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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This video is a mix of the Army Strong video produced by the army to entice young women and men to join the military. The other video is produced by Displaced Films which is a series of films produced for the Iraq Veterans Against the War http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier
The series of films can also be seen here http://www.vimeo.com/5448532
You can make a donation to Jeriko Films here http://jerikofilms.wordpress.com/about/
The military has a budget of $459 million in advertising revenue which is the amount it spent in 2005. Please help us provide an honest picture of war by making a donation. Here is further information from, David Zeiger who requested we include the following information.
Hello Cindy and All
I am so happy that you used episodes from our series, This is Where We Take Our Stand, for your Army Strong video. It's incredibly powerful, and getting out to a lot of people. You did a great thing with it, and this is what the series is for.
I have a very important request, though. Please make it much more clear on your site and in the piece that the material is from the web series This is Where We Take Our Stand, and that the entire series can and should be seen at http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/ There are still two episodes that will be posted this monday and in two weeks, and then the entire series will be available as a single piece as well.
First of all, it's important that people see the whole series. But along with that, it's been a tremendous struggle to get the story made and told, and we are still in the midst of trying to get the funds to complete a television film as well. So it is crucial that both the name of the series and the people who made it be very prominent whenever it is used. It's also important to include that it is from the people who made Sir! No Sir! I'm sure you understand all of this.
We are linking Army Strong to http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/, and will do what we can to help get it out there.
This article, "Anti-war group visits state", by Ron Jenkins, was posted by the Associated Press, August 18, 2008
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War spoke out Monday in Oklahoma as part of a national tour that includes events in Oklahoma City and Lawton, near Fort Sill Army Base.
Several members of the anti-war group attended a news conference at the state Capitol, including Justin Cliburn of Lawton, an Oklahoma Army National Guard member who went to Iraq in 2005.
The protesters criticized politicians for saying they support the troops, while voting against legislation to upgrade military equipment sent to Iraq and take care of veterans' medical needs when they return home.
They said that contrary to what is seen in news reports, most Iraqis do not support "the American occupation" of their country.
"The Iraqis told us, 'Look, I know you have good intentions here, but you're messing up our lives,'" said Jason Hurd of Asheville, N.C., an Army veteran and medic who was deployed in Baghdad in 2004.
Kristofer Goldsmith of Long Island, N.Y., spoke of attempting suicide after becoming disillusioned in Iraq.
Goldsmith said more needs to be done to help returning veterans with medical problems, including post traumatic stress disorder.
"The best way to support the troops is to keep them alive when they get back," he said.
Members of the IVAW were scheduled to speak Monday night at the First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City and planned a free barbecue and workshop for veterans on Tuesday at Cameron University in Lawton.
The IVAW was praised by soldiers speaking at the Capitol for helping them deal with red tape standing in the way of getting medical and other benefits.
They were joined by two Oklahoma men whose sons were killed in Iraq Warren Henthorn of Choctaw and John Scripsick of Wayne.
Also speaking were James Branum, a Lawton lawyer who operates the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and Nathaniel Batchelder, the director of the Oklahoma City Peace House.
The article "Iraq Veterans Against the War event to be held in Watertown this weekend", by Sarah Rivette, was originally published in the Watertown Daily Times, July 31, 2008
The Iraq Veterans Against the War organization will make its way to Watertown this weekend for its State of the Union Base tour.
The speaking tour will have two official events this weekend: a concert at the Different Drummer Cafe, 12 Paddock Arcade, on Saturday night and a barbecue with a veterans' benefits workshop at Thompson Park on Sunday afternoon.
One objective, according to the organizers, is to make active-duty soldiers and veterans aware of their rights and privileges within the Veterans Affairs system. Members of the organization also say that becoming a part of IVAW has helped them deal with their post-traumatic stress disorder and they want to help other soldiers facing the same issues.
"When I found IVAW, it let me know there was a support group for people who have gone to Iraq and have seen the destruction and want to do something about it," said Kristopher Goldsmith, a former active-duty soldier with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga. "Instead of getting out of the military and pretending like nothing ever happened, it has given me an outlet for my recovery with PTSD."
The tour will take six veterans and two musical acts across the country for a month, where they will visit the most deployed Army and Marine installations.
The Different Drummer Cafe will host a fundraising event at 7 p.m. Friday with a silent auction. The concert, featuring Son of Nun and Ryan Harvey and Head Roc, will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the cafe. The barbecue, where information on soldiers' rights and how to navigate the Veterans Affairs system will be available, will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Thompson Park.
"We are going around to the busiest and most-deployed bases across the nation and we are bringing some food and fun with us," said Jason E. Hurd, 28, a former member of the Tennessee National Guard. "We are coming there to let them know they are not alone."
PHILADELPHIA Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will be hosting events near eight major military installations in the U.S. from Aug. 1 through Sept. 5 as part of the State of the Union Base Tour.
"Our message to the troops is simple," said IVAW member Jason Washburn, a tour organizer and three-time veteran of Iraq. "The state of the union is dire, but you are not alone."
The tour will take six Iraq Veterans roughly 6,800 miles across the country, from Fort Drum, N.Y. to Camp Pendleton, C.A. At each stop, concerts, fundraisers and V.A./GI rights workshops will be hosted by the veterans.
