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Military Families Group Protests Iraq War - 2004-04-21

An organization that claims to represent more than a thousand U.S. military families is one of several anti-war groups calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The groups recently held rallies in Washington, D.C.

"We come to Washington to call on President Bush to immediately halt the escalating violence in Iraq," said Leslie Cagan, director of a national anti-war organization, "United for Peace and Justice," which includes a group that represents some of the families of U.S. servicemen and women stationed in Iraq.

About a dozen of the family members - mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and wives of troops - held a news conference near the White House, carrying photographs of loved ones injured or killed in Iraq.

My name is Jessica Salamon. My husband is currently serving in a unit outside Baghdad? My name is Luis Maldonado. My son is now in Iraq in Baghdad? My name is Sue Niederer. My son was killed in Iraq, February 3 of ths year... My name is Wayne Smith. I have a nephew who is in Baghdad... My name is Madalaine Strauss?.

"My nephew, Private First Class William Ramirez, lost his life 63 days ago in Iraq, one month before he was due home, one month before his 20th birthday," said Annette Pritchard, a native of Oregon City, Oregon. "William dropped out of high school, and the Army was there to catch him with promises of a bright future. William's dream was to be an architect or engineer. He wanted to create and build. Instead, he was sent to kill and destroy."

"My husband and I have been opposed to this war since the very first whispers of it," said Jessica Salamon of Ravenna, Ohio, who says she speaks for her husband, who is with the Ohio National Guard in Iraq. "I feel that if military families don't speak out then other military families won't realize it's okay to do so."

A recent Iraq War veteran says that when he joined the all-volunteer U.S. military five years ago, he never expected to be involved in an operation like the one underway in Iraq.

"At that point in my life, I thought the military did good things," said Michael Hoffman of Morrisville, Pennsylvania. "I thought that when they got involved in other countries, it was for the good of other countries."

The group, "Military Families Speak Out," claims a nationwide membership of 1,500 relatives of servicemen and women. Its founders are Charley Richardson and his wife, Nancy Lessin, of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. They say the Bush administration has no strategy in Iraq and that it lied to the American people when originally justifying the war as a hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

We call on the people of this country to set up meetings with their senators and members of Congress in their home districts and call upon this government to act immediately: not one more day, not one more life, and not one more lie," Nancy Lessin said. "End the violence. End the occupation. End the war, and bring the troops home now."

While "Military Families Speak Out" is vocal, most Americans with relatives in the military in Iraq do not belong to a particular group in opposition to, or support of, the war. But newspaper accounts from U.S. cities located near military bases say many soldiers' families have grown more nervous as the fighting in Iraq escalated this month.

But it's their public criticism that has the nation's biggest veteran's group worried. Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Washington-based Veterans of Foreign Wars says families' vocal opposition to the war could hurt the troops.

"We'd just like all family members to be aware that it's tough on a deployed member to have their attention focused in two different direction," he said. "Right now, they're focused on accomplishing their mission and not letting their buddies down. Anything on the home front that could detract from their primary focus could jeopardize them."

When asked in how the criticism could affect a soldier's lack of concentration, Mr. Davis replied, "Not focusing on the mission at hand. Attention to detail. A number of things."

Recent national opinion surveys show waning support for the U.S. presence in Iraq. Newsweek magazine and CNN/Time surveys show about 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the U.S. military occupation.