Charging The Cavalry
On March 1, 2004, I arrived in Al Qa'im, Iraq, at Forward Operating Base Tiger, part of the replacement for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). Six years later, on August 23, 2010, I worked with a group of anarchists and other activists to block their buses as they attempted to deploy to Iraq yet again.
I am a veteran of the war against the people of Iraq. When I was first deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, I was wounded in combat in Karabillah. I returned to Iraq in May and left on September 21. I began to question the wars while I was still in the Corps and after my discharge I began to question many of our social structures and means of organizing society, initially identifying as a socialist or communist. As my understanding of society and power structures grew and I learned more, I ended up identifying as an anarchist and a revolutionary.
After becoming involved with the anti-war movement in 2008/2009, I soon became disenchanted with sign-holding, chanting, and marching behind police escorts. I had joined an anti-war veterans organization, but soon realized how internally focused such organizations can be. Issues such as staff salaries, personal healing of veterans, policing the actions of its members, and fundraising took precedence over ending the wars and reducing suffering and injustice. None of this was what I wanted to be a part of and I encountered many other veterans who felt the same way. We wanted direct action to challenge power and create something new.
During the summer of 2010, a group of us came together around the idea that with people dying each day, we could no longer ethically continue to refrain from direct action and resistance. Disenchanted with the constant failures and passivity of existing centralized organizations, over time the idea of Fort Hood Disobeys started to materialize. Rejecting the idea of veteran exclusivity, we joined with military family members and civilians. The Disobedient have no official membership, but are a network of individuals and affinity groups involved in direct action to jam up the gears of the war machine all over the world and develop a class consciousness within the military ranks.
The August 22 ACR deployment date from Fort Hood, Texas gave us the idea to start challenging "the brass" of individual units while encouraging soldiers to resist military service. We realized that we were not going to encounter hordes of anarchists in the military, but we knew that troops have a lot of reasons for wanting to refuse deployment—conscience, family, health, etc. The personal is the political. In standing up for themselves and refusing to comply, they stand up for the rights of people and we support their resistance.
Veterans prepare a sign for troops deploying to Iraq: “Please Don’t Make The Same Mistake We Did, RESIST NOW”—photo by Jeff Zavala, forthooddisobeys.blogspot.com
During the build-up to the deployment, we staged a protest outside Fort Hood's East Gate, calling out Colonel Allen, 3rd ACR's commanding officer, for deploying wounded soldiers. After participating in a live webcast with World Can't Wait and receiving a great response from the audience, we began doing live interactive webcasts. We also began a "Harass the Brass" campaign, encouraging people to call the 3rd ACR's chain of command directly and question them about their deployment of wounded soldiers and their participation in unjust wars. A few days before our planned blockade, President Obama announced the second end to combat operations in Iraq. (I received my Combat Action Ribbon after George W. Bush announced the first one.) Unless the 3rd Armored Cavalry Unit is a Boy Scout Troop, the U.S. is still deploying combat troops to Iraq and we were not going to let that go unchallenged.
Since this was the Disobedient's first attempt at direct action, we just rolled with the punches. We had begun with an attempt at secrecy, but, as conditions developed, we decided to show our hand over our live stream. Our original intelligence said that the troops would be deploying around 2:00 PM. Our observers kept an eye on the situation and we maintained a state of readiness. For the veterans and family members being on "hurry up and wait" military time was a reminder of our own experiences with deployments and military life.
We didn't have any delusions about stopping the deployment altogether, but we knew we could stop the buses. All of the calls to Fort Hood from right-wing bloggers and pro-militarists ended up working in our favor as they unintentionally increased the delay by warning the regiment, resulting in extra security measures being taken, such as canine units, extra police escorts, etc.
At Fort Hood, troops are usually deployed by exiting the Clarke Road Gate, going under the Highway 190 overpass, and entering a gate on the other side. Highway 190 is divided by a median near the overpass bridge. Our original plan was to hang a banner from the bridge and then block the road as the buses approached. There is typically either no police escort or no more than a one or two car operation, but in our case there was an increased police presence (about 20-30 cops) waiting for us at around 4:00 AM, the delayed departure time. Those of us in the affinity group who were to take the streets split off into the median, laughing about how we were about to use some of the skills we learned in the military to try pull one over on them.
We crawled as close as we could get to the bridges without the police seeing us. As we lay in the grass and watched the searchlights sweeping the bridges, we knew they were looking for us and that we had to make our move quickly as our improvised split had left us without communications. We took off down the ramp between the road and the bridge with one member shouting over the bullhorn. It crossed our minds that we could end up getting shot as we charged down a hill toward a military convoy with police escorts.
Activists on the bridge saw the convoy stop at the gate for about a minute, apparently waiting for the "all clear" signal before leaving, but we couldn't see any of this from our position. Fortunately, our timing couldn't have been better for a surprise charge. One police car swerved to miss me as I took to the street and started to unfurl our banner reading "Please Don't Make the Same Mistake We Did! Resist Now!"—handing the other end to fellow Iraq veteran Crystal Colon. Geoff Gernant and Cynthia Thomas held up another banner reading "Occupation is a Crime."
One cop began shoving me and yelling "Move, move" while another police car stopped between me and the buses. More cops, some with automatic weapons and dogs, swarmed the others, shoving them to the side of the road.
"We are where we need to be," I yelled. I saw other cops running into the fray and one of them dropped me. I curled up on the ground, expecting a beating, but when I looked up, I saw that they weren't going to lay into me. I heard one tell me to put my hands behind my back and ask me if I was going to stay down. When I indicated that I didn't intend to fight them and that I would stand up when they were ready, they told me I could take my hands from behind my back.
Confronting the convoy—photo by Malachi Muncey, forthooddisobeys.blogspot.com
I saw my comrades standing on the side of the road, fists in the air, and I raised mine and joined them. Apparently the military and the police didn't want a big confrontation that night because no arrests were made and no one was cited. It made sense that they wouldn't want to arrest us. They don't want people to see veterans, their families, and members of the local community protesting the wars or being dragged off by the police. It would also draw attention to the fact that they were deploying a combat unit to Iraq just days after announcing the (second) end to combat operations there.
We all had quite a laugh about the ass-chewing that must have taken place at Fort Hood and in local cop shops that day. Essential to securing an area is considering and monitoring all possible access routes. The fact that we were able to insert ourselves within their perimeter and execute an unarmed hasty ambush on a convoy of buses deploying combat troops looks really bad for both local and Fort Hood law enforcement and shows that a small group of people can challenge power directly.
We knew that we would only be able to block the buses for a short time, but any act to slow down, jam up, or delay the war machine is better than writing a letter to Congress or holding a sign on a sidewalk. When trying to light a fire, no one strikes steel against flint only once. Each spark has the potential to catch and start a raging conflagration.
So what did we accomplish? We caused delays and an increase in security, thereby using resources and time. We showed that a few people can outmaneuver police and the military even when they know we are coming. We showed that direct action against continued deployment is possible. The Disobedient doesn't see this as an end, but a beginning.
Bobby Whittenberg-James is a Marine veteran anti-war activist.