The Austin Chronicle

Winter Soldiers Bear Austin Witness

By Richard Whittaker, February 27, 2009, News

It's too easy to forget, but America is still bogged down in two wars. So with all eyes on the economy, anti-war military veterans are holding a day of hearings on Saturday, Feb. 28, to remind Austinites of what's really at stake. Greg Foster, Veterans Against the War Austin Chapter president, explained, "We haven't drawn down in Iraq, but we have built up our forces in Afghani­stan, so the end result is that we have more troops in combat situations than we did a few months ago."

The hearings are intended as part of a tradition of critical patriotism. In 1776, Thomas Paine railed against "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot"; in 1971, his words moved Vietnam veterans to hold the Winter Soldier hearings – three days of eyewitness testimony about the grinding, bloody reality of America's war in Southeast Asia. Inspired by both, on March 13, 2008 – the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq – IVAW resurrected the concept as more than 200 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans traveled to Washington, D.C., to share their stories. Foster explained, "When the national Winter Soldier event took place, [IVAW members] gained a lot from that and took that back to their own areas."

Since then, IVAW branches in the U.S. and Europe have held regional Winter Soldier hearings. The Austin event will feature panel discussions and testimony from IVAW members from around the nation, including Aus­tin­ites Ronn Cantu and Hart Viges, both who have previously discussed their experiences with the Chronicle (a third, Casey Porter, is still in Iraq, so the meeting will include his videos; see "Stop the Loss," Dec. 19, 2008). But the event will also feature nonmilitary voices, including Gold Star father John Scripsick, whose son Bryan died in Iraq's Anbar Province in 2007, and Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, whose family lives in Iraq. Foster hopes the event will reignite debate about Iraq and Afghanistan, which he said "has become kind of dormant. ... We hope to inject a sense of urgency into the anti-war movement in Central Texas."

Foster also sees the event as an outlet for veterans who are still dealing with their own experiences. "There's a catharsis to just telling each other our stories," he said. "I tell other members of our group, 'This is something you need to do.'"

The Austin Winter Soldier hearings take place 1-5pm Saturday, Feb. 28, at Central Presby­ter­ian Church, 200 E. Eighth.

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