Remembering Tomas Young on Veterans Day
Here we go again- another Veterans Day filled with celebrations, parades and the obligatory two minute standard coverage of one of these events on the news.
Today, no doubt, we will hear “Happy Veterans Day” and our veterans will be told “thank you for your service”, over and over again, but for thousands of families like ours across the US this is just not another Veterans Day. We are truly saddened by the news last night that our good friend and ally, Tomas Young died. He was only 34. This news comes at a time when military families are gripped in fear at the prospect of more senseless deployments of our loved ones to Iraq and Syria. So the story of Tomas Young is very much in our minds.
Anyone who watched Tomas and his mother,( MFSO mother Cathy Smith), as chronicled in the heartbreaking documentary Body of War, will never forget the detailed images of their daily struggles that he and his family faced. Tomas was one of the first Iraq veterans to come out and publicly oppose the war. He was the Ron Kovic of the war in Iraq. He spoke on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the war. Like so many of our families, Tomas Young joined the military right after the attacks on 9-11 thinking he could help get even with our attackers. He was shot and paralyzed just days after being deployed to Iraq. He endured numerous painful surgeries, a pulmonary embolism, a brain injury, the expansion of his paralysis to his arms and eventually lost his ability to speak. So he wrote. Like Kovic, he described the “inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration”, foreshadowing the VA scandal with secret wait lists that broke out later. As he lay wishing to die, he famously wrote a letter repudiating President Bush and Vice President Cheney for the war in Iraq, and it went viral. He called them out as war criminals and demanded accountability.
He was our “bright light” who spoke out against the “massive blunder that was the Iraq war”, said filmmaker Phil Donahue. And for those of us who live with the painful truth that it is only luck that separates us from suffering the same fate, he put a face on this war for all of us.
Now, as all of us watch the train wreck that is Iraq and Syria, and are suspended in disbelief at our country’s déjà vu reaction to ISIS, we must ask ourselves if we can afford to waste any more time trying to figure out what is going to happen next. We hear promises like no “boots on the ground”, but know it’s the mission creep has started,since we are now doubling the size of our troops presence there. Haven’t we learned anything after thirteen years of war? “It’s like the American public has amnesia when it comes to the last decade and the wars in the Middle East”, says Gold Star mother, Jane Bright. Jane knows that harrowing feeling our families endure once the drumbeats of war have started, and for her and her family, her most dreaded fear came to pass- her son, Evan Ashcraft was killed near Mosul. He was only 24. “He told us that when he came back from Iraq he wanted to help people. He said he had seen so much hatred and death that the only way to live his life was through aid to others. I bear no animosity toward the person who killed my son”, she added.
If only this Administration had Jane’s insight. We have nothing to gain by wanting to get back at anyone. We should know that after 13 years of war, that this country has gained nothing and lost too many of its most precious resource. On this Veterans Day- originally Armistice Day- our country needs to think hard about the devastating effect these wars have had on the families who have been killed and wounded. We have not been able to provide proper care for the physically wounded, and veterans suffering from invisible wounds like PTSD, depression, traumatic brain injuries as well as moral injury. We are just beginning to become aware and build strategies to stop the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day. The homeless rate for veterans is shameful.
Starting tomorrow, we cannot make the mistake of acting like this war will go away if we just ride it out. On Armistice Day, make a commitment to make three calls to your members of congress. Tell them you are a military family and that you want every one of our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan now. Do it in the name of Tomas Young and say history will hold them accountable as well for the deaths of thousands more that will surely die if they continue these wars. Tell them that solving problems by military force will only put our country in more danger and result in the deaths of many more innocent people. Our families are not expendable. We should pursue diplomatic solutions, provide humanitarian aid and take care of our loved ones who are now in need of care at the VA instead of creating more wounded veterans.
Then thank Tomas Young and all of our brothers and sisters from Iraq Veterans Against the War, but make sure and thank them for for their service after they served.
Toll Free number to congress. Ask to speak to your representative and both US senators: 877- 429- 0678
Please visit our website at mfso.org today and read what MFSO member Marcia Westbrook, from West Virginia, has to say about surviving Veterans Day with her son deployed.
