Active-Duty GIs Call for Withdrawal

For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, active-duty members of the military are asking members of Congress to end the occupation of Iraq and bring U.S. soldiers home.

More than 100 soldiers announced Wednesday that they are seeking protection under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act (DOD directive 7050.6) to file a protected communication to Congress without fear of reprisal.

Among them is Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto, who had to leave his base in the state of Virginia and change into civilian clothes to take part in a morning teleconference.

"The discussion needs to shift from whether to stay or get out to how best to get out," he told reporters.

Hutto said he had doubts about the war while his aircraft carrier battle group was bombing Iraq from the Persian Gulf, but only decided to come forward publicly after an old professor of his from Howard University sent him a book published in 1975 called Soldiers in Revolt, which documents rank-and-file soldiers’ resistance to the Vietnam war.

"Iraq, just like Vietnam, is a war that’s not about a real threat to the security of America," he said. "We say it’s time to step out and say that. To our political leaders and policymakers we say the occupation has to come to an end."

The message that Hutto and other troops are sending to their congressional representatives is brief and to the point.

"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq," it says. "Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."

The 100 active-duty soldiers who are formally appealing for redress join an increasing number of veterans of the Iraq war calling for a U.S. withdrawal.

"Normally the military and military families lean conservative, especially in a time of war, so to see these kinds of activities is very telling about the situation we’re in now," said Tim Goodrich, a former Air Force pilot from Buffalo, New York, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Goodrich, along with other disenchanted veterans, has formed a political action committee called Iraq Veterans for Progress.

"We support candidates who want to end the war against their opponents who are allied with the [George W.] Bush administration’s strategy of ‘stay the course’ and we help them win," he told IPS. "We help them win by sending them unemployed Iraq veterans to campaign for them. We pay their salary and help get our message out."

One reason for the rise in discontent is the high percentage of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who return from the war with serious injuries. According to documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, 25 percent of veterans of the "global war on terror" have filed disability compensation and pension benefit claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

One is a July 20, 2006, document titled "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism," which shows that 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled.

The numbers hardly surprise Adele Kubein, a graduate student in a teaching position at Oregon State University and a member of the group Military Families Speak Out. Her daughter Makesha, a member of the Oregon National Guard, was blown out of her helicopter in Iraq.

"Her leg was shattered and she was kept in combat two more months after that with a shattered leg," Kubein told IPS. "She was eventually medically evacuated out, and she was held on a base in Colorado interminably. They were not going to release her because there was no plan in place for medical assistance for National Guard members. They were threatening to release her from the military without further medical care."

Kubein said she contacted her congressman, Democrat Peter DeFazio, and explained her daughter’s situation. DeFazio then took the floor of the House and demanded she be returned home.

"At this point all politicians like to jump on the bandwagon for individual troop issues," she said. "They like to say that by doing that they are supporting the troops. What we are trying to say to Congress entails more than one than helping one of them at a time. Supporting the troops is to bring them home."

"My daughter will never again be able to walk around the block without excruciating pain," she said. "I think about the [budget] cuts the Bush administration is making in Veterans Affairs. This is a legacy that we are going to have to bear and I hope that every time an American sees a disabled veteran they realize that we are all complicit in what happened to our troops."

(Inter Press Service)