YK: Iraq Vets Speak Truth to Power on the War

The implicit message from Sgt. Aaron Hughes’ superiors is to run down the children if they get in the way of the truck steaming from Kuwait to deliver supplies to war contractors in Iraq.

An impromptu YearlyKos panel was organized this morning by the Center for Media and Democracy to provide 50-some bloggers and journalists a chance to hear the unvarnished, unspun words of Iraq War veterans. Hughes, an E-5 sergeant in the Illinois Army National Guard, knew his mission and it was not to share his unit’s three weeks worth of food and water provisions loaded into the truck with hungry children begging for help on the side of the road. But he also knew that he “didn’t join the military to support corporations making billions of dollars on contracts.”

Hughes was joined on the panel by fellow veterans Garrett Reppenhagen, an Army Scout Sniper, and Army National Guardsman Geoffrey Millard of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Army medic and firefighter Josh Landsale of the Iraq Summer Campaign.

Reppenhagen, a Colorado resident, was especially enthusiastic about the power of blogging and the Internet on war reporting and its ability to “deliver the truth” that fills the gaps left by corporate-owned media outlets. From 2004-05, the infantryman was deployed to Baqubah, Iraq — an area northeast of Baghdad well-known for fierce insurgent activity — following a 9-month peacekeeping tour in Kosovo.

While in country, Reppenhagen was also a known as a “mil-blogger” or military blogger, an activity that, early on at the start of the invasion, touched off a firestorm of controversy within the Defense Department that was desperately trying to control all news coming out of the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mil-bloggers complained that they were providing a service to their comrades-in-arms as a counterweight to the heavy right-wing tilt of Armed Forces Radio and FOX News which is piped directly into the bases and encampments. Hughes followed that some Web sites are now being blocked on the military’s Internet portals. So far, liberal sites like DailyKos.com are still available to be viewed according to the three.

Reppenhagen encouraged the bloggers in the audience to keep up their efforts talking about the war and learning about the presidential candidates’ positions:

As the election gears up, we become sports enthusiasts. We become ‘homers.’ We blindly follow candidates. The most important issue is the Iraq War. Domestic and foreign policy are all touched by it.

Lansdale, on the otherhand, was far more blunt.

“Get off your ass. Put the potato chips down. And let’s end this war,” said Lansdale to enthusiastic applause.

Lansdale is the Illinois organizer of the Iraq Summer Campaign, a national project of a coaltion of labor, student and progressive groups called Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. The project is a summer-long outreach effort to expose Congressional voting records through which they hope to encourage constituents to contact their federal representatives and demand an end to the war.

During the panel discussion, Lansdale remarked that there is a stark difference between leaving Iraq versus leaving the region that is often muddled in the national conversation on the war. He suggested that up to 240,000 soldiers could be re-deployed to a more politically stable nation and one friendlier to US foreign interests, like Kuwait, rather than remain embroiled in the middle of an Iraqi civil war.

Lansdale, and the others, also remarked that soldiers lives are being unnecessarily disrupted by extended and multiple tours of duty. “I was pulled out of college twice,” he claimed. “I still haven’t finished my undergraduate degree.”

According to Reppenhagen, 25 percent of servicemembers in Iraq have been redeployed three or more times. When asked by an audience member if Iraq Vets Against the War supported impeaching the president, he replied:

Our organization doesn’t take a stand on political issues because we have active duty service members but crimes need to be punished.