A place where soldiers can talk

March 12, 2009

"CHANGE YOU Can (Really) Believe In" might come from an unimposing one-story building in a one horse town just outside the biggest Army base in the U.S.

Sunday, March 1 was the grand opening of Under the Hood, a G.I. coffeehouse just a couple of blocks from one of the entrances to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

A neon "open" sign in its window, this former house/possibly beauty salon offers a safe "place for soldiers to meet and unwind," away from the merciless grip of those assigning multiple tours to Iraq or Afghanistan and the endless line of predatory pawn shops, strip joints, liquor stores and check-cashers.

Inside, soldiers, their families and supporters ate barbecue, played dominos or pool and imagined the possibilities. Two people were working on laptops, babies were fed or held, and young children laughed and played among the crowd.

Under the Hood is just a few blocks away from its predecessor, the Oleo Strut, a G.I. coffeehouse that was open from 1968-1972. The soldiers it served achieved some significant victories in the G.I. movement, which helped to bring the war in Vietnam to an end.

Passersby can still find spots of red paint thrown frequently at the doors and windows in the cracks of the sidewalks outside the Oleo Strut. Killeen was a Jim Crow town with an active KKK; some of the townsfolk didn't appreciate the massive, multicultural crowds the Oleo Strut drew.

Cindy Thomas, the wife of a soldier who served three tours in Iraq, and a committed supporter of the Ft. Hood chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War, manages the coffeehouse and has worked tirelessly to get it up and running. Thomas envisions the coffeehouse as a "free speech zone," open to everyone of any political persuasion--a place where soldiers and their families will feel more comfortable getting help and talking about their situations.

"The concept of it is having that place they can come to and not only support each other and help each other out," Thomas said, "but maybe even advocate for each other."

Under the Hood has opened during an unpopular war, with other endless wars on the horizon, in a crashing economy. May this little haven become an even bigger thorn in the side of the military behemoth it dares to challenge than was its predecessor.

The main task right now is to get the word out to soldiers at Fort Hood and in the general area that Under the Hood exists and is there to help. For more information on Under the Hood and the Oleo Strut, visit the Under the Hood café Web site. Donations to help support Under the Hood can be made through the Web site.
Cindy Beringer, Austin, Texas

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