Washburn and others on the tour are delivering a message of hope to a group of people they refuse to leave behind.
"We're into the sixth year of this occupation," said Kris Goldsmith, another tour organizer and Iraq combat veteran. "It is no less difficult on the Soldier today than it was on day one. We know, we've been there, but we're not finished serving; not until our bravest get the care they need and every troop comes home."
Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in 2004 to give those who have served in the military since September 11, 2001 a way to come together and speak out against an unjust, illegal and unwinnable occupation. Today, IVAW has more than 1,250 members in 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada and on military bases overseas. To learn more about IVAW, please visit www.ivaw.org/basetour.
This article, by Edward Colimore, was originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 21, 2008
Army Spec. Joe Fabozzi thought he was getting out of the New Jersey National Guard in December 2003. He wound up dodging bullets and mortar shells in Iraq four months beyond his enlistment.
Army Spec. Garett Reppenhagen expected to leave Iraq in October 2004. New orders kept him there nearly 10 more months.
And Army Sgt. Robert Reichner hoped to leave Kosovo in June 2004 to restart his civilian life. He was sent to Guantanamo Bay for another year of duty.
The three were among about 60,000 service members who have been held over during the past four years by the Pentagon's controversial "stop-loss" policy. The measure involuntarily extends military service beyond the end of the enlistment period.
More than 12,000 soldiers - including nearly 4,000 Guard members - were under stop-loss orders in May, compared to about 8,500 about the same time last year. And many have objected strongly to the months of extra duty, often in combat zones.
A bill now in Congress would pay them an additional $1,500 a month of extended duty. The measure, introduced by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), also would make payments retroactive to October 2001, covering servicemen and women affected by stop-loss since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is being considered by committees in both houses.
The pay "would make me feel good, that my service had been acknowledged," said Fabozzi, 29, a Waretown, Ocean County, resident and air-traffic controller at Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
"Getting the $1,500 is great, but given the choice of getting the $1,500 or going home, I would have gone home," he said.
Soldiers have not had that choice - and eight of them challenged the stop-loss policy in federal court in Washington, D.C., four years ago. The case was dismissed.
"The stop-loss policy is unfair, a violation of the basic principle of contracts," said the soldiers' attorney, Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh professor and vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a public-interest group in New York. "People should serve their time, and that should be it."
Lautenberg's legislation - sponsored on the House side by U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Ohio) - does not address the merits of the policy. It seeks only to provide extra pay to soldiers.
"The military made a deal with our men and women in uniform, and if our troops are forced to serve and sacrifice longer than that commitment, that sacrifice should be rewarded," said Lautenberg, whose measure is cosponsored by Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The proposed stop-loss pay comes as many troops are reenlisting. More than 1,200 troops serving in Iraq signed up for extended service and were sworn in in Baghdad on Independence Day in one of the largest such ceremonies ever, officials said.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, said he was "proud of their decision to re-enlist and help the people of Iraq win their most important battle . . . freedom."
Many soldiers affected by stop-loss, though, have felt betrayed, "like everything we stand for in this country was getting violated every step of the way," said Fabozzi, who would be eligible for at least $6,000 under the proposed measure.
"Giving us money now and still forcing soldiers to stay is like [federal officials] admitting they were wrong."
The additional money, however, "would help right now," said Reppenhagen, 33, a Colorado Springs, Colo., resident who was an infantry sniper in Iraq and hopes to become a high-school history teacher.
"It would have helped more [in Iraq], so I wouldn't have had the feeling like I was being used and abused by the military," he said.
The pay - Reppenhagen would be eligible for up to $15,000 - "will help increase the morale of troops who are suffering with stop-loss," he said.
The policy "has been used as a buffer" because of the lack of troops, he added. "Soldiers are being worked to the bone and abused by the stop-loss process."
Some of the troops say they believe the proposed pay increase may discourage political and military leaders from extending service because of the cost. Lautenberg is awaiting estimates - expected to be available within a week from the Congressional Budget Office - that would show how much the bill would cost.
On the House side, the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee recommended monthly stop-loss bonuses of $500 to $1,500. That action would cost $73 million to $220 million, according to an estimate published in the Congressional Quarterly.
"It will let them know there will be a price to pay," said Reichner, 32, who was mobilized and discharged through Fort Dix and stands to receive $18,000 if the stop-loss bill becomes law."
A soldier is no longer a volunteer after serving the time of enlistment, said Reichner, a Kalamazoo, Mich., resident and graduate student who hopes to become a program analyst in the Defense Department.
"He's not under a contract anymore," he said. "It's the same concept as overtime. If a boss asks you to work overtime and doesn't want to pay overtime, do you want to work?"
The "overtime" in the legislation would be welcome to many soldiers whose families are going through tough financial times, said Marine Chris Bertone, who served during the Iraq invasion in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2004.
The 24-year-old Bloomfield, N.J., resident was involuntarily recalled several months ago as he was about to enter a police department boot camp in Essex County, New Jersey. His service has been temporarily delayed by "paperwork problems."
"But I expect to head back to Iraq," he said. "I think [the stop-loss money] is an excellent idea."
