Monday, December 04, 2017

After Action Report: SOA Watch Encuentro Fronterizo 11/11/2017 Nogales Az y Sonora, Mex

Willie Hager
Managing Editor

Nogales, Az y Sonora, Mex, 11/10 - 11/11, 2017 - As the Veterans For Peace (VFP) National Deported Veterans Advocacy Project, our dedicated mission was to deploy VFP's recently Chartered Mexico chapter, the Baja Sgt. Barrios Memorial Chapter 986, from Tijuana to Sonora, and home again.  This would entail fundraising for travel, lodging, and meals. So we had a conference call with the VFP National Office and after a healthy discussion, we all mutually agreed that we would do whatever we could to make this mission happen, and become a success. To that end, we were indeed collectively successful, including generous donations from San Diego  Hugh Thompson Memorial Chapter 091, the VFP National Board, and many others small donors as well.

The greatest challenge for VFP to that success was the fact that the dates for Encuentro 2017 had been changed since last year from mid-October to November 10 - 12. Our chapters participate in Veterans Day (Armistice Day) parades, events, and actions all around the country on November 11. In addition, VFP has a current National Campaign to change the name of the day back to the original Armistice Day. So, it was immediately recognized that VFP would not have the resources or the members available for this SOAW as they had in over 25 years in the past.

VFP Sgt. Barrios Memorial Chapter 986 and Allies, Sonora, Mex 11-11-2017, stepped up and presented a very visible VFP presence at Encuentro 2017. While there, the Chapter would supply speakers for both sides of the border. They would also set up a Deported Veterans Workshop on the Sonora Mexico side. They would be joined on the US side by representatives of  Veterans For Peace Chapters; 191 - San Diego Ca., 174 - Jax Florida, 170 - Savannah Georgia, 055 - Sante Fe NM, 69 - San Francisco, and the Unified US Deported Veterans, Boulder Co Barracks, among others. It should be noted that our Baja Chapter 986 is also affiliated with Unified US Deported Veterans Baja Barracks, as the VFP Sgt. Barrios Memorial Chapter 986. Maurice Martin, VFP East Bay Chapter 162 and Charter Member of the VFP National Deported Veterans Advocacy Project, was the Operations Coordinator for the travel to and from and coordinating on the ground in Sonora on behalf of Chapter 986. We owe him gratitude for his outstanding efforts on behalf of a successful mission.

So, on Saturday 11-11-2017 we began to gather early on the steps of the Americana Hotel in Nogales, AZ for a 9 a.m., in order to jump off on time for our second SOAW Veterans For Peace March on, and across the border to interact in music, speeches, and workshops on the Sonora side of the border.  Pictured below are the Brothers Valenzuela, Manuel and Valente, representing Boulder Co Barracks of Unified US Deported Veterans, Susan Sandoval - Media Coordinator for the Brothers, and myself - Coordinator Veterans For Peace Deported Veterans Advocacy Project. 


At 9 a.m. there were intro speakers from various groups of the SOAW coalition regarding cross-border protocols and order of March.
 I did a short welcome for all the Veterans For Peace Members, and then; with banners unfurled and flags flying, we were all on our way to Mexico. 
As we approached the border, folks who were going to rally on the US side of the stage turned right to march alongside the US side of the Wall. Manuel Valenzuela continued to march with these folks, as he was to speak on the US side, Valente crossed with us. When we crossed the border, there were over a hundred people who crossed over with us and marched to the stage area on the Sonora side of the Border.


   Our Deported  Veterans speakers were scheduled in to be the final speakers, at 11:45 a.m.  When it came time, VFP Chapter 986 and allies mounted the stage together with flags and banners unfurled:


The crowd was fired up after a morning of music and speakers and we were very well received. All I that I saw and heard from the stage was jubilant UNITY, from marchers, musicians, and speakers alike.  When we were introduced on stage, Hector Lopez and Robert Vivar shared our introduction, touching on the Chapter mission, and acknowledging the VFP National Reclaim Armistice Day campaign on 11/11/2017. After 
that introduction; Valente Valenzuela, in ASU Blues - was introduced on Sonora stage and at the same time, his brother Manuel, in his USMC Dress Blues - was introduced on the stage on the US side of the border wall.  Valente spoke in Spanish on the Sonora side while Manuel addressed the US crowd in English, simultaneously.  What a powerful unifying moment for all who were fortunate enough to be present. More to come on this in upcoming documentary production.

