Saturday, October 01, 2005
Reflections from the bus; Bring Them Home Now Tour
Reflections on Bring Them Home Now Tour, Central Route;
participant; Lietta Ruger, Military Families Speak Out,
Opportunities that might never have crossed my path were afforded by the Bring Them Home Now Tour, Crawford, TX to Washington DC, September 2005. I was fortunate to be included and participated in the central route, through the central Eastern states. There are two stories that emerged from my experiences. The story of interaction with thousands of people at each of our city stops is amazing in itself. The story, though, of being a part of the birthing of our 4 young panel speakers is yet another story. And of course, there is yet another story; the behind-the-scenes story of 6-12 adults travelling on an RV for almost 4 weeks on a whirlwind schedule of stops in cities across the states. Amusing anectodal storylines developed in our travels together and that's another time, another story.
In my 54 years, I've had a lot of life experiences, yet this historical adventure of time spent in Crawford, Texas supporting Cindy Sheehan's stand and the 4 weeks of the Bring Them Home Now Tour will be at the top of my list as both memorable and significant. When I went to Crawford in that first week of Camp Casey, I left my home state of Washington feeling an almost hopeless despair that America, generally speaking, had given up on and abandoned our deployed troops. At the very least, I felt, as a military family with deployed loved ones, I could stand with Cindy, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq. Expecting little to come of this effort, it was nothing short of astounding to experience what grew out of Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas. I learned that America does care and enough to discomfort themselves to stand up for their convictions. I learned this over and over again on the Bring Them Home Now tour and yet again at the rally in Washington DC on Sept 24 where an estimated 300,000 to 600,000 people gathered and marched based on their convictions to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home.
Having no guide book to how the tour would emerge, I reconciled with myself that my own efforts would stand as a historical testament on behalf of our adult children and our 12 grandchildren that their mother and grandmother did choose to act regarding the issue of the war in Iraq. At best, I could hope my own example would serve in some measure as a mentoring or model for them as they inherit this America and the ongoing war in Iraq and Middle East. Yet my own are not the only young who will inherit what has been unleashed and it was of interest to me to see up close how Americans in other states, largely considered of the conservative bent, were feeling and reacting to the issue of the war in Iraq. What I learned is that it is imperative not to give up on our young and that they are indeed the leaders of tomorrow and that they can be impassioned to act in their own best interest, given the opportunity to be heard.
So it is with the 4 young participants on our central bus tour, ages in early to late 20s and early 30s. By tours end these 4 are polished and powerful speakers with a passionate message of their own experiences related to war, particularly the war in Iraq. They will carry their own message to the young in this country and reach far and beyond where some of us elders are unable to connect. It is fitting that the young will be the messengers to the young in our country who are the avenue for change in the coming years. It is fitting, therefore, that I name with pride our 4 young messengers who have learned from our tour the power of their own experiences and message. Pay attention to these names, and hear their message. Hart Viges, an Iraq veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Kallisa Stanley, a young military wife and member of Military Families Speak Out. Beatriz Saldivar, aunt to nephew killed in Iraq on his second tour and herself a member of Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out. Chris Snively, a veteran and member of Veterans for Peace.
These four already had a message when they began the tour, and over the course of the weeks, as they participated with us who are older and part of the panel speakers, these young ones engaged our audiences beyond what we elders could have done less their efforts. It was the tribal elder model, where our elder experience was valued by them, yet it was their own vitality, youth and passion that was sent forth on the mission to engage the young of this country and astound the elders of this country. Surely, it was for me, a likeness to laboring to give birth to the babes who are the new light of our America. It is difficult to ignore their message, their experience, their courage, their determination, their compassion, their deep concern and their optimistic hope that they can make a difference in speaking and sharing their message. It is difficult to dismiss their message as being a throwback to an earlier time in our history. Their message is a message for today and for today's America. It is a powerful message and I am deeply honored and priviledged to have been a part of their lives for the 4 weeks on tour. I expect America will be hearing from them often as it is unlikely they can return home and easily forget their own experiences while on tour.
