christmas stockings. Veterans who have already suffered through numerous combat deployments. Veterans who have families with children they will never see growing up. Veterans who are struggling financially who are going to college on the GI Bill.
Our local community doesn't need to sit idly by. Giving special protection for student-veterans isn't enough. We need to end these two conflicts. A small idea in Merced County can spread and change America. Spread the word -- it is never too late for justice to be served.
This video was posted by IVAW on their homepage, August 20, 2008
IVAW member Casey J. Porter out of Fort Hood, TX, sends his fifth video from Iraq. In his words: "Featuring statements from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Former President Bill Clinton, The O'Reily Factor host Bill O'Reily, amongst many others. This is a look into the arrogance and lies of those who promoted, and continue to promote this war interlaced with combat footage straight from Iraq. Included are scenes of Soldiers not only speaking their minds, but speaking the truth about the continued occupation of Iraq. Also featured are some of the harsh realities of combat and in the midst of that combat, good Soldiers continuing to make the best out of it by helping their "adopted" child at their combat outpost. This is an honest look into the minds of Soldiers, and an honest look into their lives during a deployment. This is Deconstructed."
This was sent by Casey, to the IVAW website, August 6, 2008
Well, it's official sports fans! My chain of commands knows about my little hobby of making videos. The Battalion Commander talked with my Company Commander about my films, asking if he has seen them. The conversation took place about a week ago. Hector Torres, the a Soldier who can be seen in The First Days and Day of The Mechanic, was on radio watch with our Commander got the call. That was a week ago. Nothing has happened yet. Yet being the keyword. Everyone has to go see the reenlistment NCO and since I got back last night from outside the wire, I had to go see him this morning. He told me knew I was not reenlisting, he has seen my "artwork". I have already talked to legal and they are not sure what to do, so they are going to contact a lawyer and get more info. They also have not informed any of my NCOs. So really, only upper level command is tracking this. I am NOT asking anyone to do anything yet. I just wanted to let everyone that they know.
This discussion, with Spc. Casey Porter, Colby Buzzell and Kimberly Pierce, was originally broadcast on Democracy Now, July 1, 2008
With about 175,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US military has been forced to rely on a controversial policy known as “stop-loss” to force soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints had ended. We speak with two US soldiers: one on active duty in Iraq on his second tour of duty after being stop-lossed, the other facing redeployment after being stop-lossed. We also speak with Hollywood director Kimberly Peirce about her feature film, Stop-Loss.
JUAN GONZALEZ: With about 175,000 troops deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US military has been forced to rely on a controversial policy known as “stop-loss” to force soldiers to continue serving after their voluntary stints have ended. Some have described the policy as a backdoor draft. Critics say stop-loss hurts troop morale, burdens troops’ families, damages the credibility of military leaders and threatens recruiting.
On Thursday, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Democratic Congresswoman Betty Sutton of Ohio introduced the Stop-Loss Compensation Act, which would require the Pentagon to pay troops affected by stop-loss an additional $1,500 for each month their service is extended.
Hollywood has also taken up the issue. A new full-length film titled Stop-Loss has just been released on DVD.
AMY GOODMAN: Casey Porter is an Army specialist who recently returned to Iraq after being stop-lossed. In a moment, he’ll join us on the phone from just outside Baghdad. But first, I want to play a short clip posted on Casey’s YouTube page. It’s a news report broadcast in Casey’s hometown of Austin, Texas on his recent deployment.
NEWS 8 AUSTIN REPORTER: Eddy and Linda Porter have a lot to do. They’re not moving or sending their kid off to college; they’re packing up their son Casey to send him off to Iraq.
LINDA PORTER: It’s just going to be another hellish year.
NEWS 8 AUSTIN REPORTER: Porter has been deployed once before, but this time it’s different.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: I honored my commitment. Why is my commitment not being honored on the other end?
NEWS 8 AUSTIN REPORTER: Specialist Porter had just three weeks left of his enlistment, when he was expecting to receive discharge papers but instead received this, which said in just three months he’d be headed back there.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: I think it’s a slap in the face to veterans who have to go through this, because I know there are several other people in my position.
NEWS 8 AUSTIN REPORTER: Actually, there are several thousand across the country. Others’ attempts to legally fight stop-loss in the past have failed.
LINDA PORTER: I view stop-loss as a selective draft. It is only against those people who volunteered.
