Monday, November 15, 2010

Iraq War veteran, Jason Hurd's Letter to America

Posted today on The Huffington Post:

In honor of Veterans Day, Huffington Post Impact and Causecast present Salute To Service, a week-long series honoring the remarkable men and women of America's armed forces. Each day, a war veteran will share a personal essay about victories and struggles during war and in its aftermath, as well as nonprofit projects to support at home.

My name is Jason Hurd, a 31-year-old Iraq Veteran from Kingsport, Tenn. I served 10 years as a U.S. Army combat medic from 1997 to 2007.

After spending four years on active duty at Fort Lewis, Wash., I joined the Tennessee National Guard and deployed to central Baghdad from 2004 to 2005. I went to Iraq knowing that our occupation was both illegal and immoral, but as a medic I felt a duty to deploy with my fellow soldiers. The mission of the Army's medical corps is "to conserve the fighting strength," i.e. the medic must ensure the health and combat readiness of each soldier under his care.

I forged strong relationships with soldiers in my unit; we were close friends. What if one of them were killed or injured? Could another medic provide the same level of care I could? Despite my moral reservations, I thought my unit would do some positive things during deployment: protect Iraqi civilians and help them rebuild their country.

I was wrong. You can't protect people while simultaneously oppressing them.

My experiences in occupied Iraq traumatized me. I returned home angry, with debilitating depression and vivid memories playing through my mind like an eight-millimeter reel: dead soldiers, dead civilians, car bombs, IEDs, rockets, the smell of open sewage, bodies splattered on walls, U.S. soldiers firing at unarmed Iraqis. The war followed me home. Despite a rudimentary understanding of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I never expected the condition to exact such a toll on my life. I destroyed numerous relationships, was fired from my job, attempted suicide in a friend's bathroom, and spent a week on the psychiatric ward at Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, N.C. -- all within three years of returning home from Iraq.

Healing the trauma of war never happens overnight and often means a lifelong struggle. In that context, healing requires at least two things: a long-term commitment to health and a supportive community. I found that commitment and community when I joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) in August 2007. We are a group of active duty service members and veterans having served since September 11, 2001. IVAW's mission and goals are three-fold: immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations paid to Iraqis and Afghans for the destruction we've caused and full benefits for all returning veterans regardless of discharge status.

In pursuit of our goals, IVAW recently launched our first national campaign called Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops. While IVAW seeks to end deployments for all troops, the current wars continue in part because our government denies troops their basic right to heal.

According to the Department of Defense's own conservative reports, 17 percent of those currently deployed in Afghanistan take at least one psychotropic drug -- an antidepressant, a sleeping pill, an anxiety medication -- the same drugs that I am prescribed as a disabled veteran. Up to half of deployed troops suffer from PTSD. Sixty percent of women serving in the National Guard and Reserve, along with 27 percent of men, experience Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, the DOD can't even establish that service members are mentally fit to deploy nor can it ensure accurate mental health assessments when they return. Is it a good idea to deploy a soldier multiple times after she's been raped? Should we deploy Marines who require psychological help now? Should we force troops to deploy after receiving closed head injuries?

According to current DOD policy, a unit commander can force a traumatized troop to deploy against a medical professional's advice -- all in the name of "combat readiness". I believe these practices are egregious and violate our country's most basic values. GIs deserve to heal from their wounds -- both visible and invisible -- before we hand them weapons and return them on a fourth, fifth or sixth combat tour.

IVAW cannot accomplish this alone. Our government needs traumatized troops to fuel the occupations overseas. We need you to fight with us. Visit to learn more about our campaign and sign the pledge supporting no more deployments for traumatized troops.

SOY table at Reagan HS

We gave some literature to the career office at Reagan HS, and as we were walking through the hallway, we saw the display pictured above. We question the implication that military service leads to higher education and greater income. In fact, it usually doesn't.

The US Bureau of Labor reports that veterans have higher unemployment rates than non-veterans. For women veterans aged 18 - 24, the unemployment rate is double that of nonveteran women in the same age group (16.3% unemployment among vets vs. 8.4% among non-vets according to 2007 statistics). And homelessness is also higher for veterans compared with nonveterans. Approximately one third of homeless adults in the US are vets, when vets only comprise about 11% of the general population.

