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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You are now watching: Episode One: For Those Who Would Judge Me
March 13, 2008: As hundreds of veterans and over a thousand supporters gather just outside Washington, DC for three days of testimony, the pressure is high and questions intense. How is the testimony verified? What will people think of veterans and soldiers for being here? What good will this do? Without hesitation Geoff Millard (US Army National Guard), Steve Mortillo (US Army), and Adam Kokesh (US Marine Corps) respond to “those who would judge me” with a clear purpose and their chilling stories.
This article, "Veterans against Iraq War make stop in Capitol", by Barbara Hoberock, was published in the Tulsa World, August 19, 2008
OKLAHOMA CITY — Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War on Monday stopped in Oklahoma City to draw attention to their cause.
The group, wearing black shirts reading "Honor the Warrior Not the War," and "Iraq Veterans Against the War" is stopping at eight cities with military bases, including Lawton, home to Fort Sill, as part of the "State of the Union Base Tour."
The group held a Capitol press conference on Monday.
Lawton resident Justin Cliburn, who served in Iraq with the Oklahoma Army National Guard, said the group wants the United States to withdraw from Iraq, provide full benefits to veterans and pay reparations to Iraq.
Jason Washburn, who did three tours in Iraq, said he once was homeless and living with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he saw firsthand how those who chose to leave military life are treated and forgotten. The military does not take care of physical or mental problems, said Washburn, who lives in Philadelphia. He served with the Marine Corps.
Steve Mortillo, 25, of Philadelphia, said the war has taken a drastic toll on service members and weakens the nation's ability to defend itself. Mortillo served three years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq fropm March 2004 until February 2005.
"A very small minority benefit from us being over there," said Marlisa Grogan, 28, of New Jersey, who served in Iraq for about a year.
The people of Iraq don't feel like they are benefiting from the war, Grogan said.
Jason Hurd, 28, of North Carolina, spent a year serving in Iraq.
He said the war is an illegal occupation, adding that the group wants to tell service members about their rights.
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."
On the morning after reaching the National Labor College and our friends and allies, it was only appropriate that he begin the testimony. If I have met a man more befitting of his name, I do not remember. Hart Viges, however, was not always the kind, deep-thinking man he is today, according to his testimony today. Iraq changed him, like it has so many of our youth, including me. Hart has felt many of the same emotions we all have and testified to the guilt he has felt after mass-mortaring Iraqi towns and not having to see the effects of his work. He is particularly ashamed of not taking a trophy picture with a dead Iraqi . . . not because of his moral opposition to it, but instead because it wasn't his kill.
Clifton Hicks began his testimony by making it clear how much he loves and respects the men he served with in Iraq. They kept him safe and they kept him sane and many of them truly believed in the mission they were undertaking, and that is okay; he will always love them and would never betray them.
Clifton Hicks and his comrade, Steve Casey, are giving testimony about their experience in a "free-fire zone" because there were "no friendlies." According to a numbers cruncher later on, their company had killed between 700 and 800 enemy combatants, however, Hicks and Casey never saw any enemy combatants. In November of 2003, according to Hicks, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex. There was prior-notice given to the company, according to Hicks, by a Lieutenant Colonel about "putting on a show" for the boys. Later, the apartment was annihilated as Casey and his comrades watched and cheered from the roof of a nearby building. Casey states that he never thought about it at the time, but now the loss of so much civilian life truly bothers him.
Hicks is testifying that this building demolition was the most destructive act he's seen in his entire life, and it was not a legitimate military target. A sniper team could have neutralized the enemy sporadically firing from that location, but leadership instead chose to destroy the entire building and the civilians inside.
Hicks is testifying now about a wedding party that was fired upon by an infantry patrol that that had confused their celebratory gunfire for the gunfire that they had received across the street. In the end, there were several members of the family wounded and one killed . . . a young girl, maybe six or seven years old. After realizing their folly, all the men could do was move on after their leadership told them to continue mission.
The testimony was just interrupted by an older man yelling "Carried live while good men die!" before being escorted away. Yes, sir, good men are dying. Good American men are dying and good Iraqi men are dying. Just like you, we want it to stop, and that is where we share commonality. We are not "betraying" anyone as you assert, sir; we are those who are giving a voice to those who cannot speak their mind in the conformist, oppressive culture of the US military.