AMY GOODMAN: Army Specialist Casey Porter joins us now from Iraq. Welcome to Democracy Now!
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Tell us about this stop-loss, about returning to Iraq.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, during my last deployment, we were given a list of options, because the unit I was in was going to Fort Carson, Colorado. And at a certain point in your Army career, the military knows you’re not going to reenlist, so they limit your options. And what it is, is it’s not by chance that those options are limited. They knew that I would not reenlist, so what they do is they—you only have one option, essentially, because you don’t have enough time left in service to go other places. So they put you into a unit or a brigade, like they did myself, and so you are guaranteed to be stop-lossed.
I was supposed to be out January 21, 2008. I deployed March 9, 2008, and I’m currently in Baghdad just south of Sadr City. And I signed up knowing that I would go to Iraq. I signed up and never malingered or tried to get out of going, so if I conduct myself with honor and integrity, two Army core values, I would like to see the military conduct themselves in a similar way.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you call yourself an “undercover soldier” now. You’ve been filming fellow soldiers dealing with some of these issues. Could you talk about that?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Yes, on my site youtube.com/caseyjporter, I decided to use my talents as a filmmaker, because that’s my ultimate goal when I get out of the Army, is to make films. So I decided to take the lessons learned from filming and apply that to sort of like a guerrilla-style filmmaking, because I know I’m not the only soldier that feels this way, whether they’re soldiers who have been stop-lossed or this is their first time over here and they’re seeing the truth for themselves.
But there are so many tricks to get soldiers to spend their money while they’re deployed. You know, in one of my films, The Staging Game, we go into a Harley-Davidson dealership in Kuwait. There’s also Harley-Davidson dealerships and Ford dealerships and representatives inside the Green Zone. And you can purchase a car while you’re deployed. And these are some issues that I think people need to be aware of before they sign up for the military, and also what combat really looks like.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Specialist Casey Porter, Army specialist. He’s stationed in Iraq just outside Baghdad. Casey, a doctor diagnosed you with post-traumatic stress disorder. What was the response of the military?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, I was filling out paperwork to get ready for this deployment, and I put on there, “I would tell you about my knee injury and I would tell you about my PTSD, but no one here cares.” So a civilian rep said, “No, I actually do care,” and was very respectful and kind to me.
So I went and saw a military doctor, and I—Major Carsus [phon.] at Fort Hood, Texas, and he was aware of my comments. And he said that, you know, I’ve insulted everybody in the room and was very hostile towards me. And he said, “You know how you deal with your PTSD? You go to Iraq, and you kill those savages.” Those were his words verbatim. And then, of course, I felt very claustrophobic, very closed in.
And then I had to see him one more time before I deployed. I had to take a several-hundred-question test. And, of course, as I was taking the test, I answered every question honestly, but I knew what the outcome was going to be: “You’re fine.” And all I’ve ever asked from the military, whether it be my knee injury or PTSD, is give me the respect and dignity I deserve. And that just isn’t the case with inside-the-military medical treatment.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What’s been the impact on morale of your fellow soldiers from the massive use of this stop-loss policy?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, I haven’t seen any soldier that’s thrilled about it. I could tell you that. They—a lot of them kind of feel that they’re trapped, that there’s nothing they can do, although I try to encourage soldiers to do, is I encourage them to join organizations like Iraq Veterans Against the War, which I’m a member of, to stand up for themselves. But they feel like, you know, there’s no legal recourse, there’s nothing they can do. It lowers morale, incredibly so. And even—and just the mission itself, I mean, driving around, waiting to get blown up, which is essentially what we still do, that is just—you know, just compounds that low morale.
AMY GOODMAN: Casey Porter, I wanted to play another clip that you’ve posted to YouTube, where you ask some of your fellow soldiers about their thoughts on stop-loss and being redeployed to Iraq.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: How do you feel about going?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 1: Not happy, not sad. In the middle.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Do you believe in what you’re doing?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 1: No. What are we doing over there, anyways?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: You know, it’s nice to know I’m not the only stop-loss soldier. Why don’t you tell us about your situation? How long you been stop-lossed?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 2: Nine days now. Nine days. Amazing. [inaudible] nine days, stop-loss.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: So how do you feel about that?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 2: Well, I need the money, so—but not good. I don’t feel good about it.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 3: I’m ready to go.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 4: The Army.
