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 article, by Victor Agosto, was posted to the Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
President Obama visited Fort Hood today [Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009]. He dropped by Michael Kern's barracks. Michael handed President Obama a letter, saying, "Sir, IVAW has some concerns we'd like for you to address." Obama then dropped his hand and went on to speak to the next soldier. The secret service then took possession of the letter:
In your recent comments on the Fort Hood tragedy, you stated "These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." Sir, we have been losing these brave Americans on American soil for years, due to the mental health problems that come after deployment, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, and often, suicide.
You also said that "We will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government." Sir, we appreciate that -- but what we need is not more FBI or Homeland Security personnel swarming Fort Hood. What we need is full mental healthcare for all soldiers serving in the Army. What happened at Fort Hood has made it abundantly clear that the military mental health system, and our soldiers, are broken.
You said "We will make sure that we will get answers to every single question about this terrible incident." Sir, one of the answers is self evident: that a strained military cannot continue without better mental healthcare for all soldiers.
You stated that "As Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for." Sir, we urge you to carry out your promise and ensure that our servicemembers indeed have access to quality mental health care. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists -- military, civilian and contractors -- serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. This is far too few, and the providers that exist are often not competent professionals, as this incident shows. Military wages cannot attract the quality psychiatrists we need to care for these returning soldiers.
We ask that:
Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels-from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice
Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.
Sir, we hope that you will make the decision not to deploy one single Fort Hood troop without ensuring that all have had access to fair and impartial mental health screening and treatment.
You have stated on a number of occasions, starting during your campaign, how important our military and veterans are to this nation. The best way to safeguard the soldiers of this nation is to provide ALL soldiers with immediate, personal and professional mental health resources.
This press release, from the Fort Hood Chapter of IVAW, was posted to FaceBook, November 6, 2009
Our community is distraught by the tragic shooting at Fort Hood yesterday. We extend our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
As upset as we are about this incident, this shooting does not come as a shock. Eight years of senseless wars have taken a huge toll on our troops and their families. It’s time to admit that the wars in southwest Asia are in no one’s best interests. Bring the troops home now!
The Army has also repeatedly demonstrated that it is more interested in making soldiers “deployable” than it is in helping them fully recover from PTSD and other mental health issues. This often leaves soldiers with few options other than to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. The Army routinely deploys soldiers who are clearly suicidal and homicidal. Yesterday was a gruesome reminder of the possible violent consequences of this policy. We hope the Army now takes its duty to take care of soldiers more seriously.
We demand transparency from the Army and other federal agencies involved with this investigation.
Under the Hood Café provides military service members support with referrals to legal, financial, and medical services. It is a space for troops to freely express their views on the wars and the military. It also offers GI rights counseling. Iraq Veterans Against the War calls for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq, reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered, and full benefits for returning military.
Under the Hood Café
Iraq Veterans Against the War – Fort Hood Chapter
This announcement was posted to the IVAW website, July 13, 2009
The IVAW Fort Hood chapter is being put back together. After a few people resigned and people moved, thanks to Under The Hood Cafe The chapter has been active again! We are still getting off the ground and are basing out of the GI Coffee House "Under The Hood Cafe" and if anyone has some tips or for example the DC chapter gave us some flier layouts (Thanks DC, and field organizer Aaron Hughes) please contact me. I look forward to working with IVAW with future events!
IVAW - Fort Hood Chapter President
These photographs were found on the Under the Hood Facebook page, May 26, 2009
On the corner across from Ft. Hood. Holding the Under the Hood banner: Joie Michaels, the ever-present Killeen-based supporter of the troops, and Cynthia (Cindy)Thomas, founder and surrogate mother to many a lonely-hearted soldier.
Victor Agosta, the first Ft. Hood-based soldier to refuse deployment for the "war on terror" in Afhanistan. Victor did not go AWOL. He stood in front of his entire platoon when he refused orders to prep for deployment - based on ethical reasons.