Steve Casey is now continuing the testimony and speaking about a house raid where the squad destroyed the contents of an entire house while a woman shrieked, only to find out they were at the wrong house. He is now showing a video of that raid, and answering questions about the mistaken raid. The woman's voice is haunting, and I now wonder what it must have been like for her to clean up that house after the US had left. Casey reiterates that this is not an indictment on those he served with; they were products of the environment they were in.
Steven Mortillo served in the army from 2002 to 2005 as a scout. March 17th, 2004, Mortillo arrived in Iraq and spent most of his time conducting "presence patrols", walking down the street waiting for something to go wrong. On one of these patrols, his squad received RPG fire and could not return fire, due to the angle of the Bradley weapon system. They fired warning shots into a wall in order to prevent any more action. They showed remarkable restraint, but that would not be the case for the entirety of their tour. Once they started taking casualties and losing men, they started losing patience and growing resentful. It became more and more difficult to restrain their anger.
On a dismounted patrol that December, Mortillo's squad came under fire. He called up the contact reports on his manpack radio and suppressed the area with M203 grenades; the fighting was intense and fast-paced. After breaking contact, his unit EVACed their platoon leader, who had been wounded, into an awaiting Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The enraged Bradley crew asked where the attack had come from and directed all their firepower at the area, a highly populated residential neighborhood. The sincerity in his voice and periodic pauses in his speech are convincing; this man feels horrible for what he and his comrades did in that theater. According to Mortillo, it was difficult to even know if you are following the ROE when you are in the thick of it and especially when you believe you are getting revenge for the death of a friend.
Thus far, every participant has taken great pains to make it clear that they are not here selling out their buddies or betraying anyone.
Jesse Hamilton was a former drill sergeant and gung ho soldier who volunteered to go to Iraq to help mentor the Iraqi army, even though he disagreed with the war. In Fallujah from 2005 to 2006, Hamilton served mostly with a ten man team and many Iraqi personnel. In his opinion, there are no true ROE in Iraq because the Iraqi forces and the civilian resistance paid no attention to ROE. The Iraqi forces were poorly trained or poorly concerned about the matter of firing their weapons in a responsible manner. Anyone who has trained these men, as I have, knows what he means Hamilton says, "Spray and Pray." I understand what Hamilton means when he says that it seemed as if the Iraqis didn't treat their own civilians very well. The Iraqis could be very brutal, especially after Iraqi soldiers had been killed. After taking prisoners, the cruel nature of the men was exposed and Hamilton and the other American advisers did all they could to quell that. The main goals of Hamilton's squad were to keep the Iraqis from having negligent discharges of their weapons and keeping the Iraqis from torturing their prisoners. Such a mission made apathy inevitable and wore Hamilton's squad down emotionally and mentally. Yes, the Iraqi Army made improvements tactically while Hamilton was in the theater, but their cruelty to each other never did. As a soldier, it is impossible to change the culture of another country; Hamilton maintains, that if that is our mission, it is a lost cause. If the Iraqis want self-governance, give it to them. These are the words of a man who wanted so badly for things to be different. He cared for these men and sacrificed much to train and mentor them. It's just not worth it, he ends.
IVAW's most famous (or infamous, depending on your opinion of him) member, Adam Kokesh, did not agree with the war, but he did volunteer to serve in Iraq in order to "do the right thing" and "clean up our mess". Adam is reading the ROE card that every soldier or Marine is given.
Adam was in Fallujah shortly after the four Blackwater contractors were killed and hanged from a bridge. In that city, the ROE was always changing.
On the screen is a picture of a vehicle that was destroyed by a .50 caliber machine gun at a checkpoint because it seemed suspicious and the Marines felt threatened. As the car and the people inside burned, the Marines tried to justify their action by discussing what they asserted were rounds inside the vehicle cooking off . . . after bringing the car inside, however, they found that there were no rounds and the inhabitants of the car were unarmed.
During the waning days of the siege of Fallujah, fires broke out and Iraqi firefighters and police raced to the scene. US forces saw the silhouettes up against the area where they had taken fire and started firing on the men. Miscommunication was often the cause of scenes like this.
It was relayed to Kokesh's unit that al Zarqawi was fleeing the city in a Black Opal and to stop all black Opals . . . black Opals were everywhere in Iraq. Kokesh testifies that, whether they are guilty or innocent, all the detainees get treated the same, and it leads to more and more "innocent" ones becoming part of the insurgency.
