Two mothers of soldiers active in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan spoke to OWU students about the need for peace in America on Oct. 16.
Mary Hladky, vice chair of “Military Families Speak Out,” and Rosemary Palmer, cofounder of “Families of the Fallen for Change,” shared their experiences in regards to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Hladky said “Military Families Speak Out” was formed in 2002 to oppose the planned US invasion of Iraq. Since then, the group has become an outlet for military families to protest American wars they do not support. Hladky said that by opposing the Afghanistan war, the group is supporting the troops.
“We believe supporting our troops means that they are never sent into battle without the facts, without the truth and without it being absolutely necessary,” she said.
Hladky’s son Ryan is currently an Army Infantry Officer fighting in the Afghanistan war, but he began his service in the ROTC. Hladky said she told her son he did not need to sign up for the ROTC in order to pay for college, but he signed up and told her about his decision after.
“This was the beginning of my journey–being very uncomfortable about war, especially when the vast majority of Americans were so certain it was the right thing to do,” Hladky said.
She said one particular deployment to Afghanistan was unforgettable.
“They spent 13 months patrolling in 130 degree temperatures–uniforms covered them head to toe–wearing heavy bullet proof vests and carrying 80 pound packs on their backs,” she said.
Hladky said the army did not inform the parents of the over 400 injuries in her son’s battalion from this deployment. She said 26 men lost their lives in those 13 months.
Hladky said it is important for citizens to be informed about America’s longest war: the 12 year and growing war in Afghanistan. She said there are many aspects of this war that separate it from others that have come before. Particularly, Hladky said the percentage of suicides and wounded soldiers has dramatically increased.
“Military suicides have reached epidemic proportions,” she said. “More troops die at their own hand than on the battlefield. And for every service person who dies, 10 are wounded.”
Hladky also said she thinks the cost of the war is too great and funds are ending up in the wrong hands.
“Four hundred million dollars per year of US security funding ends up in the hands of the Taliban as a bribe for local war lords. Our dollars are funding the enemy,” Hladky said.
She said the cost of the war on soldiers is no better.
“By our own military standards, every person returning from combat is entitled to 3 years at home,” Hladky said. “This has never happened since we started fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many troops serve three, four, five or more tours of duty.”
Hladky said she remembers the terror she experienced during one of her son’s deployments.
“The awful gut wrenching fear that your child might be next,” she said. “Being grateful that it wasn’t your child who died, and feeling intense pain knowing that some other family has just suffered the most horrendous loss: what all military families fear most.”
Palmer said she would stay at work late during her son’s deployment during the Iraq War to avoid going home.
“I’d stay at work because if I didn’t come home, the call wouldn’t be there to tell me my son had been killed,” she said.
Palmer suffered what Hladky called “the most horrendous loss,” in August 2005 when her son was killed in Hidetha, Iraq, along with 19 other soldiers.
Palmer and her husband immediately began to speak with the media, telling them they had never agreed with the war in Iraq.
“We were sharing our grief quite openly,” she said. “We told them that our son was there and said the war was not working. We needed to fight it right or get out.”
After speaking with the US media and foreign press, Palmer said she realized they needed an organization to get their ideas out.
“So my husband and I founded ‘Families of the Fallen for Change’ for the Iraq War and started lobbying Congress,” she said.
When she did not see the action she hoped for to end the Iraq War, Palmer ran for Congress herself. Although she did not win (as one of five candidates), she said she hopes she and her husband made a small difference.
“We started from grief and moved on to try to make a difference,” she said. “We threw out pebbles into the pool, alongside the others, and we were a piece of ending the war in Iraq.”
The war in Afghanistan, however, has not ended, Hladky said.
“The war is not almost over,” she said. “We are there until the end of 2014. That’s another 27 months, and even then the war is still not over. The Strategic Partnership Agreement between the US and Afghanistan would have military personnel in Afghanistan for another 10 years beyond 2014.”
Hladky said there will not be change in the way the war is run and the way future wars are funded, unless Americans begin to pay attention.
“No one pays attention. If you paid attention to where your money was going, you’d be screaming. People would be screaming, ‘No; we’re not going to war.’”
Hladky said that, by not holding members of Congress responsible for their actions, citizens are not upholding their responsibilities.
“The Congress votes for war, and they cannot tell you why,” Hladky said. “That’s shameful. We let that happen, but we all have a responsibility.”
Palmer said while she also opposes the war, she does not consider herself a pacifist.
“I believe the strongest military is one that’s prepared and is not used,” she said.
Both women said they would support a draft because it would encourage citizens to pay more attention to what was happening in the war.
“I would support a draft,” Palmer said. “The reason these wars go on is that people don’t pay attention.”
Hladky agreed, saying a draft would make people stay informed.
“If you have a draft, you’d have known everything I told you already. And guess what? After this war there is going to be no one left to fight the next one,” she said. “It’s you. So you better start asking questions.”
Junior Ashley Brown attended the talk as part of her feminist philosophy class. She said she thought both women got their ideas across effectively.
“Hladky was very intense,” Brown said. “She was up in your face and accusing. I don’t know if this is her general method to get people to listen, or if she is just always that angry, but it worked. Palmer took a very different approach and had different experiences and reasoning, and I found her to be a lot more relatable and engaging as a person.”
Senior Alex Crump also attended the talk for the same philosophy class.
She said that, although she found the talk interesting, she did not learn much that she did not already know.
“Hladky really rubbed me the wrong way,” Crump said. “She was very accusatory and at times, I felt, hysterical. Palmer was very well spoken and I was able to follow her much better. Both women had a lot of emotion, but Palmer was better at channeling it.”
Brown said she will take away from the lecture the statement Hladky made about being passionate about something, not necessarily the military, and working for change.
“I am quite active and strongly believe in women’s rights, and have been for some time,” Brown said.” But having her say that was influential reinforced how I think about activism.”