by Sara Rich, Truthout, March 20, 2006
On March 18, 2006  Sara Rich, mother of an AWOL US soldier, gave this address at an anti-war rally in Eugene, Oregon.

Hello – I came to you in September praying for peace as I was bound by the fear of my daughter’s impending redeployment to Iraq.

    WHO SAYS LIGHTNING DOESN’T STRIKE TWICE? We got the date for her redeployment 9 months before her entitled 18 months decompression time. Her commanding officer forced her to sign a waiver of her rights to decompression time between deployments and gave her a date 11 months after she returned from Iraq the first time. Then, a few weeks later, she got her readiness papers – that 6 months after she hopefully returned from Iraq the second time, she was scheduled to go over for yet another year. Making it three deployments to Iraq in less that four years.

    All of our hearts were heavy. Three days before her actual redeployment, she was packed and ready to go, she had her car keys in her hand, and she turned to me and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” I was shocked but knew any type of coercion on my part would not help, so I said, “Are you serious?” She replied, “I just can’t do it, Mom.” She could not go back there to the misery. She told me that being separated from her family and living and breathing Army for a year at a time in a war zone was a constant source of distress for her. Where nobody cares whether you live or die as long as you do what you are told and they look good afterwards. Nor could she handle another deployment, dealing with the daily hour-to-hour sexual harassment that she endured from 99% of her male officers and fellow soldiers. The isolation and fear of being attacked, harassed, molested and raped was a huge part of her life in Iraq. She was always full of anxiety and stress just keeping herself safe when her commanding officers would show up banging on her door in the middle of the night, intoxicated and wanting to have sex with her. The intimidation and sexual harassment that our female soldiers are enduring is leading to massive stress and in some cases even death for our military women in Iraq. They are not supported but shamed when they bring these to the attention of their superiors.

    I TOOK A DEEP BREATH and I told her either way she is my hero and I will support her decision. She decided that she was going to go AWOL and to leave the Army.

    That the US is in Iraq for something that is pointless was a common feeling for many of the soldiers she was stationed with. (Here’s were she went off.) The US is not the world police. Why can’t we focus on the multiple crises we have in our own country? The hurricanes that took thousands of lives. Or why not go to Afghanistan, where there are actually terrorists? It is abominable that we are sending our troops over there and paying them a pittance – the average soldier that is married and has a family to support gets about $2,000 a month, and at the same time we are sending contractors from Blackwater over to do the same security jobs and paying them $15,000 a month to be there and risk their lives. This makes no sense, especially to our soldiers.

    She kept asking, and now I’m asking you, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE? This is an outrage and is just adding to the growing evidence that we are losing thousands of lives and causing permanent injuries to our soldiers, for what? Oil? Money? Why are we not trying to educate the Iraqis, if liberating them is so important.

    My daughter tells me, “Mom, while I was in Iraq, the children were never in school, they were out in the street begging for candy. They were never being watched or supervised, just allowed to run wild. I was never sure what we were or still are trying to accomplish in Iraq. I never saw the US do anything to make things better while I was there. My unit would go out on useless missions and end up being shot at in the dark by our supposed allies because communication between the US and our allies was so poor. We need to get the hell out of Iraq and let them solve their own problems. Most Iraqis don’t want us there anyway. We should have done this years ago, but I guess our government saw it as making us money in some weird way. I think the reason that post traumatic stress syndrome is so huge is because this was an invasion/war without a purpose. NO one benefited from us being there. Except that Saddam Hussein got a free ticket out of Iraq…. Why do we think we should be liberating all these countries when we can’t even feed or house our own children in the United States. How about working on oppression and racism here in the US? Maybe we need someone to come liberate us!!” I could tell that my daughter felt liberated herself and finally touched on some of her anger for the Army as she went on. Here are some more thoughts for us here today.

    Listen closely to me now…. We Need to Bring Our Soldiers Home NOW and Take Care of Them When They Get Here. The most controversial part of this, for many people, is the “Now.” We are moving into the fourth year of a war that should never have happened. The largest air assault since the invasion of Iraq three years ago has just been launched by the US.

    The problem remains: This war was wrong from the beginning and continuing it will not make it right. A continuation – and now escalation – of the war in Iraq will only lead to more deaths among US troops and Iraqi children, women and men. It will make us less safe in the world. It will mean more troops suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We also need to take care of the troops when they get home, giving them the support – medical, psychological and economic – that they need. The administration has failed at this as well.

    Some say a phased withdrawal is not a good strategy. Partial withdrawal of the troops will only leave those who remain in Iraq at greater risk. Phased withdrawal was attempted in the Vietnam War, resulting in an increased death rate for troops who remained in Vietnam as others were “phased out.” The safest thing for our troops, the best thing for our nation, and the best thing for the people of Iraq is to get the troops home now. Military people with whom we have spoken say that all troops could be pulled back into Kuwait in a matter of a month or so; and from there, planes and boats could bring them on home.

    I WOULD TELL YOU THAT … Congress is responsible for allowing the president to take the nation to war; Congress continues to fund the war, which allows it to continue; and Congress has failed to show leadership and take action to bring the war to an end. We are calling on Congress to show some leadership, take a stand and bring our troops home now. Although it is true that the president ordered the troops into Iraq, and the president used and continues to use fear of terrorism and of Al Qaeda to try to justify his policies and to keep the American people from asking the questions that need to be asked, Congress has been complicit with the president’s plan. They have gone along with George Bush’s war plan and have consistently failed to challenge and question his actions. It is past time for both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to show some courage, speak out and bring our troops home now.

    Leaving Iraq now is the best way to honor those who have already sacrificed in this war. The President would like us to think that leaving now would be dishonoring those who have already died, those who have already been wounded, those who have sacrificed so much. But more deaths, more wounded, more troops suffering from PTSD, more families suffering both here and in Iraq will not honor the sacrifices that have been made.

    Yet there are those who would ask for a moment of silence. Tell that to the grieving mother, the young wife, the orphaned child of the 2,314 dead soldiers this war has caused. They will listen to that silence FOREVER. A “moment of silence” isn’t enough! Many politicians want to offer a moment of silence at times like this, “to honor the sacrifice of our service men and women.” A “moment of silence” is not what is needed from our political leaders, who are allowing the violence in Iraq to escalate with the recently launched large-scale US air assault. Politicians who want to honor the fallen and support our troops need to show some leadership and speak out to bring our troops home NOW!

    YOU here today are part of a massive groundswell of opposition. My family is asking you to reach out to friends who have not yet taken action, and encourage them to get involved now. Actions that can be taken: War tax resistance, counter military recruitment work, letters to newspapers, supporting peace candidates and delegations, bringing Iraqi women speakers here, full page newspaper ads, speaking out in their own circles and showing that dissent is patriotic. And as we spiritually pray for peace, let’s start demanding peace from our nation’s leaders. Demand an end to the killing and the violence. We have over 16,000 injured soldiers who are receiving sub-standard care. Now is not the time for passivity. Now is the time to write the letters, make some noise…. Do not be complacent anymore. Do something every day to demand peace and the safe return of everyone of our soldiers NOW!