Askville: Veteran turned protester

The mock raid goes down like this: A couple of guys in gray-green military fatigues burst into the room, yelling. They’ve got their arms extended. Their forefingers and middle fingers form the point of an imaginary gun. They shout down a couple of people dressed in the traditional garb of an Islamic country and force them to their knees. The guys in fatigues keep yelling and whisk away the frightened detainees.

When it’s done, Jason Hurd, who helped stage the performance, asserts that what you’ve just witnessed resembles daily encounters between American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

Jason Hurd Photo by Jason Sandford

Hurd, 28, should know. As a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Regimental Combat Team, he served a stint in Iraq beginning in December 2004, working with a unit in Baghdad’s “green zone.” The Kingsport, Tenn., native returned to his home state in November 2005, disillusioned with the military and the war in Iraq. He earned a philosophy degree at East Tennessee State University and began speaking out against the war, then moved to Asheville, where he helped start a local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Using mock raids, speeches and one-on-one discussions with other Iraq veterans, Hurd says he’s trying to “stir up that spirit” of activism that he hopes will lead to the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

“If America can see the suffering that we are putting these people through, we would be out of Iraq immediately,” he insists.

Mountain Xpress: When did you join the Army?
Jason Hurd: In 1997, I was an average student and tired of school and was trying to figure out what to do. So a friend—his brother had signed a contract with the Army—invited us to a recruiting event. … So I went and enjoyed myself.
I went home and I told my dad, “Look, I want to sign up with the Army. I think it’s the best thing for me.” And my dad was one of the most right-wing, conservative, gun-loving nuts that you could meet. And he thought that it was America’s responsibility to police the world and he thought wars were fine. He thought that America’s wars were fine. But he didn’t think that when it came to his son. Looking back on it, I could tell he knew the negative consequences of war.

So your father was in the service?
These are the two World War II battles he fought in [points to a tattoo on his forearm]: Tarawa and Guadalcanal. He had same tattoo on his forearm. He was in the Second Marine Division.

He never would finish a story about any of his combat experience. He would always break down and cry before he could finish one. … Tarawa is just this little three-and-a-half-mile-wide island in the Pacific [and] there was just a ton of Japanese machine-gun nests on this island. … Well, about half a mile off the island out in the water is a reef and they didn’t know about it, and all their boats got hung on this reef and they couldn’t go forward. So the Marines had to dive over the sides and wade through a half-mile of water under heavy machine-gun fire. … It was kind of like the Omaha Beach of the Pacific campaign. It was just a bloody mess.

How old were you when you joined?
I was 17. I turned 18 a few days into boot camp.

What was basic training like?
I actually enjoyed basic training. I thought it was fun. I don’t think I had as rough of a basic training as some people can. If you’re in an all-male basic-training unit, they tend to be rougher on you. But luckily, being a medic, I had females in my basic-training unit, and so they didn’t seem to mess with us as much. … It was very challenging. It made me pierce through barriers I didn’t think I could ever pierce through—physical barriers especially. So I enjoyed it. I didn’t want to leave.

What did you think of the Army?
About midway through my contract, I started getting really disillusioned with the Army. …  We started getting all these new lieutenants fresh out of college who hadn’t had a day in the Army, but they come to our unit and it’s up to the enlisted people to train them and get them up to speed. Some of these guys were my age, if not younger, and I didn’t like their leadership style. It tended towards keeping a soldier’s self-esteem low so you keep him submissive. I started seeing that as sort of pervasive in the Army. In a lot of ways it’s a—I’m trying to think of a nonoffensive way to say this—but you know, it’s to see whose penis is longer. It’s a power struggle.

How did you get the news of your deployment to Iraq?
[Hurd had finished his active duty assignment with the Second Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Wash., and returned to Tennessee, where he joined the Tennessee National Guard.]

In March of 2004, I was at the house, and my platoon sergeant called me and was like, “Hey Jason, I’ve got some news for you. We’ve come down on orders to go to Iraq.” And at first I thought he was really kidding with me. I was like, “Whatever, quit it. Cut the bullshit. What are you calling me about? What’s up? Are we changing drill dates or something?” He was like, “No Jason, I’m serious. We’re going to Iraq.” I just hung up the phone. I didn’t say anything.

What was your feeling about going to Iraq?
I did not agree with the war from the start. I never thought a good case was made for us to invade Iraq.

What was Iraq like?
When I got there, I saw all of this just horrendous suffering all over the place.