Though also in favor of the additional pay, Kristopher Goldsmith said he would much rather see stop-loss ended. The policy, he said, nearly ended his life.
A former Army sergeant, the Long Island, N.Y., resident served in Iraq in 2005, returned home, and was called up again - under a stop-loss order - to be part of the troop surge last year.
"Instead of being a civilian again and starting my life, I was doing the polar opposite: putting on a uniform and returning to Iraq," said Goldsmith, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, an antiwar group with 47 chapters across the country.
"I had come back with pretty severe PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and depression and was having panic attacks."
He said he attempted suicide on Memorial Day last year and received a general discharge.
Such stories leave former soldiers such as Steve Mortillo, 25, of West Philadelphia, unimpressed by the extra money being sought for the troops.
"I'm glad people realize the situation soldiers are in," said Mortillo, an Army specialist who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and is president of the Philadelphia chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, which has 1,200 members.
The extra pay "is better than nothing, but it doesn't address the larger issue."
This press release, by Julie Nickson, was distributed by Capitol Hill Press Releases, May 15, 2008
Washington, DC - At a forum this morning organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), ten veterans of the Iraq War provided gripping first person accounts of their time spent serving in combat operations. The veterans, who had served in the National Guard, the Army, and the Marines, shared their experiences on the ground at various stages of the occupation and throughout the country. They testified regarding violence against civilians, the destruction of civilian property, rules of engagement, the inadequate training that they received prior to deploying, and the personal struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many of the testifiers faced upon their return from combat.
"This morning's event was an opportunity to hear not from the military's top brass, but directly from the very soldiers who put their lives on the line to carry out President Bush's failed policies in Iraq," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Co-Chair of the CPC.
"These first-hand accounts really highlight some of the tragic costs and horrific consequences of this Administration's utterly failed policies in Iraq," said CPC Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D- CA). "We must redouble our efforts to end the occupation and to truly honor our troops by bringing them home."
The veterans were members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a non-profit organization created in 2004 to organize and represent the growing number of active duty service members, and veterans, who have turned against the occupation of Iraq, but continue to face pressure to remain silent.
One of the morning's most gripping testimonies came from Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army Sergeant from Long Island, New York, who spoke about his own psychological struggles following a stop-loss order that kept him from returning home after serving in Iraq.
"As we were preparing to leave Iraq, we were given a mental screening test, which was supposed to identify possible mental ailments," Goldsmith said in his written statement. "But we were warned by the medical staff issuing the test that 'should you come up positive for mental problems, you could be forced to stay in [Iraq] for three to four more months before you can go home.' Most lied while completing the test because they wanted to get home as soon as possible. No one was held in Iraq any longer due to this test, but in hindsight, it is clear that verbal warning was used to prevent the inconvenience to the Army of having Soldiers that needed medical attention."
The psychological struggles of returning veterans was a consistent theme that emerged throughout the morning, and other testifiers spoke of the strain that PTSD put on their relationships with families and friends.
"The majority of my platoon went through divorces and or separations many of the time with children involved," said Vincent Emanuele, a Marine machine gunner who served in Iraq near the Syrian border. Emanuele also spoke of the pressure that he faced when dealing with his PTSD, "the idea being that 'REAL' Marines do not complain when coming home from combat they suck it up and do the job we are tasked to do," Emanuele said referring to how he and other veterans were treated like outcasts when they sought help. "This resulted in many of the Marines I served with, including myself turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation."
The forum was a follow-up to an event that IVAW organized earlier this year at the National Labor College in Silver Spring Maryland. Dubbed 'Winter Soldiers,' and modeled on a similar campaign during the Vietnam War, dozens of veterans shared their personal stories, and testified over three days on their own experiences on the ground in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Your testimony this morning should serve as a reminder to every Member of this body that the occupation of Iraq is not something that we can simply discuss and debate in the abstract," Woolsey told the veterans. "You speak today not just for yourselves, but for countless others who have served in Iraq. You are doing all of us a great honor by sharing your stories and unique perspectives."
This article, by Aamer Madhani, was originally published in the Chicago Tribune, June 30 2008
BELLMORE, N.Y. Kristofer Goldsmith was so distressed about the prospect of returning to Iraq that he decided he was willing to kill himself to avoid serving a second tour.
Just as Goldsmith's three-year Army contract was to expire, it was extended under the military's "stop loss" program, and his unit was set to deploy to Baghdad to take part in the troop surge. On the day before he was to ship out in May 2007, he took a dozen Percocet painkillers, washed down with more than a liter of vodka.
Soon after Goldsmith was admitted to Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart, Ga., a senior non-commissioned officer from his brigade visited the young sergeant, along with an Army psychologist, to discuss discharging him from the military.
"We all agreed that it was for the best that my Army career come to an end then," said Goldsmith, 22, who added that he'd scrawled the words "stop loss killed me" in marker on his body before his suicide attempt. "It was a few days later when they told me that they were going to come at me for faking a mental lapse."
Goldsmith's case illustrates the complex decisions facing the U.S. military, which says it is eager to address the mental health problems plaguing its troops while maintaining its warrior ethos and respect for the chain of command.