Travis the Country Singer is in the same unit as Victor. When he saw Victor refuse deployment and receive support, he went AWOL. He turns himself in today with his lawyer - who is also representing Travis. He is refusing deployment on religious reasons. He's Christian. Thank God.
From Right: Joie and J (who was recently released from being court marshalled and awaits discharge) presented Cindy Thomas, founder of Under the Hood, with a poem.
Memorial Day March for Peace in Killeen. Monday, May 25, 2009
Gather at 11:00 a.m. at Under the Hood; march at noon to Fort Hood East Gate.
Fundraising barbeque follows at Under the Hood; pot-luck items welcome.
This interview with Victor Agosto, by Sarah Lazare, was published by Courage to Resist , May 21, 2009.
“There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.” The words were scrawled in black ink on the bottom of a military counseling statement, a routine piece of paperwork turned in May 1st to the commander of a Ft. Hood, Texas Army unit headed for Afghanistan. It was signed Victor Agosto, U.S. Army.
Agosto is publicly refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan. Having served in the Army since 2005, including a tour in Iraq, Agosto can no longer bear to serve and says that he is, “ready for the consequences, whatever they are.” Since May 11th, he has been refusing all orders directly connected to his unit's deployment to Afghanistan, including an order to track the serial numbers of trucks headed for Afghanistan. He has since been assigned to non-deployment tasks such as sweeping the motor pool and "company area beautification" as he waits to see what the military will do to him.
Agosto’s refusal comes as the first waves of troops are being shipped to Afghanistan under the Obama Administration’s recent escalation. President Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to deploy to Afghanistan this summer, seeking to more than double the 32,000 deployed to 68,000 in the next few months.
There is scant evidence about how the troops themselves feel about this escalation. The most recent study, a 2006 Zogby poll for Iraq, found that 72% of all U.S. troops there thought the U.S. should immediately withdraw. Many of those same troops are now being asked to fight in Afghanistan.
Calling from the Ft. Hood Army barracks, the 24 year-old Miami, Florida native spoke in a deliberate, measured voice. He explained that his own opposition to the Afghanistan war developed gradually. Having initially joined the military to, “see the world and do something with his life” he began to doubt the initial justifications for that war before being deployed to Iraq, yet was convinced that the U.S. should stay in that country to “clean up its mess.” While in Iraq, Agosto worked in communications at the tech control facility and did not see any violence or “ever feel the slightest bit of danger.” Nevertheless, during the last few months of his deployment, his doubts about both Iraq and Afghanistan began to grow. “I came to oppose it the way a lot of people did. I thought about it, read some books. Then I began seeing the role I played in the imperialist framework.” When he returned to Ft. Hood Texas, Agosto began attending meetings of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), an organization comprised of people who have served in the U.S. military since September 11th, 2001. He also became a regular at Under the Hood, an anti-war GI coffeehouse just outside of Ft. Hood, Texas. The coffeehouse, fashioned after the anti-Vietnam War coffeehouse movement of the 60’s and 70’s, provides a space for troops to speak freely, seek help and support, and explore the possibilities of resistance.
“I came to realize that the wars really don’t do what the stated reasons are, which is to make us safer,” said Agosto. “Both occupations fuel the insurgencies in those countries. We are creating “terrorists” and we are killing so many innocent people.” He argues that the wars are both “power plays” whose real intent is to, “establish more control and spread U.S. hegemony.” A few months ago, he decided he wouldn’t go back.
“I’ve worked with Victor for almost a year, and he’s been here at the coffee house since the first day,” said Cynthia Thomas, manager and board member of Under the Hood. “When he decided to resist, I completely backed him, knowing the consequences. I completely respect his decision.”
While the military is not forthcoming with information about the number of troops refusing deployment to Afghanistan, statistics suggest military resistance overall is on the rise. Since 2002, the Army has court-martialed twice as many soldiers for desertion and other unauthorized absences per year than for each year between 1997 and 2001. AWOL rates in the Army are at their highest since 1980, with the desertion rate having jumped 80 percent since the start of the Iraq War, according to the Associated Press.
