On December 2, Ruth Fowler joined a convoy of approximately 4,500 veterans heading to North Dakota in response to a plea put out by Michael Wood Jr. and Wesley Clark Jr. for fellow vets to support Standing Rock water protectors and provide frontline relief. ‘Veterans for Standing Rock’ was initially set up as a GoFundMe to support the several hundred vets the two believed might answer their call. No one quite thought the camps at Standing Rock would be besieged by over four thousand veterans on the same weekend.
Here’s the story in pictures – we’ll have an essay to follow by Ruth in the forthcoming CounterPunch magazine. – Joshua Frank
Former Combat Medic Christa McDermont takes selfies with the other veterans’ wives shortly before boarding a bus at Union Station, headed to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota with a cargo of 25 veterans, five civilians and many donations.
USAF Vet Sharne Matson, a mother of four, looks rested as she takes her seat on a bus journey which was estimated to take 22 hours. After the first driver takes multiple wrong turns, nearly hits several vehicles and freezes everyone by blasting the a/c throughout the night, the journey extended into 30 hours.
Around 4am, the bus stops outside a hotel in Utah for the bus driver to swap out for a new driver. Anthony Aragon, wrapped in a sleeping bag, stretches his legs with the other vets before bedding down for the night.
The Veterans wake up the next morning in frozen Utah.
Steven Lee, a 37 year old with a soft Southern drawl and a baby face, was a cryptolinguist in the Marines. He now campaigns for deported Veterans and teaches in schools.
After 24 hours on the bus, everyone takes a supply break at Walmart and stocks up on last minute items. Amanda Silvestri, one of the first female paratroopers in the 509th airborne infantry, strides along the aisles with 30 year old Elizabeth Torrance, an Iraq Vet.
Around 6am on the second morning, the bus eventually finds its way to the Lakota Cultural Center in Fort Yates where a makeshift welcome area has been set up to welcome Vets and provide sustenance, rest, support and directions to the High School where they will sleep for a few hours before heading to the main camp.
Sebastian Braidhair of Arizona plays while his Grandfather, Eric Braidhair, a Navajo veterans of fifteen years, sits in the background and waits for the Navajo Nation Veterans to show up at a registration office set up in Cannonball. Sebastian’s uncle is a combat marine who has completed four tours.
Elizabeth Torrance takes a picture of camp as the Veterans march over the bridge to Oceti Sakowin after hearing the news that the Army Corps easement was denied.
Native American children play in the snow as the various camps celebrate the news that the drilling is temporarily on hold.
Around the Sacred Fire many veterans proudly display their cultural roots alongside their military honors.
The celebration doesn’t last long for the LA veterans as the bus driver heads into Oceti Sakowin and immediately gets stuck in ice as the temperature drops and night closes in.
Martina One Star and Vale Clements watch, amused, as the Vets try and free the bus. They are from the Rosebud Sioux tribe in Arizona and have been at Standing Rock for three months.
After the bus is freed, the Vets are informed that because of the huge influx of Veterans, their accommodation has been given away. They are taken in by Camp Rosebud and housed in a former supply store with a faulty stove. Amanda sits surveying their new home with dismay.
The next morning a blizzard sets in just as the Vets set off for a ceremonial march to the front lines.
Veterans look confused as the Standing Rock elders stop the march from crossing the bridge. Many veterans had planned to be at the front line, taking hits, and were disappointed their role had become merely symbolic.
The march is abandoned after an hour, and the Vets stumble back to their camp in zero visibility. As the blizzard worsens, the condensation formed on the roof of the canvas starts to fall back on the girls in the form of snow, and they have little choice but to get in their sleeping bags, cover themselves with a tarp, and get through the night.
As the blizzard continues to worsen, tents fall down, catch on fire, and get snowed out. People frantically trying to leave in cars unequipped for the weather cause utter chaos within the camp. The vets make the call to try and leave to the local casino.
At the Casino, hundreds of vets and water protectors alike are camping out in the hallways, amongst the slot machines, and under the bleachers while business continues regardless. Will McMichael stands wreathed in smoke having just discovered the elders made the decision not to serve alcohol until the Casino is cleared out.
Co-founder Wesley Clark Jr. talks to the LA vets shortly before returning to LA and making the announcement that he had parted ways with the organization, leaving it clear for Michael Wood to form a 501c4 and deal with the catastrophic finances of over 4,500 vets seeking expenses for their trip.