There was one exception to the uplifting spirit of unity; during the march, with a Pro-Palestinian group who had taken offense to VFP 986/Unified US Deported Veterans carrying the American flag during the march from the border to the stage, and we could hear them booing as we mounted the stage. For our Deported brother's and sisters, the American Flag is a symbol of their allegiance to America and their demonstration that they are not enemies of the state; but rather were while originally in uniform, champions of the state. Now they are in exile. It is symbolic of their worthiness to return to their home country, and their American families. This was a sign of divisiveness that I had not in any way expected or had encountered at SOAW in the five years that I had attended, either at Ft Benning, Ga or Nogales Encuentro. Our Chapter 986 Coordinators met with them afterward. They listened to the Palestinian groups' reasoning,  and in turn, shared their perspective on the topic. I was informed later in the day that they all parted friends as a result of 986's outreach.

The morning had been both festive and deadly serious. The afternoon was reserved for workshops to be held at a school across the street from the wall in Sonora, just up the street from the stage.  Time was growing short as we rounded everybody up and hustled up to the school to set up our Deported Veterans Workshop, in Sonora. When we arrived at the school, our film crew was already there waiting for us. They always seemed to know where to be, while we were still figuring things out. They kept up this pace for two days straight. I suspect after spending a couple of days in her company, that Media Coordinator, Susana Sandoval, had a lot to do with that. Once on site at the school, they filmed the workshop from set up until closing, for their production.

Robert Vivar, Co-Director of Unified US Deported Veterans Resource/Information Center in Tijuana BC was the moderator for our workshop:

 Robert Vivar Workshop Moderator welcomes attendees...

Velente Velenzuela, Panelist and Robert Vivar, Moderator

Hector Lopez, Panelist


                                  Rock Hernandez , Panelist

Thanks to all of our members and allies that marched across the border and attended second Deported Veterans Workshop in Sonora, making it a success for our second year with SOAW Encuentro 2017

After closing up the workshop, we gathered all of our folks up and headed to the Hotel San Marco, where our veterans and allies from Tijuana were based. There was a restaurant at the hotel, and we decided to gather together for some after action comida and fellowship, before those who had crossed returned to the US side of the border.

After a great lunch together, a few tears, and a lotta hugs; Tommy Griffin, VFP 170 and
Member of VFP National Deported Veterans Project Steering Committee and I were on our way back across the border, feeling fired up for the next opportunity to highlight our mission. We will gather again in Tijuana in late January, following the VFP Board meeting in San Diego on the 26th.  Now though, Tommy and I loaded up and drove across the border to rest up for our return trip to the East Coast, in the morning...this was the scene with the sun setting in the west, as we crossed back into the US at the Nogales crossing.

Preview Image


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reflections on 10th Anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, and the Continuing war in Iraq

Ten Years and Counting in Afghanistan...

Ten Years and counting in Afghanistan, U.S. troops still bogged down in Iraq after eight years, and a country deeply divided politically, ideologically, and now, even religiously, as a result. What a cluster fuck!

How did we get here?  Well, it wasn't easy; we had to work at it in order to position ourselves to be right back where we were following the Gingrich Revolution in Congress in the early 80s; it isn't just happenstance that we here we are again, caught up in mix of a retro Gilded Age, and a painful re-emergence of Nixonian forces and money creeping back into the halls and back rooms of our government. Forces who still threaten our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. 

I suggest that we are here, back from the future, because we as political and social activists have became complacent and self indulgent following our major victories of the 60s and 70s, to name a just a few; the end of the Vietnam War, the breaking down of racial barriers to voting, and the other civil rights victories of the day, including the end of the Draft, the end of domestic spying and political disruption by the FBI COINTEL Program, the downfall of Nixon, and the imprisoning of some, but not all, of his thugs. We in fact, recovered our Constitution, and re-instated the proper application of the Bill of Rights to our society. For reflection on what I think happened, I make the case for how the left actually became complacent and politically self indulgent in a piece that I wrote in 2005 entitled "The Cracker Swamp Manifesto". 

