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The Mother of an Iraq War Vet Responds

Demoralizing the Troops?

by TINA RICHARDS

Demoralizing the troops.

Those were the words that inspired me to challenge Orin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate hearing a few weeks ago. Those were the words that echoed so loudly in my mind I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t stay silent.

Today I had to drop off Polly, a friend who flew out to help me this last week in DC with my occupation project (details at website GrassrootsAmerica4us.org), at the Baltimore airport. The majority of customers waiting in line where soldiers, all dressed in desert cami’s. Instantly, I thought of the days when I saw my son off to war dressed in those same cami’s and tears came to my eyes. I think the second to worse event for a mother is seeing her son off to war, unknowing if he’ll return.

The worst is when he doesn’t return.

But these troops were smiling, relaxed, and relieved. Sitting down for a cup of coffee before Polly’s flight took off, we were mixed in a sea of beige and brown. A conversation started about returning to family and where home is for each. One soldier was from Springfield, Missouri. "Missouri? Well, I’m from Salem," I said. The soldier’s family is from Salem, Missouri and we quickly struck up a conversation. "Is the water tower still standing?" he asked. "Yes, right next to the High School," I said.

He told me of his time in Afghanistan and how honored he was to be on Nancy Pelosi’s guard duty when she was there a couple of months ago. "She’s so small," he said, "but a great lady." You could see the grin on his face as he recalled stories about her: Proud to be on guard for the Speaker of the House.

When I told him why I was in D.C. and not Missouri, he hung his head low and shook it back and forth. He told me of the year before when he was in Iraq. He told me about a buddy who was injured in an explosion. His friend was from Michigan and had dreamed of being a policeman, like his dad, his whole life. Just before his dad had died of cancer, he had left him a knife. Not an expensive knife, but one with great sentimental value. As his fellow soldier was being evacuated, he asked him to hold on to the knife. "You never know what’s going to happen." He wanted it safe. He promised to return it to his brother-in-arms. . . .

He kept his promise. When they met up, his friend couldn’t move his arm from the battle injury. He couldn’t become a cop either. "Now he’s a security guard, making $10 an hour and has to pay for his own car and gas."

The VA only gave him 10% disability, $200 a month. "What kind of life is that?" the soldier asked me.

Demoralized? You bet. Not from photos on the Washington Post or Democrats and Republicans arguing about what direction to take. But from one soldier seeing how a fellow brother-in-arms is being treated by their own government after they honorable serve, risking life and limb, doing everything asked of them. Promises broken.

As Polly and I left, I told them we would keep fighting to ensure their brothers and sisters-in-arms would be taken care of and work to make sure they get the time off to spend with their families. They smiled and thanked us. We welcomed them home.

You see this morning I was disappointed because I was hoping to see my son on spring break. But he had decided to go on the Veteran’s for Peace Bus leaving Fayetteville N.C. on March 17, heading down to New Orleans to help with reconstruction. I was feeling pretty useless and wasn’t sure if anyone wanted to hear from me. I’m just one voice.

But that café filled with soldiers, their thank you’s and smiles that "we the people" are fighting for their rights, has given me encouragement to continue. No matter how small the one voice is. Because Polly’s voice working in Rochester, NY to rally the youth to end the war, Chuck Smith in St. Louis driving anywhere to support a fellow soldier who chooses to become a war resister, Gael and Medea with Code Pink whose creativity inspires thousands of women throughout the world, Stacey Hafley from Columbia, MO who is holding down the fort while her events coordinator is in DC, or the Mt. Rainier Neighbors UFPJ who share their homes with strangers to anyone working for peace, or Tom Seagar and Ruth Gilmore in Rolla, Mo who lead a vigil with five or six others every week. We are all important, bringing our different ideas, skills, talents, efforts, money and voices to end the war. One voice alone, I would be useless. But united with thousands across this country, makes us a force to be reckoned with.

If you haven’t been to DC, come join me. If you haven’t written a letter to congress, write one. Democracy only works if we participate. It has been a long hard road to get us a congress that will listen. Now is the time to speak out.

TINA RICHARDS is the mother of Corporal Cloy Richards an Iraq War Veteran and peace activist from Missouri. Her website is GrassrootsAmerica4us.org and she can be reached at: Tina@GrassrootsAmerica4us.org