Several individuals have publicly refused deployment to Afghanistan. Blake Ivey, who went AWOL last fall rather than deploy to Afghanistan, has been publicly spoken out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Benjamin Lewis, a former marine who was recalled from the Individual Ready Reserves, declared that he would not go to Afghanistan or Iraq if asked. He was quietly discharged from the marines last month. Many Afghanistan war resisters have made their way to Canada, where an estimated 250 currently reside.
Victor is taking considerable risk in publicly refusing to deploy. “The worst-case scenario for Victor is a general court martial and years in jail,” says Jeff Paterson, Project Director for Courage to Resist, an organization that supports troops who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The harshest sentence given to a public resister since the beginning of the Iraq War was 15 months and dishonorable discharge. However, Paterson says that, “many other resisters that no one ever hears about are given considerably longer sentences. If people rally to his defense and support him with a competent civilian legal attorney, we can minimize that punishment.”
Agosto admits he has been scared of what might happen to him at each step along the way, from writing his refusal on his counseling form to refusing an order on base. Yet, he is determined not to fight this war.
“Overwhelming support from the central Texas peace community has made things easier,” says Agosto. “People at Under the Hood and in the greater peace community have been there for me every step of the way.” He has also been met with a flurry of international support since going public with his refusal and says that he hopes his actions “help other soldiers see that there is a lot of support for war resisters.”
Agosto has also received support from fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood. “Some of the people in my unit will flash me peace signs when they walk by me,” he says. “The other day when I was coming back from the shop, this soldier stopped me and said he wanted to shake my hand. He told me he looked up to me for not going to fight a war I don’t believe in.”
This article, by Rebecca LaFlure, was published by the Killeen Daily Herald, February 6, 2009
As an Army wife of 17 years, Cindy Thomas struggled through her husband's three deployments to Iraq. The second tour of duty left him close to death with a brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, collapsed lungs and multiple fractures in his spine and pelvis.
But it was not until her stepson, then 19 years old, called to say he was joining the Marines in 2007 that she felt compelled to vehemently protest the ongoing wars in the Middle East and work to improve the lives of soldiers and their families.
"It was at that moment when I thought, 'I have to do something, we have to do something,'" Thomas said. "It's our children who will be fighting in these wars."
Since April 2008, Thomas has devoted her time, thoughts and passion to opening Under the Hood Café, a local outreach center for active duty military personnel, veterans, family members and friends to support and console each other about their daily struggles.
The café house is located at 17 College St. in Killeen.
Thomas said the refuge, scheduled to open Saturday, will be a "free speaking zone" to discuss difficult issues such as the death of a friend or family member overseas, spouses and children coping with the absence of their loved ones during multiple deployments or perhaps a guilty conscience for fighting in a war that increasingly more soldiers no longer believe in.
"A lot of people want to hear the hero story. We don't want to hear that they're hurt because it hurts us," Thomas said. "I did that for a very long time. ... When I started searching for the truth, going online, looking at videos that no one wants to see, it becomes so much harder to live on a daily basis knowing that this is happening, and you're not doing anything about it."
Spirit of the Oleo Strut
Created in the spirit of the Oleo Strut, a GI coffee house that operated in Killeen during the Vietnam War, the Under the Hood concept was first developed in March 2008 when Tom Cleaver, a Vietnam veteran from Los Angeles and former Oleo Strut staff member, noticed a Fort Hood soldier's story online.
The soldier's name was Bryan Hannah, a young cannon crew member who had recently returned from a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq. Hannah was struggling with suicidal thoughts and an overwhelming guilt for fighting in, what he believed to be, a never-ending and unjustified war.
Hannah said he felt alone and largely ignored by the on-post mental health resources.
"I was going through a hard time, not just because of my PTSD, but I didn't know what to do," Hannah said. "I knew this war was wrong, but I had no one to tell me that it's OK to not support the war and be in. I didn't have anyone to comfort me. Home was 1,800 miles away in Michigan."
