They Volunteered, Didn't They?

Smart bombs and "surgical strikes" would ensure a soldier's quick return. State of the art equipment would keep our soldiers safe. Billions of dollars for the Department of Defense would ensure that the compensation of our men and women in uniform would match their sacrifice for their country.

Two hundred and ninety-one deaths later, with the war in Iraq officially "over,' active duty military still have no dates set for their return home. Soldiers are dying due to shortages of supplies, like bulletproof vests. The Bush administration's proposed cut in combat pay came with a simultaneous call for the Iraqi resistance to "bring 'em on." Already inadequate services for veterans are suffering further cuts, making the return home scarcely safer than the tour of duty.

In the eyes of many military families a contract has been breached, a promise has been broken. And these families are making sure that those who broke their trust are called to answer for their betrayal. Nancy Lessin and her husband Charlie Richardson are one such family.

Nancy and Charlie met Jeffrey McKenzie at a Washington D.C. peace rally after sending their sons to fight what they felt was an illegal and unjust war. They felt sure that other families with loved ones in the military felt as they did. They were right. Together they formed Military Families Speak Out -- an organization of families with loved ones in the military opposed to the preemptive and unilateral invasion of Iraq. Since an initial press conference held in partnership with the Veterans for Common Sense in January, Military Families Speak Out has grown from two to over 800 families and their unique perspective has been sought out by various members of Congress as well as by CNN and other news outlets.

Their stories are poignant, direct and represent an important perspective often left out of war coverage: true "patriots" who serve their country by risking their lives are often singularly poised to see the underlying political motivations of the Iraq invasion. As the cousin of two soldiers writes, "The reality is that the people who run this nation are trying to 'jumpstart' a failing economy. They use our family members, our brothers, cousins, sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces to try and secure the cheapest and largest sources of oil outside Saudi Arabia. At what expense? The lives of many, many of our loved ones and also Iraqi civilians."

Voices such as these grow louder every day as the death toll mounts, tours of duty are extended, pay cuts are debated, and the administration seeks an additional $87 billion for what is looking more and more like a permanent occupation than a quick liberation.

Seeking to amplify this message and bring it to the atttention of decision makers, Representative Maxine Waters held a congressional briefing on Monday with members of Military Families Speak Out. Promising to vote against the president's request for an additional $87 billion, the congresswoman called on other congressional members to join her in pressuring the administration into bringing the soldiers home.

For Nancy Lessin and the other members of MFSO, the briefing is only one piece of their effort to provide an outlet for the grief, frustration and anger that hundreds of military families are experiencing as the weeks and months drag on. Plans are in the works for a series of actions and congressional meetings from Oct. 10 through 16, the week of the anniversary of what MFSO regards as Congress' illegal authorization of force. Hundreds of military families are mobilizing for the march on the White House and the Pentagon on Oct. 25th; Veteran's Day will be a day of action for MFSO and Veterans for Peace; and members will be touring college campuses to talk about the faulty premises of the war and the experiences of families who serve in it.

If you could send a single message to President Bush what would it be? "Our message is not just for the President, but for the everyone in this country and around the world," says Nancy Lessin, "Our loved ones have been sent to fight an immoral, unjust and reckless misadventure that has everything to do with securing oil markets and empire and nothing to do with the defense of this country or the Constitution. We are here to tell the uncomfortable truth about his war; we have suffered enough uncomfortable lies."

Military Families Speak Out is entirely run by volunteers. If you would like more information or would like to support their work please check out


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