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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Quest

Yesterday morning, I picked up R, and we headed north. We weren't exactly sure how to get where we were going, but I had the general directions- 35 North to Moody, hang a left, and then turn right on 317 and go north until you get to Crawford. Look for the Yellow Rose downtown- they would give us more detailed directions.

You read right... we drove up to Crawford. I'd love to say that we had a special invite to have bbq at the Western White House, but that's not quite right. We were there to...well, like I said yesterday, we went to reclaim something that was being used by someone who had no right to it.

Many of you remember the story of R's brother's death a couple of months ago. Needless to say, her family was not very happy with the idea that protesters might have his name on a cross in a ditch to further their political agenda. (The final straw, I think, was when you-know-who said that the fallen soldiers were supporting her in the afterlife.) So... our road trip had one purpose- to remove his name (and/or photo) from any display at Camp Casey.

I'm serious when I said that those were the directions I had. I looked up Crawford on Mapquest, and I had figured out from the news reports where Camp Qualls was located (downtown next to the Yellow Rose, which is on the corner of the only intersection in town with a stop light.) Can't be that difficult, right? Really, it wasn't- you roll into town, and there's the Yellow Rose. You really can't miss it.

We pulled in, and there were two people sitting under a canopy at Camp Qualls. We asked how to go about getting the cross. "Go down this road, and turn right at the Lutheran Church. Follow the road down until you get to Camp Casey. Talk to the McLellan County Sheriff's deputy there." uh... ok...

Driving the five miles out to Camp Casey, we saw plenty of signs. Not a single one said anything bad about the President or the War on Terror. You really get the idea that the people of Crawford kind of like their new neighbor. (Might have been the signs that said, "YOU are a guest. The President is our neighbor.")

You start around this corner, and you can see the crosses on the left side of the road, dying flowers attached to each one, some with trinkets and momentos on them. We started to try to read them, seeing if we could see Mark's name. That wasn't going to work, so we decided to park and walk. Then we saw Camp Casey (part of it at least) on one side of the road (a bunch of tents, large signs, canopies, and a bus), and "Camp Reality" on the other side of the road (a few signs, a few canopies, and some displays), with Lt. Sid Franklin's Sheriff's SUV in the island in between them. We parked, and walked over to some of the folks at Camp Reality.

R asked one of the men there if she could go find her brother's cross and take it. He said no, and said that we needed to talk to Lt. Sid and find out how to do it. About that time, this very sweet woman came up and asked us if we had lost someone. R said, "my brother" and she got wrapped up in the biggest hug you could imagine. It was just a little emotional. After a few minutes (I wrote down Mark's and Kyle's names for the people there so they could keep track), they walked us over to Lt. Sid, and he officially took down R's information. (Since I'm not a relative, I couldn't request that Kyle's name be removed, but I now have the information on how his family can request it.)

Evidently, when the crosses were first put up, family could just go and take them (those are the ones that are now at Camp Qualls). I don't know if there were altercations or what, but that has been stopped. Now, families give the information to the Sheriff's representative, and he takes care of it. Also, they are trying to keep the Camp Casey and the Camp Reality people separated as much as possible.

Once the details were taken care of, we were given a tour of Camp Reality. There is one father who is trying to raise money to get a bronze statue (of the rifle, boots, and helmet) placed in the hometown of each fallen soldier. There is also a thank you tribute to the President and the military from the Iraqi men, women, and children who weren't killed by Saddam's thugs thanks to the invasion.

Before we left, a reporter asked R if he could ask her a few questions (and, I think if he hadn't been holding a video camera at the time, she might have said yes). Then, we briefly spoke to a couple of the protesters who were over on the Camp Reality side. They were very nice, and very sympathetic towards R. One of them even asked if she could give us a hug. Then we were given cold water and wished a safe trip home.

We got into a van, and I asked R if she wanted to go down to the other section (I'm guessing that's where the media circus was located). She said no, that she was just going to trust that Lt. Sid would take care of everything. Personally, I think she was just afraid that one of us would end up cuffed and in the back of Lt. Sid's SUV.

So... that's what we did... Now... Here are my impressions...

First (and this one is the one that's probably going to get me in trouble with someone), I think I know why there are more protesters than counter-protesters. It's not that there are fewer people that actually support the President (the election from less than a year ago kind of sheds some light on that one)- it's just that they have jobs. I know it sounds horrible, but it makes sense. The protesters' ages ran from retiree to 20-something. On the Camp Reality side, the people were (I hate trying to guess people's ages, but... ) more toward the retiree end (evidently there are a lot more counter-protesters on the weekends). I couldn't help but wonder how all of the protesters could camp out on the side of the road for 5 weeks... Don't they have jobs, responsibilities, lives?

Second, it's not that Camp Casey looks more "organized", per say... but they do look like they've done this a time or two. Professionally printed signs, flyers, a shuttle... Camp Reality (and Camp Qualls) was more of a gut response to what they viewed as a dishonor- homemade signs, no central organization. Perhaps it's because of my own personal bias, but... the Left has a ready-made protest organization, ready and willing to jump in at a moment's notice. The Right, for the most part, doesn't protest- we're not angry all the time.

Next, the people at Camp Reality (and Camp Qualls in town) were awesome- so helpful, so compassionate. They each had their reasons for being there (a son or brother who is active duty right now... a Viet Nam vet who doesn't want what happened to them to happen to anyone else... a son who was lost in Iraq... people who just want to stand for what they believe in), but R and I were grateful that they were there to help us out. Some of them are out there every day in the heat, and they're doing a great job.

Someone recently asked me why more pro-WoT Gold Star Families don't speak up (against the group at Camp Casey, and against the anti-war protesters in general). I've been thinking about it, and (though R hasn't confirmed it) I think I have an idea. Most Gold Star Families, the ones who believe in what their children/spouses were doing with their lives, just want to be left in peace to mourn. They have faith in our country, and in the mission their family member was on. They don't want to be part of a movement. If pushed, they will take a stand (as we saw this past weekend with the "You Don't Speak For Me, Cindy" tour), but they would prefer solitude to grieve and heal.

Finally, the people of Crawford are awesome. It's a cute town, with beautiful country all around it. It's such a small town, and they seem to be holding up well under the deluge of humanity that descends on them everytime the President comes back to the ranch. The poor woman at city hall seemed a little frazzled, but that only makes sense, considering the weekend they just went through.

I'm glad we took the drive. I'm sad that it was necessary (first, that Mark died, and then that some people decided to use the names of the Fallen for their own political gain), but I'm glad that we could go. It wasn't some great protest, it wasn't some grand gesture. It was just... doing what had to be done.

You know, one of the signs at Camp Reality was right- "Camp Reality- and, yes, sometimes it bites."

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