SPC. CASEY PORTER: How do you feel about not getting any extra pay for being stop-lossed?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER 2: Yeah, it’s pretty lousy, man. Pretty lousy.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sergeant Casey Porter, Army specialist, stationed in Iraq, questioning his—the other soldiers about stop-loss. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Casey, what’s been the response of your superiors to your filmmaking endeavors and your YouTube postings?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, I’m actually really personally insulted that no one has dragged me into their office yet. Nobody knows. Soldiers, of course—my fellow soldiers know, and they’re pretty enthusiastic about it, for the most part. But as far as upper-level command, they don’t know, or they don’t seem to act like they know.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about something you’ve talked about, Sergeant Casey Porter, and that’s a new kind of weapon, as you describe it, called a “lob bomb.” What is that?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, what a lob bomb is, is it’s a welding tank that stands a few feet tall. It’s under about 3,000 pounds of pressure. Now, what you can do—it’s, you know, full of oxygen. What you can do is you can drain all the air pressure out of that. You can take a blowtorch, cut that canister open, pack it with scrap metal and ball bearings, weld it back together, put it back under pressure, and then use rockets and mortars to launch it. And since none of the energy inside of that welding tank is expended, when it hits the ground it makes a much larger explosion, and it’s very damaging.
The military refers to it as an IRAM. I think it’s “improvised rocket-assisted mortar” or something—some ridiculous term like that. But we refer to it as a “lob bomb,” because they use a truck and a ramp-type device to just drive up outside the wall of a FOB and just knock it—pretty much just throw it sloppy over the side. And I found out the deaths from lob bomb attacks are being reported as small arms fire, specifically two deaths that are featured in my new video, Area of Operations.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Casey Porter, we’re going to break, then we’re going to come back. We’ll also be joined by another soldier who is here in the United States. He’s been stop-lossed. And we’re going to be joined by a Hollywood director whose film is called Stop-Loss; we’ll be joined by Kimberly Peirce.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in our other guests, as well: Colby Buzzell and Kimberly Peirce in Washington. Colby Buzzell served as an Army infantryman in Iraq during 2003 and 2004. He was recently stop-lossed and faces another deployment to Iraq. He was one of the first soldiers to blog from Iraq and is the author of the book My War: Killing Time in Iraq. Kimberly Pierce is also with us, director of the film Stop-Loss. Her first film was Boys Don’t Cry, for which the star, Hilary Swank, won an Oscar for Best Actress. Kimberly’s brother served in Iraq. And, of course, Specialist Casey Porter is still with us in Iskandariya, outside of Baghdad, in Iraq, who is stop-lossed there.
Let’s first go to our guest Colby Buzzell. Colby, talk about your experiences in the war and now, as an Army infantryman, being stop-lossed.
COLBY BUZZELL: Well, I joined up in, I think, 2002, and I joined the infantry, and I was stationed in the Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade Combat Team. And I was an M240 fully automatic machine gunner. And we did a year in Iraq, and, you know, I was stop-lossed for a bit when I got over there. But, you know, I did my time. And when we returned back from Iraq, you know, I opted to get out of the Army. And that was about three-and-a-half years ago.
And all a sudden, you know, I was—you know, the adjustment back was difficult, but, you know, I was making some changes and making some progress, and I was going to use my GI Bill to go to community college and study—you know, take a couple of photography classes. And right when I was doing the paperwork for going back to school, all of a sudden I get a letter in the mail saying that, you know, “You’ve been called back up” and in like four or five weeks, you know, report to Fort Benning, Georgia for purpose Operation Iraqi Freedom. Yeah, so that’s what happened to me.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Colby, your book’s been called—you’re the voice of a generation, in terms of the war in Iraq, but you started initially with the blog. And can you tell us how the internet and blogging has impacted the soldiers there and the reaction, both of your fellow soldiers and of your superiors, to the blog as it became so popular?
COLBY BUZZELL: Well, like, if you look at the Vietnam War, that they say that was the first televised war, but now with the internet, where everything’s instantaneous, you know, you have—I was there for the second year of the war. And at the beginning of the war, you had all these embedded journalists covering the war, but then once year two came around, they all kind of disappeared, like the whole time I was in Mosul, I never saw one single embedded journalist.
