By Jim Phillips
November 3, 2005
A few hundred protesters, many of them Ohio University students, surrounded the U.S. military recruiting station on Grosvenor Street in Athens Wednesday to protest recruitment of soldiers for the war in lraq.
Banging homemade drums, blowing flutes and conch-shell horns, and waving signs, the crowd chanted anti-war slogans and vowed to help mount a national push to counter efforts by the armed forces to boost their drooping recruitment numbers.
“This is going to be the start of an ongoing counter-recruitment campaign,” OU student Damon Krane told the demonstrators. Krane claimed that as the Iraq war drags on, military recruiters are finding it ever harder to meet their quotas.
Maj. Tim Hardy, who oversees U.S. Army recruitment in southeastern Ohio, said before the protest started that while numbers are down somewhat, there is still strong interest among the region’s young people in a military career.
“In our area here, we didn’t recruit as many as we wanted to in ’05, but we recruited more than in ’04,” he said. Hardy said that recruiting numbers for the Army nationwide fell about 6,000 short of their aim.
He admitted that having an ongoing foreign war creates a “challenge” for military recruiters in a volunteer army, but added, “if it were up to me, it would stay all voluntary.”
Before the protest march arrived in the recruitment station parking lot, a lone counter-protester had set up outside the building. Monika Gasztonyi of Athens came bearing signs slamming the protesters, with messages such as “U.S. Military – Duty, Honor, Country. You? Selfish Swine!” and “Hey, you nutty professors – Go live with Fidel Castro!”
Gasztonyi – who blocked the door to the Army office and scuffled repeatedly with antiwar protesters – said she came “to protect the Armed Forces Recruitment Center, because this isn’t the’60s or the ‘70s… I respect every man and woman who goes into the military to defend our country.”
Peace activist Peggy Gish, who has spent much of the last three years working in Iraq before, during and after the U.S. invasion, said that the majority of people there – even those who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – want U.S. troops out of their country.
“Most of the people of Iraq want the U.S. to leave as soon as possible,” she said.
Though some supporters of a continued U.S. presence say it’s needed to keep hostile factions from descending into civil war, Gish said, in Iraq “people are saying, ‘The U.S. military presence is the number one source of violence in our country’.. The U.S. presence there has not made it safer, has not kept civil war from happening. That’s a myth.”
She also cited the growing use of U.S.-trained commando police forces whose supposed job is to fight terrorism. In fact, she argued, these groups, which are dominated by Shiite Muslims, will tend to target Sunnis for violence and oppression.
“They are similar to the death squads in Central and South America,” she alleged. “Things are not getting better even on that front, and people are saying, ‘The worse of Saddam Hussein is coming back. The longer we are there, the less freedom people have, the less democracy they have, even though they voted.”
OU student Mike Ludwig alleged that the U.S. military “has killed 100’000 innocent civilians in lraq.” The recruitment center, he said, is “where they get people to do their dirty work,” telling recruits lies about what life in the military will be like.
Student Roger Hill echoed this assessment. “These recruiters are preying on the poor,” he charged. ‘They are using poverty to delude them with false promises to kill, and fight, and die.”
Hardy of the U.S. Army denied this is the case. “I wouldn’t dupe anybody,” he declared.
He added that “if we have a kid in basic training who says he was lied to (by a recruiter), we investigate that, we always do.”
Sgt. Tim Roseberry, who staffs the center, added that he makes every effort to make clear to potential recruits that they may end up in a place such as Afghanistan or Iraq, and what that could mean.
“I want them to know everything,” he said.
Retired OU engineering professor Chuck Overby, clad in an Uncle Sam outfit, told the crowd that he’s a veteran of both WWII and Korea.
He said he enlisted at age 17 for WWII “because I wanted to fight for my country,” then was recalled for the Korean War, during which “I bombed the living hell out of those
poor people in Korea.”
Overby, 80, said he supports the efforts to shut down the U.S. war effort in lraq.
“I’m so glad that you young people are beginning to rise up,” he said.
Student Jordan Rogoff urged all those who attended the demonstration to stay committed to the cause, and to also attend a Protest in Washington, D.C. on Jan.20.
“This crowd, between now and Jan. 20 needs to grow exponentially,” Rogoff said.