Sunday, March 16, 2008

Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan

These are the times that try men's souls. The summertime soldier and the 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.
Thomas Paine

If you did not listen to or watch the Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations over the weekend you missed some compelling testimony on what has and is going on in our names in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Gold Star Families Speak Out attended the panels at Winter Soldier. As I listened to these young men and women, many of whom I have met along the way, I was proud to know them and proud that they stood up and told their truth. As difficult as it was for us to hear their stories, it was difficult for them to tell them and we owe them much gratitude. We must listen to their stories and not just gloss over their service as one of a hero, although surely many of these members of the military were indeed heroic. In her closing statement, Kelly Dougherty, co-founder nd Executive Director of Iraq Veterans Against the War said "It's not about the individual, it's about the occupation." The testimony of all of these veterans and active duty military should be required listening for every member of Congress and every American.

My friends Kevin & Joyce Lucey, fellow members of Gold Star Families Speak Out provided remarkable testimony about the suicide of their son, Jeffrey who had fought PTSD with no support from the VA. The Lucey's are suing the Department of Veterans affairs arguing the VA was negligent in caring for their son. A VA Inspector General’s Report notes VA officials turned Jeffrey Lucey a few days before he took his own life. The Lucey's are a class act and hearing their story makes me cry every time.

My friend Jeff Key spoke during the "Divide To Conquer: Gender and Sexuality in the Military" Panel. Jeff wears one of Ken's dog tags that I gave him a few years back when we first met.

I know how hard it is to get up in front of a crowd and tell your story. It is part of our healing, or at least moving forward. If we don't say something, if we don't tell people our story, then other families, other soldiers, will suffer as we do. If our voice can help one family, one soldier, then our own grief is benefiting others.

It was fitting that these hearings were held during the week of the fifth anniversary of Shock & Awe, or the invasion of Iraq. The corporate media gave little attention to this powerful testimony; they apparently do not find this newsworthy. The Stars & Stripes, a daily newspaper published for the U.S. military wrote briefly about the weekend. On the first night of the hearings in Washington DC, Nightline featured segments on the Girls-Gone-Wild guy, Joe Francis and singer Meatloaf; that's infotainment for you.

And a final note to Ronn Cantu, an active duty member of IVAW, Happy 30th Birthday to you. Because of your testimony, other soldiers will come home and celebrate their 3oth birthdays, unlike my son, who did not. We celebrated my son, Lt Ken Ballard's 30th birthday in memoriam last year because he was killed in Iraq nearly 4 years ago when he was 26.

Audio clips are available at The War Comes Home, a project of KPFA radio.
Complete Broadcast Archive, from Mar. 14, 2008 Part 1, Part 2 | Mar. 15, 2008 Part 1, Part 2 | Mar. 16, 2008 Part 1, Part 2.

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