As a way to vent his frustrations, Hannah kept a candid online blog chronicling his experiences in the military. One particularly powerful entry was published in the GI Special, a widely circulated independent e-newsletter covering the Iraq war from the perspective of the troops and their family members.
Cleaver, an avid GI Special reader, noticed Hannah was stationed at Fort Hood, and contacted the soldier. The two began corresponding by e-mail.
Hannah was honorably discharged from the Army in November, and is now attending college in Austin. He wants to be a history teacher.
According to Cleaver, Hannah and several other Fort Hood soldiers wanted to organize a modern-day Oleo Strut for a long time, but they didn't know how to turn the idea into reality.
With Cleaver's connections and fundraising abilities, he and the Fort Hood chapter of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, began to organize the project.
In April, Thomas was asked to help execute their vision.
"We have counseling services on post obviously, but when you're sitting around and hanging out, it's more relaxing and natural, and you feel more comfortable asking for help," Thomas said. "The concept of it is having that place they can come and not only support each other and help each other out, but maybe even advocate for each other."
Thomas said the house will have a kitchen with coffee and snacks, a break room, a pool table, a big-screen television, a jukebox and multiple couches and tables, all funded by donations.
Though a peace activist herself, Thomas stressed the café is open to people of all ideologies.
Thomas said she is prepared for some public backlash, but her goal is to provide an inclusive environment for military community members to share their stories.
"They might not like what some of us or some of the soldiers have to say because everybody's experience is different. If you experienced ... reconstruction and helping the community, then great, that's absolutely great. But not every soldier did," she said. "There are others with difficult stories, and the difficult choices they had to make. They have a right to be heard. If you want to support them, hear them. Just let them have their voice."
For more information on Under the Hood Café or to read about the history of the Oleo Strut from someone who was there, go to www.underthehoodcafe.org.
I was waiting for this article to be published, as I had spoken to the author at Winter Soldier and was surprised to see nothing published.
Original article, War Torn Vets Speak Out, by Claudia Feldman was published in the Houston Chronicle, April 18, 2008
Hart Viges walks the streets of Austin in a tunic and carries a sign that reads, "Jesus Against War." It's one of many ways, he says, that he must atone for his actions as an American soldier in Iraq.
Army Sgt. Ronn Cantu says lingering memories of killing a civilian in Iraq led him to start a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War at his home — Fort Hood.
And in Houston, Chris Hauff, an Iraq War vet who returned from combat two years ago, wrestles with the feeling that his best friend died in a misguided war.
"The idea that American soldiers are there to spread democracy and liberate the people is all smoke and mirrors," Hauff says.
After five years and more than 4,000 American deaths, hundreds of anti-war Iraq veterans and even some active-duty soldiers are speaking out in protest. Though they make up a relatively small percentage of all the soldiers who have served, certainly they speak from experience. They've had their boots on the ground.
Nationally, more than 1,000 have joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, which is calling for an immediate troop pullout. At a recent IVAW conference in suburban Washington, D.C., 60 vets addressed about 400 peers. Collectively, they described American soldiers unraveling under pressure — devolving from fighting for freedom and defending innocents to saving their own lives, protecting their friends and getting revenge.
Viges, tall and reed-slim, spoke as if his entry to heaven were on the line.
"I joined the Army right after September 11th," he began. He ended with, "I don't know how many innocents I've helped kill. ...
"I have blood on my hands."
His story, common among the speakers, began with good intentions and patriotic zeal. Then he realized he couldn't tell friend from enemy, and as he dodged mortar fire and roadside bombs, he feared each new day was going to be his last.
In that atmosphere, Viges and other soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division aimed countless mortar rounds at the town of As Samawah, southeast of Baghdad. They were trying to root out insurgents, but to this day, Viges doesn't know whom or what they hit.
"This wasn't army to army," Viges said. "People live in towns."
