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7 things spouses want changed now
Child care, Tricare top list, at Hill summit
By Karen Jowers
Army Times, May 10, 2010

A fully funded program for spouse tuition assistance, tuition vouchers for military children, subsidized child care for families waiting for military child care and minimum standards for special needs programs are just a few of the recommendations on a military spouses’ wish list that emerged from a recent summit on Capitol Hill.

Some 63 spouses came from all over the country to attend the April 23 summit, at the invitation of members of Congress, in an effort to glean information about how to improve the lives of military families.

The event was hosted by the congressional Military Family Caucus. Since congressional caucuses have no taxpayer funding, the spouses paid their own expenses.

One member of Congress came to hear their issues: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., cochair of the caucus. No other lawmakers were there, she said, because votes originally scheduled for that Friday were canceled, so many members had already left town.

“It’s clear American military families have needs that are not being met. But with your contributions here today, we’re better identifying what those needs are,” and developing an action plan, Rodgers told the group. “All of you traveled here at your own expense, and I promise you your money will be well-spent.”

The spouses were chosen from about 500 applicants, said Aimee Henneke, who is military legislative assistant for Rodgers. In addition, senior officers’ spouses attended, including Deborah Mullen, wife of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were interspersed among the groups, but spouses generally used only their first names.

Staff members are compiling the ideas and recommendations for members of the caucus.

Among the spouses’ recommendations:

Children’s education

  • Create or expand charter schools and Defense Department schools on installations.
  • Create tuition vouchers for military families.

Child care

  • Ask defense officials to provide Congress with reports on child care, such as the number of child care centers, types of care available and the number of children on waiting lists.
  • Provide taxpayer dollars to subsidize off-post child care for families on military child care waiting lists.
  • Consider restructuring child care costs by geographic areas, much like housing allowance rates.

Deployment effects

  • Standardize and mandate family readiness programs, with paid professionals.
  • Mandate financial counseling for service members.

Health care

  • Instead of three Tricare regional contractors, consider just one, so that when families transfer they don’t have to enroll in a new region.
  • Provide more money for reimbursement of Tricare providers, to alleviate problems with physicians dropping Tricare.
  • Convert to fully electronic records for continuity of care.

Special needs

  • Mandate minimum standards for the service branches’ policies, programs and procedures for military families with special needs.
  • Require health coverage of evidence-based behavioral health treatments for autism spectrum disorders.
  • Require Medicaid portability, creating a federal exception for military families. The federal program is administered by the states, so families go from the bottom of one waiting list for Medicaid benefits to the bottom of another waiting list when they move from state to state.

Spouse education and employment

  • Fully fund and staff the My Career Advancement Accounts tuition assistance program for all military spouses.
  • Allow spouses access to online military education courses and training.
  • Fast-track security clearances for spouses.

Mental health

  • Create an awareness campaign about military mental health issues in the civilian as well as military communities to help alleviate the stigma.
  • Remove mental health services from the umbrella of family readiness organizations.

Army wife Jennifer Taylor, from Fort Bragg, N.C., said, “It’s refreshing that what I see as problems, others see, too. Hopefully something will be done.”

Marine wife Laura Smith, from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., said she realizes some of the spouses’ hoped-for specifics won’t come to fruition for another five to 10 years. “But to be able to participate in this was very much worth it.”

Army wife Stacy Bannerman said she used up all her frequent flier miles flying from Oregon and spent an additional $600 to attend the summit.

“I’ll know if it’s worth my trip in six months,” she said. “That’s enough time for this caucus to begin to digest all of this, and take action.”

Bill would expand leave for family members
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Army Times, Friday Feb 26, 2010

A House subcommittee is considering legislation that would give two weeks of unpaid leave to the spouses, children and parents of any service member who is deployed or ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation.

Sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the bill calls for a major expansion of Family and Medical Leave Act benefits that grant up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave for families of deployed or seriously injured service members.

Smith said the bill, HR 3247, gives time off to people not covered by the FMLA, which is limited to people who have worked for their current employer for 12 months or longer, worked more than 1,250 hours in the past year and whose employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

“As a significant number of military spouses work for small businesses, work part-time to balance work and family needs, or have less than one year with a company due to recent moves or reassignments, many are not eligible for protected leave under current law,” Smith said Thursday when his bill was being considered by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel.

Smith said the bill is modeled after Washington and Oregon state laws that took effect in June 2008.

Those testifying at the hearing had only praise for Smith’s bill, but that may be because only veterans service organizations and supporters of pending bills provided testimony. No one representing the businesses that would have to grant time off under Smith’s bill was on hand to offer their views.

Employer concerns

Although businesses are unlikely to openly oppose the idea of helping military families, congressional aides said one concern is that employers might become more reluctant to hire military family members and more likely to let them go if times are tough.

That kind of opposition would not prevent the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee from approving Smith’s bill, but it might prevent the House of Representatives from being able to pass the bill without lengthy debate, which usually does not happen on veterans bills.

Stacy Bannerman, the wife of an Army National Guard sergeant first class, said the bill “would offer protection so that we are able to spend much-needed time with our loved ones immediately prior to, during and after deployment, without fear of losing our jobs or being forced to choose between work and family.”

“When the soldier goes to war, so does the family,” Bannerman said. “When the veteran comes home, family support is the single most critical factor in successful reintegration.”

Tim Embree of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the bill would allow an employer to provide paid or unpaid time off for the two weeks of military leave, and employers would be penalized for not granting the leave.

“This bill will give family members of service members on leave the opportunity to spend time with the service member instead of working during that limited time,” Embree said. “It will also provide a cushion for family members to handle all of the unexpected tasks, errands and responsibilities that surface during a deployment.”

Justin Brown, testifying on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the bill also provides legal guarantees that a family member taking military leave will receive the same benefits, positions and seniority when they return. The bill, he said, “affords to service members and their families precious quality time, which is imperative to their well-being and morale.”

Resident wants military family advisory council
Medford's Stacy Bannerman will propose the idea to the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today
Mail Tribune, February 23, 2010

Medford resident Stacy Bannerman, who helped push a military family medical leave act through the state Legislature and prompted the introduction of a similar act in Congress, now has her sights set on creating a landmark military family advisory council in Oregon.

Bannerman, whose husband, Lorin, returned from his second tour of Iraq last year as a member of the Washington Army National Guard, was scheduled to make a proposal late this afternoon to the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in Salem to create what she believes may be the first state military family advisory council in the nation.

Made up of military family members, the council would advise the state on issues relating to Oregonians in the military, their families and veterans, she explained.

"With the protracted wars and multiple deployments, military families are struggling with finding day care, health care, dealing with relationship issues, domestic violence and deployment-related financial and mental health problems," she said. "Military family members are the primary unpaid caretakers of veterans. When a veteran comes home with a physical or psychological injury, the whole family hurts, but help for the family member can be hard to find.

"The council would provide a voice for our military families to assist the state, including the Oregon military (National Guard) and Department of Veterans Affairs, in better serving us and our loved ones," she added.

Although the council would be new, the idea is not new to Bannerman.

"This is something I have been championing for about three years now," she said of creating such a council. "This is clearly necessary with the demographics we have today."

Most people in the military serve multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, she said, adding that most also are married with children.

"These (wars) are not short-term," she said. "We can no longer pretend that military family support, particularly for the Guard and reserves, is adequate. This war on terror is demanding we begin to acknowledge and formalize support and service for the military families. The council is about acknowledging that we've got experts on the ground."

Military family members are experts by virtue of bearing the burdens of repeat deployments and caring for veterans, she said, noting the council would be modeled after state veterans' boards.

Bannerman also is the founder of the Sanctuary for Veterans & Families, which provides sanctuary weekends for women veterans. In addition, the facility advocates on behalf of the women who serve at home and in harm's way.

Bannerman lobbied the Oregon Legislature before its approval in 2009 of a military family leave act which provides up to two weeks of time off for employed military family members during the mobilization of a loved one. The leave, which is unpaid, enables family members to spend time with their loved one in uniform before or at the end of the deployment.

Her efforts also led to the Military Family Leave Act of 2009 being introduced in Congress by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. Congress, however, did not act on the bill.

U.S. senator from Oregon cites Applegate resident's relentless support for legislation

By Paul Fattig
Mail Tribune
July 04, 2009 6:00 AM
MEDFORD — Applegate resident Stacy Bannerman, whose husband is serving in Iraq with the National Guard, has won a major battle in her effort to create an unpaid leave for military families.

Citing Bannerman for her unrelenting lobbying for the legislation, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Friday he would introduce the Military Family Leave Act of 2009 next week, one of several bills he is sponsoring aimed at helping those in military uniform, their families and veterans.

The announcement came the same day as some 3,000 members of the Oregon Army National Guard, including about 150 from Jackson and Josephine counties, completed two months of advanced training at Fort Stewart, Ga. (See related story, Page 1A).

"They are making extraordinary contributions to their country," Wyden told about two dozen Guard members, spouses and representatives of various veterans groups gathered at the Medford armory. "We are going to do everything we can to back them up with legislation, support and services."

The Military Family Leave Act of 2009 would give spouses, children and parents of those being deployed up to two weeks of unpaid leave to spend with the soldier before or after the deployment.

Bannerman thanked Wyden and his staff for their work in creating the bill.

"When we are a nation at war and we have so few people sacrificing so much for so many for so long, we've absolutely got to support the families," she said. "I heard story after story from family members and spouses who literally had to make the decision between work or their family when their soldier was going for his second or third tour.

"We wanted something like this that would be user friendly and would support the family."

Bannerman's husband, Lorin, is on his second deployment to Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard. When he returns home next month, it will be a year since the couple has been together.

A similar bill was approved by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year, and now awaits the governor's signature.

Other related bills Wyden plans to introduce include:

The National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act of 2009, which allows those in uniform returning from war to remain on active duty for up to 90 days, collect pay and access reintegration services. The "soft landing" will ease their readjustment into civilian life, Wyden said, noting they now have just a few days.

The Wounded Warrior Retention Act of 2009 will allow service members who wish to remain on active duty after suffering injuries during service-related duties to do so.

The Service Members Mental Health Care Commission Act of 2009 would form a commission to study and identify the most effective treatments to those experiencing problems as a result of their service.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2009 would allow patients to compare the quality of health care provided by VA facilities.

"I think what he has in mind is fabulous," said Central Point resident Amanda Matlock, whose husband, Pvt. Brandon Matlock, is deploying to Iraq with the local National Guard unit. "He (Wyden) seems to be right on his game."

The young couple have two girls, ages 1 and 3.

"My only concern is that my husband is taken care of, along with me and my children when he gets home," she said.

"These bills take care of several of the issues we are concerned about," said Jan Schutz, wife of Col. Bill Schutz, director of personnel with the local guard unit. Schutz is not in the current deployment but has been deployed several times in recent years.

