Sunday, May 18, 2008

NY State Marches for Peace ends at Fort Drum - 30 Vets demand adequate mental health care for those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An Antiwar March Through Towns Unused to One

by Michelle York

CENTRAL SQUARE, N.Y. - On Wednesday, Charlie Price was smoking a cigarette and sitting outside his restaurant, Charlie’s Place, on a two-lane stretch of highway on the outskirts of town.0516 02 1

He watched as a small group protesting the war in Iraq marched toward him, carrying peace signs and waving at the cars and tractor-trailers whizzing by. “I don’t think it’s going to do any good,” Mr. Price said of their efforts. “I want to get out of there, too, but I don’t think this is the way.”

Yet once the protesters, headed for Fort Drum , more than 50 miles away, reached him, Mr. Price eagerly offered them water and a place to rest - a more pleasant welcome than they had received from many others along the way.

Carmen Viviano-Crafts, 23, of Syracuse , who was carrying a small cardboard sign that read, “Bring home my boyfriend,” said that some people “gave us the finger and stuff like that.”

Since the war in Iraq began five years ago, the Second Brigade at Fort Drum has put in four tours.

For the past week, opponents of the war have taken several routes through the conservative and largely rural reaches of upstate New York - small communities that have sent many of their young men and women into the military right after high school and have paid a disproportionate price.

On Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day, protesters ranging from peace activists to Iraq Veterans Against the War will hold a daylong rally outside Fort Drum . What they lack in numbers - there were only about 40 on the road on Wednesday - they have made up for in passion, having walked about 80 miles so far.

The marchers started from several places, including Rochester , Ithaca and Utica , and merged on Wednesday, signifying the beginning of their final trek toward Fort Drum , just north of Watertown , near the Canadian border.

Planners say they have a dual message: to protest both the war and what they see as poor treatment of veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Wednesday, marchers passed through the town of Mexico , home to Joseph C. Godfrey, 54, a business owner whose three children - a daughter and two sons - all chose to join the military.

One son, Joseph, returned from a tour in Iraq in October 2004, developed a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically discharged. While his family was trying to get him counseling, Joseph began drinking heavily. He was robbed and murdered four months after his discharge as he walked home from a bar.

“We felt right from the beginning that if he’d been at a veterans’ hospital, he wouldn’t have been at the bar,” Mr. Godfrey said.

Mr. Godfrey’s other son, Justin, 24, has already served one tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq . In August, he will again depart for Iraq .

When Mr. Godfrey - who joined the antiwar group “Military Families Speak Out” after Joseph’s death - learned that marchers were coming through his town, he arranged for them to sleep overnight at the First United Methodist Church in Mexico, about 10 miles from here, even though he feared that the pastor might be criticized by parishioners.

“We’re pointing out some of the injustices,” Mr. Godfrey said. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to try and do what they can. And for most of us, it’s not a lot, it’s the little things. The march is one of them.”

The marchers are an eclectic group. Some are die-hard protesters. Some are soldiers’ relatives who spontaneously joined after seeing the small parade pass through their towns.

Many of them are veterans, including an 89-year-old man who fought in World War II. He rides in a car along the marchers’ route, and meets the group each evening when they stop to rest.

At each town, they try to engage the community in conversation.

“We’re really not here to argue with people,” said Vicki Ryder, 66, who is driving along with her dog, Harry, who sits in the back seat, wearing a shirt that reads, “Bones Not Bombs.” Along the way, several people have screamed at them, the organizers said, but a far greater percentage of people have expressed support.

“Many may have believed in the principle of the war at the start, but now they’re saying that they want the soldiers to come back,” said Kathleen Castania, 59, an organizer who lives in Rochester . Whatever the reaction they draw, the organizers say they are making headway, both emotionally and physically.

“There is some apprehension” in the towns, said Tod Ensign, the director of Different Drummer Café, a veterans’-support organization in Watertown . “But I don’t believe this has ever been done before anywhere in the country. This is a first step.”

