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I originally put this in a comment from a previous entry, and Scout Finch advised me (a newbie) to post it as a diary entry.  So I have...... but there really is an additional element that I didn't include in the blockquote below that I share now....

My husband Mike joined the Army at 18 and put in 13 years.  When he got out in 2000, he met and married me, moving to Seattle to work in law enforcement. I didn't know anything about military life or being a military spouse. In fact, I was pretty comfortable in my life as a 7th CD Democrat.

After a year or so, he asked if he could rejoin with the local reserve unit in Seattle

 (in his MOS or Job Description) and I said "Sure, why not?" Well, the whole unit was activated two months after he was in!  Luckily, his main assignment was at Ft. Belvoir (DC area) with only occasional trips to Iraq, so I was able to visit often though it was officially TDY. (Temporary Duty)

The army put us up in an apartment in Alexandria, VA.  I'll tell you.... I got an eyeful of the kind of sacrifices our country expects not only from our service members, but the family members who love them.  It was so hard....This whole "Mission First" concept was foreign to me.... can you imagine that when Mike was first deployed my initial response was "Why don't you just give the Army your two weeks notice and quit?  :)  He finished his assignment in April 2005 ... for a total of 1 year and 9 months.

While I was in the DC area I served as a Red Cross Volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center working the medevac flights.  After our wounded are airlifted to Landstuhl they arrive at Andrew AFB and then Walter Reed.  I would be there waiting with the wives and other family members, provide companionship and information about Walter Reed, lodging, the DC area, etc. until the doctors had their soldier triaged and in ICU.  I then would accompany the family up to be briefed by the doctor and be present when they finally could see their soldier. Since they stayed for months, I would become friends with some of the families and stop by a couple times a week to visit or take them shopping.  I tell you, the families were so brave and the doctors at WRAMC were amazing, but I am sure you understand that it was no pretty picture.

I really was upset by the whole thing, not just what I saw at Walter Reed, but the use of our military that put these usually young (but not always....a lot of reservists were in their 30's and 40's) in harms way.  
What to do? .... Well, I marched right down to John Kerry Headquarters (this was 2004) and volunteered to work full time at the Vets for Kerry outreach desk.  My thought was to get our troops a new commander in chief.... Not to be...

I wanted to get involved to make sure that our military was used responsibly and have gone on to help found Veterans & Military Families for Progress so we could work to not only assure that folks on Active Duty have the pay, gear and support needed to do a good job, but to ensure that the commitments we as a nation make to our veterans are upheld.  Things like full funding for the VA, getting rid of concurrent receipt, and generally those veteran benefits I am sure most civilians are vaguely aware of.

VETERANS and MILITARY FAMILIES for PROGRESS is the first Veterans organization to actively endorse and support candidates who are in alignment with our position on issues. We are unique in that family members participate at all levels of our organization with full voting rights.

Our goal - bring the tools used by activists to create political will for change to vets and their families.

***

So, I got a statement written by Marine mom Deborah  Johns from an email contact and I was COMPELLED to share more about an important part of my path from civilian to aware citizen.

Here was my response to the sender of the email.....

Dear XXXX,

I read the attached letter.... My initial response is to encourage you to watch the documentary "Why We Fight" -  it is in Blockbuster now.  It talks, in part, about the importance of national dialog by all citizens about the war.  I would encourage Deb to watch it also; it would give her a new perspective on her statements.  

Remember I told you my military pen pal died (committed suicide) while serving his third tour in Iraq?   Well, there is more of a back story there.

When Cindy Sheehan was in Crawford, TX in Aug of 2005, gathering a small group of peace activist groups to engage Bush... it was mostly the military side... Gold Star Families for Peace, Veterans for Peace, IAVAW, etc.  I told the VMFP board that I thought I should go there and check things out, and perhaps network amongst the more left-leaning of the Veterans and Military Family organizations.  To a person, the vets on our board said, "no, we don’t agree with what she is saying/doing".

Then Bush threatened to have her arrested as a national security risk if she were in that ditch when Condi and Rummy drove by on their way to the ranch.  To a person, every vet on our board then called me and said something like.... "You go, with our blessing, not necessarily to support her, but check it out, because although I may not agree with what she is saying, I fought and my friends died so she could stand in that ditch and say whatever she wants."

So it was the early days, before Code Pink and the hoopla arrived, I was there.... One of about 250 folks in a ditch.  Her mission today has diverged from that pure expression, but I was there, witnessing as that ditch became a place where people could voice their opinions – including Freepers.   It was the building of true community in the essence of M. Scott Peck’s "The Road Less Traveled". I didn’t always agree with what I heard, but I honored their right to have an opinion and to speak out.

While I was at the Crawford Peace house checking my emails one evening, I first got word that Rusty was killed (died) in Iraq (8-12-05).  The typical scene -  screams of horror, collapse, shock.  As a Red Cross volunteer at Walter Reed, I had often filled the supporter role as I waited with families for their loved ones to be medevaced in from Landstuhl, but this time I was on the other side of that equation.  

****And Rusty wasn’t my son, but I wondered what would happen if every citizen mourned every wound and death as if it WERE their loved one?****  

In my moment, God put me in a room full of Gold Star Families who immediately understood what was transpiring and begin to support me.  Cindy’s sister, Dee Dee, became my primary conduit to sanity for the next couple of days.  

So my lesson was -  we are all in this together, and to demonize one perspective of the debate could cut us off from the very persons who may be ultimately the best support and connections.

I then left Crawford a week later to drive to Arkansas to attend Rusty’s funeral, met his family and shared with them the many emails and letters containing the kind things he had told me about all of them.

So in closing, I am not really a fan of someone who is tired of hearing people speak out, but of course –  She is speaking out, and that I applaud.  I perceive her letter as containing traditional military rhetoric, "don’t think about why, just obey".  It also demonized the Democrats, who to a person had a better actual voting record for supporting and funding veterans programs than their Republican counterparts in Congress according to all the mainstream Veteran Service Organizations who gather data on such votes.

I have lost someone in Iraq, I do send packages to my friends there, I did serve for two years supporting families at Walter Reed (ward 58), my own Army Reservist husband was activated and then force extended for a total of 21 months active duty, I pour my heart and soul into a veterans & military family organization working to address the repercussions of war.... And yet, I am a diarist on dailyKOS, I am a progressive, I do speak out... I am so many of those things that Deb is tired of hearing about or from.  I really can’t by into her approach but I do agree with some of her goals.  I would like us to work together towards them.

Our service members obey, that is their oath, but citizens must question, speak out, engage in spirited and respectful debate.... and act to make a difference, in whatever way they see fit.  It is our responsibility as members of a democracy.

More of my progressive approach to working towards addressing the issues you and I both care about.... And be sure to watch Why We Fight.... It taps into those PTSD issues we were discussing by phone.

Take Care,

Julie

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Originally posted to Seattle4310 on Sat Feb 10, 2007 at 01:41 AM PST.

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