"This won't only help the family members but also the soldiers when they come back," she added. "They can come back and get resources, whether they are medical, emotional or jobs. This is all real positive."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Wyden takes part in roundtable to improve services for women vets

By Andrea Calcagno

April 8, 2009

WHITE CITY, Ore. -- Women make up almost 20 percent of the U.S. Armed Services, and experts say more specific support services are needed for them.

Senator Ron Wyden attended a round table discussion Wednesday at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics (VA SORCC) in White City, that reviewed services for women veterans and looked at where improvements can be made.

"The fact is that the system was created many years ago when men constituted the military. Clearly women are making tremendous contributions to the military now, are serving with great valor, and great courage, and it's time to modernize the VA system," says Wyden.

Officials say more women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan than any war in history, and now the need for women veteran services is growing.

"Nationally, we've recognized that we're increasing women veterans at a rapid pace, and we needed to change how we do business, and we needed to change our programs," says Women's Veteran Program Manager Melinda Spolski.

Reintegration is hard for many women.

"Women veterans are three times more likely to be divorced than male veterans who have also been deployed, so these women veterans often feel very much alone," says Director of Sanctuary Weekend for Women's Veterans Stacy Bannerman.

"When I was mobilized, I was married 32 years, I had a horrible time when I came back, and I had a very stable relationship. You've been in a different place, and you feel like your disconnected. You feel like you can't relate to the other people around you," says Spolski.

This weekend the first ever Sanctuary for Women Veterans Retreat will take place, where women can get peer support, learn how to navigate the VA system, and hear about how combat trauma impacts women. There's already a waiting list for a second retreat.

"We've had phone calls from women veterans as far away as Ohio. There's an overwhelming need for these kinds of gender specific support retreats for women veterans," says Bannerman.

The retreat will take place in the Applegate area. To find out more information about the Sanctuary for Women Veteran Retreat visit www.sanctuaryone.org

How to support the troops

http://blog.oregonlive.com/oregonatwar/2009/03/how_to_support_the_troops_edit.html

Posted by mfrancis March 18, 2009 16:11PM

A bill in the Oregon Legislature would allow employees to take unpaid leave when spouses come home from war
Associated Press

Some 3,000 members of the Oregon Army National Guard are preparing to spend a year away from home. They will pack next month for a few weeks of training in California, be given a week off, then fly to Georgia for another couple of months of training. From there, they will be shipped to Iraq for about 10 months.
In other words, several thousand spouses and their children will have one week in April or June, plus two weeks for midtour leave, to spend time with their deployed family members. But some of them won't be able to take full advantage of that time because their employers won't let them take a week or two of leave.

That's why military family activist Stacy Bannerman went to her legislator, Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and asked him to offer a bill that would require Oregon employers with 25 or more workers to offer up to 14 days of unpaid leave to employees who want to spend time with a spouse on his or her way to war, during a midtour leave, or when he or she comes home for good.

"It is," Esquivel told the House Veterans and Emergency Services Committee on Tuesday, "the least we can do."

The bill, which likely would be folded into the Oregon Family Leave Act, costs nothing but a little inconvenience for people who employ the spouse of a service member. A representative of Associated Oregon Industries, an association of employers, said his organization supports the proposal, although it has a quibble or two with the language that defines "employer." He pledged to work with Esquivel to produce an agreeable bill.

"I think you should declare a double emergency, if there is such a thing," said the Oregon Military Department's Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell, who testified in favor of the bill Tuesday. By that he meant it should take effect immediately.

Time is of the essence for the 3,000 families, and of course, there are other military personnel in the Reserve who would benefit from passage of this bill. If the Legislature wants to show its support for the troops, this bill would be a practical way to do it.

Applegate resident battles on behalf of soldiers' families

Published February 15, 2009

By Paul Fattig

Like her husband, Lorin, who is serving in Iraq, Stacy Bannerman is on a mission.

The Applegate Valley resident is leading an effort to pass a national military family leave act. The legislation would require employers to provide an unpaid leave of 15 working days for the immediate family of a military person who has been mobilized for active duty for at least 180 days and who would be serving a hazardous duty role.

"When our soldiers go to war, so do we," she said. "People forget that military families also serve. There is a terrible strain on the families."

Many loved ones are unable to spend a lot of time with soldiers before they are deployed or when they come home on leave because of their jobs, causing a strain on the relationship, she said.

Noting there is a rise in divorces among Guard and Reserve families, she believes the act would help reduce that strain.

"We don't have time to wait," she said. "Our loved ones are serving right now. Military families are serving right now. They are the ones supporting the troops.

"When the soldier goes to war, so does the family, and the burden of multiple deployments is really taking a toll at home."

A similar bill was passed last year in Washington state. It gives employees 15 days of unpaid leave if their spouse is notified of deployment or a military service man or woman has returned home, Bannerman said.

But a national law is needed, she said, adding the proposed legislation is patterned after the Washington law.

"We're not states at war — we are a nation at war," she said.

She applauds recent changes to the Federal Family Medical Leave Act for caregivers of a service member who suffers a serious injury or illness while on active duty, or for family members of military personnel on or called to active duty.

"But the general FMLA requirements render it meaningless for the majority of military family members," she said, noting that includes active-duty spouses who are often forced to relocate frequently or for those who live in rural areas and work for small business.

Bannerman spent the past week lobbying for the bill in Washington, D.C., with about 30 other members of military families from around the nation. The group has no name, she said.

"We're just an ad hoc group of military spouses and family members who have identified a critical need and gap in military family support," she said. "We just want to get this done."

Oregon U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley expressed a strong interest in the bill, along with Montana Senators Max Baucas and Jon Tester, she said.

"Wyden and Merkley are really supportive and interested in moving it forward," she said. "We are hoping they will sponsor the bill."

Bannerman believes there is a growing recognition the legislation is needed.

"We can no longer have conversations about supporting the troops not inclusive of military families," she said.

She and her husband own the 55-acre Double Oak Farm in the upper Applegate Valley, where a three-day retreat for women veterans is scheduled in April.

But her husband, who is on his second tour in Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard, isn't likely to be able to come home for a leave during his year-long tour, she said.

"By the time he gets home (late this summer) we won't have seen each other for one year," she said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

VA urged to give families mental health help

armytimes.com

Thursday Feb 28, 2008

Rick Maze - Staff writer

A House subcommittee was urged Thursday to expand the Veterans Affairs Department’s authority to provide mental health counseling for the families of veterans, including National Guard and reserve members who have returned from combat.

Current law restricts VA to providing “limited services to immediate family members,” said Kristin Day, VA’s chief consultant for care management and social work service.

“The law provides, in general, that the immediate family members of a veteran being treated for a service-connected disability may receive counseling, education and training services,” Day told the House Veterans’ Affairs health subcommittee.

That leaves a lot of gaps for people who fall outside the military health care system, some critics say.

Todd Bowers, government affairs director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that when he was wounded by a sniper’s bullet during his second tour in Iraq, his mother suffered.

“The incident that physically wounded me wounded my mother much worse,” said Bowers, a Marine Corps Reserve staff sergeant. “As she struggled to cope with the knowledge of my injury, my mother was more than alone. She was lost. She sought assistance through the only means she was aware of, the mental health counseling covered by her own health care.”

Peter Leousis, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher and principal investigator for a congressionally funded project aimed at increasing community support for Guard and reserve members, said there is “mounting evidence” that service in Iraq and Afghanistan “comes at a price for families.”

Mental health problems for returning combat veterans, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, “has a secondary effect on spouses and partners,” Leousis said. He recommended that both returning veterans and their families should have “reasonable access” to mental health treatment — “reasonable” being care within a 30-minute drive.

Stacy Bannerman, author of a book about family stress caused by deployments and the wife of a Washington National Guard soldier who has deployed once to Iraq and may soon deploy again, said access to mental health counseling is especially difficult for the families of reservists.

“Guard families experience the same stressors as active-duty families, before, during and after deployment, although we do not have anywhere near the same level of support, nor do our loved ones when they come home,” Bannerman said.

“During deployment, we withdraw and do the best we can to survive,” she said. “Anxious, depressed and alone, we attempt to cope by drinking more, eating less and taking Xanax or Prozac to make it through.”

Bannerman said she thinks the government has studied combat stress and the effects on families enough, and that it is time for action.

“Perhaps rather than forking out another $5 million to $10 million for another study to define a problem that somehow never fully gets defined, much less treated, you could use that same amount of money to fund community-based centers providing our military families and veterans three years of free services that our families and vets are begging for.”

Joy Ilem of Disabled American Veterans said she thinks the government is being short-sighted by failing to provide mental health help for families.

“If left untreated, these conditions can destroy marriages and ultimately separate families and even result in homelessness and criminal convictions,” she said.

When families break up, veterans become more dependent on VA and other public agencies for help, which results in higher costs to the government, she said.

VA provides couples and marriage counseling at its Vet Centers but offers no special mental health services for family members, said Scott Sundsvold of the American Legion

A 2007 survey of all vet centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico found that family therapy was available for veterans, but there was “no mental health support for the veterans’ immediate family members,” Sundsvold said.

As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan lengthen, emotional toll on military families deepens

http://www.newsweek.com/id/147824
DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
AP
Updated: 1:43 PM ET Jul 19, 2008

Far from the combat zones, the strains and separations of no-end-in-sight wars are taking an ever-growing toll on military families despite the armed services' earnest efforts to help.

Divorce lawyers see it in the breakup of youthful marriages as long, multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan fuel alienation and mistrust. Domestic violence experts see it in the scuffles that often precede a soldier's departure or sour a briefly joyous homecoming.

Teresa Moss, a counselor at Fort Campbell's Lincoln Elementary School, hears it in the voices of deployed soldiers' children as they meet in groups to share accounts of nightmares, bedwetting and heartache.

"They listen to each other. They hear that they aren't the only ones not able to sleep, having their teachers yell at them," Moss said.

Even for Army spouses with solid marriages, the repeated separations are an ordeal.

"Three deployments in, I still have days when I want to hide under the bed and cry," said Jessica Leonard, who is raising two small children and teaching a "family team building" class to other wives at Fort Campbell. Her husband, Capt. Lance Leonard, is in Iraq.

Those classes are among numerous initiatives to support war-strained families. Yet military officials acknowledge that the vast needs outweigh available resources, and critics complain of persistent shortcomings — a dearth of updated data on domestic violence, short shrift for families of National Guard and Reserve members, inadequate support for spouses and children of wounded and traumatized soldiers.

If the burden sounds heavier than what families bore in the longest wars of the 20th century — World War II and Vietnam — that's because it is, at least in some ways. What makes today's wars distinctive is the deployment pattern — two, three, sometimes four overseas stints of 12 or 15 months. In the past, that kind of schedule was virtually unheard of.

"Its hard to go away, it's hard to come back, and go away and come back again," said Dr. David Benedek, a leading Army psychiatrist. "That is happening on a larger scale than in our previous military endeavors. They're just getting their feet wet with some sort of sense of normalcy, and then they have to go again."

