Sunday, February 24, 2008

A little bit of hooah, a little bit of IVAW

It's funny to me sometimes when people tend to assume my life is all one or the other. That since I'm an Army sergeant who's a little bit gung-ho about some stuff, I must completely support everything we do, including the war-or that since I'm an IVAW member taking on a lot of responsibility, I must hate the Army and all of its ways. I was thinking about this (not that the conversation caused it) as I took a phone call the other day from an IVAW member, while I had an Army weapon in one hand. I spoke briefly to the IVAW member, told him I'd call him back, and then proceeded to give the best training I could to my guys on how not to die. When I was done with the training and was no longer on Army time, I called back the IVAW member and proceeded to give them my full due as well. It occurred to me in retrospect how odd it might seem to an outside observer-but I view IVAW as an extension of my NCO self. It's taking care of soldiers, which is my job, just in a little bit different way. Taking care of the bullets they don't know how to dodge-the political bullets that they think they just have to suck up.

The truth is always, no matter how strange it may seem to people, a little bit in between. I love IVAW, I'm firmly against the Iraq War, and I love the Army. I don't always love the way the Army is being handled, and I don't always love how certain anti-Iraq war groups take actions. I prefer to go into recruiter's offices and give them SITREPs. Or Winter Soldier flyers. They're troops too, and just because they're putting new troops in doesn't mean they agree with the war necessarily. I also prefer in the Army to be tough but fair on my soldiers. I will help them with anything that needs doing, but at a certain point, they need to do things themselves and be competent at them-I don't believe that lowering standards helps in the long run. I don't like things about both, but that doesn't mean I am not firm for both. I don't think the two are incompatible at all. I, like a lot of my fellow IVAW members and supporters, are human beings.

Some people make a lot of noise about organizations, and how organizations are doing this, or organizations are doing that. This is, quite frankly, a crock. Organizations don't do things. People do things, and they may be part of an organization of like-minded individuals at the same time. There are few demons on either side, and thinking that each side is a monolithic block of robots can be pretty harmful.

Speaking of monolithic blocks of robots, some thinking that the anti-war movement acts in that fashion may be surprised to learn of the Code of Conduct for Winter Soldier II. We do, in fact, have rules out that will govern behavior for all attendees, members, media, and invited guests. I know this will come as a deep disappointment to TSO, who may cancel his tentative interest upon learning that he will not, after all, be able to blog with a beer in one hand and a keyboard in the other. For everyone else, the rules primarily involve acting like an adult, with a few security concerns and courtesy concerns addressed as well. (Like don't use a cellphone in a place where people are going to be talking seriously about very serious stuff. Some of this is really no-brainers)

In other news, I have an alert of a missing marine on the loose. Anyone in Indiana may want to keep an eye out for Eric Hall -he apparently phoned, so his family knows he's alive, but they report him as wounded in Iraq and with PTSD, so getting him home may be a tough process.

Also, if you haven't visited the Winter Soldier website in a while, now is your time to do so. It also gives details for those of you unable to make it in person who want to tune in during the periods which will be broadcast, especially if you have satellite TV-also the schedule and times you can watch or listen to it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Winter Soldier: What we believe.

Many of you don't understand why I believe in Winter Soldier, or what I think Winter Soldier is going to be about. It's hard to explain, especially when you find yourself coming up against gaps. You can read my piece in the SIT-REP, if you're lucky enough to be by a base where that hot little newspaper is going around.

But pictures and video are worth far more than a thousand words. Don't let me tell you-let the close friends of mine who made this video, Steve Mortillo and Jason Washburn, tell you, in their own words.

These guys are among those types of voices I've been talking about: young, strong veterans, proud of their military service, proud of the services they love (Trust me-you should be there when we all get going about which is better, Army or Marines), and with a strong love of their country. And like myself, they are proud members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. You probably haven't heard of them much-but hopefully you will. These guys are tough-they're doing a 25 mile ruck march next weekend to Valley Forge that I wish I could join them for.

And this video is nothing short of amazing. The footage is all soldier (yes, Jason, and Marine) shot.

If you've ever wanted to get inside my head, or those of the IVAW members like me. If you've ever wondered just what drives some people to speak out. If you are curious about just what this Winter Soldier means. If you are a friend, a frenemy, or even the gentleman-opposition peeking in.

Watch it. You won't regret you did.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Internet Civility, and IVAW bylaws

For all those who may not be aware (excerpted with permission from IVAW National):

Any of the following acts outlined below are strictly prohibited.

2) Verbal, physical, or sexual harassment;
3) Conduct endangering the life, safety, and/or health of others;

If any member is engaging in this behavior, they are not acting as an official spokesperson of IVAW. IVAW does not condone, in any way, shape, or form, this sort of behavior.

As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, I would like to apologize for the behavior which took place over the last few days in the milblogosphere. I am not going to link to it, because I, quite frankly, don't want that filth touching what is effectively "my house". A penny and a Google will find it for you anyway.