So you have these soldiers now creating blogs, doing videos on YouTube, doing the jobs of what journalists should be doing, you know. I mean, it seems like all the journalists there are just hanging out in the Green Zone. And you’ve got some journalists out there, you know, with the troops, but it seems like the troops doing these videos and blogs, you know, provides another perspective of the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Your blog was described as, well, being written by the embedded reporter the military couldn’t control, even though you, yourself, were an Army infantryman, with up to 10,000 hits a day. In one of the blogs that’s also in your book My War, you talk about what the military had described—or the media had described as a “skirmish” and you described as an all-out confrontation. Explain.
COLBY BUZZELL: Yeah. I was there for the second year of the war. It was an election year. And it seemed like every time we did a mission or something happened, like in a—I’d always read the Army press releases, and the Army press releases would always say the Iraqi army and Iraqi police did all the fighting, and we were in support. And the whole time I was there in Iraq, it was the complete opposite. We were doing all the fighting, and they were, half the time, nowhere to be seen or in support or show up way, way later, when all the shooting—when all the fighting was over. And I think that was the Army’s big problem with my blog, is I was contradicting their press releases.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And as you hear now of all of the changes in Iraq, that the mission is being—is now increasingly successful, that the violence is tamping down, what’s your reaction?
COLBY BUZZELL: It just reminds me of when I was there. When I was there, it was—you know, I kept on hearing the word “coalition forces.” You know, today in Mosul, coalition forces did this and that. And I never saw any coalition forces. You know, there’s so much—like I remember when I was there, that that happened, that never got reported. And, you know, people thought of Mosul as being a safe spot, but it was just because it wasn’t getting reported. So when I hear that Iraq is safe or—you know, I question—yeah, I question that. I find it hard to believe.
AMY GOODMAN: Colby Buzzell, why did you join? And now, how do you feel about returning?
COLBY BUZZELL: Well, my father did twenty years in the military, and he was in Vietnam. And, you know, a lot of people in my family joined the military. And when word was out that we might be going to the Middle East, I looked at—you know, I joined the Army for a lot of reasons. One of them was a sense of adventure, going out to the Middle East, being a part of history. So, yeah, I joined because of those reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn now to a clip of the film that Kimberly Peirce is director of, and that film is called Stop-Loss.
ARMY CLERK: It says here you have orders to report to the First Brigade.
SGT. BRANDON KING: Not me. I’m getting out today.
ARMY CLERK: Brandon Leonard King?
SGT. BRANDON KING: Yes.
ARMY CLERK: Out to the First Brigade on the 22nd.
SGT. BRANDON KING: This is a mistake.
ARMY CLERK: It’s all there. You leave on the 22nd, shipping back to Iraq. Subsection 12305, Title 10, by the authority of the President. You’ve been stop-lossed.
SGT. BRANDON KING: Lieutenant Colonel?
LT. COL. MILLER: Sergeant King, I did you out for a recruitment pitch in [inaudible], and you gave me an onion patch.
SGT. BRANDON KING: That’s what came to mind, sir.
LT. COL. MILLER: What’s your problem, Sergeant?
SGT. BRANDON KING: I’m supposed to be getting out today. Now they’re shipping me back to Iraq.
LT. COL. MILLER: You understand why it’s important we went over there, why we need good soldiers like you.
SGT. BRANDON KING: Yes, sir.
LT. COL. MILLER: You have extenuating circumstances? You gay or pregnant?
SGT. BRANDON KING: Sir, you know me. I’m a squared-away soldier.
LT. COL. MILLER: Because I have an extenuating circumstance, Sergeant. It’s called a war. It’s in Iraq.
SGT. BRANDON KING: I know, sir. I volunteered to fight in it. I ran over 150 combat missions for you, no complaint. Contract says stop-loss is only in a time of war. This president has said the war is over, so legally—
LT. COL. MILLER: You a lawyer, son?
SGT. BRANDON KING: No, sir. But after doing right for this army, I’m getting burned by some fine print in a contract. Now, the President himself said—
LT. COL. MILLER: The President is also the commander-in-chief. I think he trumps you either way.
SGT. BRANDON KING: With all due respect, sir, [blank] the President.
LT. COL. MILLER: [blank] the President?
SGT. BRANDON KING: Yes, sir. He’s not over there fighting this war. He’s not there seeing his buddies burned alive in Humvees. I lost three men last month. And I almost got the rest of us killed.