Almost in one breath, military officials praise the resiliency that enables most families to endure and acknowledge candidly that the wars expose them to unprecedented stresses and the risk of long-lasting scars.

"There's nothing that has prepared many of our families for the length of these deployments," said Rene Robichaux, social work programs manager for the U.S. Army Medical Command. "It's hard to communicate to a family member how stressful the environment is, not just the risk of injury or death, but the austere circumstances, the climate, the living conditions."

An array of studies by the Army and outside researchers say that marital strains, risk of child maltreatment and other problems harmful to families worsen as soldiers serve multiple combat tours.

For example, a Pentagon-funded study last year concluded that children in some Army families were markedly more vulnerable to abuse and neglect by their mothers when their fathers were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, the latest survey by Army mental health experts showed that more than 15 percent of married soldiers deployed there were planning a divorce, with the rates for soldiers at the late stages of deployment triple those of recent arrivals.

For the Army, especially, the challenges are staggering as it furnishes the bulk of combat forces. As of last year, more than 55 percent of its soldiers were married, a far higher rate than during the Vietnam war. The nearly 513,000 soldiers on active duty collectively had more than 493,000 children.

Jessica Leonard at Fort Campbell says family support programs there have improved since her husband's first combat tour, helping her feel more self-reliant. Yet she's convinced that domestic violence and divorce are rising at the base, which is home to the 101st Airborne Division.

"Infidelity is huge on both sides — a wife is lonely, she looks for attention and finds it easier to cheat," she said. "It does make even the most sound marriages second-guess."

Among soldiers coming home, whether for two-week breaks that often end with wrenching good-byes or for longer stays, she sees evidence of lower morale and rising depression.

"They come home, and find that problems are still there," she said. "Instead of a refreshing R-and-R, a nice little second honeymoon, it's battle for two weeks."

There have been some horrific incidents shattering families of soldiers back from the wars — a former Army paratrooper from Michigan charged with raping and beating his infant daughter; a sergeant from Hawaii's Army National Guard accused of killing his 14-year-old son as the boy tried to save his pregnant mother from a knife attack by the soldier.

In one of the saddest cases, a recently divorced airman who served with distinction in Iraq chased his ex-wife out of military housing with a pistol in February before killing his two young children and himself at Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base. Tech. Sgt. Dustin Thorson's former wife had sought a protection order against him, saying he threatened to kill the children if she filed for divorce.

Officials at Tinker, while confirming that Thorson had been getting mental health care, would not say whether those problems related to his service in Iraq.

His brother, Shane Thorson, a sheriff's deputy from Pasco, Wash., who also served in Iraq, has no doubt Dustin's war experiences contributed to the tragedy.

"He didn't want to go — he was afraid, but he had a job that he'd signed up to do and he went and did it," Shane said. "I do think it led up to everything that happened. ... It opened up a world of death and chaos and uncertainty."

Shane, who is married and has an 8-year-old daughter, is sure the deployments have damaged many marriages.

"My wife and friends, they tell me I'm not the same person before I came back — not as loving," he said. "You really realize how insignificant you are in this world, and life moves on whether you're there or not."

Overall, the Army says its domestic violence rates are no worse than for civilian families. However, critics say there is a lack of comprehensive, updated data that reflects the impact of war-zone deployments and tracks cases involving veterans, reservists and National Guard members.

The Miles Foundation, which provides domestic-violence assistance to military wives, says its caseload has more than quadrupled during the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.

"The tactics learned as part of military training are often used by those who commit domestic violence," said the foundation's executive director, Christine Hansen, citing increased proficiency with weapons and psychological tactics such as sleep deprivation.

Jackie Campbell is a nursing professor at Johns Hopkins who served on a Defense Department task force examining domestic violence. She says the military's data on the problem is based only on officially reported incidents, and should be supplemented with confidential surveys such as some that were conducted before the Iraq war.

"They have no clue what the rate of domestic violence is — they only know what's reported to the system, and that's always lower than the actual rate," Campbell said. "I'm disappointed.... I know the system is stressed to the umpteenth degree. But I do think they need to do the right kind of research so they can keep up with this."

One complication, she said, is the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among service members returning from war. She said PTSD raises the risk of domestic violence, yet many soldiers and their spouses don't want to acknowledge PTSD or any domestic crises for fear of derailing the soldier's career.

"They know the power of the military will come down on them," Campbell said. "The women are often reluctant to have that happen."

At Fort Campbell, Family Advocacy Program director Louie Sumner — who's in charge of combatting domestic violence — has encouraged people to report suspected abuse, to the point where many allegations turn out to be unsubstantiated.

But Sumner said his program, though considered one of the Army's best, should do more outreach with the majority of families who live off the huge base, in subdivisions, apartments and trailer parks where many couples' troubles may go undetected.

Sumner is sure that the repeated deployments heighten the risk of family violence. "When the soldier goes overseas three, four times, the fuse is a lot shorter," he said. "They explode quicker, and the victim gets hurt worse."

He marveled that some of the hasty marriages by youthful soldiers survive the rigors of deployment.

"My wife and I have been married 38 years," he said. "I'm not sure we could have stood being apart 30 of the next 42 months at the start of our marriage. That's a long time when you're real young."

The independence that wives develop at home alone leads to friction when a returning husband seeks to restore the old order in household decision-making.

"Somebody who's violent and controlling of his partner before he leaves will spend a lot of time while he's away wondering what she's doing, worrying that he doesn't have that day-to-day control," said Debbie Tucker, who co-chaired the Pentagon's domestic violence task force. "He comes back with the attitude that it needs to be re-established as firmly as possible."

Despite the stresses, a study published in April by Rand Corp. concluded that divorce rate among military families between 2001 and 2005 was no higher than during peacetime a decade earlier. But the study doesn't reflect the third and fourth war zone deployments that have strained many military marriages over the past three years.

Maj. Mike Oeschger gets a closer look at struggling marriages than he'd like in his role as rear detachment commander for the 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell. Dealing with family crises while the brigade is in Iraq is a critical part of his job.

"The biggest problems usually revolve around money — the husband may not have given the wife access to funds," he said.

Oeschger, a husband and father who served in Iraq himself, has seen infidelity in multiple forms. Some wives at the base are preyed on by men who know the husbands are overseas; some war-zone soldiers pursue extramarital affairs over the Internet.

"Often the guy comes back, tells his wife, 'I'm not interested in you any more. I think we're done,'" Oeschger said.

He'd rather stay out of his soldiers' personal lives, but that's not always an option.

"There's almost nothing that's private in the Army," he said. "Once it starts to affect performance, I'm involved and want to know every detail. It's miserable stuff ... but it's my job."

Col. Ronald Crews, one of several chaplains called from the reserves to help with family counseling, said long-distance marital crises became so severe for two Fort Campbell soldiers recently that they were sent home from Iraq to handle them.

"Their commander said they wouldn't be of any use until the problems were resolved," Crews said. The soldiers were required to meet with him weekly. One returned to Iraq and the other did not.

For some time, chaplains have been conducting marriage workshops for soldiers back from deployment. Now, says Crews, married soldiers also are being required to attend such workshops before they leave.

"Deployments don't help in strengthening a marriage, but they do not have to kill marriages," Crews said. "That's a choice a couple has to make."

Medical personnel, meanwhile, have been directed to be more aggressive in screening spouses of deployed soldiers for depression. More than 1,000 "family readiness support assistants" are being added, as are dozens of marriage and family therapists. A respite child care program is expanding to provide more relief to stressed mothers.

However, for families living off-base, there are often far fewer support programs readily available.

Advocacy groups also say more must be done for families of wounded and traumatized soldiers who leave the service. At a recent congressional hearing, Barbara Cohoon of the National Military Families Association suggested the Veterans Administration is not meeting these needs, and said the anguish of wounded soldiers' children "is often overlooked and underestimated."

Stacy Bannerman, an anti-war activist whose husband served with the Washington State National Guard in Iraq, says many Guard members and reservists don't get adequate treatment when — like her husband — they are diagnosed with PTSD.

"The families are scattered everywhere, and we don't have the support networks that active duty does," Bannerman said. "There's very little attention paid to reintegration — bammo, you suddenly go back to your civilian life. I haven't spoken to anyone who hasn't experienced some degree of stress on a marriage."

Her own marriage nearly became one of the casualties. She and her husband, Lorin, were separated for more than a year, but now — after finding a counselor outside the military — are working at reconciliation even as Lorin faces a second deployment to Iraq in August.

"It's been a long, arduous process," said Bannerman, who has moved to Oregon to work at an animal sanctuary which is seeking to involve traumatized veterans in its programs.

Many returning soldiers experience some form of depression, lapsing into substance abuse, sleeping fitfully, withdrawing from family activities. Children may feel their father is too distant, or unsettlingly changed.

"The kids may not really recognize their parent," said Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general. "Their expectations build up, and then expectations aren't met."

The Army would like to beef up psychiatric care for children, Ritchie said, but is hampered by a national shortage of child psychiatrists.

"The children of these families are suffering damage emotionally and a lot of them aren't getting any help," said Lee Rosen, whose North Carolina law firm handles many military divorces. "We're going to have fallout from this for a long time."

Rosen says the breaking point for many couples often arrives with a second or third deployment.

"To go off for one deployment for a year is difficult, but when that soldier comes back, people are able to adjust, to heal," he said. "When you go a second time, and are threatened with the possibility of a third, it's just devastating."

Yet many marriages don't survive even a first deployment.

While 1st Lt. Mike Robison was serving in Iraq in 2003-04, his wife, Candance, depicted him as a "good, brave man" in a letter she wrote to President Bush. But the marriage fell apart after Robison's return home to Texas. Candance said they argued over her role managing the household and how he treated her 10-year daughter from a previous relationship.

"It absolutely changed him," Candance said of his deployment. "I still struggle every day — that year has affected every single aspect of my life."

Andrew Brown, an Army Reserve sergeant from Pennsylvania, says his marriage failed to survive the effects of his Iraq deployment in 2004-05. Returning home, he was diagnosed with PTSD and deduced that his wife, lonely in his absence, had been having an affair.

"With the mental state I was in, I was relying on her to provide support, and she wasn't ready to do that," Brown said.

"What I went through is not an isolated incident," he added. "Guys came back — they'd shut down, turn to the bottle, have lots of fights with their spouses."

At their small ranch house near Fort Campbell, Staff Sgt. Brian Powell and his wife, Krystal, expressed determination to keep their marriage on track as they raise two young sons and as Brian faces a second deployment — this time to Afghanistan — starting in December.

Brian was in Iraq when his eldest son, Jamison, was born in 2006. He got home on a brief leave three days after the birth.

"It was just two weeks," Brian said. "You don't want to get attached because you know you have to go back."

"It's a really hard transition, coming back from blood, death, corruption to a wife and baby. You feel you don't know each other," Krystal added. "But if you have faith, you get through it."