What struck you most?
We were harming the people we’re purportedly helping. We’re ruining their lives. And I try to explain to people in the South this way: If a foreign occupying force came here in the Southeast and invaded—regardless of what they claimed, regardless of whether they told us they were trying to free us or that they were here for our own good, or any of that—do you not think that every person in the hills that owns a shotgun would come down and defend their land and their families? And usually, I’ll see light bulbs going off. They kind of get it at that point. And that’s what’s happening in Iraq.

What do the members of your former unit think of your activism?
To this day, the worst response that I get from them is, “Look, some of us may not agree with what you’re saying. We all agree that you’ve got the facts correct, but we don’t necessarily agree with what you think the consequences are.” I think this is wrong for America. They think it’s OK for America—some of them. But they always say, “But if anyone’s got the right to say the stuff you’re saying, it’s you. You’ve been there. You were beside us.”

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15 thoughts on “Askville: Veteran turned protester

  1. khyber Pass

    The Jasons of America are the real war heroes.
    My Special Services relative is doing the job he was hired for every time he’s shipped off to Iraq, but I don’t think of him as a hero. He tells me that his 3 year old son will be serving over there and maybe his grandson. He’s on the ground and knows the score. Americans who have not been there– and who believe the govt. propaganda– support this fiasco out of ignorance.

    I’m glad Jason made the comparison with people in the south of this country and that people will read it and ever more light bulbs go off all over the country. I make the same comparison whenever I have the opportunity.

    America is losing its soul and Jason is fighting to hold onto that soul. May he live long and prosper.

  2. Barry Summers

    Jason is a real inspiration – I’m surprised that this article didn’t mention his testimony at the recent Winter Soldiers hearing in Washington, which was carried nationally on Democracy Now!, or his own work on WPVM’s “Veterans Voices”. Keep it up, Jason!

  3. I don’t understand why Jason is wearing a 1st Cav combat patch if he was in the Tennessee National Guard? As a Vietnam vet who served proudly in the 1st Cav IN combat, I DO have the right to wear the patch on the right shoulder.

    While I respect his opinions (after all so many millions of us have fought so that he could express them), I pretty much disagree with him. He’s still a bit young to see the full scope of history and to really understand obligation to home and hearth, to your country, and such things as honor and duty and the thousand-year fight against Islamic terrorism (read about Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours in 732 — the west HAS been fighting fighting militant Islam for over 10 centuries).

    However (and again in historical context) his statement “… And I try to explain to people in the South this way: If a foreign occupying force came here in the Southeast and invaded …” is true. In 1861 when the blue-clad troops of a foreign power invaded the South, we fought bravely to repel them (and by ‘we’ I mean my direct ancestors). But America came back together (pretty much) and we of the South have always been in the forefront of those that fight against oppression across the world.

    It’s just not as SIMPLE a black and white stand on morality as war protesters in the Vietnam era and those against the Iraq war today try to make it out.

    Freedom is not something you get without constant effort and vigilance.

  4. P-38

    Well I can’t wait for the Mountain Express to interview one or more members of the “Vets For Freedom” organization. But since I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen, here’s what those Iraqi veterans have to say about the Iraq war, and their experiences over there. Because I’m sure the Mountain Express would “never” give just one side of a story. (cough,choke) Yeah! Right!

    VETS ON THE HILL 2008 – “LET THEM WIN”
    http://www.vetsforfreedom.org/heroestour/voth_signup.aspx

    April 8 2008 – Over “400″ veterans from the Iraq and Afghan fronts surged through the halls of congress sharing the ground truths of their ‘boots on the ground’ experience with their Representatives and Senators. Vets for Freedom members from 48 states took part in almost 400 meetings with Senators and Representatives, and were present and mentioned during Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus’ testimony before the Senate.

    At a press conference before the event, the message was clear – commitment to completion of the mission and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    http://www.vetsforfreedom.org/heroestour/bestof.aspx

    See what some Veterans feel about the Lefts continuing disingenuous statement of “support the soldier, but hate the war.”

    WATCH THEIR NATIONAL HEROES TOUR VIDEO
    http://www.vetsforfreedom.org/heroestour/bestof.aspx

    And in case you don’t watch the video, I’ll paraphrase the Iraqi Vet. “Saying you support the soldiers, but hate the war, is like punching a fellow employee in the gut, and saying, that punch really wasn’t for you, “I like you.” That was for your boss.” How disingenuous can you get!

    Readers of the M.E. also might want to check out Michael Yon’s website and “Online Magazine” — Dispatches from Iraq.

