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Peace caravan brings anti-war message
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The line of protesters was small and participants were restrained, though adamant about their position. - photo by Photo by Teri Christie

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As part of a six-stop caravan headed toward the Gulf Coast, members of the Veterans for Peace organization rolled into Hinesville in their vibrant buses Wednesday afternoon to host an anti-Iraq war protest.
Originally scheduled to demonstrate outside Fort Stewart’s main gate, the activists settled instead for the Taco Bell parking lot as their site to voice opposition to the Iraq war while holding signs reading “Disarm Bush” and “No Troops for $, Corporate Gain” and to tell personal stories of how the war is affecting their lives.
“People are against this war and they’ve got to realize this in the government. It’s a geopolitical ... it’s so much more than just this idea of liberation and democracy,” GlynnPeace member and event organizer Cathy Browning said as she held up a peace sign to drivers honking their horns and returning peace signs on Gen. Screven Way. “It’s about the land and the oil and they (the government) don’t give a damn who dies.”
Decked out in a cardboard sign outfit reading “Operation Iraqi Liberation” with the first letter of each word in bold red on one side and “Make Levees Not War” on the other side, Browning said she sees similarities between the current war and the Vietnam War she protested against more than 30 years ago.
“I see it except for the fact that we have no draft. I see it in the way of the constant combat ... insurgent, guerilla-type warfare,” she said.
Standing next to Browning, Jeri Reed said protesting the war was her responsibility for her 24-year-old son, Cody Camacho.
Camacho served with the 41st Field Artillery and the 72nd MP Company at the Abu Ghraib prison from March 2003 through March 2004. His mother believes the conditions and events at the prison left a lasting impression on her then 21-year-old son.    
“It was a very tense situation,” Reed said. “He had severe PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) when he came home and couldn’t get any support.”
Walking around the parking lot holding her “Cody sign” as she attempted to speak with 3rd Infantry Division soldiers leaving Taco Bell, Reed said many people do not see the cost of war to soldiers’ families.
“People think that when they come back from Iraq it’s over, but it’s not over,” she said, as she returned to a spot on the sidewalk. “He’s not my son anymore and never will be again.”
As members of Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out handed out brochures for the GI Rights Hotline and the Appeal for Redress, a former 3rd ID soldier who rejected a second deployment to Iraq was in the background taking in the whole scene.
After returning home from a 2003 deployment to Iraq, Kevin Benderman of Hinesville refused to return to the country after seeing the toll the war was having on the Iraqi civilians. He spent 13 months in jail for his refusal.
According to the former soldier, his hope for the event was that soldiers understand the outrage displayed by protestors was not directed at them.
“The people that are doing this (protesting) are not against them. They may be against some of the things they are being forced to do by the situation they’re in, but they’re not against them,” he said. “I think that’s very, very important for soldiers to understand.”
While not actively protesting, Benderman said he and his wife, Monica, would soon support soldiers through their newly formed organization, Benderman’s Bridge.
“Our organization is designed to help soldiers get some of the things they need that they may not be getting from their particular branch of service of the VA (Veterans Administration),” he said. “It is going to be veterans helping veterans and the community helping veterans.”
As the protest came to a close and participants started packing up, Veterans for Peace Executive Director Michael McPherson, a former 3rd ID soldier during Operation Desert Storm, said the mission for the day had been completed.
“The biggest reason we came here was the Appeal for Redress,” he said. “We want soldiers to know they can tell their congressman (they disagree) because they have the right to appeal to their congressman, not just for the war, but for any issue.”
McPherson, whose son recently returned from Iraq after spending nearly 11 months in the country, said members of his organization informed a number of soldiers about the petition that urges Congress to “end the U.S. military occupation” in Iraq and had a mostly positive response.
But he noted the fight to bring troops home permanently will continue.
“I want the troops to come home,” McPherson said. “The president is using their patriotism to put them in harms way for ... not for what’s best for this country.”
Although officers and detectives from the Hinesville Police Department were present, no arrests were reported.
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