GETTING PERSONAL: Citizen Soldiers Battle To Return To Work

28 February 2008

By Victoria E. Knight

Dow Jones News Service

NEW YORK - For citizen soldiers, returning from combat and rebuilding the professional lives they left behind presents a new battle.

As the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war nears, support for returning soldiers from businesses remains spotty. One in five U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are National Guard members and Reservists. And 54% were working for an employer prior to activation. Federal law requires there to be a job waiting when they return.

Large employers, such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., with military employees and clients, have dedicated programs for reintegrating veterans. But small employers with limited means can feel ill-equipped to act.

Fortunately, there are resources small businesses can tap, including free online tools on applicable federal laws, and inexpensive reintegration programs.

The U.S. Small Business Administration's Patriot Express initiative (www.sba.gov/patriotexpress/index.html) provides advice on preparing for deployments, including free or low-cost online training and business counseling. In addition, low-interest loans of up to $500,000 are available to veterans and members of the military community wanting to establish or expand small businesses.

Other initiatives can include simply celebrating troops' return to work, according to a free employer guide published Thursday by The Workplace Warrior Think Tank, which comprises the Disability Management Employer Coalition, a non-profit employer association, and disability insurers, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (HIG), MetLife Inc. (MET) and Unum Group (UNM).

Educating supervisors about potential red flags - and internal and external conduits to care - and developing veterans mentoring programs are among its recommendations (www.dmec.org).

"The U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has created long-term medical and disability issues for returning veterans," says Marcia Carruthers, chief executive of the DMEC. "To retain these valuable employees and benefit from their knowledge, abilities and experience, a comprehensive response is needed by employers."

One of the guide's authors, Andy Gilbert, a former tactical planner for the air war in Operation Desert Storm who is an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, says employers often underestimate the psychological adjustment involved, even for troops without health problems.

"One day you're in desert camies (camouflage gear), the next day you're in a suit. It's a huge culture shock," he says.

In a war zone you have a mission with specific goals and you're operating in a hierarchical structure. By contrast, the workplace is collaborative and there's not the sense of urgency as lives aren't hanging in the balance.

Military veterans from any war who've already made the transition can provide valuable advice to recent returnees about the challenges and coping strategies.

"Virtually any employer can provide mentoring by other veterans - at any level and for very little cost," says Gilbert, a founding member of Booz Allen Hamilton's Armed Services Forum.

Managers can support veterans by giving them meaningful work and checking in regularly on progress. At Booz Allen, managers typically hold professional development meetings with employees once a month, but they have contact with returning troops once a week, he says.

Around 90% of employers who provide health benefits offer some free counseling services to employees and their families. While the programs might not be equipped to deal with combat-related stress, they can be a lifeline to family members experiencing personal and financial stress, experts say. But employers need to do a better job of publicizing the counseling.

Combat can deal heavy physical and psychological blows. Four out of ten combat veterans treated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - about 120,000 individuals - have been diagnosed as suffering from stress or mental disorders ranging from mild to severe. Around half have received a preliminary diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, which is treatable (www.va.gov). Only 59% of small firms with 3 to 199 workers offer health insurance, and many plans don't offer mental health benefits.

Combat veterans, including citizen soldiers, can get treatment through the Veterans Affairs healthcare system. In January the period of eligibility for benefits was extended from 2 to 5 years for all combat veterans who served on active duty after Nov. 11, 1998, and were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions. Cost-free care and medications are provided for conditions potentially related to combat service, including PTSD.

"Employers can help get the word out," says Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's deputy chief patient care services officer for mental health.

Veterans can access care through the VA's medical centers and clinics as well as Vet Centers. Over the past 2 1/2 years the VA has hired about 4,000 new mental health experts and the annual budget for mental health services has increased from $2 billion in fiscal 2001 to about $3.5 billion now, he says.

Stacy Bannerman, the author of "When the War Came Home," and a Washington National Guardman's wife, says long waiting lists, inconvenient opening hours - often weekday-working hours - and limited care in rural areas present barriers to care from VA facilities.

Bannerman, who is testifying Thursday before the House's Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, is leading a grassroots effort to create a new model of post-combat care for citizen soldiers and their families (http://sanctuaryvf.org).

Employers need to familiarize themselves with their federal legal responsibilities to avoid the threat of future litigation. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, USERRA, requires employers to promptly reinstate individuals into a position with the same seniority, status and pay they would have attained had they remained continuously employed. The Department of Labor has developed an interactive tool, USERRA elaws Advisors, to help employers and workers understand their respective rights (www.dol.gov/elaws/userra.htm).

(Victoria E. Knight is a Getting Personal columnist who writes about the financial implications of health care issues.)

By Victoria E. Knight, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-2438; victoria.knight@dowjones.com

Back To Top

Making a House Call on Congress
By Rose Aguilar
, AlterNet. Posted July 28, 2006.

http://www.alternet.org/story/39537

Military families are determined to bring their troops back home -- even if they have to talk to every politician in Washington.

When Congress voted to "stay the course" in Iraq on June 15, many military families were furious.

"I watched the entire mock debate on C-Span for 13 hours," says Stacy Bannerman, a member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). "That day, I decided that if they wanted to 'stay the course,' they would have to explain their rationale to my face."

A week later, Bannerman left Seattle for Washington, D.C., where she launched Operation House Call, an MFSO campaign to highlight the ongoing human toll in Iraq. Since June 22, Bannerman, whose husband served in Balat, Iraq, from March 2004 to March 2005, has been joined by over 50 families of U.S. troops who are serving, have served, or were killed in Iraq.

So far, the families have met with several politicians, including Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. They're hoping to meet with Sen. Hillary Clinton in the coming days, but say they have yet to hear back from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chair of the Armed Services Committee.

"When a handful of members of Congress have loved ones in the military, they have no idea what staying the course looks like," says Bannerman, who has written a book about her experiences, titled "When the War Came Home." "This war is being waged on .4 percent of the American population. The rest of the people in this country -- 99.6 percent -- have no connection to the war. They are not being asked to sacrifice or allowed to see the human cause of this war."

For many of the families, Operation House Call is their first foray into political activism. "I never even voted until 2004," says 44-year-old Georgia Stillwell. "I never registered. I never cared. I was as apathetic as they come. And then it got personal."

Stillwell's 22-year-old son spent his 19th and 20th birthdays in Iraq, and is now dealing with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. In January, he drove his car over an embankment in excess of 120 mph. Miraculously, he survived the crash. "I know I should be grateful he's not dead, but he's dead inside," says Stillwell.

On July 12, Stillwell shared her son's story during an emotional 30-minute meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. "The congressman compared Iraq to a football game about changing strategies," she says. "I touched his arm and said, 'Congressman, children don't die in football games.' He said nothing. I also showed him a picture of a friend's son who was killed in Iraq. He was unblinking and unfeeling."

After the meeting, Hastert's press secretary said the speaker thought Stillwell was a "very patriotic woman who was proud of her son's service in Iraq."

"That's amazing, right? He just called an anti-war protestor patriotic," said Stillwell laughing.

When the families aren't meeting with politicians asking them to bring the troops home, they're braving the heat on the steps of the Senate Russell Building. There they surround themselves with footwear -- one pair of military boots for every soldier who has died since June 15, and a pair of shoes for each Iraqi civilian who has died.

"I came to D.C. decades ago as a child, and had anybody told me then that I would be spending the better part of my summer in the sauna that is D.C. standing out here, having meetings with politicians, many of whom don't want to know the truth, dealing with staffers who snicker when we come into their offices carrying empty combat boots, I wouldn't have believed them," says Bannerman.

The MFSO members also ask passersby to sign postcards supporting an end to the war. The families then hand-deliver the postcards to senators and congressmen. Stilwell says interacting with the locals and tourists has been an eye-opening experience.

"Bush supporters often say, 'I'm sick of you people.' They look at us with such hatred. I don't get it. We have military recruiter flyers for them," she says. "But what's even worse are the people who won't even look at us. They won't meet our gaze or look at the boots, and they're mostly corporate people."

The families say they've also received a number of surprisingly positive reactions. "A few congressional staffers have stopped by to say they're in full support of what we're doing even though their bosses aren't," says Nancy Lessin, MFSO co-founder.

Despite its efforts, Operation House Call has received little media coverage. MFSO released a second announcement on July 25 hoping to garner attention from the national media.

A number of families from around the country will continue meeting with politicians until they leave D.C. for summer recess on Aug. 4. The Waste family wants to talk about the impact the war has had on their three sons and two grandchildren. Together, they have spent 81 months in Iraq. One son is currently deployed with the First Armored Division; another son is scheduled to return to Iraq this fall with the First Cavalry Division.

Cathy Smith hopes to talk about her eldest son, who was paralyzed from the chest down by an AK-47 round while serving in Iraq, and her middle son who is currently serving with the Army.

Once the families leave Washington, D.C., Lessin says they'll follow their elected officials home. "Our 26 chapters will jump into action and meet with politicians in their home districts, at their offices, their homes and vacation homes. This war doesn't end for us. We can't take a vacation from it."

Rose Aguilar is a San Francisco-based journalist who is writing a book about her road trip through the "red states."

Iraq Debate Involves Constellation of Voices

by Dan Robinson, Voice of America
June 22nd, 2006

Robinson report - Download (mp3) 1179kb

Over the past two weeks, lawmakers have engaged in one of the most significant periods of debate on Iraq since U.S. and coalition forces ousted former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in early 2003. The debate in Washington and on a national scale, involves a constellation of voices and faces, encompassing members of Congress, President Bush and senior administration officials, and families of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

From a two-day debate in the House of Representatives to important votes in the Senate, Iraq remained the focus of attention for a Congress that, if current polls are any forecast, faces a good prospect of undergoing a major political shift in legislative elections in November.


From left: Elizabeth Frederick, Al Zappala and Stacy Bannerman
A collection of voices is contributing to the Iraq debate, seeking to sway public opinion. Outside the U.S. Capitol, one of those belongs to Al Zappala, whose son Sherwood, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, was killed in Iraq two years ago.

"Bring the troops home now," said Al Zappala. "Take care of them when they get here. And never, ever again send them to a war based on lies."

As Zappala stood holding army boots symbolizing the 2,500 American soldiers killed in Iraq, Republicans and Democrats engaged in rhetorical battles over Iraq policy.

Any timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal, Republicans controlling the House and Senate insist, would simply give encouragement to insurgents and terrorists in Iraq.


Senator John McCain rejects the case made by proponents of a withdrawal timetable that the U.S. military presence is responsible for ongoing conflict.

"We must stay in Iraq until the government there is fully functioning [with] security forces that can keep the insurgents at bay and ultimately defeat them," said John McCain.


Senator John McCain (file photo)

Opposition to establishing any formal plan for withdrawal from Iraq was not limited to Republicans.

While deriding what she calls the Bush administration's failed status quo approach, Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton warns against any precipitous U.S. pullout.