But this discussion has more to do with the future, than with the past. We can't know where we're going, if we don't know where we've been  A quick look back for reference at what has worked and what  has not is called for, whenever doing any kind of strategical planning for the future, whether it is personal or political. None of what I describe above regarding our foreign policy, and the retaking of congress by the Repugs and NEOCONs could have happened, in my considered opinion, if the left hadn't of become a Babylon of minority interest groups fighting among themselves over political power and money.  They sold the power of their all important UNITY in exchange for organizational, political, and cause oriented agendas and political careers that ultimately positioned them into being as ineffective as they were prior to the American social and political revolution of the 60s and 70s, as the "whole" morphed into minority special interest groups of society.  The big losers? The American people.

To my way of thinking these groupings became as a whole so distracted and fragmented with politically correct self indulgence, that they lost the hearts and minds of the American people. The very hearts and minds (and votes) that that these groups as a grand and unified coalition of ant-war and social and political justice activists had fought so hard for so many years to win. These fragmented groups, not unlike the Repugs and Neocons, and most recently the Teabaggers, turned their backs on all who disagreed with their particular doctrine, whether it be a racial, political, or religious platform.  But most importantly, they turned their backs on the American people in favor of their particular constituencies and careers. This dynamic was the birth of political correctness as we have came know it in our country. Prior to this rebirth, here; political correctness had originally a strategy of Mao's Red Guard in the Great Leap Forward in China.Here,it's re-birth ultimately became the death knell for all of our efforts and successes of the 60s and 70s.

In face of all of the above, it is my considered conclusion that this Administration's current strategies aren't going to change until we as a "movement" change our's. Collective GASP!!!  I know, I know, this is politically incorrect thinking.  But, it is my critical thinking assessment that the current, and now decades old, strategies of the left must take on a new profile. This has to happen if we are to have any hope of success in saving our nation from it's second post modern  political Dark Age and the continued decline of the age of free thinking, free speech, and Constitutional democracy. 

Here in the 21st century we need to develop our own strategies that are more pragmatic in their direction and application. That is not to say that militancy, fiery rhetoric, and occasionally manning of the barricades, is not critical to this process; it is to say that our militancy has to be more pragmatic than symbolic, our rhetoric based in empirical thinking and objective truth, as well as documentable evidence of that truth. It needs to incorporate clearly defined and realistically achievable demands and goals. Most importantly, it must appeal to more than those of one's particular organization, race, religion, ideology, and/or political party affiliation.  it must be designed to democratically find the core issues that are common to all of us and rally around them in unity of purpose, and leave the ideological, racial, organizational, religious, and personal differences at the door. The keys to success in my paradigm are Unity of Purpose and Mission Focus

We are after all, all in this together; and we cannot succeed without mutual support, and the support and votes of the American people, who, as evidenced by history, we are potentially able to educate to the truth of our anti-war social justice agenda, and how it applies to them as individuals, and as citizens. To my way of thinking, in today's world this is best achieved by speaking with them, rather that at them.  They must want to join with us and take action, not be verbally bludgeoned or shamed into it. So it is our responsibility to sort out what they agree with us on, and what they disagree with us on, and act accordingly in incorporating their energy and votes into our struggle. 

My other other major consideration is the diminished impact of "mass" demonstrations and rallies in Washington D.C., where we all go occasionally to "confront" the powers that be on their home turf, and get ourselves arrested , or rather; arrange with the police to let ourselves be arrested, celebrities and authors first, in hope that someone out there in the hinterland will see how truly oppressive our government is to those who dare to speak truth to power, in spite of the fact that the buildings we are confronting are empty, and the mainstream media is in conspicuous absence. It's Kabuki Theater rather than Guerrilla Theater to me, and in spite of it's repetitiveness nothing ever seems to come out of it, except some great photos and action reports on  the underground internet activist blogs, and in the foreign press. 

