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.

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