© 2008 The New York Times

List of Demands and Call to Action:

More than 30 veterans of five wars approached Col. Kenneth Riddle at

the Watertown Armed Forces Day Parade on Saturday, requesting an

opportunity to discuss the need for adequate mental health care for

those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq . He recommended that they

schedule an appointment to meet with him at a future date to discuss

these issues.

According to a recent study, more than 18 U.S. veterans commit suicide

every day. More soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have died

at their own hand than have those who died in combat. These soldiers

and veterans did not receive the quality of care they needed. Many

more are self-medicating with alcohol.

Maj. Gen. Michael Oates regularly publishes the names and photographs

of Fort Drum soldiers who are arrested for DWI. Rather than resorting

to such humiliation, the General should address the root causes of the

soldiers' stress.

The VA has covered up this problem, and the cover-up is perpetuated

locally. At the parade, Jefferson County legislator, Carolyn

Fitzpatrick told a local TV reporter that she hoped the veterans'

efforts to speak with Col. Riddle wouldn't be aired. We believe it is

time to air this issue and help prevent any more suicides.

If you truly support our troops and our veterans, we ask that you call

or write Col. Riddle and Maj. Gen. Oakes and demand that they be

provided with adequate and appropriate mental health care NOW!

Eli Wright , Iraq War Veteran

Jason Peterson, Desert Storm Veteran

Douglas H. Ryder, Vietnam War Veteran

Peter Bronson , Korea War Veteran

Roland Micklem, WWII Veteran

and 30 others



PEACE WALK: Group to hold festival today, hand out information on PTSD



SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2008

The peace march that has stomped north on a 10-day walk from areas throughout the state has arrived in Watertown .

A few walkers met at the Different Drummer Cafe, Watertown , at a Friday morning press conference to promote their message: Iraq war veterans need resources to treat the injuries, physical and mental, they are suffering while being deployed.

The group will hold a daylong festival today to spread the message to soldiers about resources available for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, Different Drummer co-owner Tod Ensign said.

The Fort Drum Spring Festival will begin at 1 p.m. at Black Water River Park & Campground on Huntington Street . It will include music, food and information about treating PTSD.

Some activists will hand out fliers about PTSD at the Armed Forces Day parade being held along Washington Street this morning.

A confrontation between marchers and parade-goers is unlikely, Mr. Ensign said.

"Some of these people are pacifists," he said. "We're talking about people who would choose not to kill an ant if they had the chance."

The group did not try to march in the parade, he said.

Nathan J. Lewis, an Iraq veteran from a small Niagara County town he likened to Adams, said he joined the New York Marchers for Peace on Thursday in Adams Center .

While making the hike to Watertown , their conversations ranged from the vast beauty of the area to the state of the government and the way it is helping soldiers.

"It's a great way to see the state," Mr. Lewis said.

While some people stopped to talk to the marchers, other motorists offered less friendly hand gestures.

"We had about 10 teenagers just drop what they were doing to join us in Adams ," he said.

Mr. Lewis enlisted in the Army for two years and was deployed in March 2003 from Fort Sill , Okla.

He spent his tour of duty at a base near Baghdad . During that time, he was largely cut off from the outside world, he said.

When he came home, the transition to civilian life was hard, Mr. Lewis said.

"I live in a small town and I felt out of place," he said. "I was going to NCCC ( Niagara County Community College ), but I still felt a lot of isolation."

He has since joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and recently decided to participate in the walk.

Mr. Lewis does not suffer from PTSD, "although everyone has their own issues," he said.

Helping soldiers with those issues is Eric Werthman, a Brooklyn psychotherapist who said he has a "loose group" of professionals who are helping soldiers and their families with free or low-cost counseling. The Returning Veterans Response Network has offices in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens .

The group can be contacted at 1 (347) 663-5570.


Vietnam War veteran Russell Brown, Buffalo, makes the peace sign to passing cars Friday while marching north on Route 11 near Fuller Road in the town of Adams. Mr. Brown was with the New York Marchers for Peace.

Copyright. Watertown Daily Times, Inc., Watertown , NY . All rights reserved.

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