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Organizing In And Around The Military: Military Families Speak Out – San Diego

Lynn Gonzalez
Date Published: 
February 01, 2005
    The war becomes really up close and personal when you’re advocating for GIs and their families. Case-by-case, the impotence and raw pain endured by family members and the corrosive aberrant shift in the psyche of the young foot soldier both overwhelms and obsesses you. You get a guttural, visceral sense of war.

It is our intention to undermine militarism — one discarded soldier, one war-tortured Marine, one suffering family at a time. We intend to hold a mirror incessantly in the face of the American public until the mask that tells us “war is glorious” and “we can liberate through warfare” falls away. And, in our own outrage, we are hopeful. Hopeful because something wonderful and exciting is happening here and across the country — there is an awakening occurring. Military families are becoming politicized, GIs are questioning their mission, and the true disregard with which our government holds ‘the troops’ is breeding dissent. And the dissent is growing both in its pervasiveness and its intensity.

The San Diego Military Counseling Project, Proyecto Guerrero Azteca por la Paz, and Military Families Speak Out – San Diego exemplify this new and transformative force.

The San Diego Military Counseling Project (SDMCP) — a member of the national counseling network of groups known as the GI Rights Hotline — was born in June, 2003 from the vision of a handful of seasoned activists who had witnessed the impact that anti-war GIs had on the Vietnam war. After a very intensive 5 months of training and preparation, SDMCP counselors began taking hotline calls in early November, 2003. Whether by word of mouth, disintegrating conditions in Iraq, or a combination of the two, our caseload has steadily increased and we are swamped.

What emerges for those precious few of us doing this high-demand work is a clear and palpable window into the depths of pre-deployment angst and post-deployment agony. GIs are blinded by manipulation, misplaced patriotism and tantalizing lies. They are teenagers swept away with fantasies of heroic self-sacrifice, but led instead into a shadowy place comparable only to hell.

Militarized zone

San Diego is one of America’s most militarized zones. It is the home of Armed Service Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, the major marine base Camp Pendleton, and the Titan Corporation — mercenary providers to the world. Activists here know how intricately the military’s ‘champions of freedom’ image is embedded in the consciousness of the nation, and many of us in the local anti-war movement have found organizing in and around the military to be one of the only productive ways to affect change in our environment.

As our work in San Diego brings us evermore closely acquainted with the war in Iraq as seen through the eyes of US foot-soldiers, our understanding of the degree to which they are victimized continues to grow. This rapport binds us to them, and enables us to be relentless in exposing the pathology of war, and its indiscriminant and wholly destructive power.

Particularly vulnerable

Immigrant communities are targeted as recruiters are well aware that their desire to assimilate, and gain acceptance render their young particularly vulnerable. As a Spanish-speaking SDMCP counselor who works closely with Proyecto Guerrero Azteca por la Paz (PGA), my work with enlisted GIs and their families springs largely from the many referrals I receive from Fernando Suarez del Solar. Mr. Suarez del Solar, founder of PGA, was thrust into the role of a national anti-war spokesperson from the moment he began speaking out about the ‘friendly-fire’ death of his son, Cpl. Jesus Alberto Suarez del Solar. Traveling the country to speak at anti-war events, high schools and press conferences, Fernando’s fervent hope is to counter the myriad of misrepresentations and outright lies of military recruiters, and to provide a realistic picture of military service to our young people.

To disenfranchised Latino parents nation-wide, struggling to save their children from the clutches of the military, he has become the single most important source of hope. A symbol of empowerment not only to those desperate parents, but also to those grieving the loss of a child to the war, as well as to young Latinos uncertain and wavering about the wisdom of entering the Armed Forces — Fernando is regularly sought out and presented with their personal crises. Fernando gives reassurance and hope to these families and, when their problem involves a son facing deployment, gone AWOL, on the verge of enlistment, or suffering from PTSD, he refers them to SDMCP.

What these moms, dads, and the enlisted young people themselves need, in the beginning, is someone who will listen to them. They need their voices to be heard. And they need to know that they are not without options, as the military would have them believe. More often than not, the work of SDMCP allows these families to find the optimal solution to their case. Young people get discharged, avoid enlistment or get the help they seek for their psychological wounds. And each and every one of them bears witness to those in their circles of acquaintance. By word of mouth and with personal accounts, more parents learn about their right to refuse recruiter access to their children, young people learn about the dehumanizing misery of military service before falling victim to it, and everyone who will listen to them learns the truth about the war in Iraq.

Transformative experience

Sometimes a family member or an enlisted person expresses a level of anger that suggests they wish to act upon their opposition to the war. That’s when I tell them about Military Families Speak Out – San Diego. MFSO-SD plans community forums, vigils, rallies and marches. We support other local anti-war groups and get even more support from them. We get an amazing amount of media attention, even though we are still a very small group. But, more than anything else, we’ve become family.

In my experience working with varying anti-war and social justice groups, I have never seen a group so supportive, so loving, so appreciative of one another as MFSO-SD. The freedom to voice anguish and rage, the recognition that others share your heart-wrenching fear, and the confidence gained from public speaking is often a transformative experience. MFSO-SD members who once were distraught victims of the war paralyzed by fear have become indignant and resolute voices in the fight to end it. Here are the words of Sonia Rodriguez:

“I’m the mother of a marine and my son first went to war last year, in 2003. This year he returned to Iraq in February and was in Fallujah through October. My first contact with MFSO-SD was at an event in Chicano Park and it was, for me, a godsend. This happened at the worst moment of my life and the group was my salvation. Within the group I found support and I committed myself to work hard to support the soldiers and to speak out against the war. This helps me to overcome the pain of seeing how this war of lies has damaged my son.”

Each time I see courage and determination replace the quiet desperation of someone as incredible as Sonia, I am re-energized and inspired. It gives me great hope to envision people like Sonia, Araceli, Joey, Carla, and Mike and Omar meeting in cities all over the country; empowering one another, realizing the importance of their message, and finding the strength in one another to rise up and challenge the insidious myths and shameless manipulation that perpetuate the indefensible US war on Iraq.

Its time to recognize that the young GI is far from contented with his role as cannon fodder. It would be more accurate to look at him as just another of the country’s finite resources being chewed up and spit out by our government on the road to empire. As such, he embodies a significant potential for transformation and represents a powerful potential ally in the war to end the war. As the bearer of the imperial sword, his disillusionment could be the salvation of us all.