LT. COL. MILLER: Those are my men, too, and I lost more than that. You’re an excellent leader, and you are going back.
SGT. BRANDON KING: For eleven more years?
LT. COL. MILLER: It won’t come to that.
SGT. BRANDON KING: How do you know? I think the President trumps you in this matter. This, sir, is [blank], and you know it.
LT. COL. MILLER: Lieutenant, you’ve just heard Sergeant King disobey a direct order.
LT. WATKINS: Yes, sir.
LT. COL. MILLER: I also perceive him to be a flight risk. Escort him to the stockade, so he can readjust his attitude.
SGT. BRANDON KING: You’re making a big mistake.
LT. COL. MILLER: I’m doing you a big favor. End of discussion. Make sure he ships to the First Brigade when it goes out on the 22nd.
LT. WATKINS: Roger, sir.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Stop-Loss, starring Ryan Phillippe. Kimberly Peirce with us, director of the film, her first film called Boys Don’t Cry. Kimberly Peirce, why did you choose to do this film about Iraq when all the media was saying people aren’t interested in feature films on Iraq?
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: Well, it’s funny. I started working on this movie way before anybody was really thinking about Iraq, sort of, in terms of feature films. I had been in New York during 9/11. I’d been devastated by seeing the towers fall. And when we declared war, I mean, I knew that the soldiers were going to be the first and the most impacted, and I started interviewing soldiers across the country. And before long, my own little brother signed up. So I was IMing with him pretty much every day.
And I really wanted to tell the emblematic story of this generation, which, in some ways, it turned out to be these people who signed up to protect their family, their home and their country, but when they got over there, from in their words, they didn’t find the enemy they were looking for. They were fighting in the bedrooms and the hallways and the kitchens of people’s homes, and that made it very hard to not kill innocent people and to protect one another. So, many of the soldiers came home, particularly Sergeant King in our movie—you know, he got decorated with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and he just wanted to put the war behind him. He wanted to get on with his life, and he felt like he had earned that right. So he was shocked to find out that he was stop-lossed.
I actually found out about stop-loss from a soldier who was still in Iraq, and this was a soldier who was not particularly political, was fine, you know, doing his job. And he said, “Do you want to hear something”—I use the word “messed up,” but he used, you know, the term “f-—ed up.” And I said, “What?” And he spelled out for me “stop-loss”—S-T-O-P-L-O-S-S. It’s a strange term, so I, you know, wrote back to him, “I don’t understand. What is that?” And then he said, “It’s a backdoor draft.” And I said, “Well, what’s that?” And he said, “Well, they’re recycling guys who should be getting out. They’re breaking their contract, and they’re sending them back to third, fourth and fifth tours.” And he said, “I’m pissed off.” Now, again, because he wasn’t a political soldier, I said, “Well, why are you pissed off?” And he said, “I just got done fighting in Iraq with my best friend. He’s supposed to be getting out. Now they’re shipping him back. I don’t think his marriage is going to survive, and I don’t know that he’s going to survive.”
So, you know, I was already interested in the soldiers in the war, but particularly hearing what stop-loss was, I mean, stop-loss just basically heightened the drama of everything for everybody.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Kimberly Peirce, you mentioned at the beginning the you were instant-messaging your brother on a daily basis, and we were talking earlier with Colby Buzzell about the impact of the internet in terms of communications and consciousness among the soldiers there and in terms of what the American public is receiving. What’s your sense of how the ability to communicate instantly between the troops and the public has affected how people view the war?
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: Well, I’m thrilled with what Casey and Colby are doing. I think it’s phenomenal that we can be here and have questions about the war and the psyche of the soldiers, and in my case, you know, I wanted to know: what were they teaching my brother? How was he changing? Was he killing people? What was that doing to him? And so, on a daily basis, I got to say to him, “What are you doing? What are you up to?” You know, and he would say, “I’m doing the usual, you know.” And I’d say, “Well, what’s the usual? You’re in Iraq.” You know, and he would say, “You know, busting in houses, kidnapping people.”
I think it’s phenomenal that we can stay in touch with them, and I love the idea that they’re making their experiences so transparent. My brother, you know, and other soldiers brought back those soldier-made videos, which I think are like these anthropological finds, only we’re getting them now, you know, not in twenty years, where soldiers take these cameras and, I mean, as you guys probably know, they put them on the gun turrets, they wire them into the Humvee, put them on a sandbag, put them on the ground, and let the cameras record what they’re going through. And then they go back to their barracks, and they cut them together, whether that’s to Colby—you know, sorry, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" or AC/DC.