I can only conclude that the government actually welcomes this activity anymore, since they are much more equipped to deal with then they were, forty years ago. They send everyone home for the day so that they can't be accessed or confronted by the revolutionary forces in the street. They reinforce the police ranks with crowd control trained riot police and ariel surveillance, and everyone gets overtime.  Then theythey work closely with civil disobedience organizers   

Stressors from Anonymous...

Stressors. You don't know you have them til that tripwire gets stepped on.... jezus, I'm still shaking.....

I did 20 or so funeral escorts for KIA with the Patriot Guard Riders out of Dago. 5 or 6 a year.... they were all every one different. You would never know a tragedy was driving by but for the growl of all the harleys. A few times it was the family, the military honour guard, and us. 

One time we got a mission that turned out to be a hell of a rainy day, 8 of us showed up at a funeral home in El Cajon. The military honour guard couldn't make it, it fell to us to work out being pall bearers, we found our senior NCO- and old Marine tanker, and he counted cadence low, while we carried the casket out to the hearse for the trip to the cemetery. We went by his ma, white as paper, dad, bewildered, and his young girlfriend, wrapped in a fatigue jacket way to big for her, mascara running black stripes of grief down her young face. That was it. We followed the hearse in the rain, knowing there was someone much colder than we on that run, three people who were more miserable than we could ever know .....

Always different. Sometimes some of the soldiers squad mates are there, sometimes not. The Cav has its traditions, the Marines, Rangers.... but the families are all the same. But different. Wives holding newborns walked down our line, thanking each of us for honouring her man..... that was rough, that. Mothers, eyes filled with tears, thanking us. Wives. Little sisters. Grandparents.......... strangers cared enough, and understood their senseless loss. 

Sometimes we'd meet the planes on the tarmac, and be at attention when the awful reality for families can no longer be denied, and that box with all their hopes and dreams, dead now, gets slid out of the cargo bay. 

One of our regular members lost her own son, and Ive stood across from her in the flag line, watching her struggle and win the fight to keep her composure, and was able to keep mine thereby. 

So I did this again and again, and was starting to ..........get to the edge of my .......sanity. Composure. Ability to maintain, and Tanya got this job in Canada, and I had an honourable way out. 
And while I carried that around, I really had no idea how much of a hole it had eaten in my heart, til about 40 minutes ago, when by chance I came across a movie... "Taking Chance" about a Marine officer and the dead kid he is escorting home.

I came on it at a scene where the coffin is coming off the plane, no sappy music, no wails of grief, just people standing there, the passengers just realizing what was happening.....
And I went to pieces. I don't do that. 

Stressors. Never know when you'll trip one.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How's The War Economy Working For You? War, you say? What War? The continuing War of Empire, say I...

Privatize the Empire

By: Michael Orange
Submitted 7/16/13 to VetSpeak

With the patriotic Fourth of July and Memorial Day commemorations of our wars now behind us, it is also a time to ponder the terrible costs of war. As an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam, I know of them first hand. I offer a solution that will halt injuries to our troops and please conservatives: Privatize the Empire.

Conservatives argue that the private sector is inherently more efficient than the public sector. Since the Reagan Administration, they have stepped up efforts to privatize aspects of the traditional “commons”—schools, airports, police and fire services, parks, the postal service, health care, public works projects, prisons, etc. War is no exception. Private contractors and mercenaries have consistently outnumbered US troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I say outsource them all so our troops can come home to defend this country.

Obviously, the government sector is inefficient at waging war. Our war on Iraq resulted in a devastated corrupted country, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, millions of refugees, trillions of wasted dollars, and death and trauma to our own troops. One in five Iraqi children dies due to disease, malnutrition, and unsafe water.

A private sector cost-benefit analysis would have dismissed these wars against our enemy—al-Qaida (a private sector entity) as folly from the start. The vast majority of al-Qaida leaders have been “fired” not by the gross hammer of our military (which creates enemies faster than they can kill them) but by the surgical precision of our intelligence services. Years ago, Mafia kingpins dominated the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but we never invaded Sicily under the slogan of “We're fighting them there, so we don't have to fight them here.”