The panelists' speeches were vetted ahead of time by two groups of veterans who scoured news accounts, researched documents, videos and photographs where available, and interviewed others who were present at the time.
The testimonials were sobering. They included heart-stopping details. But the vets kept talking. Clearly, it was information they felt compelled to share.
Jason Washburn's testimony is preserved on the Internet. A Marine veteran from Philadelphia, he explained how the rules of engagement kept changing until it seemed there were no rules at all.
"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 allowed to shoot whatever we wanted.
"I remember one woman was walking by, and she was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward 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."
Jon Michael Turner, a Marine veteran from Vermont, described 3 a.m. house raids in which "problem" Iraqi men were subjected to his "choking hand."
It was tattooed in Arabic with an all-too-American epithet.
Turner recalled the first time he shot an Iraqi civilian. He offered no context or explanation except, "We were all congratulated after we had our first kills."
Turner also recalled the blind rage that led him and fellow Marines to start fights, spray bullets indiscriminately and fire on mosques. Eighteen men in his unit were killed by the enemy, he said. After that much bloodshed, the surviving soldiers were damaged mentally, if not physically.
"I just want to say that I'm sorry for the hate and destruction that I've inflicted on innocent people," said Turner, who began his speech by ripping off his service medals. "Until people hear about what is happening in this war, it will continue."
Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, read from a one-paragraph response to the conference:
"(We) always regret the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else. The U.S. military takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries. By contrast the enemy in Iraq takes no such precautions and deliberately targets innocent civilians. When isolated allegations of misconduct have been reported, commanders have conducted comprehensive investigations to determine the facts and held individuals accountable when appropriate."
The vast majority of American soldiers, Ballesteros added, serve honorably in combat.
The veterans who came to Maryland last month called their conference Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a sequel to a tense 1971 gathering in a Howard Johnson motel in Detroit, where more than 100 Vietnam vets braved frigid winter conditions to speak out against their war.
(Organizers of the original chose the title Winter Soldier Investigation to evoke 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 it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.")
Navy Lt. John Kerry, the future U.S. senator and presidential candidate, attended that meeting and, a few months later, lambasted the war before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Proud American soldiers were reduced to acts of senseless destruction, Kerry told the senators, "not isolated incidents but crimes ... ."
Many Americans — still recovering from the news of the My Lai massacre — believed Kerry. But lingering resentment from his testimony may have cost him the 2004 presidential election.
During his campaign against President Bush, Vietnam vets still furious with Kerry for somehow staining their service records and their honor struck back. They claimed he wasn't a war hero, that he hadn't earned his multiple medals, that in fact, he'd awarded his medals to himself.
The topic is still red-hot, even today. Pennsylvania veteran Bill Perry, who campaigned for Kerry and attended both Winter Soldier meetings, offered his perspective: "Kerry came from a well-educated, wealthy family, and he could have ducked the whole thing. I respect the person who served."
The comment was aimed at President Bush, who did not fight in Vietnam or any war.
The latest Winter Soldier event coincided with national polls showing two-thirds of Americans disagree with the handling of the war but consider the economy and their own financial logjams more pressing than combat halfway around the world.
Viges, the veteran of the 82nd Airborne, struggled to understand that disconnect.
One of his jobs in Iraq was to stand guard with a .50-caliber machine gun while his buddies searched houses supposedly inhabited by insurgents and enemy combatants. At the conference, searches of that kind were described vividly. Sometimes soldiers kicked in the front doors. Sometimes they upended refrigerators and ripped stoves out of walls. Sometimes they turned drawers upside down and broke furniture.
One day Viges was instructed to search a suspicious house, a hut, really, but he couldn't find pictures of Saddam Hussein, piles of money, AK-47s or roadside bombs.
"The only thing I found was a little .22 pistol," Viges said, " ... but we ended up taking the two young men, regardless."
An older woman, probably the mother of the young men, watched and wailed nearby.
