Veteran advocacy groups that want to end the war in Afghanistan are conducting an outreach campaign near Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week to connect soldiers with information about how to become conscientious objectors.
Veterans for Peace and March Forward! pegged their “Our lives, our rights” campaign to the upcoming deployment of Lewis-McChord’s 4th Brigade, Infantry Division, which expects to leave soon with up to 4,000 soldiers for a nine-month mission in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province.
The advocacy groups say the war does not deserve the life of another soldier because it suffers from a long-failed strategy that will not succeed in creating a stable Afghan government.
They linked their campaign to the 11th anniversary of the war, as well as another milestone from August when the war suffered its 2,000th U.S. casualty.
“The war cannot be won,” said Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran from Los Angeles who is participating in this week’s outreach. “But we are still going because (politicians and military leaders) cannot accept a military failure on their watch.”
Prysner wants an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces instead of the phased drawdown through 2014 supported by the Obama administration.
Obama and NATO leaders contend the recently concluded “surge” of U.S. forces struck serious blows to the Taliban that should enable Afghan security forces to defeat insurgents once Western troops leave. Critics of the Obama plan say those gains won’t last without Western soldiers and Western money propping up the Afghan government.
The two advocacy groups also are handing out information for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that might help them obtain a noncombat assignment.
The groups are working out of Coffee Strong, a coffee shop and nonprofit in Tillicum that provides behavioral health resources for soldiers.
A number of veterans from the 4th Brigade have been involved with Coffee Strong and March Forward! in recent years. They have drawn attention to behavioral health missteps at Lewis-McChord and spoken up about soldier suicides.
This week, they’re handing out flyers during the lunch rush at restaurants in Tillicum and displaying banners from bridges over Interstate 5.
“We know our message that we don’t have to go to Afghanistan is resonating with soldiers,” said Gerry Condon, a member of Veterans for Peace. He said soldiers have been receptive to taking the groups’ flyers, and have given them high fives.
So far, two soldiers have responded to the groups in seeking more information about becoming conscientious objectors, Prysner said. More information about the outreach campaign is available at http://ourlivesourrights.org/.
The 4th Brigade is embarking on its first deployment to Afghanistan and its third since 2003.