Veterans face post-traumatic stress injuries that can make family and work life more difficult on many levels. Beginning salaries for enlistees are low, considering the long hours that are required for most assignments. Fewer than half of veterans get a college degree with their GI Bill benefits, partly because family responsibilities and military duties often don't leave enough time for school.

A surer path toward higher education and higher paying jobs is to attend college sooner rather than later and not trade 8 years of your early adult life for a military contract.

photos: Top: Jason and Hart, Iraq Veterans Against the War, with our table. Bottom: A display in the hall outside the college and career room.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Under The Hood Cafe benefit tonight

Great piece by Alice Embree, board member of Under The Hood Cafe and Outreach Center in Killeen, Texas:

We can’t give you anything...
Making the war personal

By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / November 14, 2010

We can’t give you anything but war, buddy
That’s the only thing we’ll hire you for, buddy...

These lyrics, to the tune of “I can’t give you anything but love, baby," were on my mind as several of us made a now familiar drive to Killeen, Texas, last weekend. The words were written by Vernell Pratt of the 70s-era Soeur Queen.. They have a relevant ring in this recession.

I probably wouldn’t have known anyone in our current “volunteer” army if I hadn’t gotten involved with the coffeehouse Under the Hood in Killeen, Texas. Comparisons are often made to the Vietnam-era GI resistance, particularly because Under the Hood’s predecessor, the Oleo Strut, was well known in that resistance.

Yes, there was a Vietnam-era draft that made the war personal for a generation. You could avoid mucking through the jungles in the boot-steps of French colonialists if you were privileged. George W. Bush is certainly an example. But what was markedly different was the economic landscape. This recession has provided a perfect storm for military recruitment. Piled onto the jobless landscape, you have escalating college, health care, and housing costs.

The soldiers entering the military in the post-911 atmosphere do so for reasons of patriotism and pocketbook. They are lured by lies about Iraq’s relationship to the Twin Towers and never told about the previous U.S. relationship with jihadists in Afghanistan while the Russians were there. But the lure of steady pay, bonuses, and benefits is almost a no-brainer given the devastated job market.

Monthly paychecks, housing subsidies, recruitment bonuses, deployment bonuses, medical and dental care for soldiers and their dependents, post-discharge VA care, and assistance for education. It is no accident that soldiers refer to their “job” and their “contract” all the time. It is no accident that any soldier who resists a deployment is forced to make a careful calculus of the monetary cost. An “Other Than Honorable” discharge often means re-paying a bonus, losing healthcare, and losing access to college assistance.

The Baby Boomers who were in Austin remember college with $70 rents, tuition of $50 a semester, coffee for seven cents in the Chuck Wagon. Not so, in this environment where college graduation means the “commencement” of daunting loan payoff.

Meanwhile we veer through the current political landscape with blinders. Does anyone, besides Michael Moore, ever speak about the relationship of mounting deficits and endless war? Does anyone really believe that continuing tax cuts for the wealthy has a relationship to job creation? Haven’t the tax cuts been in place? How’s that been working out for job creation?

We are in one of the best run shill games ever. Stagnant wage growth, transfer of wealth to the wealthiest, a ransacked job market, global companies packing manufacturing jobs off to the lowest bidders on the planet. The “housing bubble” was a Wall Street con man’s paradise with average folks piling on debt and Wall Street trading derivatives of that debt until the house of cards fell down and they got bailed out with taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, back at Fort Hood in Killeen, suicides are continuing their record-breaking pace. Multiple deployments with no end in sight have taken their toll with outright casualties and walking casualties, with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We hear about it on Veteran’s Day and then almost everyone tunes it out.

Please don’t tune out an alternative this Sunday. Support Under the Hood’s mission to provide a free speech zone, a pro-soldier, anti-war presence a mile from the gates of the largest military base in the country, Fort Hood. Sunday, November 14th, 6-11, Jovita’s in Austin, $10 dollars. If you can't attend, you can support Under the Hood through its website, here.