The reception our central tour received as we stopped in city after city to participate in planned rallies, town-hall meetings, events and vigils was warm, embracing and heartening. My assessment would be that ordinary citizens where ever we stopped were hungry for information and eager to hear our own experiences as a military community. I'm mindful of the words of one woman where we stopped in Ohio, who said they don't get much opportunity in their community to have legitimate discussions about the war in Iraq and sometimes don't even know how to frame the questions or the enter the discussion. I asked her to say more and she explained that the rhetorical 'support the troops by not challenging the President' took precedence over generating further authentic discussion. She further pointed out that our example as panelists on the tour, served to help them not only ask the questions, but also bolstered their courage and determination to have the discussion despite oppositional rhetoric intended to shut down discussion. I took her comments to heart as we continued the tour, recognizing that we were serving a function above and beyond what even we were aware of as we shared our experiences, stories and message.
I'm mindful too of our experience of two Marine Moms with deployed sons in the Lima unit which experienced 22 killed in August, 1/3rd of that Marine unit killed. They shared the usual concerns of keeping their silence on behalf of feared repercussions to their deployed sons if they did speak out. Most all our military families have this concern and fear and it can be a very real consequence to our active and deployed loved ones. They followed along with our tour through the rest of Ohio, and were resolved to speak out in their own communities. By the next stop, one of the Marine Moms spoke on our panel, and before we left Ohio, had sent along her own written article speaking out on her experience which has been published online. I'm fairly positive, we left these two Marine Moms feeling more empowered to act in their and their loved ones own best interest than before we arrived. And that is what we found true throughout our tour. People felt more empowered to not only speak out, but to act and in action, often times, the feelings of helplessness in the face of great odds begins to dissipate. Our ongoing message at all of our stops was to thank the people who turned out as the real power lies with the people and to encourage them take an action today and tomorrow that they didn't take yesterday to end the war and bring out troops home, now. It was a well-received encouragement, I think, gauging by reactions of the people we encountered.
There are far too many anectodal stories of our experiences on the tour to share in a short missive, yet each and every one is an important part of the larger story. What is the larger story? For me, it is that after 2 + years of 24/7 attention to bringing our troops home and feeling an almost utter despair that America, Congress and this Commander-in-Chief has abandoned our troops, I am pleased to know how wrong I was to have arrived at the conclusion. A conclusion, in great part formed, by the absence of accurate or adequate media reporting and by the deliberate efforts of this Administration to put forth an alternative storyline masking the harsh truths of the war in Iraq. Ordinary American citizens across this nation DO care, and care enough to ask and act and are stepping up to the plate to honor their requirement to have a civilian duty in time of war which is to challenge the Commander-in-Chief always on the necessity, validity and value of sending troops into combat and war. This is more especially true when such a war is waged on foreign soil and the origin reasons for invasion or pre-emptive war are at best speculative and in the case of Iraq shown to be outright deception on the part of this Administration.
I believe our Bring Them Home Now Tour did have a large impact in the growth of the grass-roots level movement as was demonstrated by the numbers who turned out for the rally in Washington DC on Sept 24, 2005. Yet that rally was only a beginning, I do believe. I do not think America will go quietly into the night again. I am proud of our four coalitons, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace and Veterans for Peace and proud to have been a part of carrying our collective military community voice with our singular message 'support the troops, bring them home now, and take care of them when they get home'. In the two months that have passed since that beginning vigil in Crawford, Texas, I do not believe there has been an adequate defined answer to the original question that was posited 'what is the noble cause?'
