Monday, May 25, 2009

It's not just a job... it's 8 years (or more) of your life.

Buyer Beware. The military contract is usually for 8 years. After an active duty assignment, veterans can be called back from the Inactive Ready Reserves for more active duty. Some soldiers are resisting. See this excellent article by Sarah Lazare from Courage to Resist.

Published on Monday, May 25, 2009 by
Just One More Thing, Soldier

by Sarah Lazare

"I felt like I was being robbed of everything," Matthew Dobbs said over the phone from his home in Houston, Texas. "I had visions of military police banging down my door and dragging me back to war."
Dobbs, a 26 year-old former soldier who served a tour in Afghanistan from 2003-2004, was recounting a story that has become familiar in the ongoing Global War on Terror. It is the story of a soldier who, after serving a tour overseas and being discharged from Active Duty, received involuntary orders to re-deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan years later.Dobbs was not a victim of stop-loss, the policy of involuntarily extending a GI's term of service, sometimes after multiple tours in combat zones. This practice has recently garnered widespread negative attention and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claims that it will be phased out.Rather, Dobbs was a victim of reactivation orders from the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR), a lesser-publicized form of involuntary service that has been fueling troop supply for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there has been a strong reaction to stop-loss, IRR recall has slipped under the radar, creating the illusion that the problem of involuntary military service has been solved.The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts.
The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty and four years in the IRR, but variations exist and an individual's IRR stint might be longer or shorter. IRR members live civilian lives, are unpaid, and are technically required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, or building a family.The catch is that, at any point, IRR members can be recalled into active duty to serve in a "state of emergency." This policy has translated into the involuntary reactivation of tens of thousands of troops to fight the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since September 11th, 2001, about 28,000 IRR members in the U.S. Army have been mobilized, according to Major Maria Quon, Army Pubic Affairs Officer.
There have been 3,868 Marines involuntarily recalled and mobilized during that time, according to Major O'Connor, Marine Corps Spokesman.Dobbs was issued his reactivation orders in 2008, over four years after he had completed his tour in Afghanistan and been discharged from Active Duty. At the time, he was enrolled in school at Texas State University. The orders were sent to his mother's house, and he says that hearing her read them over the phone was, "one of the scariest moments in my life."Dobbs says that his tour in Afghanistan left him with psychological scars that he struggled for years to overcome upon his return. He was deployed to Afghanistan as a communications specialist and bore witness to "firefights, rockets, and mortars," with two people from his unit killed in combat. When he returned from his deployment, Dobbs learned that his father was gravely ill. He got compassionate reassignment to Ft. Sill so that he could be with his dying father. Meanwhile, the rest of his unit was stop-lossed and forced to serve another tour in Iraq.After his discharge from the military and his father's death, Dobbs struggled with depression and alcoholism. He moved several times, first living with his mother in Texas, then eventually getting a place of his own and enrolling in school. He says he was finally getting his life "to a happy place" when he got the reactivation orders in the mail.The IRR provides a ready supply of troops who already have military experience, many of whom have already seen combat. With U.S. forces stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, this pool of GIs has played a role in boosting military capacity. Even though recent reports suggest that the military is reaching its recruitment targets for the first time in years, likely due to growing unemployment, Army IRR reactivation rates remain "steady state," according to Major Quon.
Critics charge that the IRR forces already over-extended troops to fight yet another deployment, pushing them beyond exhaustion. "If people thought this was a just war, if soldiers believed that fighting these wars was making the world a better place, the army wouldn't have to involuntarily drag them out of civilian life," said Seth Manzel, Executive Director of GI Voice, an advocacy organization for soldiers who are mistreated by the military, and an active member with Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization comprised of military service people who have served since September 11th, 2001. "The IRR is nothing more than a backdoor draft."But military officials say that recruits know exactly what they are getting into when they sign up for military service. "When you sign your contract, you know you have to serve time in the IRR and that there is a possibility you will get called up," said Major O'Connor. "I would hope they read the contract that they signed."Veteran advocates cast doubt on these claims. "I can say, in my own personal experience, my military recruiter never went through the effort to explain what the IRR is," said Jeff Paterson, former Marine and current Project Director for Courage to Resist, an organization that supports the troops who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Military recruiters are expert at avoiding inconvenient details of the military agreement. In my case, there was no indication that recall during the inactive term would be a realistic event."Others say that the very premise of the IRR is unfair, regardless of one's awareness at the time of signing their military contract. "No company in the world could make an employment contract like what the military has," said Seth Manzel. "Could you imagine IBM indenturing its workers in the same way? The only reason the contract is upheld is because it is with the government."After returning from Afghanistan, Dobbs began questioning the ongoing wars. His own research led him to conclude that the war he had fought in was unjustified. "After a lot of reading and questioning, I found out this is not an honorable war, and I came to disagree with what I had done," he said. "Afghanistan did not attack us. This had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan."Dobbs became involved with a local chapter of IVAW, where he met his now fiancĂ©. He became an outspoken critic against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cites his activism as a key component that helped him get his life back on track.It was in the midst of his burgeoning anti-war activism that Dobbs received his reactivation orders. He was furious. "Doesn't the military realize that if I get deployed again, that could be the end of my life?" he asked, his voice booming. "I have already served in combat. I started living a life of peace when I got out. I didn't ever think they would ask me to go back."Dobbs told his mom to rip up his activation orders, and he hasn't looked back since. The military made several attempts to contact him, but he ignored them every time. On April 19, 2009, Dobbs was discharged from the IRR. He is still waiting to receive his papers.GI counselors at Courage to Resist note that, up to this point, the U.S. military has not attempted to apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to IRR members who refuse to report. This means that the military has not had jurisdiction to go after IRR members who refuse recall. IRR members can receive a less than honorable discharge from the IRR, but so far this has not affected active duty discharge and has had no bearing on military benefits. Furthermore, the military does not arrest IRR resisters or force them to show up for activation, though they do resort to pressure via letters, phone calls, and even home visits.However, many troops are not aware of this, and tens of thousands show up for recall. This dilemma was made famous Ryan Conklin of MTV's ‘The Real World,' who, in front of millions of TV viewers, reported back to duty after receiving reactivation orders from the IRR. The recent case of Matthis Chiroux, an IRR resister who pushed for an upgrade in his discharge from the IRR, also garnered widespread media attention.Many troops also join the military reserves, in hopes of avoiding an IRR recall that will land them in a combat zone. "The IRR ultimately is a tool for military retention," says Jeff Paterson. "Many people are strong-armed into joining the reserves under threat of IRR recall."Dobbs said that now that he has been discharged from the military, he is prepared to speak out against IRR recall, a practice that he says is indicative of the military's broader policy of using troops up and destroying their minds and bodies through multiple deployments."My heart goes out to all of those people showing up for recall," said Matthew Dobbs over the phone. "When you are in a combat zone, you live through the hardest stuff you ever thought you would have to. It is not just physically exhausting, it is also mentally exhausting not to know if this tour is going to be the tour where you die. And now, after making it through alive, they tell you have to go back."