Kokesh truly believed that he would be doing great things when he went to Iraq with the Civil Affairs team. "We care, so you don't have to" became the mantra as he spent more and more time in Iraq trying to catch rides with infantry squads in order to do his job. Kokesh was proud of what he could do on a local scale and he did the best job that he could.
Jason Hurd served in Baghdad from November 2004 to November 2005. Jason's father, a truly gung-ho WWII veteran and gun enthusiast, was vehemently opposed to Jason joining the army, and Jason is now convinced that he had severe PTSD. Jason joined anyway and found himself in Iraq serving as a combat medic. His first mission involved manning observation points along the International Zone . . . or Green Zone. After a stray bullet from an Iraqi Police-led firefight across the river hit the shield of an American humvee, the gunner fired over 200 .50 caliber machine gun rounds into a building that may or may not have had civilians inside; they never knew.
After following the rules of escalation and rules of engagement to a tee for months, the absurdity of war crept in and soldiers started taking liberties. They escalated force before they were allowed to do so.
Jason is now telling the story of an Iraqi woman who told them about her husband, who had been killed by US forces after merely getting too close to a convoy. Shortly after, her husband's death, her house was raided, and her son was detained and taken away and returned two weeks later. The intelligence was faulty, and the raid never should have been conducted in the first place.
The personal anguish in Jason's voice as he provides accounts of car bombs, dying Iraqi teenagers, "drawing down" on an eighty-year old Iraqi woman, and the effects of PTSD since his return. He points out that every survey shows the majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on Americans, who they believe are to blame for their situation. It is much like how we react if we were invaded by another country. An Iraqi man once told Hurd that they did not question the intentions of the US soldiers, but that their presence is what has caused so much pain and suffering.
Jose Vasquez is concluding this panel and summing up the point of this event.
The call of duty has brought them together again, for one more vital mission.
Their hair is a little longer, their faces are a little scruffier and their military garbs are a little more disheveled.
But when the signal is given shortly before 10 a.m. today at the Constitution Center, 20 members of the Philadelphia chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War will march once more.
They'll trek along Kelly Drive, past the Art Museum and Boathouse Row, across the Strawberry Mansion Bridge and continue out west until they meet about 90 other veterans at Valley Forge on Sunday afternoon.
Along the way, they hope to dispel a few myths about the Iraq war and give regular people an idea of the grim reality that their fellow soldiers still face overseas.
"We wanted to do something in solidarity that could send a message to the American people," said Steve Mortillo, the president of the Philadelphia chapter of IVAW, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Calvary 1st Squadron Infantry Division.
"It's been five years since the war started, and a lot of us have feelings that Americans only should die in combat if it's a cause that's going to save more American lives than it's going to cost."
Today's march also will promote IVAW's Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, a three-day gathering for veterans of both wars that will take place next month in Washington, D.C.
The organization boasts more than 700 members in the U.S., Canada and on military bases overseas.
Mortillo said IVAW's popularity has grown as soldiers - many of whom eagerly joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - have become disheartened with the seemingly endless, unnecessary conflict in Iraq, which as of Monday has claimed the lives of 3,973 U.S. soldiers.
"I drank the Cool-Aid for the Iraq war, and I think most people did, especially in the service. We expected that we would go in there, find weapons of mass destruction, oust Saddam and it would all be good," said a 28-year-old veteran who declined to be named but served two years ago as an imbedded adviser in an Iraqi army platoon.
"We didn't really listen to people who were experts on the Middle East who said the Sunnis and Shia have been fighting for 800 years, so the chances are that we're not going to just fix those problems," the veteran added.
While the war has continued to rage on, Iraqi civilians have grown increasingly tired of the U.S. military presence, said Jason Washburn, who did three tours in Iraq as a Marine squad leader.
"Right after the invasion started . . . I really think they believed in us and believed that we were going to help them. To be honest, so did a lot of us," said Washburn, 28.
"I thought we'd get an area secure so the contractors could go into town and start building schools and give these people running water, but that never happened."
Mortillo, 25, said that as the purported goals of the war shifted from finding weapons to spreading freedom, "no one was at the point where they'd stop doing their job, but we all pretty much understood that we weren't there for the reasons they told us."
Both veterans said many of their friends who are still serving in Iraq want to come home, but are troubled by a perceived lack of adequate care for soldiers with physical and psychological problems. *