On Capitol Hill, politicians hear only those who get loud enough to cause a ruckus on their turf. Many times, these are anti-war groups like Code Pink or 9/11 “truthers”. That’s why 40 Vets for Freedom members from across the country (with only four days notice) stormed the Hill on July 17 and refused to be silenced.
Vets for Freedom (VFF) is a group of nearly 15,000 veterans — 7,000 of whom are Iraq and Afghanistan vets and some that are currently deployed. One of the group’s key purposes, according to news reports, is to advocate that Republican leadership not abandon the troop surge strategy in Iraq.
Five weeks ago, VFF launched a campaign called “10 Weeks to Testimony,” which counts down towards Multinational Force- Iraq Commander Gen. David Petraeus’s report on progress in September. This campaign serves to “lead the charge to support General Petraeus and stop anti-war radicals and politicians on Capitol Hill from undermining the troops — and their mission — for the sake of short-term political gain,” according to the web site.
Army Sergeant Robert White of the Oklahoma National Guard 180th infantry, stumbled onto the VFF website while he was deployed in Afghanistan. Upon returning to the US in May, he decided he wanted to be more involved. He said he was “thoroughly unimpressed” by other veteran organizations and tapped into VFF in “support of the war.” Though other organizations provide significant benefits, White isn’t concerned with those.
“I’m not here for college money or medical care or a pension,” White said in a phone interview. “I signed up to serve. This is the place to do it. We are at war and this is what you do.”
Every week, VFF presents a different theme and course of action — like getting involved locally (this week’s theme.) They provide practical information, resources and urge veterans to sign up for the next big venture, “Vets on the Hill.” This event takes place on September 17-18, when Petraeus will report and when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to renew efforts to force a vote on a deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Grassroots action, as conservatives have seen in other recent legislation (such as the killing of the Senate Immigration bill), can make all the difference.
According to their web site, when veterans from VFF approached politicians, many Republican Senators obliged them for questions but “interaction from Democratic leadership was noticeably absent.” In fact, they put in a request five days earlier for a five minute meeting with Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but they were unsuccessful.
Sgt. White plans to travel from Texas to attend “Vets on the Hill.” Of Pelosi and Reid’s failure to meet, White said, “They stand up and they talk about supporting troops, what a magnificent job we have done and so forth but then when we show up to discuss it, they don’t want to talk about it.”
As some Republicans, like Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) have showed support for redeployment, VFF hopes to discourage others from doing the same.
Last week’s positive report on progress in Iraq from Brookings Institute scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack gave new impetus to VFF’s mission.
First Lieutenant Pete Hegseth, executive director and former Army platoon commander in Iraq, appeared last week on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” to debate Jon Soltz, a former Army captain in Operation Iraqi Freedom and leader of counter- group VoteVets.org., also present on Capitol Hill July 17. Soltz spoke with conviction for the opposite side — lobbying that Congress end the war immediately. Hegseth, VFF Founder Wade Zirkle and cofounder David Bellavia have appeared on Fox and Friends, CNN, CBS and C-Span recently as well.
At a meeting yesterday at The Heritage Foundation, Hegseth said veterans need to be “elevated to the top platforms” because they are the ones who can best attest to the situation in Iraq.
“It’s a crucial moment this summer while progress is happening in Baghdad, political will is going to the other way,” Hegseth said. “If you can get vets around these members [of Congress], they’re going….to have the intellectual ammunition to say no surrender.”
Hegseth told the group yesterday that Congress “hadn’t heard from veterans who’d been in combat” much before they began VFF in early 2006. He wants to convey to them that what Gen. Petraeus is doing now “is distinctly different” from anything that has been done before.
“You can only keep good news contained for so long,” Hegseth said, adding that when America commits to security for Iraq, political progress will ensue.
The misinformation put out by the mainstream media is one reason Sgt. White wants to promote VFF. “There are times when I’ve read articles about places I have been and have seen and it bears zero resemblance to what I saw with my own two eyes,” he said.
He recounted a time when he was stationed in Kandhar, Afghanistan. A US news article stated that troops in Kandhar were locked down and couldn’t go anywhere due to violence, “But I was organizing missions that were going on everyday,” said White.
With respect and appreciation for those who will listen, Vets for Freedom members carry on their mission at home. Most recently, they created a thank you advertisement in for Minnesota’s Sen. Norm Coleman (R.), a faithful supporter. The video features a handful of veterans saying “thank you for supporting our mission in Iraq…for not tying the hands of our commanders…for letting us take the fight to al-Qaeda…for supporting the global war on terror…”
Because anti-war groups like moveon.org, VoteVets.org, and the Troops Out Now Coalition are planning anti-war strategy to move Congress to de-fund the war and redeploy troops this fall, VFF is turning up the heat. They actively promote the "10 Weeks" campaign, encourage members to start state chapters and will be featuring regular blog updates from embedded journalist and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran (and RedState blogger) Jeff Emanuel.