[Alice Embree is a long-time Austin activist and organizer, a former staff member of The Rag in Austin and RAT in New York, and a veteran of SDS and the women's liberation movement. She is active with CodePink Austin and Under the Hood Café. Embree is a contributing editor to The Rag Blog and is secretary of the New Journalism Project.]

photo from Under The Hood

Saturday, November 13, 2010

They Speak

It was inspiring to hear the poetry presented during today's round of the Texas Youth Word Collective They Speak poetry slam series. The next slam will be held in the same location: Ruta Maya Coffee House on South Congress on Saturday, Dec. 11. Workshop at 2 pm and slam at 3 pm.
Be there!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Our SOY table today at Akins HS

It was good to have a table today at Akins High School, one of the largest schools in our district. Hart and I also appreciated talking with a St. Edwards University student who came to observe us for a thesis she is writing about recruiting in the schools.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Youth Poetry Slam season in full swing

An announcement from the good folks at the Texas Youth Word Collective:


THEY SPEAK YOUTH POETRY SLAM - SEASON #9!Presented by the Texas Youth Word Collective
EVENT: They Speak Youth Poetry Slam
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 13th, 2010, 3 pm
(slam sign-up from 2:30-3:00)(Writing Workshop – 2:00pm)
ADMISSION: $5 cover, free for slam participants
PLACE: Ruta Maya World Headquarters,
3601 S. Congress, Austin , Texas 78704
CONTACTS: Dr. Sheila Siobhan (512) 422-6653, Co-Director
Ron Horne (512-632-5033, Co-Director

Okay. One down, five to go. The first slam of the new season saw a slew of students from McCallum High School. What they lacked in experience they more than made up for in enthusiasm. In fact, based on her performance, one of their students is half way toward qualifying for next spring’s They Speak Slam Off. She was joined by another new voice, a freshman at UT, and a member of last year’s They Speak team. McCallum sent many new voices to this year’s slam. We can’t wait to hear more new poets with new poems from schools throughout the Austin area. Come on Round Rock; come on Del Valle; come on AISD, you’re not gonna let Pflugerville show you up are you?! We hope to see more schools send more students to compete to make a spot on the 2011 They Speak Youth Slam team to take on the world next year in the City by the Bay: San Francisco!!!

In Los Angeles this past July, your Austin 2010 They Speak Youth Slam Team out-performed dozens of other youth slam teams from across the country and around the world to make the semi-finals of the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival. This team was sooooo good; they were the first Austin team to make the semi’s since 2004. They were, in a word, exceptional. Their poems were soulful, clever, and poignant; mamas were crying, boys were cheering, and tears flowed like rivers in their final bout. The team made us proud in L.A.

So, come help us continue to launch this, our 9th season of the city wide youth poetry slam - They Speak Youth Poetry Slam. This year we are back in our old house, Ruta Maya World Headquarters on South Congress. And just like when we started, we’re starting back on Saturday afternoons, we’ll be in the old spot with the old vibe, and we will be starting on time, promptly at 3pm for the benefit of those who show up on time and our venue owner. We’re still going to have the same great dj, another great host (secret released prior to the show), some of last year’s phenomenal youth poets, as well as some surprising, great new faces to rock your world as they do every year.

We are conducting writing and performance workshops by none other than National Poetry Slam Finalist, and two-time Austin Slam Champion, Christopher Michael as well as other nationally reknowned writers and performers here in the Austin area. Christopher Micael coached the 2010 They Speak Youth Poetry Slam Team all the way to the Semi-Finals of the Brave New Voices International Youth Slam Festival, an achievement that hasn't been copied since 2004. Aspiring writers and performers will have the unique opportunity to work with, and learn from, a nationally well-known and respected spoken word artist. We ask parents and teachers to encourage their children and students to attend.

We invite you to see what all the excitement is about and be inspired by the voices and leaders of tomorrow. Those participants between the ages of 13 and 19 will be eligible to compete for a spot on the team we take to Brave New Voices 2011 in the Bay Area, San Francisco, California.

Please come for an afternoon of stirring, thought-provoking poetry. This project is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

SOY welcomed at Bowie HS

Hart and I had a SOY literature table today at Bowie HS and were welcomed by many students. They were interested in the screened patches, and we are now out of the panda design, which proved the most popular. Hart again offered to write students' names in Arabic for them, and many students asked him to do that. The peace wheel and literature were of interest, too. This was our busiest table at Bowie that we can remember.