May 15, 2008
CONTACT: Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
Julie Nixon (Lee) 202-225-6221
Iraq Veterans Share First Hand Accounts of Iraq War During Forum on
Capitol Hill -
Progressive Caucus Forum Invites Veterans To Share Their Experiences
with Members of Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - May 15 - At a forum this morning organized by the
Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), ten veterans of the Iraq War
provided gripping first person accounts of their time spent serving
in combat operations. The veterans, who had served in the National
Guard, the Army, and the Marines, shared their experiences on the
ground at various stages of the occupation and throughout the
country. They testified regarding violence against civilians, the
destruction of civilian property, rules of engagement, the inadequate
training that they received prior to deploying, and the personal
struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many of the
testifiers faced upon their return from combat.
"This morning's event was an opportunity to hear not from the
military's top brass, but directly from the very soldiers who put
their lives on the line to carry out President Bush's failed policies
in Iraq," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Co-Chair of the CPC.
"These first-hand accounts really highlight some of the tragic costs
and horrific consequences of this Administration's utterly failed
policies in Iraq," said CPC Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). "We
must redouble our efforts to end the occupation and to truly honor
our troops by bringing them home."
The veterans were members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a
non-profit organization created in 2004 to organize and represent the
growing number of active duty service members, and veterans, who have
turned against the occupation of Iraq, but continue to face pressure
to remain silent.
One of the morning's most gripping testimonies came from Kristofer
Goldsmith, a former Army Sergeant from Long Island, New York, who
spoke about his own psychological struggles following a stop-loss
order that kept him from returning home after serving in Iraq.
"As we were preparing to leave Iraq, we were given a mental screening
test, which was supposed to identify possible mental ailments,"
Goldsmith said in his written statement. "But we were warned by the
medical staff issuing the test that 'should you come up positive for
mental problems, you could be forced to stay in [Iraq] for three to
four more months before you can go home.' Most lied while completing
the test because they wanted to get home as soon as possible. No one
was held in Iraq any longer due to this test, but in hindsight, it is
clear that verbal warning was used to prevent the inconvenience to
the Army of having Soldiers that needed medical attention."
The psychological struggles of returning veterans was a consistent
theme that emerged throughout the morning, and other testifiers spoke
of the strain that PTSD put on their relationships with families and friends.
"The majority of my platoon went through divorces and or separations
many of the time with children involved," said Vincent Emanuele, a
Marine machine gunner who served in Iraq near the Syrian border.
Emanuele also spoke of the pressure that he faced when dealing with
his PTSD, "the idea being that 'REAL' Marines do not complain when
coming home from combat they suck it up and do the job we are tasked
to do," Emanuele said referring to how he and other veterans were
treated like outcasts when they sought help. "This resulted in many
of the Marines I served with, including myself turning to alcohol and
drugs to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation."
The forum was a follow-up to an event that IVAW organized earlier
this year at the National Labor College in Silver Spring Maryland.
Dubbed 'Winter Soldiers,' and modeled on a similar campaign during
the Vietnam War, dozens of veterans shared their personal stories,
and testified over three days on their own experiences on the ground
in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Your testimony this morning should serve as a reminder to every
Member of this body that the occupation of Iraq is not something that
we can simply discuss and debate in the abstract," Woolsey told the
veterans. "You speak today not just for yourselves, but for countless
others who have served in Iraq. You are doing all of us a great honor
by sharing your stories and unique perspectives."