The rear commander of Goldsmith's unit, Maj. Douglas Wesner of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, quickly initiated an administrative punishment known as an Article 15 against Goldsmith for malingering "that is, feigning a mental lapse or derangement or purposely injuring oneself" to avoid being deployed to Iraq.
Eventually his commanders dropped the Article 15, but not before removing Goldsmith from the service on a general discharge. Because he did not receive an honorable discharge, Goldsmith was stripped of his Montgomery GI Bill benefits, which he'd been counting on to help pay for college. Goldsmith's tough treatment is not unheard of.
Twenty-one soldiers in Iraq have been punitively discharged since 2003 after being convicted of malingering, according to the Army. And since there has been war, there have been anecdotes about soldiers willing to harm themselves to avoid serving on the front lines.
A soldier was released from a civilian prison last month after he admitted paying a hit man to shoot him in a knee to get out of deploying to Iraq. In the Vietnam War, troops sometimes intentionally didn't take their malaria pills in hopes of being afflicted and sent to the rear to recover, recalled retired Army Col. Ernie Westpheling, who served in Vietnam.
In one incident in the late 1960s, Westpheling recalled helping evacuate a lieutenant who had shot himself in the foot and blamed it on a sniper on his first day in Vietnam.
Goldsmith remains adamant that he did not fake a mental illness. After Goldsmith's discharge, a psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Wesner declined to comment. A 3rd Infantry Division spokesman said that Goldsmith was provided legal counsel and received a medical evaluation before his discharge, but the spokesman declined further comment.
Sitting in his parents' home in this working-class suburb on Long Island, Goldsmith said his mental unraveling began when he returned in 2005 from a yearlong tour in Iraq. He said he was addled by depression and self-medicated with copious alcohol.
The collapse accelerated, he said, after he learned he would be affected by "stop loss."
Since his discharge last August he has been jobless except for a brief stint delivering pizzas.
"I went from being a sergeant responsible for six peoples' lives and millions of dollars in equipment to becoming the pizza delivery boy," Goldsmith said. Goldsmith, who since his discharge has been an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, is one of at least 40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed with PTSD, according to the Pentagon. People with PTSD, an anxiety disorder that can occur after surviving a traumatic event, often endure relationship problems, despair and various physical symptoms.
The Pentagon's figures account only for those who have sought help; a recent study by RAND Corp. put the number closer to 300,000.
In May, the Pentagon reported that 115 U.S. troops had committed suicide in 2007, the highest yearly toll since the military has tracked the figures. The Pentagon acknowledges that 12-to-15 percent of military personnel in the war zones are taking antidepressants or sleep medication.
In recent months, Defense Department officials have poured millions of dollars into programs to help troops deal with PTSD _ including yoga and reiki therapy _ and have acknowledged that more needs to be done to remove the stigma of PTSD in the military community. Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a new policy under which troops no longer have to divulge previous mental health treatment to receive security clearance.
The magnitude of mental health problems is something the Defense Department is only starting to confront, according to some lawmakers.
Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army's top medical officer, also acknowledges that the Army needs to improve facilities and has too few providers of mental-health care.
"I think we can say as a nation that our mental health facilities and access to mental health providers is not adequate to the need right now," Schoomaker said. "So part of the problem that we as a military are suffering is a shared national problem."
Goldsmith said that even before his suicide attempt he was suffering from severe depression and anxiety attacks after returning from his 2005 deployment in Iraq, where he served much of his tour in the Shiite slums of Baghdad's Sadr City.
Residents of the enclave frequently attacked U.S. troops, and the area was a central front in sectarian fighting.
U.S. troops regularly found tortured corpses of Sunni men in Sadr City. Goldsmith was given the task of photographing them _ images that deeply disturbed him, he said. Although he was a strong supporter of the war when he signed up for the Army, he came back from Iraq convinced the continued presence of U.S. forces was doing more harm than good.
When he returned to Fort Stewart, Goldsmith fell into a deep depression.
At first he refused to seek help, saying he thought he would be ostracized or punished. He suffered from anxiety attacks, one was so severe that Goldsmith rushed to the hospital fearing he had a heart attack.
"Before we were heading back to Iraq, [a senior non-commissioned officer] said that if we tried to use mental stress as a way to get out of going, he would see to it that we'd become his personal IED [improvised explosive device] kicker," he said. "No one wanted to be stigmatized."
Goldsmith thought he hit bottom when one night he became so irritated by a man at a party that he choked him until he was unconscious. After that incident, Goldsmith said he realized that he had to seek help regardless of the consequences.
He was ordered to attend mental health counseling and ended up in a crowded group session where the patients' needs differed widely, Goldsmith recalled. "It was almost more destructive than helpful," he said. Some of the soldiers who worked most closely with him have written letters to the Army on his behalf requesting that his discharge be upgraded to honorable. His company and platoon commanders gave him high marks and even recommended him for a Bronze Star at the end of his tour in Iraq.
"If I were to go to war tomorrow, I would want Kris Goldsmith to go with me," Capt. Edward McMichael, who was Goldsmith's company commander in Iraq, said in an interview. "I don't think Kris would fake it."