As we visited with Congressional aides, Legislators and Congress people at our every stop and blitzed Congress when we got to Washington DC, we did ask the hard questions of each of them. Despite efforts by some to blow us off, my own evaluation, is that for the most part we were listened to and heard. That in itself is a small measure of accomplishment, but is hardly enough. Essentially the challenge to Congress is that the time for sitting on the fence has ended, and as one of our internal slogans on our bus was 'you're either on the bus or you're not' modelled after the President's own message of you're either for or against; for Congress it is time to do their own Congressional duty on behalf of their representation of citizens of this America and on behalf of the deployed troops and step up to the plate regarding the issue of the war in Iraq.
There is a clearly defined mission for our deployed troops, and it has yet to be defined. In the absence of a clearly defined mission, our troops then have no reason to be deployed. Staying the course is not a clearly defined mission. Fighting them there so we don't have to fight them there is not a clearly defined mission. Waiting for the training of the Iraqi military so they can take over their own security is questionable when it takes approximately 6 weeks to 4 months to train a recruit fresh out of high school in America to be deployed to combat in Iraq. There has been considerably longer period of time to train an Iraqi military than is permitted for training our own young American troops. Fighting terrorism is not a clearly defined mission as the definition of terrorism is far too broad and non-specific in it's definitions. Rebuilding Iraq because our invasion destroyed the infrastructure is not a clearly defined mission for combat troops; rather begs quite the opposite in international and political resolution instead of military resolution. Most of these are the reasons we heard from the Congressionals we visited. We are hopeful that our own heartfelt and passionate messages served to show these same Congressionals that the arguments for remaining in Iraq are weak.
And speaking for myself only, my own last message in our visits was all the way out of Iraq now, anything else is a strategy of delay and placating the public and itself a non-plan serving to continue the war in Iraq. Asking for a reasonable reaction from unreasonable Administration and expecting a reasonable reaction is unreasonable. I also offered up a few facts for consideration;
1) The current mass marketing campaign by high profile marketers to target parents of children at elementary school level for recruitment into the military points to a decade or longer effort of war in Iraq and Middle East
2) As 341,000 troops have served two or more tours in Iraq, it is apparant by simple math that there are not enough troops to do the undefined mission for which they were sent. With the reported 150,000 standing troops, the remarkable incidence of forced retention via stop loss, extended tours, repeat tours for Active, Guard and Reserve troops demonstrates an involuntary military and an under-the-radar use of a draft of forced conscription.
3) America is losing a battalion of troops a month, killed and wounded, according to Senator Jack Reed in the Senate Armed Forces Committee Report in June 2003. A battalion size is approximately 800 troops.
4) One million children in America have a deployed parent.
5) The estimated number of 23,533 Iraq and Afghan veterans requiring VA care has been revised upwards by 103,000 additional Iraq and Afghan veterans needing VA care. That would total 126,533 Iraq and Afghan returning vets requiring VA services in addition to the veterans of previous wars. At this time we know VA is seriously underfunded.
6) The triangle model of accountability, responsibility, trust of the troops to the Commander-in-Chief and citizens, the Commander-in-Chief to the citizens and troops, and the citizens to the troops and Commander-in-Chief demands more of our civilian citizens and Congress in holding the Commander-in-Chief accountable and responsible on behalf of our deployed troops.
Overall, my own assessment is that Congress is reacheable, and more has to be done by ordinary citizens everywhere to reach their Representatives and Senators and express their own experiences, concerns, and well-stated arguments for why it is necessary to bring the troops home now and expect Congress to act accordingly. As I travelled through the offices and halls of Congress in my shorts and tank top, instead of the impressive blazer, shirt and slacks I planned to wear, I can say simply the illusion of power is an illusion. Our message asks for people in positions of power to return to decency and do the right thing, that partisan politics be set aside and an expectation that higher ground is possible beyond political gaming.
Lastly, given what I believe is the success of our tour, I'm among those who believe the tour should continue to the Western states, to Canada, and abroad. Where's the bus, I want to get on the bus again. What about you, do you want to get on the bus, too, figuratively speaking?
Lietta Ruger, member Military Families Speak Out
military family with 2 Iraq veterans, stop lossed for second deployments
Bay Center, WA