Taking action outside Fort Hood

Cindy Beringer reports from Texas on an antiwar action outside Fort Hood.

Protesters organized by Iraq Veterans Against War march outside Fort Hood in July (Madeleine Dubus)Protesters organized by Iraq Veterans Against War march outside Fort Hood in July (Madeleine Dubus)

WHEN THE buses carrying the first group of soldiers of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment (ACR) stealthily approached the gates of Fort Hood in Texas, the protesters waiting outside had already won a victory.

Members of the regiment have seen some of the worst fighting of the war in Iraq over the course of multiple deployments. At least 50 soldiers have physical and mental diagnoses that should prohibit their return to military duty, and many others probably have not sought treatment. And yet, the buses were there in order to deploy these soldiers again.

A protest campaign against the 3rd ACR's redeployment had already brought unwelcome attention to the military's lack of concern for its soldiers.

On August 22, activists and supporters were at it again. They gathered at Fort Hood in Killeen to be a part of a direct action against the redeployment of the first group of soldiers.

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THE USUAL procedure is for family members of departing soldiers to gather in the bleachers of a large gym on the post. Witnesses to these events report that family members wait around for as long as two hours while soldiers display their colors and perform their ceremonies, and then everyone says their final goodbyes. Soldiers often balance infants on one hip and an assault rifle on another, then board the bus, carrying with them as much pain as they leave behind.

Usually, the buses leave between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. At 4 p.m., word from inside revealed that there were packed bags in the gym, but no family members. Finally, at 6 p.m., we found out that the buses would not leave until around 2 a.m. Many of the activists were unable to stay until the wee hours of the morning, but those who left did so reluctantly, and those who stayed celebrated the knowledge that fear of a tiny group of activists had forced the commanders on the biggest military installation in the world to change their plans.

Five activists, including three veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an Army spouse, successfully blockaded the six buses of soldiers outside Fort Hood's Clarke gate around 4 a.m. on August 23, forcing the convoy to a halt. The activists covered the width of the road, holding banners that read "Occupation is a crime" and "Please don't make the same mistake we did: Resist now!" while shouting from megaphones.

Other activists stood on the U.S. Route 190 overpass and hung larger banners that read "Tell the brass: 'Kiss my ass.' Your family needs you more," "Sick of fighting your wars," and "Col. Allen 93 ACR Commander: Do not deploy wounded soldiers."

According to one of the activists, Mathis Chiroux, a former Army sergeant and antiwar activst, police "beat the activists out of the streets using automatic weapons and police dogs so the deploying soldiers could proceed."

"The most amazing thing," said James Branum, an observer and lawyer who defends soldiers who resist military service and ill treatment, "was troops in buses raising clinched fists as buses drove by the protest. Solidarity!"

Participants and observers expressed amazement that the military made no arrests, but arrests would have brought even more of the unwelcome publicity that forced the cowardly brass to pull the soldiers out in the dead of night in the first place. And arrests might also have inspired more raised fists.

Additional buses carrying this regiment will leave the post at different times.

The organizers, who call themselves Fort Hood Disobeys, note that the deployment of the 3rd ACR comes less than two weeks after President Obama announced the second end to combat operations in Iraq. The activists point to the deployment of these soldiers, clearly a combat regiment, as proof that this is a lie.

Organizers and activists vow to continue to act to oppose the wars in the Fort Hood community as long as troops continue to deploy.

Cindy Thomas, one of the five activists who blocked the buses and manager of the Under the Hood Cafe, explained why she took this action:

If these wars are destroying our soldiers and military families with 12 to 15 month of repeat deployments, how do you think the Iraqi and Afghan people are doing? They have been living these wars 24/7, 365 days a year, for nearly a decade...I'm doing this for our community, for my girls, for my husband. I'm doing this for the Iraqi and Afghan people. Enough is enough. If soldiers really want to go fight, they'll have to go through me.

Fort Hood is an enormous Army base, covering many miles and a very ugly past. Delaying the deployment no doubt lessened the amount of publicity the protest would have received earlier. However, a powerful lesson was learned by activists armed only with truth and carrying justice on their side, who struck fear in the heart of this mighty behemoth and caused it to tremble.