"I simply do not believe it is a strategy or a solution for the president to continue declaring an open-ended and unconditional commitment, nor do I believe it is a solution or a strategy to set a date certain for withdrawal without regard to the consequences," said Hillary Clinton.

As opposing sides argue about the correct course in Iraq, two Republicans injected an interesting twist.

Senator Rick Santorum and Congressman Pete Hoekstra, released what they said is new evidence that U.S. and coalition forces had found weapons of mass destruction, the main reason cited by President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq.

"The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction is in fact, false," said Rick Santorum. "We have found over 500 weapons of mass destruction, and in fact have found that there are additional chemical weapons still in the country that need to be recovered."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a Thursday news conference that the 500 chemical-filled shells did constitute weapons of mass destruction.

"They are weapons of mass destruction, they are harmful to human beings," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And they have been found and they had not been reported by Saddam Hussein as he inaccurately alleged that he had reported all of his weapons, and they are still being found and discovered."

However, critics noted that the munitions involved were degraded shells dating from before the first Gulf war, and in any case were not the type of weapons of mass destruction Americans were told justified the use of military force in Iraq.

Outside the Capitol, Stacy Bannerman, a member of the Military Families Speak Out group, spoke to reporters.

"The information that has been provided to justify an unnecessary war of choice has repeatedly been proven false," said Stacy Bannerman. "We need to end the war and bring our troops home now."

As statements by Democrat and Republican leaders underscored, the week's events highlighted the extent to which the political stakes regarding Iraq have risen even further.

House [Republican] Majority Leader John Boehner spoke during that chamber's two day debate.

"If we had adopted the irrational policies of those who lack commitment to winning this fight, the terrorist al-Zarqawi would still be alive and plotting attacks against Iraqis and Americans," said John Boehner.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi repeated Democrat assertions that Republicans have pursued a failed strategy in Iraq.

"The American people are now saying that it was wrong to go into the war in Iraq," said Nancy Pelosi. "So their credibility is on the line. It is like them to try to turn the table, but Democrats will not be intimidated by them."

During a visit to Hungary, President Bush reiterated his intention to continue supporting Iraq's government.

"Our commitment is certain," said President Bush. "Our objective is clear. The new Iraqi government will show the world the promise of a thriving democracy in the heart of the Middle East."

Iraq is certain to be a major factor in the debate that promises to intensify on the way to November mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress, with after-effects impacting the 2008 presidential race.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/jamieson/270366_robert16.html

Cantwell can't dodge Iraq war mess

Monday, October 18, 2004

By ROBERT L. JAMIESON Jr.
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST

The Seattle Seven ride again, pursuing a quarry more elusive than weapons of mass destruction: the truth.

This local posse wants to peg down Sen. Maria Cantwell about her views on Iraq -- why we are there and how do we get out -- and for good reason.

Cantwell voted for the war that has become a "Viet-Slavia" -- a deepening quagmire like Vietnam with the sectarian bloodshed of the former Yugoslavia after Tito.

The incumbent Democrat is the only member of the Washington delegation who gave a nod to the war but refuses to publicly cop to having regrets. Facing re-election in the fall, Cantwell ought to come clean about her decision that, given the "facts" then on hand, seemed palatable to many. Like other politicos who got caught up in hawk mode then, she could confess to seeing the light and move on.

She won't. She just ducks and runs.

And the Seattle Seven keep giving chase.

The group gets its spark from Howard Gale, a research psychologist who last year organized the Iraq Veterans Forum at Town Hall in Seattle.

Flanking him is Joe Colgan, a Kent peace activist whose son, Ben, an Army lieutenant, was killed in Iraq in 2003, and Joshua Farris, an Army specialist who spent time in Iraq from April to October 2003.

There's Richard Gamble, pastor of the Keystone United Church of Christ, co-chairman of the Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq, and Adam Garcia, who gave voice to peace issues as a local student activist.

Rounding out the seven are Stacy Bannerman, the wife of a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, and Abe Osheroff, a 91-year-old peace activist.
The Seattle Seven ask the necessary questions that should be put to elected officials. When the answers are either insufficient or lacquered with drippy spin, these crusaders are committed enough to transform thought into action.

These were the folks who staged a peaceful sit-in at Cantwell's 32nd-floor offices in the Federal Building on April 25, three days after Sen. John Kerry gave a speech calling for the withdrawal of troops because we are "imprisoned in a failed policy."

For 27 hours the group occupied the site in a symbolic protest, but they didn't get to share air with the senator. Cantwell wasn't on the premises. The group spent time with her press secretary and chief aide who were nice enough to offer water and use of the loo.

No one was arrested, which is good. But not much of substance came from the act of civil disobedience, which is not so good. The TV news crews packed up their gear and went home after the Seattle Seven stood up and walked out.

Here's what quietly happened next: Cantwell agreed to meet with the activists May 6 in a tête-à-tête that unfolded over two hours. The senator's staff had been given questions beforehand by the activists in the hope that Cantwell would chew them over and offer a thoughtful response. The queries included:

Do you agree with Sen. Kerry on this deadline? If not, what do you propose? Do you envision combat troops remaining in Iraq?

Do permanent U.S. bases enter into your consideration? Has the Veterans Affairs budget kept pace with the veterans' needs? How much is this war costing overall, in particular Washington state taxpayers? What is the situation with Iraq civilians detained by U.S. forces? Should there be investigations?

The questions were good as was a goal of the activists -- to encourage Cantwell, who can at times come off as soulless and clinical, to have a public forum on Iraq.

Just one thing.

"We really didn't get answers," Gale told me. "The conversation went nowhere."

Gale recalled that Cantwell began to question the group's questions. At one point she challenged their characterization of Kerry's position on troop withdrawal even though the group says it was echoing what Kerry wrote in an Op-Ed piece.

"She said he really didn't mean that," Gale said. "She kept saying that is not what she understood."

Such bizarro-world exchanges with Cantwell left the activists feeling fuzzed up, as if the senator were using debate-style tricks to keep them off balance. They felt as if they were in Alice in Wonderland and had just plummeted down the rabbit hole.

Undaunted by the upshot of the meeting, they now vow to keep pressing their case. Cantwell shouldn't be surprised if another sit-in comes her way soon, or if the Seattle Seven sidle up to her along the campaign trail.

Cantwell vaguely talks about 2006 being "a year of big transition" for the United States in Iraq. Her lack of candor on the war has me wondering if the bigger transition might not be a personal one in which voters use the ballot box to speak truth to her power.


P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or robertjamieson@seattlepi.com.

© 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Choose Your Battle
She's a Pacifist. He's A Warrior. But Even In the Shadow of Iraq, Their Love Soldiers On.

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 29, 2006; C01

One minute Stacy Bannerman is stuffing envelopes to promote an upcoming peace workshop. The next her husband, Lorin, unexpectedly appears in her office.

"I got the call," he says.

"What call?" she replies.

Does she have to ask? Don't they both know their life is poised to turn completely strange at any moment? Possibly even tragic?

"I'm going to Iraq."

As his mouth says the words, his eyes watch her closely.

"No. No. No."

She dodges his attempt to hug. She doesn't want him to touch her yet, as if touching will make this news real.

Yes, yes, yes: Lorin's National Guard unit just got called up. And in a deep part of him that he doesn't reveal to her this instant, he's kind of looking forward to it. Stacy, on the other hand, is a professional peace and justice activist. Her emotions are much closer to the surface, and she's freaking out.

It's the fall of 2003, seven months after the war began, outside Seattle where they live. They are the warrior and the antiwarrior, and their years of living dangerously are about to begin.

She watches him drive away in his new white Kia Sorento. The planet-hugger in her never approved of his buying that SUV. Now, as her man prepares for mobilization to the land of oil and blood, she sees the manufacturer's name and thinks: "Killed in action."

* * *

The Bannermans are like nobody else and everybody else with this country at war. Stacy, 40, and Lorin, 45, dramatize an extreme version of the conversations, tensions, compromises and leaps of faith taking place across America in families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and political parties. As the death count rises, public support for the war plummets, two black lines on a neat, precise graph.

But in the places where people actually live their lives and wrestle with their differences, there are nuances in how they feel about the war and shades of gray in their reactions to each other. Only where there is no dialogue is there no nuance, and the warriors and antiwarriors think the worst of each other.

Stacy and Lorin couldn't afford not to talk. Beneath their apparent polarization, they share a messy truth of nuances and grays. She is a pacifist, against all war, convinced this war was built on lies. Yet her admiration for those who choose to wear the uniform has only increased, even though she knows some soldiers -- including, she would learn in anguished phone calls from Iraq, her husband -- have been connected to the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

She has become a second-tier celebrity in the peace movement. Overshadowed by the controversial wattage of Cindy Sheehan, Stacy is nevertheless a featured speaker in marches, rallies and caravans across the country, a leading advocate with the group Military Families Speak Out, which claims about 3,000 members. She recently published a book about her experience as a soldier's antiwar wife, "When the War Came Home."

Lorin felt the almost boyish appeal of the military when he was young and signed up for the Guard while in college. During his year-long deployment in Iraq, he harbored increasing doubts over the reasons for the invasion but never wavered in his devotion to his mission. He is, he says, "glad" to have fought in Iraq, where he was a sergeant first class leading 34 soldiers in a mortar platoon. His mission -- to beat back the insurgents lobbing rockets and mortar shells in his sector -- was accomplished, and he earned a Bronze Star for, in the words of the citation, "incredible speed and deadly accurate response" in "taking the fight to the enemy."

Just a good soldier, escaping the limelight that discovered his wife -- unless you happened to be in the chow hall at Logistical Support Area Anaconda north of Baghdad in early March 2005 when "Hardball" came on, and you put two and two together. Chris Matthews was listening to this peacenik woman's opinion of the war: "I do have some anger about it, because I think a gross violation of the national trust has happened." A picture of her husband flashed on the screen, and he looked an awful lot like Bannerman, in the 81st Brigade, who sometimes got mail from home addressed to "Sgt. Sweet Bear."

Lorin e-mailed Stacy a short while later: "Too many people saw it and let's just say that I've been trying to explain it. I am so glad that I was not in the chow hall when it came on. I love that you do these things, but at times I do not like having my picture all over the news, mostly because of the fact of where I am at and what I am doing right now. I heard it was good, and that you looked good."

He tells Stacy his comeback to comrades who criticize her: "I am over here fighting so that the Iraqi people can have the right for freedom of expression, the same right that you have. Shuts them up every time. . . . I know that you are nutty in love with me, but please, try to use some restraint with the picture."

Meanwhile, on the other flank of the relationship, Stacy was taking occasional hits from hard-core doctrinaire partisans of the peace movement. She received an anonymous note at a conference: "The concept of a peace activist being married to a military husband doesn't work for me, too much of a dichotomy. National Guard = Military = War = Death."