Before he was discharged, Goldsmith said military lawyers told him that he was eligible to re-enlist, and he could try to earn an honorable discharge and win back his GI Bill benefits.
But he has no intention of going that route. He feels he has already served honorably.
This Article, by Kristofer Goldsmith, was originally published on the IVAW website, June 8, 2008
As many of you know by now, Matthis Chiroux has made his refusal to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that this is an Illegal Occupation, a very public affair. Matthis and I have been attempting to gain Congressional Members to come out in support of War Resisters... And things are going better than I could have imagined.
Two weeks ago Matthis and I came down to the DC IVAW Chapter house with a mission, an idea, and a plan. We were going to attempt to talk to Congresspeople from the Out of Iraq Caucus, and see if we could get them to come out in support of Matthis' decision not to go to Iraq.
Our first time in a Congressional building was for Winter Soldier on the Hill and the Whistle Blowers Testimonies. Neither of us had been working with the DC guys to set up these events . . . So basically, we hit the Hill completely clueless.
But with coaching and advice from Geoff Millard, we figured out that getting your foot in the Congressional door, figuratively and literally, was a lot easier than most people would assume. First of all, to all IVAW members who haven't at least met with their local congress people . . . What are you waiting for!? It is your RIGHT to speak with the representative who votes in YOUR NAME in the House of Reps. If your Congressperson doesn't know you exist, he or she may not know that there are Veterans who are against the Occupation of Iraq.
When I met with my Congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy, last month on Long Island, it was the first time she ever heard of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Long Island has the most dense population of Veterans of all wars . . . But I was only the fourth Iraq Veteran who had ever contacted her office! As a Democrat who opposes the continuation of needless death overseas, she has been searching for a way to justify voting against funding. Now that she knows about me, she has an answer to the mindless masses of the Gathering of Eagles, who have a huge, very active group here on Long Island.
So moral of the story is -- Step One: Set up a meeting with your local Congressperson as a CONSTITUENT and representative of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Step Two: Build a working relationship with the Congressional Office's Veterans Contact. Pro-War or Anti-War, they need to hear our side -- in a respectful, professional manner. They know about the protests and rallies for peace set up by Code Pink and other activist groups, but we are the experts on Iraq and our organization has set a precedent with Congress and is building a respected reputation. Work with that in mind. Step Three: Make sure your Congressperson knows about Winter Soldier, both the March and May events. Testimony from Winter Soldier on the Hill is in the Congressional Record, so they have access to it. Directing the staffers to specific testimony on YouTube or IVAW.org is effective, I did it with McCarthy's office!
...Anyway, back to whats happening in DC-
Last week we met with various staffers, and eventually members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Out of Iraq Caucus. Most offices wanted us to meet with their Veterans contact or Scheduler to throw our pitch. Each meeting with staffers gave us experience and sometimes even direct advice towards sharpening our skills to present an argument, or "list of asks," to the Congressperson that they worked for.
Nicole, our own Dr. Scribe, took notes to help us keep track of everything we accomplished, and more importantly, everything we were learning. One night after a particularly hard-ball staffer meeting, we figured out that we needed to get everything on paper. So we set up a few dozen folders with all the essentials: Matthis' Statement/Refusal to deploy (and media coverage of that to add credibility and recognition), our own research of why it would help the Congresspeople to End the Occupation by supporting those who refuse orders on the grounds that the occupation inherently is illegal in nature, information about IVAW and Winter Soldier, and clear instructions on how Congress can help us.
By the end of our second week in DC we had spent time with Congresswomen Clarke, and Woolsey, and Congressmen Kucinich and Conyers. We got our foot in the door with a bunch of others too because we met with tons of staffers and they had interest in what we were trying to get across.
The most satisfying moment of all the time we spent in meetings came when we met with Chairman Conyers, and the moment Matthis said "I am refusing orders to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that this Occupation is illegal by international law, federal law, and Constitutional law..." and Congressman Conyers, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee interrupted Matthis and said "You're right! I agree! It is illegal."
We're on our way to getting Congressional support for war resisters, and as I said before, it's going better than I ever could have imagined. We, IVAW, are not only the Warriors Against the War, but are the very ammunition of the Congresspeople who want to end the war but just don't know how. By encouraging members or the House to come out and say they support those who refuse to deploy, we are breaking the chains of indentured servitude that the Military has wrapped around it's own "all volunteer force."
While we don't expect legislation to come out in support of war resisters, what we're asking for is a commitment -- that members of Congress will truly SUPPORT THE TROOPS, ALL OF THE TROOPS, and not abandon those who refuse to take part in an illegal war which was based on Lies.
So, to other members of IVAW, and all our supporters, I have two requests:
First- help us fight, and raise the confidence of Members of Congress who want to end the war but don't know how. Make sure your Representative knows who you are, and what IVAW is, and what we stand for.
Second- see if you can come down to DC next weekend for Matthis' next press conference. Sunday, June 15th, is the report date for Matthis' forced deployment orders. On that day he will not be reporting for duty, but instead be in our nation's capital letting the world know that not every Soldier who is overseas is fighting by their own will. We, the members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, stand in solidarity and support of those who choose not to be used by a government who has betrayed its Veterans and Service Members.