Sarah Lazare is Project Coordinator for Courage to Resist, an organization that supports the troops who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a freelance writer currently living in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Career fair at the CAN Academy

Yesterday, May 18, Hart and I were invited to the Austin CAN Academy, a charter school on Rosewood, to table during their career fair from 10 am to 2 pm. The school offers half-day class schedules to allow for students who work and/or have young children to care for. CAN focuses on students at risk for dropping out of high school. CAN students must have completed the 8th grade and the school accepts students up to age 21. Student enrollment has almost reached its capacity of about 400.
School staff had placed tables in the school's hallways and had purposely put us next to an Air Force recruiter so that students could more easily compare and contrast his materials and ours. That worked out fine for us. Because part of the career fair involved classroom speakers (not us), there were some quiet times when we visited with the recruiter, who was a native Austinite who said he joined the Air Force about 8 years ago when he was laid off from Motorola. We invited him to join us when he is discharged -- but he said he probably will stay in. He did take some of our Americorps literature for his girlfriend...

We had quite a few students come by the table during their lunch times -- although many came by mainly to get our signatures on cards they were required to get filled out to show they had done their career fair duty ...

The school halls were filled with large, really nicely done paintings by students. The subjects were well-known figures like Gandhi and Che. A painting of President Obama hung just inside the school entrance. Above our table was a painting of Stevie Ray Vaughn, which, with our "make art, not war" message, was appropriate. The paintings were accompanied by text written by students about the paintings' subjects. I took a photo of the info sheet, "Violent VS. Nonviolent Resistance" posted next to the painting of Gandhi that compared him with Che. The second paragraph begins: "Is a violent leader necessary to cause social change? The answer is NO." (If you double click on the photo above, you'll get a larger, more readable version.)

I think the Gandhi painting in the hall led more students to be able to say something about Gandhi on our peace wheel, even though, in general, the CAN students seemed less interested in the wheel than students have been in other schools. Not sure why. They liked the "I think for myself" buttons a lot, and several took Addicted to War books and Arlington West dvds.

Our table was right across from the teachers' lounge, so several teachers and staff came by the table and spoke with us, especially ESL teacher, Marcus Denton, who is shown talking with Hart in one of the above photos. Marcus was familiar with our group and had seen this blog, and he was curious about our views on the peace movement and organizing in general. It was great to be able to talk with him.

The school catered a wonderful lunch for all the career fair tablers. We felt very welcomed. Thanks, CAN Academy!

Above are some photos from the school hallways and our table.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doing lunch at LBJ/LASA High School

On Monday, May 4, Hart, Lynn and I had a Nonmilitary Options literature table during the lunch hours at LBJ/LASA High school. This is a "two in one" school, with LBJ and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy sharing space in the same buildings.