    (FROM WIKIPEDIA)
    Michael Yon is an American author, independent reporter, and blogger. He has been embedded on numerous occasions with American and British troops in Iraq, most prominently with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (Deuce Four) of the 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, Iraq, a deployment that ended in September 2005. He continues to blog from Iraqi towns and battlefields.

    Yon’s criticism of U.S. leadership during the early days of the Iraqi insurgency, the U.S. military twice banned Yon from Iraq. Among Yon’s targets for criticism are military officials who, in his view, hamper independent reporting from the theater. In particular, Yon has accused LTC Barry A. Johnson of US Central Command of “a subtle but all too real censorship” and “ineptitude in handling the press
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Yon

    (MICHAEL YON’S DISPATCH FROM IRAQ)

    Thanks and Praise
    Tuesday, 06 November 2007
    MICHAEL YON

    The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. ” Thank you, thank you,” the people were saying. One man said, “Thank you for peace.” Another man, a Muslim, said “All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.” The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers. (Videotape to follow.)

    Thanks and Praise: I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John’s Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome.

    A Muslim man had invited the American soldiers from “Chosen” Company 2-12 Infantry to the church, where I videotaped as Muslims and Christians worked and rejoiced at the reopening of St John’s, an occasion all viewed as a sign of hope.

    The Iraqis asked me to convey a message of thanks to the American people. ” Thank you, thank you,” the people were saying. One man said, “Thank you for peace.” Another man, a Muslim, said “All the people, all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.” The men and women were holding bells, and for the first time in memory freedom rang over the ravaged land between two rivers. (Videotape to follow.)
    http://www.michaelyon-online.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373:thanks-and-praise&catid=63:archive-2007&Itemid=108

    MORE FROM MICHAEL YON…

    Let’s ‘Surge’ Some More
    By MICHAEL YON
    April 11, 2008;

    (EXCERPTS)
    I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.

    The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about “GoArmy.com.”

    As the outrages of Abu Ghraib faded in memory – and paled in comparison to al Qaeda’s brutalities – and our soldiers under the Petraeus strategy got off their big bases and out of their tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, American values began to win the war.

    Iraqis came to respect American soldiers as warriors who would protect them from terror gangs. But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic, school or a neighborhood. They learned that the American soldier is not only the most dangerous enemy in the world, but one of the best friends a neighborhood can have.

    We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can’t do it from inside a jet or a tank.

    Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120787343563306609.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

  5. Barry Summers

    “Saying you support the soldiers, but hate the war, is like punching a fellow employee in the gut, and saying, that punch really wasn’t for you, “I like you.” That was for your boss.” How disingenuous can you get!

    Implying that an American citizen can’t criticize a choice to go to war is despicable. This country was founded on the right and the duty to speak out. That duty is all the more pressing when lives are on the line, and the course of human events is being wrenched towards disaster, as in the case of this illegal war for oil. You shame all who wear the uniform when you say that I can’t criticize my government. Why do you hate America?

  6. Another curious fact in the above story (in addition to the question about proper use of combat patch) has been pointed out to me.

    Mr. Hurd, according to the article is 28 years old, meaning he was born circa 1980. If Hurd’s father indeed did fight in World War II he would have been something like 18 in 1945, making him 53 in 1980.

    Just wondering… that’s kinda old even for a Marine (the two battles mentioned were fought by the Marines) to be starting a family.

    Doesn’t really matter. Mr. Hurd went over and fought, he’s entitled to grouse but I’m entitled to disagree a bunch with his positions. After all, my father fought in the Revolutionary War and fathered me when he was 206. ;-)

  7. P-38

    >>Implying that an American citizen can’t criticize a choice to go to war is despicable.< <

    Exactly where was that implied??

    >>This country was founded on the right and the duty to speak out. That duty is all the more pressing when lives are on the line, and the course of human events is being wrenched towards disaster, as in the case of this illegal war for oil.< <

    Who's stopping anyone from speaking out. I see it every week in Asheville, and at almost every Congressional hearing on the Iraq war. Anti war protesters speak out continually, as is their right. Every hear of Code Pink? Women in Black? etc, etc. So stop with the whining, manufactured victimization of someone's free speech being suppressed .

    It's been well documented that most of the worlds leaders thought Saddam had WMDs, and that includes the Democrat leadership, and elected Democrats in office. So I will not go into that tired debate.

    And again, where was it said that criticism of our government should not be allowed? No! What you want is to silence those that appose your position, by playing the Marxist card of political correctness. And whining that someone is silencing you by criticizing your arguments.