This article, by Cynthia and Michael Orange, was published in AlterNet, April 18, 2008
Soldiers of the 'War on Terror' Speak Out
If all of America were to hear these voices, the occupation of Iraq would already be over.
We're not bad people; not monsters. We're normal people caught in a horrible situation."
-Statement from Clifton Hicks, a tank gunner with the Army's 1st Cavalry Regiment and testifier at "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan"
Over four days, we witnessed thirty hours of vetted statements from seventy two veterans, active duty soldiers, experts, and Iraqis who had the great courage to go public with their first-hand experiences as part of "Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations." A common thread emerged of soldiers who struggled with a questionable mission as occupiers of a country in the midst of a civil war, and Iraqi families being torn apart and terrified, terrified by-not grateful for-the presence of American soldiers and private mercenaries. The soldiers and veterans transfixed us with their words and graphic images that exposed the dark underbelly of the Iraq Occupation that the mainstream media have chosen to ignore, just as they ignored these groundbreaking hearings.
The national veterans organization, Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW), held these hearings near Washington D.C. from March 13 to 16. They patterned them after the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings held in Detroit by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which are now thought to be one of the turning points of that conflict. The title for the hearings comes from Thomas Paine who wrote in 1776, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of [their] country; but he that stands [by] it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Unlike the "summer soldiers" who often deserted their duties in Paine's time, "winter soldiers" carry on courageously through the darkness.
We tried to comprehend the enormous scale of the so-called "collateral damage" in Iraq as speakers cited surveys that estimated about a million Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. invasion, and that over four million Iraqis were forced from their homes. The speakers told of Iraqis, being without power and water, begging for food and fuel, and only wanting foreign troops and the 180,000 private contractors and mercenaries to leave so they can begin to rebuild their devastated country.
The presenters at Winter Soldier went deeper than telling stories that once again confirm what we all should know: war is hell. They addressed the anguished question that naturally arises: How do you explain actions that would be criminal even in a war zone?
The soldiers and veterans explained how trickle-down abuse starts at the top ranks of the military hierarchy with institutionalized racism, sexual harassment, and assault on the lower ranks. They talked about their complete lack of training in Iraqi culture and language and their conditioning before leaving U.S. soil to think of Iraqis as "less than," as "Hajis;" a term once reserved for pilgrims to Mecca, now turned inside out to demean and dehumanize. "Haji" has become to the Iraq occupation what "Gook" became to the Vietnam and Korean wars. When people are dehumanized, it becomes easier to kill them.
We could not listen to the four days of accounts and imagine our country invaded Iraq to export the American dream of freedom and democracy. Even the ultraconservative former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, declared that "the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil." It didn't take long for the soldiers and vets who spoke to come to the same conclusion once they experienced the reality on the ground.
As in all wars, if you haven't experienced it, it's hard to grasp the white-hot frustration, anger, and vengeful wrath that results when our soldiers have no reliable way to discern friend from foe and are under extreme duress at virtually all times in a near-country-wide combat zone. As the disillusionment over the injustice and the impossibility of the mission grows, so does the abuse of civilians. When soldiers, deployed two, three, four, and even five times, experience more and more casualties in their units-people with whom they share a bond that can be even stronger than family-their rage understandably erupts and they need to blame someone for their grief. Similar circumstances produced similar results in the jungles of Vietnam.
Kristofer Goldsmith was a good soldier, graduating at the top of his basic training class and receiving a 94.6 percent average in his Warrior Leadership Course. But after four deployments in Iraq and almost shooting a six-year-old boy, he said he became a "broken soldier." He was due to get out of the service when he, like some 80,000 other soldiers, was "stop-lossed" and ordered to redeploy to Iraq for a fifth time. Plagued by mental anguish the day before he was to leave, he tried to kill himself with alcohol and prescription pills. Although finally released, his discharge papers state, "Misconduct: Serious Offense" because of his suicide attempt. He showed the audience a picture of himself in uniform as the proud soldier, then slammed it down on the table saying "This boy is dead."
So many soldiers and veterans spoke of their noble motives for joining the military-especially after 9/11-but then having to face the ignoble inhumanity of this occupation that so compromised their values. Then they returned to a country that anointed them as the heroes they so wished to be. Is it any wonder they are conflicted and disillusioned with the contradictions? Is it any wonder that government statistics report that one in three returning soldiers has mental problems and that CBS News recently described the suicide rate among today's soldiers and vets as "epidemic?" As we continue to see with Vietnam vets, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a normal human response to the inhumanity of war.
We listened to Jason Hurd, a medic with ten years of Army service including tours of duty in Iraq: "But as time went on and the absurdity of war set in, they started taking things too far. Individuals from my unit indiscriminately and unnecessarily opened fire on innocent civilians as they were driving down the road on their own streets." He asked us all to see the war through the eyes of an Iraqi and consider how we might respond if a foreign army invaded our communities and terrorized our families.
