LatinaLista — Rick Reyes joined the Marine Corps in 2000. He served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 as an Infantry Rifle Man. He returned from duty early 2004 and went into business for himself starting his own independent mortgage company.
Yet, Reyes’ experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq changed how he saw the continuing role of the U.S. military in this region of the world. It wasn’t long before he joined Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW) and joined forces with the grassroots social justice organization Brave New Foundation‘s campaign Rethink Afghanistan.
On April 23, 2009, former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes appeared in Washington before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He told the congressional committee that they needed to rethink their strategy of supplying more troops into Afghanistan.
In the following Guest Voz piece, former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes shares his personal experiences of what he witnessed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and why he feels that his “patriotism was exploited for political gain.”
Editor’s note: The Rethink Afghanistan campaign wants Congress to consider three questions before approving a $94.2 billion supplemental wartime spending bill. The campaign’s organizers feel the answers to these questions can clarify the future success of anymore military presence in Afghanistan.
I was on liberty in Australia, with a few buddies at a club I canâ€™t remember sometime around midnight, when it happened. The music shut off and an announcement came on: â€œAmerica is under attack. Head back to your ships.â€ This was the worstâ€”the impossible.
This was September 11, 2001.
Back at my ship, ambulance sirens blared. Hundreds of Marines stood on deck, anxiously awaiting word. Someone said the Pentagon had been bombed. My platoon sergeant stood up and delivered a fiery speech filled with “No one fucks with America!” and “Weâ€™re going to kick some ass!”
Later that night, the same sergeant turned to me and asked me if I was ready. Without giving it a second thought, I replied, â€œThis is what I joined for.â€
Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I recalled those words testifying before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he woke the country up to the grim realities of the war in Vietnam. I explained to the Committee that I always desired to serve my country, ensure basic freedoms, and fight for justice and the American way.
This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. But what I witnessed and experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.
As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols. We were trained to approach a point of interest on foot, coordinating with translators whose sole vested interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and other forms of aid. We would gather information that often proved faulty, and question locals to the point we felt comfortable conducting a
After receiving an order, we would ransack homes, breaking windows, doors, families, lives, chairs and tables, detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. The problem, of course, was that it was impossible to distinguish militant Taliban members or al Qaeda from innocent civilians. Everyone became a suspect.
In one case, my squad leader gave me orders to pursue possible terrorists. Upon following my orders, leaving the scene in which we had set up a perimeter. My four-man fire team and I followed this suspect undetected for about 100 yards along an exposed ravine. When they were four feet away from me, I drew my M-16 pointing it directly to one of the â€œsuspectsâ€ face, yelling â€œget down on the groundâ€.
We threw them to the ground and beat them in search of non-existent weapons, and broke limbs in the process. Another time, we detained, beat, and nearly killed a man only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children. These raids compelled me to tell Congress we have been chasing ghosts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amazingly, these patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert terrain near Camp Rhino, the US-led coalition’s first strategic foothold in Afghanistan, or stationed outside Basra in Iraq. The terrain was different, but what remained the same was the manner in which we carried out missions, the unconscionable acts of violence and collateral damage that followed, and the ever-present paranoia that every Muslim could be a terrorist.
These raids even ended the same way. We would compensate the family whose whom we just invaded, offering to fix or pay for broken furniture before moving onto the next village where kids threw rocks at us and gave us the finger. To my knowledge, I never detained or arrested anyone guilty of a crime.
I witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I didnâ€™t fully grasp the extent of these failed foreign policies of our governmentâ€™s deception until I returned home from war. Realizing there never were weapons of mass destruction, and that we would have difficulty tracking terrorists with very little accurate intelligence, I felt as though my patriotism had been exploited for political gain.
A select few were profiting from this war, while the majority of Americans would shoulder the enormous tax burden.
To me, the lesson learned in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the U.S. flexed way too much muscle. We have ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, trucks, humvees â€” everything imaginable. But how effective is this military might against extremists who blend in with innocent civilians and fight guerilla warfare that attack from behind and flea into oblivion?
Moreover, how effective can it be when we leave civilians in these countries little alternative but to support these extremists?
Congress must hear more voices like ours before escalating this war any further. More veterans need to speak out, and as a society we must get beyond the public perception that veterans are a product of war. We are not a product.
We took an oath to serve and protect, to make sacrifices for the greater good. Itâ€™s an oath everyone ought to honor, and not just by thanking us for our service. In my mind, we are not seeing more veterans speak out because there is a sense that if they do, they will be letting go of something they truly believe in; they will be going back on their oath and their sacrifices will have been in vain.
That is not the case.
We, as Veterans, must take responsibility for what has happened, continues to happen and speak out.