I just think it’s such a chance for us to see, you know, how we’re shaping these young men and women and what the experience is like. So I’m all about—you know, I have a website where I put the videos up, and I really encourage people, you know, who are particularly in service, to like write their comments down. And I’m finding that what it’s doing is it’s creating a community between, in a way, what really is a divide in America between those who are in service and are connected to somebody in service and those who know nobody in service at all. That was kind of the biggest thing that really shocked me going through America and interviewing soldiers.
AMY GOODMAN: Kimberly Peirce, how do you respond to what they say in Hollywood is war fatigue?
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: Well, I mean, you know, to say that America has Iraq war fatigue doesn’t really make sense. I mean, I don’t know the exact statistics. I think it’s like six to 13 percent of all reporting is the war, and if you look at the amount of money we’re spending and that people are, you know, getting killed and that we’re killing all these people, it seems kind of shocking that we’re not looking at it more. You know, I would have to say that, you know, if anybody has Iraq war fatigue, it would be the Iraqis, not us.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Colby and Casey Porter back into this conversation. Specialist Casey Porter, here you are in Iraq. You’re listening to a Hollywood film director who did a film about really your situation, about stop-loss, and Colby Buzzell, who is about to return to Iraq, who has been stop-lossed. What do you have to say to them?
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: What do I have to say to them, or them to us?
AMY GOODMAN: No, I was asking Specialist Casey Porter. Casey, are you still there?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m still here. Well, I’m just—I’m grateful for people who are making films about this, like Kimberly Peirce’s film. I think this is a great opportunity. I’m incredibly jealous of her, as a fellow filmmaker. She got to work with composer John Powell on the score, so I’m very jealous. But I think that when soldiers see films like hers and see what other soldiers are doing with their blogs and their videos, it will encourage them to stand up for themselves and stand up against these policies that are wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you have to say to Colby, who’s going to be returning?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, I would say I’d fight it tooth and nail. I kind of saw mine coming from a little bit distance out, and I contacted my senator, my congressman. And that may have not worked for me, it may not have worked out for me, but don’t use that negative aspect as an example. You sound like someone who’s already a fighter, who doesn’t go with the flow. Keep on fighting. You know, there’s a lot of people out there that will support you.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Casey, I’d like to ask you, what’s the situation now? We’re hearing all these reports, obviously, that things are getting better in Iraq. Your perspective?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: Well, that’s just—that’s simply not the case. There are lulls in activity, but there are so many factors for that. You know, the Iraqis could be rearming and refitting. And I try to shy away from using the term “insurgent” because that leads the American people to believe that this is some sort of organized fighting force, and what it really is is local townspeople essentially standing up against people they don’t want there, and that is us. And I hate to say that, but that’s the truth.
You know, I just now posted a film, you know, A.O., that shows there’s firefights, there’s a Hellfire missile strike, there’s a lob bomb attack. It’s not getting any better. And I think the reason the military doesn’t want new weapons systems created by the Iraqis to be shown to the public is because the longer we stay here, they’re just going to become more and more creative with improvised weaponry to fight us.
AMY GOODMAN: Colby Buzzell, are you going to return to Iraq?
COLBY BUZZELL: I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve gotten the letter, and, you know, you experience all these different emotions. Your first reaction to it is, you know, fight it tooth and nail. But I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You’re scheduled to return…?
COLBY BUZZELL: What was that?
JUAN GONZALEZ: When are you scheduled to return?
COLBY BUZZELL: Soon.
AMY GOODMAN: What would it mean if you said no?
COLBY BUZZELL: I don’t know. I haven’t really looked into it all that much. You know, I might lose my benefits. I might—you know, one of the things I signed up for was the GI Bill. You know, I don’t know. I haven’t really—I mean, it’s all been a shock, and yeah, I haven’t—I’ve looked into like, you know, all the different options, like what happens if I did this, this and that, but I’ve—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Kimberly Peirce, the star in your film who resisted, who got out, who escaped in the United States, refused to go back, to be stop-lossed, explain what happened to him.