We spend more on the military than all other countries combined. If the Pentagon scaled back to what it needs for actual defense, imagine the savings! It could sell most of the 737 bases we maintain in foreign countries and have a fire sale worth trillions in surplus planes, ships, tanks, and explosives—everything the oil industry, for example, would need to take over the job of securing their private supply lines. Why waste time on diplomacy when the industry can afford to buy whatever political influence it needs—just as it does here. I’m sure the countries that have “our oil under their sand” would prefer to deal with CEOs directly and avoid the risk of regime change by a fickle public sector middleman like a US President.

Conservatives say they hate public subsidies because they create an uneven playing field. The oil industry is the richest in history yet the most subsidized. Why not eliminate their dependency on the public dole and unleash their gung ho competitive spirit in their own defense.

Conservative journalist, Eric Margolis, writes of bin Laden, al-Qaida’s CEO, “He repeatedly asserted that the only way to drive the U.S. from the Muslim world and defeat its satraps was by drawing Americans into a series of small but expensive wars that would ultimately bankrupt them. [We] ... rushed right into bin Laden’s trap.” So let’s get out! Privatize before they further radicalize. 

The hundreds of thousands of troops eligible for benefits already overwhelm our VA hospitals. The Army Times reported that, on average, 31 veterans a day try to kill themselves and 22 of them succeed—a suicide every 65 minutes. Over the past few years, more troops have died by their own hands than on our two main battlefields. Let’s privatize before more troops are traumatized.

We already privatized our elections and Congress. Why not the Empire? 

As a Marine in Vietnam, Michael Orange experienced combat in numerous search-and-destroy missions and patrols during his tour of duty (1969-70). In 2001, he published a memoir of his experiences, Fire in theHole: A Mortarman in VietnamHe teaches a class on the history of the Vietnam War at venues including the University of Minnesota's Compleat Scholar Program.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