Pat Alviso & Jeff Merrick
Military Families Speak Out
Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home Now!, Take Care of Them After They Get Home
MFSO Monthly Report
White House Meeting:
Last summer MFSO wrote to the White House staff to request a meeting with the President about our opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, we wanted to discuss issues related to problems at the VA and other problems with care for veterans and military families. Our delegation included 7 MFSO members from different states, 2 members from Veterans For Peace, and 2 members from Iraq Veterans
Against the War. We submitted the 4000 signatures from the ZERO Troops in Afghanistan petition as well as a report of signatures on a Credo Action petition with 49,000 signatures initiated by former State Department Official, Matthew Ho, calling for troops out of Afghanistan, and a Move-on petition with 75,000 signatures calling for troops out of Afghanistan. We are hoping to have on-going discussions about these issues.
MFSO – Part of a National Coalition of Peace and Justice Organizations
MFSO has been participating in a national coalition of peace and justice groups around the country. We often have 2 or more members on the national conference calls that usually include up to date information from respected Phyllis Bennis. We have participated in press conferences and related actions. Recently, the Coalition agreed that we would call for: No military action in Iraq, and support the use diplomacy and humanitarian aid only.
Last summer, MFSO members worked with National Coalition partners and called on members of Congress to support the efforts of Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others to force the issue of Iraq to be debated in Congress. While the vote was really positive, the administration continues to refuse to have that open debate in Congress.
We will provide MFSO members with information about upcoming meetings and proposed actions of the National Coalition. We are so glad to have the opportunity to raise the issues impacting military families and our loved ones in (or now out of) the military during those meetings.
Congressional Debate and Voting about Iraq:
MFSO is among the many organizations calling for an open debate in Congress about the issue of military action in Iraq and Syria. Congresswoman Barbara Lee has led the call for Congressional debate. MFSO is working on having a press conference with Congresswoman Lee in California before the November elections and in Washington DC when Congress is in session again.
Meanwhile, we urge MFSO members to reach out to other military families, veterans, and friends to call their congressional representative including both US senators at: 202-224-3121 and say:
“I am a constituent (and a member of a military family) and I want Congress to fully debate the current war and bombing campaign in Iraq. And when you are asked to vote, I want you to vote NO on more military action in Iraq. War is not the solution and it will not bring stability in the Middle East. There is a path to peace through diplomacy and humanitarian aid – we must work for peace through peaceful means.” Or, say it in your own way.
MFSO’s Position on Iraq and Afghanistan Presented to White House Staff:
• Immediate cessation of all U.S. bombing of Iraq.
• No further escalation of military action
• Begin the immediate withdrawal of all military personnel from Iraq
• Begin the immediate withdrawal of all military personnel from Afghanistan.
• Do not sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan that would continue a US military
presence or continue the practice of arming and training in Afghanistan *
• Include members of MFSO, VFP & IVAW on President Obama’s team of advisors – we have an important voice that needs to be heard when war is on the table.
• MFSO, VFP, and IVAW members wish a direct meeting with President Obama to get an unfiltered perspective on issues impacting veterans.
• We agree with President Obama’s repeated statement that there is no military solution in Iraq or Afghanistan. Bombing Iraq and a continued military presence in Afghanistan undermines the goal of a political solution needed for a stable Middle East. Stop intervening and funding these wars.
• Utilize diplomacy to work with regional and international stakeholders to reduce hostilities in Iraq.
• We can’t afford to create more veterans for an already broken VA system. Establish a forum so the Veterans Administration can work consistently with MFSO, VFP & IVAW to improve care. These organizations can gather military families to speak directly about their experiences and provide constructive advice.
The human costs of war have been enormous. So much suffering for so many military families and for what gain? Without war we can instead provide quality care for our veterans and for jobs, education, health care, and other services so urgently needed in the United States. Our tax dollars are better spent at home building a brighter future for America.
*Since we presented these series of demands and recommendations last summer, the US and
Afghanistan signed a Bilateral Security Agreement which will keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for at least 2 years. So, our work to demand ZERO Troops in Afghanistan will continue.