Denis Keohane, of Obiter Dictum, makes a very good point: there are individuals on both sides that have not seemed to grasp the concept of adult behavior, and agreeing to disagree. On our side, we will be policing our own, and I would hope that Gathering of Eagles is also policing their own side. I also suspect that it may in fact be once again as Mr. Keohane says, and that people spew all sorts of violence on the internet that they would never mean. As he puts it, (excerpted without permission and it will be removed if so desired:)

With all the years of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations we've had in this country, you would think at times that blood has been running down the streets and the ERs jammed to capacity and calling in aid from other states every time CODEPINK or IVAW and GOE members temporarilly share a zip code!

It ain't happening and it hasn't happened.

All sides can point to the incident or a few where tempers went critical and things happened. But they are a tiny, tiny few, out of hundreds of events engaging thousands of people.

I hope that I am correct when I say that no one will be meeting in DC with violence. That any retired law enforcement officers will look at their weapons, and as men who have dealt with violence all their lives, choose not to bring an escalating object to an event at which multiple veterans, many of which are diagnosed with PTSD on both sides, will be present. That all of our hotheads will allow the crisp March air to cool their thoughts as well as their bodies.

I have great hope for this. I have hope for this in the mutual respect I am seeing on many sides, the respect I am seeing at The Sniper (who still probably throws up a little in his mouth just thinking of it), the respect at Obiter Dictum, and even the newest in the respect contingent, who I'm sure will be a surprise to everyone- Adam Kokesh. Yes, folks, Adam Kokesh met the national director of operations for Gathering Of Eagles, Chris Hill the other day, and not only is nobody dead, the two of them apparently had a nice talk, and may be doing an event for charity together.

No, I swear, it's not Opposite Day. Sanity has in fact prevailed, it would seem, and if one doesn't have an eye on the ugly emails filling my inbox right now, one would almost think that peace on earth, good will to men, all that, were filling the whole political-veteran world.

Eh. I'll take what I can get. I'm really happy for this. And I look forward to seeing the match. My money will, of course, be on Adam. He'd probably kick my ass if I didn't bet on him, anyway.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Army To Civilians: Be Less Productive-WTF?

Alright. I know I promised I'd blog about this maybe the next day, but I'm getting incredibly busy with working on Winter Soldier. If you haven't checked it out recently, you should go there, it has updated. Denis Keohane over at Obiter Dictum is having kittens about this change, but I think he's mostly annoyed in a 'kids, get off my lawn' sort of way. Having been part of IVAW and seen all the leadup to Winter Soldier, I can tell you that Winter Soldier has always been envisioned as veterans telling their stories, and has never been intended to be only about crimes they had witnessed. The website may have sucked previously, but Denis, I do not think it means what you think it means! Personally, of course, I think it's going to be awesome.

And remember, guys, blogger spots are still open for Winter Soldier. Vets are getting to the point where they may not be able to cover the entire weekend if they want table space, and those willing to cooperate/trade out time are going to the top of the list, but active duty, reserve, or National Guard servicemembers still have top precedence. Also, if you have questions, you know where to email them!

Now, to the actual story that had me all pissed off for the last week: controversy at Fort Drum, which has had an awful lot of issues popping up with it. Apparently, VA people at Fort Drum were helping soldiers fill out their disability paperwork when they were requesting Army disability. The Army and the VA calculate their disability ratings differently, but the Army one is the one that gives the money, and is generally known for being stingier. There was a great study a few years back about how the higher rank you were, the more likely you were to get better disability ratings for the same injuries. A possible cause of it might have been the byzantine forms and procedures that soldiers needed to navigate. VA people were helping them turn the descriptions of the injuries from "hurts like a SOB" to "Pain in left blah blah doctortalk"-at least, that terminology change is my guess. Anyway, great! Civilians taking initiative! Awesome!

Not so much, said the Army. Apparently Fort Drum vets were receiving higher disability ratings than elsewhere, and they sent a Tiger Team to investigate. The Tiger Team told the VA to stop helping out, and the VA complied. The Army Times has the details of what happened next: apparently some Congress members are getting involved, and a board of inquiry may be called. I'm just horrified for my Army, personally. I mean, everyone knows in the Army that it's like pulling teeth to get the civilians to do what they're supposed to. Here they do what they're allowed, above and beyond, and they get shut down? What a message to send to the rest of their counterparts. And what a message to send to Fort Drum.

This ties into my great and abiding rage that monetary concerns are affecting how soldiers are getting diagnosed and treated, especially when it comes to disability time. The monetary concerns are why we first started seeing "pre-existing personality disorders" in record numbers, amazingly enough, often in combat troops! Why, someone might almost be fooled into thinking they had PTSD! Except that PTSD forces the Army to pay money and acknowledge responsibility for medical care.

Hopefully all of these eyes looking at the situation will let the civilians with initiative get back to helping soldiers, if it hasn't been choked out of them. Also, anyone injured who's almost to getting-out time: steer clear of Fort Drum, until this thing gets fixed. There are lots of places that will help with paperwork, often vet groups. I know that IVAW has some connections to vet groups, and the DC chapter in particular is reading up on the law to help out soldiers.