After Action Report: Veterans For Peace 2013 Vietnam Tour


Everyone has their story; it is unique only to them. It is the combination of many experiences that make them who they are today and what they will be tomorrow. I traveled recently with a group of thirteen Americans to Viet Nam on a journey organized by Veterans for Peace, Chapter 160; some of the group was returning and some were visiting for the first time. There were teachers, writers, a lawyer, nurses, wives, a flight attendant, and veterans. We each made a $1,000 donation to be divided among different causes in Viet Nam to be decided by us at the flight attendant for Braniff International based out of Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield, CA. I was given the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and flew on planes carrying troops to Viet Nam by way of Hawaii, Guam, Philippines, Japan, and Okinawa. We would drop them in Saigon, Da Nang, or Cam Ranh Bay stay an hour to refuel and bring the returning troops home. On the flights over the GIs’ would be full of themselves and ready to kick butt. But the return was a quiet end of our journey. We each had our reasons for going and we each had life changing experiences that will remain with us. I was going for a very selfish reason. My husband had died on April 19, 2012, and I would be in Viet Nam on this one year anniversary of his death accomplishing something good in his name. This is my story.  
In 1966-67 I was a flight attendant for Braniff International based out of Travis AFB, near Fairfield, Ca. I was given the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and flew on planes carrying troops to Viet Nam by way of Hawaii, Guam, Philippines, Japan, and Okinawa. We would drop them in Saigon, Da Nang, or Cam Ranh Bay stay an hour to refuel and bring the returning troops home. On the flights over the GIs’ would be full of themselves and ready to kick butt. But the return was quiet.My guess; they just couldn’t believe they were really going home. Little did I realize this airplane was the start of a nightmare for these young men and women and that I was part of it?
The Viet Nam war was the loss of innocence. I thought as so many others did that I was doing a service for my country by volunteering to move to California and fly troops overseas. I was shielded by the horrors of war because I never stayed in Viet Nam, and I never brought the wounded home. I was only guaranteed 72 hours off between trips in the United States so scheduling would keep us out of the country flying. I never watched the news on TV in English, there was no CNN at the time, so I was unaware of the protests against the war. On the return flight the soldiers were so happy to see a round eye they treated us as goddesses. The flight crews were having a blast, seeing exotic places, eating strange foods, and partying like crazy. This moment in time is when I learned to drink alcohol, discovered birth control pills, but it was also the start of a new belief system that has stayed with me and has guided my life. No longer did I believe that you had to be baptized or be a Christian to go to heaven. I witnessed in these strange countries other religions just as holy as the religions in the United States so I became more tolerant of others and their belief systems and to treat others with respect and honor. Later in life I was lucky enough to find a partner that shared my beliefs and we spent the last fifteen years trying to make a difference in our community. When the trip to Viet Nam with Veterans for Peace presented me with an opportunity to make a difference for this country I could not wait to go and with the hope of a new direction in my life.
Upon arriving in Hanoi we had the pleasure of meeting our hosts, members of Veterans for Peace Chapter 160, Chuck Searcy, Don Blackburn, Manus Campbell, and later during the trip Chuck Palazzo and Mike Cull would join us. These men have chosen to return to Viet Nam and have dedicated their lives to working with victims of Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance (UXO). All of us though would consider our hero to be the incredible tour guide Truc who kept us on track, kept our luggage from being lost, and rescuing us from what could have been disasters. The code word in crossing a street was “Safety in Numbers.” When we stepped off the plane it became a whirl wind of action with every moment and meal planned and eaten. Our first stop was a quick shower at the hotel and then three meetings; one right after the other.
We presented our credentials to VAVN, Veterans Association of Viet Nam, second former Ambassador to the US, Nguyen Tam Chien and Bui Van Nghi representing Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization, our third meeting was at the American Embassy with Ambassador Shear. Chuck Searcy was our representative at these meetings and most of the other meetings on the trip. I cannot state how special I felt to be a part of this group of people. It was requested at these meetings that we be allowed to witness the cleanup of Agent Orange at Da Nang Airport which was eventually granted.
In Hanoi I was touched by the courage shown at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum where women are honored for their commitment to their country. I was humbled by the simple life of Ho Chi Minh and his dream for freedom for his country, enlightened and stressed by learning the horrors of Agent Orange. We spent an afternoon visiting Friendship Village, envisioned and founded by the late Viet Nam veteran George Mizo and now supported by former veterans and several countries. I met Mr. Long who is the size of an eight-year-old who teaches computer skills to students suffering from Agent Orange. We visited class-rooms where they were teaching children and adults’ subjects to survive and support themselves in their world with their many disabilities. You wanted to hold and comfort each one as your heart was breaking knowing that our government dropped this horrible poison causing such grief. From 1961 to 1971 80 million liters of toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange containing Dioxin was sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam causing unprecedented disaster to humans and nature. It is now in its fourth generation of causing birth defects.
I was honored to witness the veterans of both sides of this war meet each other for the first time with no malice or anger. I watched a North Vietnamese veteran take one of his medals’ off, prick his finger, place a drop of blood on Chuck Searcy’s shirt and then he pinned it on Chuck and shook his hand. They looked each other in the eye with only goodwill. This was the beginning when I felt a shift in the atmosphere and a sense the nightmares were just beginning to fade as each of us were confronting the past.