MFSO and Syria:
What is your opinion about military action in Syria? We are hoping to have conference-call discussions about this, just as MFSO did years ago about US involvement in Afghanistan. We’ll let you know about these calls as soon as they are scheduled, but would appreciate your input now. Please send your opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org
We are aware that many of MFSO’s original and even recent members have loved ones who are no longer active duty. There has been a lot of downsizing. As a result, some of you have moved on to work on other issues. However, you are WELCOME to continue to work in MFSO. If you have an MFSO chapter, even if it just involves a few MFSO members, that’s great. Some of our chapters have just a few members but work in coalition with veterans and other peace and justice groups. Sometimes, it’s just 1 person, you, working with other groups in their community.
Here are some ways you can help:
• Do outreach to bring in new members, especially those whose loved ones are active duty. Form a new chapter, no matter how small or large. Let us know about your chapter: location, contact person e-mail and phone, activities.
• Work on on-going MFSO efforts – calls or meetings with members of Congress, getting signatures on petitions, forums or speak-outs, film-showings, working as part of a coalition in your area, etc. The Steering Committee can provide support for you. Contact Pat Alviso at email@example.com.
• Participate in a local vigil against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or, start your own weekly or monthly vigil. Find a busy corner, or a spot with some symbolism (a congressional office, a Federal building, any high traffic area).. Develop a list of contacts at your local press so you can spread the word about your vigil.
• Help raise money for on-going MFSO work. Checks can be written to Military Families Speak Out or make an online donation on our website at mfso.org. We are no longer tax exempt, but everyone who contributes will receive a lovely thank you card and gifts from our fund-raising committee.
MFSO Chapter Report:
Each month we will feature the work of one of our MFSO chapters so that you will find out what they are doing and so we can learn from each other’s efforts. If you want your efforts to be featured in this report, please write to Pat Alviso at firstname.lastname@example.org. Articles can be on any length and pictures will be appreciated.
Pat Alviso, MFSO’s National Coordinator
MFSO Orange County, CA – Activities
September 21st is International Day of Peace, and every year MFSO participates. This year, especially since our allies for peace are growing after re-entering Iraq, we planned a full week of action. Our allies were all the members of the Orange County Peace Coalition, ( MFSO is a member), Pax Christi and the Campaign for Non-Violence. Here is what our week of activities looked like:
Sunday- MFSO at Angels Stadium.
We brought individual letter signs to hold up at Angel Stadium with International Day of Peace, Stop Endless Wars, and Angel Symbol, Heart Symbol and Peace Symbol. We also wore our MFSO shirts, and marked beach balls with peace symbols. We also sang this song to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game:
Take us out of this quagmire; Take us out of this war
Let’s fight no more in Afghanistan- not one more dollar and not one more man
Let us focus now on our own land; got problems enough of our own,
For it’s one, two, three cheers go up when the troops come home!
By MFSO member Vern Nelson
Because we bought 26 group rate tickets, ( even though it was in the nosebleed section), they put our name for thousands to see on the marquee.
Tuesday Vigil and Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi invited us to a talk to hear our humanitarian activist in Afghanistan , Kathy Kelly speak. We provided sandwiches and they in turn brought signs ending the wars to our usually small monthly vigil on a traffic circle.
Friday Saturday, Sunday- MFSO participates in Military Stand Dowm at Tustin Military Base
Veteran and MFSO chapter leader in OC, Ed Garza was able to solicit support from our local chapter of Veterans for Peace to supply flashlights and gloves to homeless veterans in Orange County. Ed and Jeff enlisted a therapist from The Soldiers Project to to counsel needy veterans where other MFSO members and veterans tabled..We seems a little out of place since all other groups were traditional military service groups, but MFSO is a military service group too, right?
Saturday- Pick a spot on Harbor Blvd.
Harbor Blvd is one of the busiest streets in Orange County Ca. ( Think Disneyland). The Campaign for Non Violence arranged it so that many different peace groups were holding a vigil at several major intersections along Harbor Blvd. at the same time. Our group, which included MFSO, had speakers including MFSO stand outs Lisa Leitz and Dede Miller. Music was provided by MFSO pianist and lyricist Vern Nelson. This event resulted in cementing our relationship with the Campaign for Non Violence and Pax Christi, which we never had worked with before.