"Clearly, the universe is having a very good time with this relationship," Stacy says. "This is about learning to live within paradox. . . . That takes a whole level of courage and commitment. On a day-by-day basis it's about what matters and holding on to what matters.

"What matters is that Lorin is the love of my life. . . . What matters is that I remain true to myself. What matters is I'm big enough to let him do the same."

Her Weekends

The names of dead soldiers are being read aloud over a field of empty black boots on a section of the Mall one recent Saturday. A sad gong sounds and a procession of hundreds of protesters marches toward the Capitol. Stacy falls in line behind a father pulling a flag-draped coffin in honor of his fallen son.

In town for a series of antiwar activities, she breaks from the march early for a debate with former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle being filmed for a PBS documentary. He was one of the intellectual advocates of toppling Saddam Hussein, and he and Stacy square off against a backdrop of the thousands of boots -- a pair for each soldier killed.

The next day, Mother's Day, Stacy rallies outside the White House with the women's peace group Code Pink. She wears her husband's desert camouflage cap. On the back, above the label that says "Bannerman," she has pinned his Combat Infantryman Badge.

A typical weekend for an activist. Meanwhile, the owner of the cap and badge is back home in Kent, Wash. He is relaxing with Crimson and Kobe, their chows, after a string of busy weekends working his job as a food broker or drilling with his National Guard unit. They don't have children. He'll be back on Guard duty the following weekend.

Lorin doesn't accompany Stacy on most of her activist excursions, though after he returned from Iraq, he went to the same touring boot exhibit when it came to Seattle. Stacy gave an antiwar speech, and Lorin planted himself among the boots representing the 10 members of his brigade who were killed. It was the second time Stacy ever saw him cry, the first being the morning he left for Iraq.

"I don't think a lot of soldiers want to go to something like that because it is done by an antiwar peace activist group," Lorin says by telephone from their house while Stacy is protesting in Lafayette Square. "But for me more so than that, it was just going there, looking at this exhibit of all these boots and honoring the soldiers and their families and the loved ones left behind. . . . That was huge for me."

When They Met

They met seven years ago in Spokane at a fundraiser to fight hunger. He was helping manage food service that night in the convention center, and he spied her looking at him, looking away, looking back, consulting with a girlfriend, until finally they exchanged business cards.

She had never married; he had been married once before. She was executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in Spokane, a position she would eventually leave amid controversy. (She filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission alleging she suffered discrimination on the job because she was white; the matter was settled in 2002 for undisclosed terms.)

They discovered they had a lot of values in common -- a belief in diversity and a commitment to fairness and equal treatment based on the content of one's character.

His father is African American and his mother is white and British. His parents met when his Air Force father was stationed in England.

Stacy's parents are both teachers. So adamantly antiwar was her father that he had a lawyer draw up conscientious-objector documents for her brother when he was 7 to begin a paper trail in case he was ever called to serve.

Stacy did not fall in love with a man in uniform. Lorin had quit the Guard after about 15 years of service. Once they were engaged, he decided to reenlist so he could reach 20 years and qualify for retirement benefits. Stacy was surprised. But this was before Sept. 11, 2001. She rationalized the Guard was a conventional outlet for a man like Lorin to peacefully serve his country.

Pointed Words

After he got the call to go to Iraq, and the months of preparation began, she did not always make his life easy. Sometimes, she said exactly the wrong thing.

It would happen in moments when life within the paradox seemed unbearable, forces both political and personal wrenching their relationship. The horror of her husband waging what she considered an immoral war and maybe having to kill people -- that was the political. The personal? She didn't want to lose him. If he weren't killed or maimed, would he come home the same? Would they as a couple be the same?

Her private prediction: Nothing would ever be the same.

In one of their long pre-deployment conversations, he said, "There may come a time when I've got someone at gunpoint, and I'll have to make a decision. . . . I can't be thinking of the enemy as human."

"If that day comes," she replied, "and you're standing there, looking into that person's face, I want you to imagine that it's me."

As soon as she said it, she regretted it. The pacifist found herself wondering, she later wrote, if she had planted the seed of doubt that would lead to a moment of hesitation, resulting in her husband's death. Is a pacifist supposed to have such regrets?

Stacy still cringes, and Lorin hasn't forgotten either.

"For me it was, 'You don't need to be saying things like that,' " he says. "It's not what I need to be thinking about. I don't need to have that moment of doubt."

But, he adds, "there were times when she probably didn't say the right thing, but she said what was on her mind. That's something that you need to accept. This is where she's at, this is what she's going through."

For his part, Lorin admits he couldn't help detaching himself emotionally from her. "I did notice a wall was coming up," he says. "I was focused on what I was getting ready to do, getting ready to be asked to do. Put my life on the line. And I had responsibilities for other people's lives."

The thing that shocked her most was when he confessed that a part of him was looking forward to the war. At last, the real thing.

"This is what I've trained for, this is now actually going to happen," he says. "There was a little bit of that in there, excitement, if you want to put it that way. Here I get to go do something I've been training for for the last 16 or 17 years."

Stacy recalls her reaction: "Please tell me I'm not hearing this. . . . I can't believe he's talking about going to war like it's some great opportunity he doesn't want to miss."

One thing she could understand: By the fall of 2003 when Lorin was called up, it was becoming apparent Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, and Lorin was having some misgivings about the logic behind the war. But he had a duty, and he felt a deep loyalty and responsibility to his fellow soldiers. That was why he was going to war, and that was reasoning his activist wife accepted, even admired.

"One of the qualities I am so drawn to is his profound sense of loyalty," Stacy says.

Even when that loyalty is to fellow warmakers.

Counting the Casualties

While he was away, she kept the window blinds drawn. That way, she would not be able to see a government car pull up to announce another casualty. Therefore, in the superstitious logic of the home front, no car would ever appear.

She kept track of the death count for soldiers from the Pacific Northwest. She calculated that region's average share of loss based on the casualty rate and guiltily estimated Lorin's chances improved whenever someone else was killed.

"You cry for thinking that and feeling that way, but you do," she says.

She went to a few family support meetings for Guard spouses, but felt little in common with most of them. The community she found a bond with was Military Families Speak Out.

One evening after a movie she found three messages from Lorin on the answering machine. He sounded shaken.

The fourth time he called, he told her about the accident. His unit was firing practice mortar rounds. The target area had been cleared. But then two civilians, ages 13 and 20, apparently on their way to school and work, wandered into the area and were killed.

"It was just a huge eye-opener and shock," Lorin recalls now. "Some innocent people were killed, for what reason? I think about it. It was one of those things you have to put out of your mind. This happened, you have to continue."

Stacy broods over this more, but keeps it to herself. "I don't have a place for that one yet," she says, her eyes suddenly tearing. An investigation later ruled the deaths an accident, Lorin told her, according to her book. A public-affairs officer with the 81st Brigade said he was unaware of the incident and declined to comment on any aspect of the book.

One day in March 2005 -- about a year after her husband left and less than two weeks after the "Hardball" appearance -- the antiwarrior was behind the wheel of the Kia Sorento, driving to Fort Lewis to pick up the warrior, home from the war. The guard at the gate stared and stared. It took a while for Stacy to realize why.

Next to Lorin's military sticker on the windshield she had propped up a sign that said "Bring Them Home Now."

The Bombshell

Stacy threw a welcome-home party, where she proudly read the citation for his Bronze Star. Later, as they were cleaning up, Lorin dropped the bombshell:

He had calculated that even though he had about 20 years in the Guard, he needed a little more time to fully qualify for those retirement benefits. He told Stacy he was thinking of extending his service.

Her reaction: "I suggest you get a very good divorce lawyer, because I won't do this again."

Lorin promised there was no way he'd be deployed again. She said she'd heard that before. Each felt the other was betraying the common ground they had established in their war-and-peace marriage.

Lorin recalls thinking: "I support you in what you're doing, and what you're believing, and I would like the same back."

'War Is a Great Clarifier'

Did the war change them?

Instead of a divorce lawyer, they consulted a marriage counselor, who told them they had lost a year of their lives together and needed to grieve it. And Lorin did extend his service.

Just the other day, Stacy was saying, "He's still the best man I know, but a little tiny bit of that sweetness is gone. Or I can't get to it anymore."

And now, Lorin allows that maybe he's a little more "abrupt," particularly when confronted with the macho facades of men who've never been to war. "I look at them and go, 'If only you knew,' " he says. " 'I've been and done something you'll never be able to do.' "

"I've never heard you speak in those terms previously," Stacy says to Lorin by speakerphone during one of her trips to Washington.

On different sides of the country, and different sides of the war, they talk about his readjustment -- the restless sleeping when he first got home, the instinctive check for his weapon when he climbed into the Sorento, the orders he issued in the house, which, Stacy noted dryly, "didn't work so well." In Iraq, he got so wired by the adrenaline rushes of living on a base nicknamed "Mortaritaville" that he began volunteering to go off base and patrol. But that craving has now faded.

"I did not realize you were volunteering for it because you got the buzz!" Stacy says. "You see why I don't want you going back?"

"I volunteered for it for several different reasons. The buzz was just one of the reasons why."

"I know, Big Bear," she says.

Lorin now refers to the war as "my year-long personal growth retreat." He learned time is precious because the rocket with your name on it might fall out of the sky at any minute.

They are stronger, and Stacy has to admit that positive growth can come even from something as negative as war. "War is a great clarifier," she says.

Going to Iraq probably drew Lorin closer to Stacy's position on the war. "Just some of the things I heard and saw changed my viewpoint," he says. "Soldiers are dying for what reason again?"

But he also says: "On a personal level, yes I'm glad I went over there and had that experience as a soldier. Yes, I get to wear the Combat Infantryman Badge. . . . That's something special for us."

For the warrior, the badge is an insignia that he saw action and risked his life for his country. The antiwarrior feels just as proud -- and patriotic -- when she borrows his cap and wears his badge on her long march for peace.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

When the War Came Home, a book talk with Stacy Bannerman of Military Families Speak Out (recorded March 2, 2006 at the Institute for Policy Studies.)

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When the War Came Home is a personal and controversial narrative from Stacy Bannerman, the peace-activist wife of an Army National Guard reservist called to Iraq.

When the War Came Home chronicles a journey that began when Bannerman’s husband Lorin, a 43-year-old Sergeant First Class, was called to active duty as an Infantry Mortar Platoon Sergeant in October 2003. Bannerman describes the countdown to her husband’s deployment, recalling the emotional tumult of this period and during Lorin’s time in Iraq.

This frank account doesn’t shy away from the sometimes uneasy partnership between Stacy and Lorin, as Stacy ultimately finds herself at odds with her husband about his role in the Guard. Struggling to find a way to honor her husband while opposing the war, and outraged by the administration’s lack of support for “weekend warriors,” Bannerman joined Military Families Speak Out.

