This piece first aired in July, 2009, as part of the show, “The Struggle at Home.”
- HOST: This is War News Radio. As American troops moved out of Iraq’s urban areas last week, President Obama and US military officials have stepped up military operations in Afghanistan. But there’s a more hidden part of the war playing out at home. Some with loved ones who are fighting think the upsurge in Afghanistan just means more of the same. Samia Abbass spoke to members of Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war group for families with relatives in the military.
SAMIA ABBASS: Paula Rogovin has been against war for a long time. Her father served as a medic in WWII, and saw the terrible cost of the war. For as long as she can remember, her family has been active in the peace movement. So she was surprised when her youngest son decided to join the Marines out of college. That’s when she joined Military Families Speak Out, or MFSO.
PAULA ROGOVIN: He did go to boot camp and then joined the Marines. He’s been to Iraq twice. And I know that when there’s a crisis in my life, I need support and I need to be working with other people.
SAMIA ABBASS: Military Families Speak Out is an organization for people who are opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have relatives serving in the military. It has over 3400 members both in this country and others. And as US troops face big changes like re-deployment and extended tours, their families back home are fighting their own battle; not to be invisible in their efforts to end the wars.
ANNA BERLINRUT: So many people don’t even realize that we’re still at war, that it’s still going on and we’re losing people, every day, all the time. But of course the people of Afghanistan know that, and the people of Iraq know that. But Americans don’t.
SAMIA ABBASS: Anna Berlinrut is a New Jersey member of Military Families Speak Out. Berlinrut’s son is a Marine Reservist and joined when he was 18 years old. He’s been deployed to Iraq three times since the 2003 US invasion, and just returned to the US in April. Her family has served in the military dating back to the Civil War, and she believes in a strong military for this country. But with militaristic might, she says, comes greater responsibility.
ANNA BERLINRUT: Having a strong military is a huge responsibility. Just because we have it doesn’t mean that we should be using it on a whim, and that – that’s what I think the Bush administration did, in Iraq especially.
SAMIA ABBASS: When America first went into Afghanistan, Anna Berlinrut said she supported the effort; she wanted Bin Laden out. But as the government’s reasoning became more and more skewed, her perceptions changed. Sarah Fuhro, an MFSO member from Massachusetts agrees, and emphasizes the high cost of the wars:
SARAH FUHRO: I see other families whose husbands or wives or sons or daughters come back after being directly involved in combat, and they pay a terrible price in their psyches and their hearts and their souls.
SAMIA ABBASS: Fuhro’s son has been deployed twice and is currently in Afghanistan. He’s a mental health worker and teaches medical techniques to Afghan civilians and soldiers. But even as she supports what her son is doing, she’s been against these wars from the beginning. She says the Afghanistan incursion is not only unnecessary, it’s useless.
SARAH FUHRO: To plunk all those people who have been deployed two or three times to Afghanistan and Iraq and take them like chess pieces and then stick them in Afghanistan. Like, “Oh, and now we’ll do, kind of, Afghanistan…” When there’s just no military answer in Afghanistan. There just isn’t, and anybody who knows anything about it says the same thing.
SAMIA ABBASS: And according to Anna Berlinrut, the repeated deployments are not only hard on the troops themselves; they create pressures back home.
ANNA BERLINRUT: It’s just weakening our whole military-family structure. To have our loved ones away for so very long, and then when they come back, they’re just not the same people they had been. And then to have to face another deployment…it’s just horrific.
SAMIA ABBASS: Another Military Families Speak Out member, Linda Englund, a resident of Chicago, has a son serving his second deployment in Iraq. She says the return of veterans poses its own challenges too.
LINDA ENGLUND: I mean, it’s almost worse when they get out, when they try to access any of the–anything that they’re entitled to with the VA, the health system, and with the benefits system.
SAMIA ABBASS: Members of the military may have to wait years to receive benefits. Only a few years ago, the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs was 600,000. Now, it’s over one million. And in the meantime, they have to figure out how to live, get jobs, and support families.
When Anna Berlinrut’s son couldn’t find a job, he ended up re-enlisting with the Marines for another 3 years.
ANNA BERLINRUT: He’s now married, and he has a 7 month old child, so the baby was born while he was away, and he needs to help support his family. He may have to be full-time and have another deployment again soon.
SAMIA ABBASS: No matter their backgrounds and histories, these mothers are fed up with the wars. Wars they feel are useless and far more costly than beneficial.
ANNA BERLINRUT: Most Americans don’t have anyone within their families with “boots on the ground.” So therefore they’re just not aware of what is really happening to military families. They’re told that, well, these people volunteered. But when you volunteer to any other organization, you can quit when you want. You can’t just quit and walk out of the military unfortunately.
SAMIA ABBASS: Linda Englund is worried about where Military Families Speak Out will fit in as the US moves further into Afghanistan, and as Americans continue to lose touch.
LINDA ENGLUND: I think the organization is really struggling to find its place in this new political scenario and that, in many ways, I just feel like we’ve just been passed by. We go to a country and we stay there forever, or for 100 years or 60 years or whatever, and it just becomes so common we don’t even question it.
SAMIA ABBASS: But these mothers of Military Families Speak Out will continue to fight, because to them, it’s the only war that will make a difference.
For War News Radio, I’m Samia Abbass.