    >>You shame all who wear the uniform when you say that I can’t criticize my government. < <

    And you sir shame the Bill of Rights, and the right of "free speech." And that free speech includes your right to dissent, and mine, and others right to criticize and disagree with your position on the war.

    Are those against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan above criticism, or any disagreements concerning their position on the war? I think not!

    >>Why do you hate America?<<

    Maybe you should email “The Vets For Freedom” and ask them that question.

  8. khyber Pass

    My father fought in the desert among the arabs in WWII.
    My nephew has served multiple tours in this fiasco run by people who are ignorant of the culture they have invaded and don’t have the grit of the brits who took over most of the civilized world during their empire days. (Notice how short a time their empire lasted).
    My dad is now retired and reading every book in the library. So, someone wants to figure out how old any of us are? Big deal. Some really old guys are fathering kids these days….especially when they have young trophy wives.

    My husband and I had only two BAs and one MA between us–so just of average intelligence. We watched Colin Powell’s statement to the UN on WMD and saw through the sham. Talk about weasel words and phony illustrations! WE were smart enough to see the lies. How come so many others–who claim to be smart enough to run this country — were duped by Cheney-Rumsfled and their propaganda machine? Colin Powell even knew better and didn’t have the dignity to resign rather than be used to justify and illegal unwarranted invasion of a country that was pretty well nailed to a board.

    Sometimes, it helps to study a little history (The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire–propagandistas of WWII Germany–British creation of Iraq—the Gilded Age industrialists–Germany after WWI, etc….) and to stand back and get the big picture. And stop quibbling about small irrelevant stuff.

    This country is on the fast downhill slide to perdition and some are ignoring the big picture.

    Which might just include someone in DC figuring out that Russia and China are on the move and the US needs a base out that way to counteract their power….. scratch deeper, guys and quit offending and taking offense, maybe?

  9. khyber Pass

    Not that I’m implying Jason’s mom was a trophy wife when she had him. But someone should give her a trophy for raising a son like Jason. He’s a credit to her.

  10. Barry Summers

    >>Implying that an American citizen can’t criticize a choice to go to war is despicable.< <

    >Exactly where was that implied??<

    Here: “Saying you support the soldiers, but hate the war, is like punching a fellow employee in the gut…”

    Here’s how this argument goes: “Oh, you’re hurting the soldier’s morale, and you want them to lose, and you want their sacrifice to be in vain, and you want to cut off their funding, leaving them to die in the desert because they don’t have any ammo, because you want the terrorists to win.” This has been a favorite tactic of those who can’t stand real criticism of the choice to go to war, and it’s an act of cowardice.

    I never said anything like “whining that someone is silencing” me.” No one is “silencing” me; what is happening with this cowardly argument is “demonizing.” Demonizing is trying to discredit an argument by making the person waging it look like a jerk, in this case, by saying that if I criticize the war, I’m hurting the soldiers.

    You should be ashamed of yourself for taking advantage of military families’ very real fears, sorrows, and sacrifice, just to defend your war. These soldiers should never have been sent there to die in the first place.

  11. P-38

    >>Here: “Saying you support the soldiers, but hate the war, is like punching a fellow employee in the gut…” < <

    You have a problem with the Freedom Vets, not
    anyone else. That was their statement. And again no one is suppressing your right of dissent. Your using a fallacious argument. Nowhere did anyone say you “CAN’T” (your word) criticize. So as you can see, it’s a bogus argument from the start.

    For myself, I was very conflicted about going into Iraq. Still have reservations. But now that were there I want a good outcome. Having a half way stable Iraq is good for everyone. It’s good for us, it’s good for the world, and it’s good for the Iraqis. And I also respect the “majority” of soldiers and Vets that feel we are doing a good thing, and believe in the mission. I will weigh my opinion of the course of the war on how the vast “majority” of Vets and soldiers feel about the conflict. And most of the ones I’ve seen believe in the mission. Such as the VETS FOR FREEDOM.

    >>Here’s how this argument goes: “Oh, you’re hurting the soldier’s morale, and you want them to lose, and you want their sacrifice to be in vain, and you want to cut off their funding, leaving them to die in the desert because they don’t have any ammo, because you want the terrorists to win.” This has been a favorite tactic of those who can’t stand real criticism of the choice to go to war, and it’s an act of cowardice.< <

    Wow what a great argument! I’ll have to use it next time. Again a fallacious argument, implying you’re a victim of suppression. If someone “were” to believe your premise, then what your saying is, you demand that they shut up. No one should be allowed to disagree with your stance on the war. And how dare anyone criticize your position. Oh Please! Get over yourself! You should rejoice that people can disagree, as I rejoice that you have the right to dissent. You go boy!