"She was crying in my face, trying to kiss my feet," Viges said. "And, you know, I can't speak Arabic, but I can speak human. She was saying, 'Please, why are you taking my sons? They have done nothing wrong.' "
The testimonials went on for 3 1/2 days. They were interrupted once, when a middle-age man leaped from his seat and ran toward the stage.
"Liars! Liars!" he shouted. "Kerry lied while good men died, and you guys are betraying good men."
Others among the counter-protesters tried for a more even tone.
Chris Eaton, a former Houstonian now living in Dallas, spoke for them when he described himself as an average guy doing his best to support American troops.
"I'm not hateful," he said. "I'm not a warmonger."
He's married and the father of three. For his little girl's seventh birthday, he welded a butterfly made of old car parts, plate steel and rebar.
But Eaton didn't travel halfway across the country to talk about butterflies. He wanted to lend his voice to the counter-protesters. He wanted to remind the anti-war vets that they needed to tell the absolute and precise truth or risk demoralizing their brothers and sisters still fighting overseas.
Eaton also wanted to support his friend, retired Army Col. Harry Riley, who organized the counter-protest and the sponsoring group, Eagles Up.
Riley is a decorated Vietnam vet. He's got a calm, mellifluous voice — until he flashes back to 1971.
"No one stood up for me or millions of others smeared by Kerry," Riley said. "That first Winter Soldier meeting was total bunk, denigration and falsehood. We want to ensure this second one meets our criteria for accuracy."
It is true, Perry said, that a few of the testimonies from '71 contained significant errors and should have been omitted. That's unfortunate, he said, but hardly surprising given the impromptu nature of that meeting. The great majority of the vets, Perry said, spoke the truth.
Did not, said Riley, referring to a government investigation of the most serious charges made in Detroit. Not one of the soldiers' testimonies was substantiated.
Perry noted that the investigation was conducted by Army personnel. In his opinion, the Army's investigation of itself was a joke.
With a wrench, Riley pushed the conversation back into the 21st century. If atrocities or war crimes are taking place in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, service men and women are duty-bound to report them under oath and through official channels. Failure to do so, he added, means they are potential criminals themselves and subject to prosecution.
"Oh, great," retorted Hauff, the Houstonian. Soldiers aren't going to turn themselves in, and they're not going to report their peers or their superiors, either, he said.
"Nobody wants to be viewed as a snitch or a narc," Hauff said. And who, he asked, volunteers for a dock in pay or a loss of rank or a court-martial or worse?
"You're supposed to do what you're told in the military."
For vets who often feel isolated by their experiences and their memories, old war buddies are their best, most comfortable friends.
Viges greeted old friends joyously between sessions at the Winter Soldier conference. Many of them were vets from the Vietnam era.
"They are my fathers," he said.
After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Viges said, he is somewhat better. He still jumps at the sound of fireworks, but he's stopped patrolling the perimeter of his house.
With shoulder-length, brown hair and a goatee, Viges looks very much like a model for velvet Jesus portraits. When he puts on his tunic and takes his anti-war campaign to the streets, he tells anyone who will listen, "Love thine enemy" and "Turn the other cheek."
A devout Christian, Viges finally left combat as a conscientious objector.
Cantu, the Fort Hood soldier, was one of several celebrity Texans at the conference. He says his pro-war sentiments changed 180 degrees the day he killed a civilian in Iraq. His convoy had been hit by an improvised explosive device, and he wanted revenge.
Next thing he knew, a car was coming toward them, and despite the warnings, it didn't stop.
Cantu opened fire. He didn't know until too late the car was filled with multiple members of an Iraqi family.
"I was literally on the verge of quitting (the military) right then and there," said Cantu, a third-generation military man.
Instead, he's spoken out against the war, through the protest chapter he founded and a 60 Minutes interview in 2007.
He occasionally comes to the attention of his superiors, too.
"All I've done is use my First Amendment rights," Cantu said. "I appreciate the Constitution. You can't really love it until you've actually been protected by it."