The soldiers and vets described the shear mechanics of killing so many people. In story after story, we heard how Rules of Engagement slowly eroded to the point where it was too often left up to these young, very frightened, soldiers to determine for themselves if they "felt" threatened. Jason Lemieux, who served almost five years with the Marines, including the invasion and three tours in Iraq, described the rules he received: "[M]y commander told me that our mission was-and I quote-'to kill those who need to be killed and save those who need to be saved.' And with those words, he pretty much set the tone for the deployment." Too often, the Rules were reduced to "Shoot anything that moves."
Two Marines talked about trashing the country during the invasion. One of them, Brian Casler, served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the invasion force, he said he and others in their unit defecated and urinated into the containers of food and water they threw at the welcoming children they encountered. To relieve the boredom during his first deployment, they demolished Babylonian ruins and "drove over the rubble for fun." After describing how they ransacked a public building, he said, "We found out later that we had shredded all of the birth certificates for the City of Fallujah."
Several speakers talked about the disrespect of the Iraqi dead. Michael Leduc, for example, told us about "Rotten Randy" and "Tony the Torso," the nicknames his Marine unit gave to the corpses they used for rifle practice.
Soldiers and vets also explained the practice of "reconnaissance by fire," where they'd shoot first into a house or a neighborhood in order to draw return fire. Then, instead of moving on the source of the return fire and incurring more risk to the unit, they'd respond with overwhelming firepower that devastated the entire building or area. Hart Vigas, a mortarman who served with the Army's 82nd Airborne for the invasion of Iraq, painted a word picture of the indiscriminate, "ground-shaking" destruction from C-130 Specter gunships. The students have learned from their teachers. A forward observer and drill instructor with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Jessie Hamilton stated that the Iraqi forces "showed little or no restraint" when they responded to the slightest attack with such indiscriminate firing that the U.S. troops gave nicknames to their methods: 'spray and pray' and 'death blossom.' "Once the shooting started," he said, "death would blossom all around."
Clifton Hicks described an operation that resulted in an official estimate of 700 to 800 enemy dead. "Judging from what I saw on the ground," he said, "I'm willing to swear under oath in all honesty that while many enemy combatants were in fact killed, the majority of those so-called KIAs were in fact civilians attempting to flee the battlefield.
The gripping presentation and images from Jon Michael Turner, who served in Iraq with the 8th Marines, were, like so many personal stories we've heard, still bleeding with its raw truthfulness. "A lot of the raids and patrols we did were at night around three in the morning . . . . And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families." After he described segregating the women, the children, and the men, he said, "If the men of the household were giving us problems, we'd go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it be choking them or slamming their head against the walls. . . . On my wrist, there's Arabic for 'F you.' I got that put on my wrist just two weeks before we went to Iraq, because that was my choking hand, and any time I felt the need to take out aggression, I would go ahead and use it."
He was one of the first to speak of these things but far from the last. Like so many other speakers, he said this kind of situation was the norm for him and for others, not the exception. With a forced smile that constrained his quivering lips, he closed with an apology to the Iraqi people: "I just want to say that I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people. . . . until people hear about what is going on with this war, it will continue to happen and people will continue to die. I am sorry for the things that I did. I am no longer the monster that I once was."
Describing the heartache that results from not being able to identify your enemy, Jason Washburn, a Marine who served four years and completed three tours of duty in Iraq, said this: "If the town or the city that we were approaching was a known threat, if the unit that went through the area before we did took a high number of casualties, we were basically allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. . . . I remember one woman was walking by, carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading towards us. So we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher. And when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was only full of groceries. And, I mean, she had been trying to bring us food, and we blew her to pieces for it."
Soldiers and vets told how superior officers instructed them on the official ways to torment and beat detainees. Andrew Duffy, a medic who served on the trauma team at the Abu Ghraib military prison, put it this way, "You can't spell abuse without 'Abu.'" They were told to use the term "detainee" because, unlike "prisoner of war," there are no laws protecting detainees. While he rocked back and forth in his seat nervously, Mathew Childess, a Marine infantryman who served two tours in Iraq, referred to beating detainees and "breaking fingers." When a particular detainee begged for food and water, he took the man's hat, wiped himself with it, and stuffed it into the man's mouth.
Like Turner, numerous soldiers and veterans stared into the cameras that were recording the hearing for broadcast and pled for forgiveness from the Iraqi people now that they were distanced from the madness in Iraq in an apparent attempt to regain some of what had been lost. For many, their hands trembled as they talked and, along with us witnesses, were moved to tears. At other times, so many only revealed that thousand-yard stare we've seen too many times on the faces of Vietnam vets who carry the scars of that war.
We sat engulfed in the horror, sorrow, and grief of the soldiers' experiences and wondered how we could transform this to help our children and grandchildren reach an understanding so that they can make wise decisions when they have the opportunity to serve their community and country at the local homeless shelter, the voting booth, the peace march, or the armed forces.
Some vets like Jeff Lucey couldn't speak, so his parents spoke in his stead. His father said his grown Marine son came home so haunted by what he had done and witnessed that he drank heavily to anesthetize his pain-a coping strategy mentioned by many of the vets who spoke. His parents said Veterans Affairs (VA) told them they couldn't assess him for PTSD until he was alcohol free. Although he wouldn't talk about the trauma he experienced, Jeff would ask his father to hold him on his lap and rock him so he could feel safe. Jeff's father said the last time he was able to hold his son was when he cut his body down from the rafters at their home where Jeff had hung himself with a hose.