We flew out of Hanoi and took an airplane to Da Nang. Forty-five years does make a difference since I was there, a modern airport with a lobby and jet ways, but off in the distance you could still see the Quonset huts where we landed years ago.  Da Nang Airport, Bien Hoa, and Phu Cat have been identified as hot spots for Agent Orange. When an aircraft would take off with their load of Agent Orange, spray their target, and then it would return dumping any excess into the lakes and fields that were surrounding the airport. The locals would eat the fish and animals that lived in the areas changing their DNA, producing children which would be born with birth defects.  According to the LA Times May of 2013, the government has now said all military on the ground in Viet Nam may be affected by Agent Orange. USAID from the American People and Viet Nam are spending over $80,000,000 to clean up the land surrounding this airport. They are building a giant oven pyramid to cook the contaminated earth which will then be safe to use in construction projects, but will not have the nutrients to grow food.   
While in this area we visited the towns of Hue, Dong Ha, DMZ area, Quang Tri, A Luoi, Hoi An, tunnels of Vinh Moc, and the cemetery Truong Son National Cemetery. We met with many incredible organizations Hearts for Hue, Project Renew, VAVA, and DAVA. All are doing work that is so important such as micro financing of cat fish, cattle, pigs, mushrooms farms and furniture factory helping victims of Agent Orange and unexploded ordnances. After the war, Viet Nam has: 600,000 tons of bombs left behind, 6.6 million hectors of land area contaminated with bombs and explosives, 9,284 communes polluted by bombs and explosives. People killed and wounded by bombs or explosives from 1975 – 2002: 42,135 people killed and 62,143 people wounded. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered I knew the couple from Palm Springs, CA who sponsored the Mine Action Visitor Center in the middle of the jungle at Quang Tri, Steve Nichols and Sally Benson. This center helps to educate the children and locals on what not to touch or play with while out in the fields. We were able to join a retired colonel from Project Renew as his team searched for ordnances with plans to return the land to the community, free of explosives in order to farm. 
As we traveled in some areas, our veterans who were with us faced their return to old battle grounds; you could feel the emotions that they were going through. We returned to a bridge that Chris Jamison had fought to guard, an airfield where Mike Kerber was based, and shared with them their amazement at the return of civilization. You felt their relief as we saw the greenery of the jungle and communities happy with their lives. Once again you had a sense of old nightmares beginning to fade.
During this period of time we had Drew Brown and his companion join us. We hit the jack pot; Drew just arrived from Afghanistan, being a war correspondent since we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, he shared with us his experiences and his knowledge of today’s war and the question was -  is it still the same? Yes, we are leaving explosive ordnances in these countries also affecting the future of these countries and their citizens.
We land at Cam Ranh Bay on April 28th and it is still as beautiful as I remembered. We take a short ride into Nha Trang where we are guests of Mike Hull and Don Blackburn as this is where they live and teach. Nha Trang is being groomed to be the paradise resort for Russia. Signs are printed in Vietnamese and the Russian for the future tourists. The march of the resorts buying up the beaches from the north to the south of Viet Nam barring the locals from their own natural resources is the same all over the world – follow the money and it is always King.
We have not forgotten our purpose and have once again presented our credentials to VAVA and the Vietnam Advanced Education Center. As their guests we visited a family with two sisters with dire disabilities of Agent Orange. They were born normal but by the age of 12 their bones began to crumble; being unable to support their own torso they crawl everywhere they need to go. The sad part is in their 30’s they have the same dreams of any normal young women, writing their hopes in dairies caught in bodies broken by Agent Orange. 
Our journey is coming to a close as we fly into Saigon the airport I flew into so many times with so many young soldiers. I loved Saigon it is still the Paris of the Orient – lovely. We attended the War Remnants Museum where nightmares are stored. This museum is not for the fainthearted as it houses displays of prisons, weapons and photographs from both the French and the American Wars. I am happy we started in Hanoi first and witnessed the healing of this country as we made our way south leaving the memories to the past for I am filled with shame for what we did to this country in the name of power. I am amazed that they welcome us to their country with forgiveness.
I have never met Mother Teresa but I met my Mother Teresa; Dr. Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan and her assistant Dr. Ta Thi Chung of Tu Du Hospital. The hospital will deliver 60,000 babies this year and 500 will be affected by Agent Orange which may or may not leave the hospital because of many reasons – resources, family, or money. I could feel her holiness of her gifts to her people and the children just by being in her presence. She gave up her life in California as a doctor to return to Saigon to take care of women and children affected by Agent Orange. We visited these young children and adults locked in the world of pain and problems we cannot imagine. I was speechless but I was also crying. I went to Dr. Tan and held her in my arms and thanked her for giving her life to caring for these babies. She is my saint and I will never forget her.
Heroes come in all sizes and all colors but the veterans in Viet Nam who are dedicating their lives making amends for the crimes of this country are giants and the other twelve on this trip are all my heroes. It was a rough ride but we made it home with hopes to make a difference in the lives of the people we encountered.  I salute each and every one of you, thank you for being part of my journey and part of my story. Special thanks go to Nadya Williams for organizing this trip; for without her skills I don’t think it would have happened, and thanks goes to the giving heart of Chuck Hodges for giving me the means to following our dreams.

For more on VFP activites  and projects in Vietnam:
Veterans For Peace in Vietnam
Hoa Binh Vietnam, VFP Chapter 160