    >>what is happening with this cowardly argument is “demonizing.” Demonizing is trying to discredit an argument by making the person waging it look like a jerk,< <

    Sir if anyone is demonizing someone it is you. All you can do is call people cowardly and despicable that disagree with you. I’ve not used any invectives towards you. And if anyone has made you look like a jerk, "it's you."
    Ever hear of the quote, “I disagree with you vehemently, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” It seems you don’t want anyone to have that right, if they don’t agree with you. And oh what a blow to the Lefts agenda if Iraq was stabilized.

    >>You should be ashamed of yourself for taking advantage of military families’ very real fears, sorrows, and sacrifice, just to defend your war. These soldiers should never have been sent there to die in the first place.<<

    Not my war buddy! And not taking advantage of anyone. What the heck are yo talking about? Once again you suppose more than you know. And as I said “you” have a problem with the Vets For Freedom, not with me. The very soldiers that you espouse to support. Talk to them about your crocodile tears for the soldier’s families. What have you done to help the soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or their families? The only organizations that are helping the soldiers and their families are the ones that believe in the mission, and truly love the military and the soldiers. So once again contact the Vets For Freedom, and give them your whining sob story of “I support the troops, but hate the war.” See if you can debate and win that argument with them.

    Yeah! You Go Boy!!

    Oh and by the way, just disregard and ignore any and all good news coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan from the troops, and reporters like Michael Yon. It just wouldn’t fit your indoctrinated Marxist agenda.

  12. khyber Pass

    While Barry and PB-38 continue their exchange I would like to point out to any spectators of of this verbal gladiatoral combat that those of us against this war are mostly moderate centrist citizens, not Marxists. And we are bright enough to recognize the party line of
    FOX/Limbaugh/HannityNorth/Coulter/Savage/O’Reilly and all the rest of the right wing propaganda machine that has done such harm to his country over the last few decades. From turning us against each other through the use of catch phrases that no one dissects and thinks about, to the election of one president on the verge of senility and another with a brain made of oatmeal. The release of the dogs onto the one who could have done so much for us kept him too busy and too surrounded by political enemies to let him tend to the needs of the country. And our people seem to have learned nothing!!!

    In my own case, I despise the speculators, profiteers, warmongers and haters of our democracy who have brought us to this situation where the nation is imploding while the good citizens of our country fight each other with cudgels devised and financed by these scumbags. As long as they can keep us divided, instead of united, they win and we lose. Already each and every citizen–man-woman-child– is in debt for somewhere around $100,000. to pay for this nation-destroying fiasco.
    Will someone throw the contents of the coffeepot on our local combatants so they will wake up and take a sniff.
    America as we know it is being destroyed from within by the people who laugh all the way to the banks in the Caymen Islands while avoiding taxes and responsibility for tearing us part.
    Watch what the right wing conservative Supremes are doing. Watch which corporations are cleaning out your wallets. Watch who the war jingoists are and how they are profiting. Watch how are returning troops are treated. Watch who is telling us that our people deserve less good treatment than the people of all other long-civilized countries. Watch the MONEY, and stop listening to the crap on tv and try to think through all this.

    As one who has made quilts for the cots of injured soldiers, collected blankets for them so they can sleep in the cold A/C of the Raleigh airport on returning from the heat of the desert, and who has bought heavy duty trousers for an army special forces team because the Army had no replacements for them, I have shown whom I support. My bumper sticker still says bring them home from this stupid, immoral, destructive, and divisive war.

    If you want a war, campaign for the draft, so everyone gets a chance to fight it, not just the poor guys who signed up for national guard to help pay the freaking bills……and NOT to go fight for their lives in a god-forsaken desert on the other side of the globe.

  13. Barry Summers

    A) I’m not a Marxist;
    B) I’m sorry that you’re so conflicted about supporting this disaster that you and others have to resort to this crap;
    C) I have done my share to help veterans, but won’t share it here, as some troll (not necessarily you, P-38) will try to ruin it);
    D) You win.

  14. chris kindle

    Jason was in the regular army first, then the national guard. Hey old “friend” if ur reading give me a holar on email. I just joined the 278th 4 mos ago. 68 w medic, i am being delayed on my ship date. but i would love to talk to you. I read like a hundred articles. your famous now. one said you live in ft benning Ga. I have got a best friend down there. He gets out of army in like 3 weeks. anyways we miss you and have tried to call you. We even have a christmas gift from about 4 yrs ago for you. me , john summer and susan all love you and support you ok. good luck. holar back.

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