Those who sell the invasion and occupation as a "just war" will deny that these first-hand accounts are part of the whole truth or they will simply dismiss the speakers as liars and traitors, which is already happening. They will continue to entice new advocates and a never-ending stream of recruits, all made possible by a gutless Congress, a compliant media, an apathetic public, and a bottomless military budget, including $4 billion annually for recruiting.
Repeatedly, the speakers stated that they welcomed the opportunity to testify as to the accuracy of their statements in a legal proceeding. Luis Montalvan, a captain with 17 years of service in the Army, stated, "I would like nothing better than to testify under oath to Congress." He then quoted President Theodore Roosevelt: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
This article, by Robert Koehler, was distributed by Tribune Media Services, March 19, 2008
Where War Meets Peace
“I trained my weapon on him,” Kristopher Goldsmith said. It was a little boy, 6 years old maybe, standing on a roof, menacing the soldiers with a stick. “I was thinking, I hate these Iraqis who throw rocks. I could kill this kid.”
OK, America, let’s look through the sights of Goldsmith’s rifle for a long, long half-minute or so, draw a bead on the boy’s heart, fondle the trigger — what to do? The soldier’s decision is our decision.
This is occupied Iraq: the uncensored version, presented to us with relentless, at times unbearable honesty over four intense days last week in a historic gathering outside Washington, D.C., of returning vets, many of them broken and bitter about what they were forced to do, and what’s been done to them, in sometimes two, three, four tours of duty in the biggest mistake in American history.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776. “The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
The vets who told their stories last week, in an event at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., sponsored by Iraq Vets Against the War, are the “winter soldiers” of the war on terror, standing in service to their country by bearing the truth to it, just as Vietnam vets held the first Winter Soldier gathering 37 years ago in Detroit, in the wake of the My Lai massacre revelations, to let the American public know that that massacre wasn’t an aberration but, rather, the logical result of our brutal, official policy there.
Once again, the crisis we are in is the result of an official policy that has dehumanized an entire country, an entire people. Once again, we are waging a war that can only be “won” when the American people themselves demand an end to it. The men and women who spoke last week brought not just the truth but an imperative as urgent as a live grenade:
Unconditional withdrawal of all troops and contractors from Iraq NOW; full benefits for all returning vets; reparations for the Iraqi people, so they can rebuild their country on their own terms.
I was able to attend two days of the Winter Soldier gathering. What I witnessed was a convergence of forces of historical significance, as angry, idealistic warriors, horrified by what they saw and were ordered to do during their time in the military, ashamed of what they sometimes did willingly within the context of racist arrogance that is the occupation of Iraq, reclaimed their humanity by declaring themselves peace warriors. I found myself at the heart of the American conscience: the place where war meets peace.
To experience the full impact of this event, you can listen to the testimony, among other places, at ivaw.org. In this column, I have space for the briefest of summaries, as GIs up to the rank of captain talked about the realities of the occupation of Iraq.
House raids: Over and over again, the speakers gave variations of these words of Jeffrey Smith: “We had everyone in house, including children, zip-tied on the front lawn (when we) realized we were in the wrong house. So we went to another house.” Or these of Matthew Childers: “It seemed like we raided countless residences — 3 a.m., our semiautomatics out, screaming at them in a language they didn’t understand. We rarely found anything.”
Detainees: Common themes were the beatings, the sleep deprivation. Childers again: “They were beaten, humiliated, teased with food and water. These guys were in our custody for a week and I didn’t see them eat the whole time. A Marine wiped his ass with an Iraqi’s hat and tried to feed it to a blindfolded Iraqi — who was desperate for food and tried to eat it.”
Racism and general disrespect: The Iraqis were “hadjis” — the equivalent, of course, of gooks or untermenschen. Speaker after speaker talked about receiving no cultural training in boot camp, but plenty of bayonet training. Matt Howard: “We treated Iraq like our own personal cesspool.” Bryan Casler: “I saw the destruction of the Babylon ruins — people breaking off chunks to bring home; joyriding up walls. There was a complete lack of understanding.”
With all this in mind — with an awareness that as many as a million Iraqis have died since the invasion, that 4 or 5 million have been displaced — let us peer once again at the little boy in the sights of Goldsmith’s rifle.
“I was so close to killing a 6-year-old boy,” he said. “I was put in that position by the occupation of Iraq.” He could have taken the kid out, without consequence, but mastered the impulse, mastered his own drilled-in contempt for Iraqi life, and lowered his rifle.
He completed his tour, saw the horror, felt the death of his own youth, came home a severe alcoholic who got no help from the Army. Shortly before he was due to be discharged, his platoon was locked into an 18-month redeployment (part of the president’s troop surge); instead of going back, he tried to kill himself with pills and vodka. He failed at that, was hospitalized and ultimately received a general discharge from the Army with a “misconduct, serious offense” notation. He lost his college benefits. His life is shattered. He delivers pizza on Wednesdays to get by.
As he finished his testimony, Goldsmith named his commanding officers and announced, “I have a message for you.” He sprang to his feet, held his fingers in a V and cried: “Peace!”