We had a good day there, with students stopping at our table mostly in small groups, taking a lot of interest in the Peace Wheel (newly colorful...), letting us know what they'd rather buy than war, picking up literature and buttons. Hart had brought a stack of "Arlington West" dvds that we provided as Peace Wheel prizes along with the buttons, fortune cookies and Addicted to War books.

One young woman noticed my Pentax k-1000 camera and took a close look at it, saying she was studying photography and liked old cameras. Yep, film cameras seem like antiques these days...
There were some panoramic photos in the hall of former senior classes, and Lynn found the photo that included her daughter, who graduated with top honors in the first science academy class.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hundreds protest Philadelphia "Army Experience Center" that markets war to minors

A very inspiring action this weekend, reported by Student Peace Action Network in Philadelphia:

Seven Arrested at Philadelphia Mall Over Military Recruiting Practices
300 Veterans, military families, religious leaders and voters rallied, marched and closed the "Army Experience Center" to decry the Army pilot program that entices teens with violent video games

PHILADELPHIA - May 2 - Several hundred demonstrators from a coalition of 30 national and regional veteran, youth and peace groups, including the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Student Peace Action Network, protested what they claimed were unethical military recruitment of teenagers at Franklin Mills Mall in northeast Philadelphia.
The protesters rallied at a church, then marched one mile to the Franklin Mills mall where dozens of police blocked them from entering the "Army Experience Center" (AEC). After nearly an hour of chants of "War is no game, shut down the Army Experience Center" and speeches, Bob Smith of the Brandywine Peace Community (a member of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,300 national and local organizations) delivered a criminal complaint (4) to a Captain at the AEC and to a representative of the mall's parent company, The Simon Property Group, Inc. After two police warnings, hundreds of protesters continued to chant and listen to speeches by Col. Wright and others, until the police arrested seven conducting civil disobedience by refusing to leave. Forced out of the mall, people continued to vigil and listen to songs by the Granny Peace Brigade outside the "red" entrance to the mall.
"The Army Experience Center is an abomination. It epitomizes the turn for the worse that the military was forced to take over the last eight years. It is misleading. It targets impressionable minors, and it propagates the glorification of war. I am utterly disgusted that the Army which I loved and in which I served so long has resorted to such a deceiving recruiting strategy," said Sergeant Jesse Hamilton, who served nine years in the Army including tours in Iraq. After receiving and honorable discharge, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
Elaine Brower, 53, who sits on the board of Peace Action of Staten Island, was one of those taken to jail. She has been organizing against the AEC because she is the mother of a Marine who just returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Anne Wright, former State Department official of 16 years shouted, "We demand that our policy isn't militarism but diplomacy."
Critics of the AEC point out that it is not acceptable for alcohol, cigarette, pornography, gun manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to market to thirteen year olds. They claim those decisions are for adults and dying for something you believe in is also an adult decision.
One of the religious leaders present, Rev. Bob Moore, the director of the Coalition for Peace Action, preached, "War is not fun and exciting; War is hell on earth. If you're not old enough to drink you are not old enough to kill. No recruiting of our children!" He organized one hundred people to attend the protest.
With American's saying they want troops home from Iraq and becoming more concerned about our troops in Afghanistan, the military is finding it more difficult to recruit youth who disagree with U.S. foreign policy. "In its desperate approach to meet recruiting numbers, the military is teaching the wrong values to teenagers. Sugarcoating combat experience with virtual war is a dishonor to those with real war experience. That's why the Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with young veterans, and high school and college students across the country for truth and honor in recruiting," stated Jonathan Williams, Span's coordinator.
Police estimated over 200 participants while organizers claimed nearly 300 attended the rally at St. Luke's United Church of Christ, then marched with one lead 12' by 3' banner that said, "War is No Game, Close-down Army Experience Center" along Knights Road to the AEC where an enlarged version of the criminal complaint was handed over and stated, in part, "THAT: the Army Experience Center is therefore involved in the "Criminal Solicitation of Minors" - soliciting underage persons to act in a violent manner and thereby promoting and supporting criminal and corrupt behavior..."
The Pentagon is committed to establishing "Experience Centers" in malls across the country. The $13 Million, 14,500 square foot facility at Franklin Mills Mall boasts dozens of video game computers and X-Box video game consoles with various interactive, military-style shooting games as well as Apache helicopter and Humvee simulators that allow teens to simulate the killing of Arabs and Afghans. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Rob Watson compares the Army Experience Center to "a heavy dose of candy cigarettes." (3) 200 packs of candy cigarettes were handed out with Watson's column at the protest.
After leaving the indoor skateboard park across from the AEC, one teenager wearing a helmet and kneepads, with skateboard in tow, quipped "skateboards are the solution," after grabbing a "War Isn't Working," Peace Action, bumper sticker.
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