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: Well, having interviewed, you know, soldiers around the country, I really was looking at what they told me they went through. So, you know, he tries to fight it. Certainly going through chain of command, he’s not getting out, so he figures he’s going to visit his senator. And on the way there, he encounters other stop-loss soldiers who are basically, you know, on the run.
And you actually did a show years ago that I found really, really inspiring, where you had AWOL soldiers on the air, so I ended up interviewing some of those soldiers, and we tried to depict how difficult it is for these soldiers to be on the run. So he realizes that, you know, living on the run is not really a solution for him. He considers going over the border. We now have like 300 soldiers over the border. And that’s very challenging for them right now, though there’s fantastic work being done by warresisters.org.
When he looks at all that, he sees—I don’t want to give away the ending—but that that isn’t the life that he wants to live. And that was something, unfortunately, that I saw in so many of these young patriots who had signed up, to be told you either go back to Iraq and, you know, risk dismemberment or death and were violating your contract, or you live on the run, or you go to Canada and you can’t come back. So he’s really struggling with all the stuff that, you know, the soldiers that I interviewed struggled with. And it’s a really—it’s a real heartbreak to see what they’re going through.
AMY GOODMAN: Kimberly Peirce, director of Stop-Loss, your website?
KIMBERLY PEIRCE: www.stoplossmovie.com/soundoff. And, you know, I just—I need to congratulate Casey and Colby again, because that’s what we’re also trying to do, is just getting the soldiers’ word out there.
AMY GOODMAN: Colby Buzzell, your website?
COLBY BUZZELL: cbftw.blogspot.com.
AMY GOODMAN: Colby Buzzell served as an Army infantryman in Iraq, has now been stop-lossed. His book is called My War: Killing Time in Iraq. And finally, Specialist Casey Porter, speaking to us from Al Iskandariya in Iraq, Army specialist stationed there. Your website?
SPC. CASEY PORTER: It is youtube.com/caseyjporter and myspace.com/caseyjporter, and both of those websites have the films up.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll link to all at democracynow.org. Be safe, Casey.
This report, from Casey Porter, was originally published at fireinthemountain.blogspot.com and republished on Tom Barton's GI Special, June 24, 2008
I feel pretty lousy as a human being today.
I had to turn away this Iraqi man at our gate here at the outpost.
At some point the army took over this factory in the industrial part of Baghdad and we’ve been here ever since. He was an older man, diabetic, with multiple folders of paper work to show. He didn’t speak any English and wished to talk to an interpreter.
I was guarding the gate and was the one to call it in. So they send out the “Terp” as we call them.
This older man was not looking for a handout. He was the former owner of a paint shop that is built right up the building we now occupy.
He was asking for compensation for his workers because they are no longer able to work now that we are here.
Why can’t they work?
Because they are terrified of us.
Also, when we get rocket or mortar attacks, they don’t always land where the insurgents want them to. Sometimes they fall short or overshoot their target.
So when we set up shop, the people that can afford to leave, do.
He wasn’t like the younger Iraqi Police Force guys. They get so much free stuff from you, the taxpayer, that it’s insane. Then they always ask us to give them stuff. They are like children with AK-47s.
This man was not like that. He was looking out for his workers. The translator was telling me what he was saying when things got confusing. The Iraqi man was saying: “You are the United States, human rights for all, etc., etc.”
I’m not sure what else he said after that since it was clear that the Terp changed gears right after that.
But that older gentleman wasn’t being hostile about what he was saying, and I was all ears.
Within his paper work he had forms and documents that proved he was the owner and operator, among other aspects of his business I’m sure.
With the exception of the language, it looked a lot like the paperwork my father had for his business.
I called it up to the commander and the reply was to tell him to fuck off.
He couldn’t hear any of this because we keep the radio in the truck. I wasn’t going to do that to this man.
We screwed him over, and he was just looking out for his people.
I told the Terp to translate the following: “I can not authorize any money to be given to you. I also can not promise that anyone will see you. All I can tell you is to keep coming back until someone takes care of your needs.”
He finally said that he would come back in about a week or so. Before he left I had the Terp translate one more thing.
“I’m sorry for what we’ve done to your country.”
The man said “Thank You” in English to me. I hope that even though we had to talk through an interpreter that he understood that I felt for him, and was not blowing him off.
Either way I felt, and still feel, pretty rotten about the whole thing. I’m not supposed to be the bad guy.