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Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Marine's perspective on serving, Iraq, and the military

I ran across a thread on the Democratic Underground, upset about a USA Today story about three former Marines and Iraq veterans-turned-anti war activists set to stand trial for participating in anti-war rallies in uniform. This conduct, of course, breaks military policy forbidding any member of the military to participate in any political activities or demonstrations while in uniform.

When can veterans stop saluting and start speaking out?

The question is more than a matter of protocol. As some returning Iraq veterans join anti-war protests, free speech advocates say disciplinary cases against three outspoken former Marines could stifle dissent by those who may know the most about conditions in Iraq.

The cases involve members of the Individual Ready Reserve, a group most servicemembers enter after active duty. Unlike regular reservists, they receive no pay and are not required to drill or attend annual training. Their only obligations are to inform the military of a change of address and to return to active duty if called. There are 150,000 members of the IRR.

Adam Kokesh, who served in Fallujah, is one of them. A member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Kokesh wore his camouflage uniform, with all insignia removed, on March 19 during a mock "combat patrol" past the White House. Soon after his picture was in The Washington Post, Marine Maj. John Whyte e-mailed him that he may have violated regulations that forbid wearing all or part of a uniform "while engaged in political demonstrations or activities."

Kokesh, 25, e-mailed back, addressing the officer with a profanity.

Monday, Kokesh faces an administrative discharge hearing that accuses him of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Pentagon policy on the wearing of uniforms and being "disrespectful" to a superior. A military board could convert his honorable discharge into an "other than honorable" one, which could reduce his veterans benefits. Today, he and supporters will board a "peace bus" in Washington to take him to the hearing in Kansas City.

"I'm a civilian with the full rights of a civilian until I am called back by the Marine Corps," Kokesh says.

The military doesn't see it that way. The Marine Corps would not comment on specifics of Kokesh's case because it is pending. Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, said all troops are instructed that they are forbidden from wearing a uniform at a political event, regardless of whether they are on active duty or retired. "If he says he's a civilian, then why is he wearing the uniform?" Upton asks. "What is he trying to communicate by his action?"

Two other Iraq veterans, Sgt. Liam Madden, 22, of Boston and Cpl. Cloy Richards, 23, of Salem, Mo., also face disciplinary proceedings because of anti-war activities.

From what I can glean from the story, it seems to me that the military's only objection is participating in the demonstrations while in uniform, and not necessarily the participation itself. But, DU members responded with the typical hysteria:

  • It's amazing. It's not enough to send 'our troops' over to Iraq without armor, without any real plan to accomplish 'the mission,' and without proper long-term medical care for them if they get hurt. No, now we have to remind them that they are slaves for life to the military and can't have any civil rights, even when they get home. Excuse me, what are they fighting for again in Iraq. Oh yeah, freedom.
  • You shall not speak... unless you agree with all your government says.
  • If veterans can't speak out, then who can?
  • When can veterans stop saluting and start speaking out? That is the question; when can vets who are OUT not have to fear condemnation and perhaps punishment from the government they so faithfully served?
  • 5. You're not supposed to wear the uniform to a political event... whether still in the military or not...but, this is weird, too. I can't begin to count the times I've seen service members in uniform at republican political events and yet nothing happened to them. I hope the lawyer shows photographs and explains these guys are being singled out because of their opposing views.

  • Given the response on the Democratic Underground, I thought I'd ask a buddy of mine, a Marine fresh out of Iraq, his thoughts on this "controversy" and the Iraq war in general. He asked for his name to be left out, but here is what he had to say:

    Lance Corporal.

    Position in the Corps:

    Length of time served:

    Where have you been stationed/served?
    1)Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion
    2)1 Bat 6th Mar 2nd Mar Div Camp Lejeune, Deployed to the Anbar Province in Iraq

    What is your opinion about the USA Today article criticizing the military's Uniform Code of Military Justice, stating that all troops are instructed that they are forbidden from wearing a uniform at a political event, regardless of whether they are on active duty or retired?
    It isn't regardless -- he wasn't retired, he was on IRR (Individual Ready Reserve) which means he is still held to the UCMJ until his time is served. He caused his own problems by failing to obey the regulations. Rules are Rules.

    Do you feel that this policy would be considered censorship?
    No, we chose the day we enlisted to set aside some of our rights to defend those of others. We live with set rules and regulations, It was our decision to join so the "censorship" technically is self imposed.

    What kind of progress do you feel we have made since our occupation in Iraq began four years ago?
    More than you could possibly imagine. We have reopened countless schools, hospitals, and police staions. Area's which once rivaled Baghdad for the worst area in Iraq, now have gone a couple months without a single firefight, when averaging 60+ a week less then a year ago.

    How does negative press in American media affect soldiers serving overseas? Does it affect the level of support you (soldiers) feel you are receiving?
    It does and it doesn't. It does not affect the level of support we are feeling, because everyday we received letters from people across the nation that none of us knew thanking us for our sacrifice. As for some of the media, at times it angered us passionately, such as with Cindy Sheehan. But for the most part it didn't bother us, though I think we all could agree it would be nice if they [the media] showed what we accomplished while over here, rather than concentrating all of their efforts on finding the negatives.

    What was/were your job/duties while in Iraq?
    To provide security for my convoy.

    Given the chance, would you go back to Iraq again? Yes or no, and why?
    Yes...I just have to think back about my time there and I can think of an endless amount of reasons, so it is kind of hard to narrow it down. I love my job. And I can't stand the fact that there are men out there [in Iraq] hurting innocent people.

    Did you get to meet anyone interesting while in Iraq?
    I got to meet Chuck Norris in Iraq. Real nice guy. He was cool, thanked us for our service, posed for close to a quadrillion pictures, don't even want to contemplate the amount of fake punches he threw. He wore Marine Corps cammies and he thanked us for our service and sacrifice. He treated us like we were the famous ones and he was just a fan. It was pretty awesome.

    Thanks to my friend for the interview and the invaluable service to our country -- he is truly a hero.