Alongside her own story, Bannerman presents demographic data on reservists and their families, their benefit programs and how they differ from enlisted military; a critical look at the training and preparation of Guardsmen for combat duty, and the supplies allotted to the reservists; the impact of the “Heart and Minds” campaign, which prevents U.S. soldiers from returning mortar fire; the Stop Loss Order (also known as the “Back-Door Draft”), which has affected roughly 45,000 Army soldiers to date, generating several lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.

When the War Came Home presents the stark reality of the emotional impact of deployment on the friends and family members of citizen soldiers. It also depicts the inherent challenge of trying to hold to a lifelong commitment to peace and social justice, when one’s loved one is at war.

Stacy Bannerman is the Founder/President of Reconciliation Works and contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. She has appeared in various media, including Air America, NPR’s The Connection, Deborah Norville (MSNBC), Chris Matthews’ Hardball, Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, in the Washington Post Magazine, and NBC Nightly News.

January 7th Seattle Out of Iraq Event a Rousing Success
By Contributers: Rita Weinstein, Dina Lydia, Robyn Landis, Geov Parrish, Bill Moyer and Stacy Bannerman
Originally published at backbonecampaign.org

01/20/2006


Congressman Jim McDermott
Our January 7 "Operating Homecoming" event in the Seattle Labor Temple featured a stellar list of speakers and excellent turnout. U.S. Representatives Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee, activist Bert Sacks, and two representatives of Military Families Speak Out Judy Linehan and Stacy Bannerman led off a high-energy afternoon co-sponsored by Backbone Campaign and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). Also partnering were Code Pink, the Majority Visibility Project, and Veterans for Peace. Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign and Judith Shattuck of PDA introduced the event. Bill's friend Lady Liberty introduced the first three speakers, after saying "You may have noticed I'm growing smaller lately."

"I think this war will be brought to a halt by people making themselves heard. It is incumbent upon us as public officials to support and encourage this sort of thing. Vietnam didn't end because the government decided it wasn't working. It ended because of people exercising their right to free speech," said Rep. Jim McDermott. (Click here to view Congressman Jim McDermott's remarks.)

Bert Sacks reminded atendees that the U.S. war in Iraq began in 1991 and contued with sanctions and bombings through the Clinton administration. Bert showed footage of Leslie Stahl's TV report from the 1990s, showing starving, dehydrated, very ill Iraqi children in every hospital she visited. It included a clip of Stahl telling Secretary of State Madelaine Albright that more children had died as a result of the sanctions than from the bombing of Hiroshima, and Albright's famous response: "We think it's worth it."

Bert said that Iraqi people have felt under attack by the U.S. for 15 years. Over half a million children died of hunger, dehydration, and preventable disease during the years of sanctions. For that reason, he believes that we must go beyond removal of the Bush administration or simply electing Democrats to determining what kind of country we truly want to be in the long term, republic or empire.

Rep. Jay Inslee said, "We lost 11 of our best yesterday. Today we are here to demand action by Congress to return Iraq to the Iraqis." He believes our country will be made stronger by withdrawing our troops because it will restore our preeminence as champions of democracy and human rights around the world.
Inslee listed two things that we can do right now to make America safer and stronger:
1) Pass the Apollo Energy Project--his prime legislative project--to break our addiction to oil, stop global warming, and grow jobs in the U.S.
2) Replace the people who voted for the war. (Someone from the audience shouted out "What about Cantwell?" to which the Congressman did not reply.)
(Click here to view Congressman Jay Inslee's comments.)

Stacy Bannerman, Board Member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and author of When the War Came Home, made an impassioned appeal for advocacy on behalf of returning veterans and their families. An unprecedented percentage of National Guard and Reserve troops are in need of psychological counseling. Eleven months after returning from Iraq, 46 percent of one Washington State Reserve Combat Engineer Company reported mental health problems--more than double the rate of post-combat psychological problems found in regular enlisted personnel (New England Journal of Medicine.) Rates of Reservist post-traumatic stress disorder are estimated to be as high as 90 percent, based on studies of citizen soldiers who served in the first Gulf War.

Nearly half of the 700 members in the Oregon National Guard's 162nd Infantry were without regular work when they shipped to Iraq. When they re-deployed in early 2005, another quarter of the Guardsmen found themselves jobless. Thousands of Guardsmen are trying to dig out of the money pit they fell into when their active duty pay was just 50 percent to 60 percent of their civilian income. At least 50 percent have lost jobs due to their deployment and many must now deal with steep debt.Bush Wins! al Qaeda Recruiter of the Year!

Judy Linehan, also of MFSO, shared the experiences she had at the Global International Peace Conference in London. Of 1200 delegates, 40 were from the US. Among these were Cindy Sheehan, David Swanson, Steve Cobble, and Medea Benjamin. The presence of the U.S. delegation was a source of hope to those from other countries.

To give the audience a break from the serious stuff, the Backbone Players (Josh Okrent, Aaron Campbell, Dina Lydia) presented a brief satire. "Every year the Al-Qaeda Academy presents awards to the most creative, most destructive, most sinister, most dangerous and most prolific creators of martyrs in all the Umma." As a Vanna White-type stage girl, Dina wore a glam burqa ensemble. The "Golden Scimitar" award was "a tie between Irani leader Ayatollah Khameini and The Kansas State School Board for their success in eliminating the artificial barrier between Church and State. Al Qaeda Recruiter of the Year is "the individual who has done the most to attract new members to the ranks of our international network of murder, mayhem, and anti-American violence." George Bush won the award for the third straight year, competing with Alberto Gonzales, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Rumsfeld, whose pictures were displayed. "Osama Bin Worthington III" presented Bush with his award and Bush embarrassed himself with a clueless, racist, acceptance speech.

Three poster-size letters were available for signing by attendees. These were later posted at the corporate offices of local television stations, asking them to meet with representatives of the progressive community to discuss their role in allowing our nation to be misled into war and how they can do a better job reporting on issues of security and democracy. The group later marched through the streets of Seattle to the TV stations in the immediate neighborhood and presented these letters. (Channel 7 & 4 camera crews showed up briefly.)

Read more and see additional photos at the Costume Goddess' page, by clicking here.
Charles Lenchner of PDA and Backbone Campaign Executive Director Bill Moyer participated in the Laura Flanders show with a report back from events in Seattle and Manhattan.
Click here to listen to the part of the Laura Flanders show featuring Bill and Charles.

Cindy Sheehan Caravan Stopped by Capitol Police
by Sarah Ferguson
September 21st, 2005
Originally published at villagevoice.com

Washington, D.C. - At just past noon on Wednesday, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and the rest of the Bring Them Home Now tour were stopped by a pair of squad cars two blocks from the U.S. Capitol by members of the Capitol police force. Officers explained that they wanted to use bomb-sniffing dogs to inspect the caravan of three RVs and several cars.

The officers said it was standard practice to inspect large vehicles in the area. RVs arent allowed on Capitol Hill, one said. Thats standard procedure. Any trucks that come on Capitol Hill are stopped and turned around. Campers arent allowed at all, the officer said, unless theyve been previously authorized.

Officers told the peace activists they couldnt park at the Capitol because they dont have the proper permits. Sheehan and company then began preparing to make the rest of the trek on foot. Awaiting them near the Capitol steps were a crowd of television cameras for a scheduled noon press conference.

Earlier this week in New York Citys Union Square park, police officers unplugged Sheehans microphone, saying she didnt have a proper permit for that either.

People with Bring Them Home Now seemed unfazed. Its always something, said Stacy Bannerman of Military Families Speak Out, whose husband spent a year fighting in the Sunni Triangle. Its just part of the deal.

The conference is being held by Sheehan and the others to announce their arrival in Washington and to kick off a weekend of resistance that is expected to include a march of 100,000 people and mass civil disobedience.

At 1:30 p.m., Sheehan and her allies plan to head to the White House, where theyll attempt to give President Bush a letter asking him to answer the question, What noble cause are our loved ones dying for?

© 2006 Village Voice Media, Inc.

'Bring Them Home Now Bus Tour' Comes to Rochester

by A. Dillon (Edited by RIMC - TF)
14 Sep 2005

Bus[permalink]

Calls Made for Participation in Local Antiwar Conference, National March in DC

The Bring Them Home Now Bus Tour pulled through Rochester Tuesday morning on its way from Crawford Texas to the national antiwar march in Washington, DC initially called for by ANSWER and UFPJ.

The Event drew some 300 supporters, who gathered outside the Downtown United Presbyterian Church to listen to the testimony of members of the tour.

One of the speakers, Stacy Bannerman, whose husband served in Iraq until June 2004 expressed the urgency of the situation. "The war has come home, because those National guard and reservists [in Iraq] are often school teachers and firefighters and emergency workers and ambulance drivers in our communities," she said. When our national guard soldiers are coming back from where they’ve been, after seeing what they’ve seen, and they’re not getting the care and support that they need, how well do think they’ll be able to protect and serve their communities."

Members of the tour left Camp Casey in Crawford Texas at the end of August and have been reaching out to military families, veterans, and concerned citizens in cities and towns across the country. The Tour is spreading the truth about the war in Iraq, mobilizing people to gather in Washington, DC on September 24th and asking Congressional decision-makers the hard questions Cindy has asked President Bush concerning the immorality of this war.

Peace Action and Education, a task force of Metro Justice, and Rochester Against War helped organize the tour stop.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/paynter/195464_paynter18.html

A soldier's wife blasts Bush for 'backdoor' draft

Monday, October 18, 2004

By SUSAN PAYNTER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST

Stacy Bannerman has a big stake in the war in Iraq -- 6 feet 1 1/2 inches big.

But to her, supporting the troops -- including the tall, likable National Guardsman named Lorin to whom she is married -- does not mean yellow ribbons or an unconditional salute to her husband's commander-in-chief.

The Kent woman is featured in a TV ad hitting swing states this week that blasts Bush for the so-called "backdoor draft," which is extending the tours of thousands of Guardsmen like Lorin. The ad, sponsored by Texans for Truth, is just one of the ways Stacy is actively questioning the war her husband is being kept on to fight.

For many in the area who have joined groups like Military Families Speak Out, the act of standing up and speaking out is a new and tentative process.

Not for Stacy. In third grade, she wrote a "Bill of Rights" for her elementary school.

"I had a number of issues," she said. "Recess time, longer bathroom breaks for the girls, equal after-school sports opportunities for girls and better midmorning milk delivery so it wasn't warm by the time it got to our room."

When he married her on Dec. 23, 2000, her husband knew he was marrying someone with a point of view. She had been the first white executive director of the Martin Luther King Center in Spokane.

In turn, Stacy knew her husband had joined the Guard soon after high school and had served almost 16 years. So when he told her he'd decided to answer a (pre-war) call to "re-up" with an eye toward fighting forest fires and securing retirement "bennies," she was surprised but not worried.

Then came war. And soon after -- on a day Stacy was folding thousands of school fliers for a peace-and-poetry workshop -- Iraq.