Cantu is scheduled to return to Iraq for his third tour of duty in early 2009.
"I've cheated death so many times," he said, suddenly somber. "I hope I can do it again."
Hauff, the Houston vet, didn't try to make it to Maryland. He had his hands full, with his job, his wife and his little girl. Besides, he didn't want to talk about the ugly side of war.
His best friend was on patrol, subbing for Hauff, when he was killed.
Hauff paused, keeping the many things he thought about that tragedy to himself. He had his emotions under control, he said, and he's moved on with his life.
His mother-in-law, sipping coffee and listening to him, cocked her head as if she didn't quite agree.
That year in Iraq changed him, Sherry Glover said. He doesn't like to be touched. He can be impatient with the people, even the child he loves the most. It's almost like he's barricaded himself inside an invisible fence that has a sign: "Keep out."
When Hauff finished talking, he frowned at his mother-in-law and walked away. They're sharing the same house, at least until Hauff and his family can afford to move.
Military families are paying for this war, Glover said darkly. She has a friend whose son tried to commit suicide between tours of duty. Army doctors gave him a bunch of prescriptions and deemed him ready to serve.
Glover couldn't go to the conference — she wanted to keep an eye on things at home — and made do by listening to the testimony on the local Pacifica radio station, KPFT-90.1 FM.
She and many other peace activists wondered why only a couple of outlets in the mainstream media covered the event.
The vets also wondered what all the other newspapers, magazines and TV stations were afraid of. The truth?
That's not it, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
The gathering was tiny, Sabato said, in comparison to protests from the Vietnam era. Also, activists on both sides of the war have moved the debate to the presidential campaign.
President Bush has been unequivocal in his support for the war, Sabato said, and those who share that commitment will vote Republican. Those who oppose the war will vote for the Democrat.
It's not that Americans don't have an opinion, he said. They're just waiting for Election Day.
Spearheaded a week of active duty outreach To Ft. Lewis From February 18-24
February 15, 2008 By Kelly Dougherty, Former Sergeant, Army National Guard; Executive Director, Iraq Veterans Against the War; IVAW Newsletter [Excerpts]
IVAW is in high gear!
Our members are focused on reaching out to their active duty brothers and sisters.
Our strategy is built around mobilizing the military community to withdraw its support for the war, and our members are putting that strategy into action.
IVAW’s Seattle chapter is spearheading a week of Active Duty outreach to Ft. Lewis from February 18-24, with support from the Bellingham chapter and other members in the northwest.
he Seattle chapter has been very active - holding weekly meetings and working closely with GIs at Ft. Lewis to spread the word about IVAW’s work to end the war.
As part of this effort, the chapter is hosting a “Soldier, You’re Not Alone” benefit concert on February 21st in Tacoma.
All ages are welcome, and active duty servicemembers get in free with a Military ID.
Spread the word!
IVAW - Fort Hood Chapter
February 15, 2008 By Kelly Dougherty, Former Sergeant, Army National Guard; Executive Director, Iraq Veterans Against the War; IVAW Newsletter [Excerpts]
Our fourth active duty chapter:
Deep in the heart of Texas, soldiers at Ft. Hood who recently returned from Iraq have organized our fourth Active Duty chapter.
Organizing an IVAW chapter on a military base isn’t easy, which is why we’re proud of all our members who are organizing on bases, both active duty and local veteran members who are supporting them.
We welcome our newest members back from Iraq, and into the IVAW family!
IVAW - Mountain Region
February 15, 2008 By Kelly Dougherty, Former Sergeant, Army National Guard; Executive Director, Iraq Veterans Against the War; IVAW Newsletter [Excerpts]
Working together to build IVAW:
Members in the Mountain Region are getting together for an organizing retreat February 23-24, and our members in the Los Angeles area have a retreat planned for this weekend.
hese retreats are organized locally to build member involvement, learn organizing skills, and sharpen IVAW’s strategic impact.
They’re an important part of making sure that IVAW stays strong as we continue our rapid growth.