Veterans advocacy groups that want to end the war in Afghanistan are leading an outreach campaign near Joint Base Lewis-McChord this week to connect soldiers with information about how to become conscientious objectors.
Veterans for Peace and March Forward pegged their Our Lives, Our Rights campaign to the upcoming deployment of Lewis-McChord's 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The brigade expects to leave soon with up to 4,000 soldiers for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan's Kandahar province -- one of three locally trained brigades to pull duty in Afghanistan this year.
The advocacy groups linked their campaign to the 11th anniversary of the war this week, as well as a recent milestone when the U.S. military suffered its 2,000th casualty in Afghanistan.
They are handing out information to soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that might help them obtain a non-combat assignment.
The groups are working out of Coffee Strong, a coffee shop and nonprofit in Lakewood's Tillicum neighborhood that provides behavioral health resources for soldiers.
The 4th Brigade is embarking on its third deployment since 2003 -- its first to Afghanistan after two to Iraq.
Some veterans from the 4th Brigade have been involved with Coffee Strong and March Forward in recent years. They have drawn attention to behavioral health missteps at Lewis-McChord and spoken up about soldier suicides.
This week, they're handing out fliers during the lunch rush at restaurants in Tillicum and displaying banners from bridges over Interstate 5.
"We know our message that we don't have to go to Afghanistan is resonating with soldiers," said Gerry Condon, a member of Veterans for Peace. He said soldiers have been receptive to taking the groups' fliers, and have given them high-fives.
So far, two soldiers have responded by seeking more information about becoming conscientious objectors, said Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran from Los Angeles who is participating in this week's outreach.
The two advocacy groups say the war does not deserve taking the life of another soldier, because it suffers from a long-failed strategy that will not succeed in creating a stable Afghan government.
"The war cannot be won," Prysner said. "But we are still going, because (politicians and military leaders) cannot accept a military failure on their watch."
Prysner wants an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces instead of the phased drawdown through 2014 supported by the Obama administration.
President Barack Obama and NATO leaders contend the recently concluded "surge" of U.S. forces struck serious blows to the Taliban that should enable Afghan security forces to defeat insurgents once Western troops leave.
Critics of the Obama plan say those gains won't last without Western soldiers and Western money propping up the Afghan government.
More information about the local outreach campaign is available at ourlivesourrights.org