Lorin should have been home this summer. His 20-year commitment to the Guard ended June 22. Now his tour in Iraq won't end until late March or early April -- a year and four months since the last time she saw him.

For Stacy there's no question about speaking out about the war and against the "stop loss" orders holding men beyond their contracts in Iraq.

"This is the work. This is the critical issue of our time. It's about integrity and defining the soul of America," she said.

Sure, she's been shouted at, told she is "jeopardizing the mission" and not supporting the troops.

"But silence is not support. My husband is 'the troops' and if exercising my right to speak up is truly jeopardizing the mission, if the mission is that tenuous or questionable, then we've got no business being there," she said.

Houston and Teri Barclay's son, a Marine Corps sergeant, is finally home safe, if shaken, after two tours in Iraq.

He joined under President Clinton and primarily served under President Bush. Now he is picking up his education.

The Barclays' own education in activism heated slowly as it dawned on them that the plan to attack Iraq "had been on the drawing board for some time," Houston told me.

"We began realizing that this wasn't about the war on terror. It just didn't smell right."

His wife, who had never been political, started going to peace protests at Green Lake, then to the Anderson Park Vigil in Redmond. And he started going along."

Now active with Military Families Speak Out, Houston admitted it hasn't been easy. Although he's reluctant to go into detail, the Duvall CPA said lots of his clients are Republicans and his business has been impacted.

"It is my livelihood," he said. "But on the other hand, this is our son and this is our country."

Actually, once they got their feet wet, the Barclays found that being with others who shared their concerns helped while their son was away at war.

That sense of community is pulling Janet Schuroll off her couch, as well, although she's not sure who to call or how to start.

All three of her sons have served in the military. Her son John is probably in Iraq with the National Guard by now, although she hasn't heard from him in about a week.

"He wanted to keep making a contribution after the Navy," she said. "But I think he thought that meant fighting fires and floods."

Now he's in the thick of it -- on the ground, not a ship, where she thinks he was safer. If he makes it to the end of his tour only to find out he's extended, that would really propel her to action. But even now, Janet is feeling that the time has come to "jump in."

Houston Barclay understands that feeling.

"For us, when it got personal, that was the impetus for getting us off our duffs," he said. "We've got a lot at stake."


Susan Paynter's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call her at 206-448-8392 or send e-mail to susanpaynter@seattlepi.com

© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Kerry campaign courts military-family voters
By Warren Cornwall - Seattle Times staff reporter
Monday, October 18, 2004
Originally published by The Seattle Times

Lietta Ruger, mother-in-law and aunt to soldiers sent to Iraq, has spent months speaking out against the war.

Last night was the first time she publicly spoke out for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.

Ruger and her husband drove from southwestern Washington yesterday to meet in a Kent living room with several women touring the country for the Democrat's campaign in a bid to show that military families are unhappy with President Bush's handling of the war.

"I think the only opportunity this country has is for a change in commander-in-chief," Ruger said to the roughly dozen people who gathered over coffee and chocolate-chip cookies.

The low-key event was part of a broader strategy by the Kerry campaign to court military families, traditionally a Republican stronghold. The Kerry campaign organized the meeting and brought in three women from Military Moms with a Mission, a group of roughly 15 women who are on a nationwide tour to stump for Kerry during the waning days of the campaign. They are to meet with people in Spokane today.

"I think the military vote is totally up for grabs," said Lisa Leitz, a member of Military Moms whose husband is in the Navy in Florida, training to be a naval aviator.

State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance, however, dismissed that idea.

"To the president's great credit, our heroes in the military support him," he said. "They [the Military Moms] want to falsely portray that Sen. Kerry has some significant support in the military, and that's simply not true."

Ruger, who grew up in a military family, has been active with a national anti-war group called Military Families Speak Out. She said she opposed the invasion of Iraq from the outset, feeling it had no relationship to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that put the nation on a war footing. In late 2003, she turned to Internet chat rooms in search of support and a community.

There she found the military families group and began speaking out against the war, breaking what she described as a taboo among military families against criticizing the president. But she didn't decide to publicly back Kerry until a recent meeting between several Washington military families and members of the Kerry campaign, including Wade Sanders, an undersecretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration.

Regardless of who wins the presidential race, Ruger plans to continue pushing for better protection of the troops.

The restriction on criticizing the president wasn't apparent in Stacy Bannerman's living room yesterday.

The people there, nearly all of them women, spoke of relatives in the military going without proper supplies, of constant anxiety that the latest combat casualties would include a loved one, and of frustration with a war with no apparent end in sight.

Several praised 18 soldiers who reportedly refused orders to take part in a recent convoy amid concerns that they didn't have adequate security or equipment.

Bannerman is a member of Military Families Speak Out. Her husband, Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Lorin Bannerman, is serving at Logistical Support Area Anaconda. The massive supply base northwest of Baghdad is frequently the target of mortar shelling by insurgents, and is run by Washington state's 81st Brigade Combat Team, an Army National Guard unit.

Officials there recently said they have requested more soldiers to quell the mortar attacks, but they have been turned down, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.

"They're operating under surreal shortages," Bannerman said. She said her husband's service in the National Guard was supposed to end in June, but he now is being required to stay until April.

© 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Some military families oppose war
by Kevin Graman - Staff writer for The Spokane Review
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Originally published at spokesmanreview.com

The United States is either building democracy and restoring infrastructure to a nation in need of our help, or it's engaged in empire building at the expense of our troops and creating enemies in the Middle East for generations to come.

Though these views of U.S. involvement in Iraq are not mutually exclusive, it is a debate not typically heard among the families of U.S. soldiers actually serving there. And while it is more common to find military families whose support for the troops extends to Bush administration policies in Iraq, a small but increasing number of them have taken a stand against the war.

"It's not only our right, it's our duty to speak out," said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, an organization of military families opposed to U.S. military action in Iraq. "It is our duty to our loved ones and our country to end a war based on lies."

The Boston-based group was formed in November 2002 to oppose the invasion of Iraq. Now, with 1,500 members nationwide, it has joined with the anti-war group Veterans for Peace in a campaign called "Bring Them Home Now."

"Right now, the focus of our work is to end the military occupation, bring the troops home and end the policies that allowed this very reckless military adventure to happen," said Lessin, the mother of a Marine who has recently returned from Iraq.

She and several group members in the Pacific Northwest reject the notion that opposing the war is tantamount to not supporting the troops.

"I'm balancing my love for my husband and support for him with my lifelong commitment to nonviolence," said Stacy Bannerman, a member of the organization and former director of the Martin Luther King Center in Spokane.

Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Lorin Bannerman, is in Kuwait with the Washington National Guard's 81st Brigade, waiting to go to Iraq.

Bannerman is worried about her husband's emotional and physical well-being. He is a nonviolent man, she said, and has had to distance himself psychologically from his military mission.

"We cannot dehumanize the enemy without dehumanizing ourselves," said Bannerman, a reconciliation consultant who now lives in Kent, Wash. "That concerns me greatly."

Sgt. Bannerman's mother, a Spokane teacher who is not a member of any anti-war group, also is worried about her son's participation in a war she opposes. A native of England, her beliefs stem from personal experience. The first five years of her life were spent under German bombing during World War II.

"But that war was justified," she said. While she supports going after al Qaeda, she believes "what the U.S. has done in Iraq has increased the likelihood of more attacks" by the terrorist group responsible for Sept. 11.

Lorin Bannerman represents the fourth generation of his family to serve in the U.S. armed forces, and his mother understood his desire to join the National Guard.

"My son may make the ultimate sacrifice for his country -- nearly 600 have already," she said. "They are doing their patriotic duty, and I have no problem with that ... if only this war were really about American freedom and safety."

But she does not believe it is.

"I believe it was a very personal thing for Bush and based on incomplete information."

Her point of view is not shared by Anne Covey of Spokane, whose husband, 1st Sgt. Rick Covey, has been deployed to Iraq with the 81st Brigade.

"If there are families that choose to support their troops but in the same breath, oppose the United States's involvement in Iraq, then they really aren't supporting their troops," said Covey, a family support coordinator for the Guard. "To support something or someone, you must support the entire entity or cause, not just part of it."

Though she personally does not like the fact her husband is halfway across the world, she said he knew deployment was a possibility 25 years ago when he joined the National Guard.

"This is the job all of them signed up for when they took the oath to join the Army National Guard or any other branch of the military for that matter," Covey said.

Lessin agrees that in an all-volunteer military each soldier knows he or she could go to war.

"Indeed, they all signed an oath," she said. But she believes an oath is a contract between two parties. The soldier agrees to defend the Constitution and the government's "implied vow" is that it is not going to put our loved ones' lives at risk needlessly, she said.

"They will not send them to a war based on lies," Lessin said, "and that's what happened here. The government sent them off as cannon fodder for oil markets and empire building."

A Seattle-area member of the group of families opposing the war, Theresa Barclay, whose son, Stephan, is a Marine corporal, believes the administration owes her some answers.

"Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where was the imminent threat?"

She believes the world is less safe since the U.S. action in Iraq, a decision she said was made by leaders who are not combat veterans.

"What they have done just incites terrorists and plays into their hands," Barclay said. "They would have been a lot better off actually fighting terrorism. I'm not against the military being able to defend this country, I just think the current administration has hijacked the military and is using them for their own evil goals.

"Now that we've taken out the (Iraqi) government, we have the responsibility to stabilize it, but we need to internationalize it," Barclay said, in terms of both security and rebuilding the country. "I hope the American people will realize that we need to rejoin the world community."

Marcie McClean has mixed feelings about military families speaking out against the war. Her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Merle McClean, has been in Iraq for nearly a year with the Washington National Guard's 1161st Transportation Company based in Ephrata.

"In a way, it makes me proud that we can go out and have an opinion and not be penalized for it," said McClean, who is a family assistance coordinator for the Guard. "But it makes me sad, because the soldiers overseas see them not supporting them. They turn on the news every day and hear about the protests."

She would like to remind the protesters that "the right to speak out was given to us by a war," and she has not lost faith in the nation's leadership.

"If President Bush tells me there are weapons of mass destruction or a terrorist link, I'm going to believe him," McClean said. "I believe he wakes up every day and prays for guidance to make the right decisions."

Though Helen Bannerman does not share McClean's faith in the administration, she said she supports the troops and, like other National Guard families, has invested heavily in equipment for her son. She has bought him mosquito netting and a walkie-talkie with global positioning so his platoon would not get lost in an Iraqi sandstorm.

She thought she was going to have to buy him body armor, but the Guard provided that item three days before his unit left Fort Lewis. Banner said she believes U.S. Sen. Patty Murray had something to do with that.

Bannerman said she encourages her students to write cards to show their support for the troops.

"We are doing what we can to make it possible for them to be there and safe," she said. "There was no question that they would not have gone. My son feels it is a way to prove his 20 years of training have paid off. But that doesn't mean you don't try to end things in an honorable way."

© The Spokane Review

  

 
 
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