The former Army Captain who organized a movement of US Veterans at Standing Rock writes from Great Sioux Nation one year after the fact.
One year ago I had settled into my life as just another disabled veteran, existing on my small pension earned from injuries suffered during my 10 years of service as a United States Infantryman. A quiet life with little excitement and no available funds for travel. Like many others, I learned about the efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from online media. At the time I knew very little of the challenges First Nations People faced, nothing about life on a reservation, and too much about counter terrorism tactics. I was gobsmacked to see taxpayer funded law enforcement employ those same tactics against American citizens right here at home.
After news of the north camp being cleared and the use of water cannons, attack dogs and “less lethal” munitions being used against peaceful, prayerful, water protectors, Wes Clark Jr. asked me to go to Standing Rock.
I wanted to go but my pension wasn’t enough to carry me all the way from Charlotte, NC, to Cannonball, ND. I suggested we could try a fundraiser to cover travel expenses as a means to increase the numbers of Veterans able to go. At that time, there were a total of three of us committed to going, Wes, Mike Wood Jr. and myself. Thinking we could get several dozen or maybe even one hundred Veterans to camp, I volunteered to head up mission operations. True to my experience in the Army, I had no idea what was in store for us.
We launched our GoFundMe the evening of November 11, 2016. Veteran’s Day. With some requests to my own small group of friends, we quickly raised $500 and I had a plane ticket to Bismarck, ND. Word started to spread and Veterans from all over the country and some from other countries signed up on the volunteer roster. We used social media and video conferencing to organize. My task was to coordinate the movement of our volunteers to camp. We had to build an organization from the top down to the individual Veteran Volunteers. As more media outlets started covering the events at Oceti Sakowin, the volunteer roster blew up as did the GoFundMe. I remember screaming on a video call to cap the roster at 2,000. Of course, that didn’t dissuade many more from coming on their own.
I began to realize I was part of something much larger than I could understand at the time. I said then and I still say now, the story wasn’t ever about the “Veterans” going to Standing Rock.
Veterans were already there.
Native Americans have the highest rate of Military Service than any other ethnic group in the United States. The story was always about the rights of the people, but unfortunately it took that self- organized movement of thousands of Veterans to shine a light on the events at camp.
One year later I’m still here on Great Sioux Nation as an invited guest, working to address the systemic issues under served communities face in this country. Many of us who came together last November have formed our own organization, Veteran Service Corps, and we continue to use the skills and experience provided to us by United States taxpayers to be of service to the people of the United States instead of multinational corporations. I’ve found that being of service to others is the best treatment for PTSD. The work that we are doing in this community turns Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Stress Recovery.
We came to Standing Rock to protect the Water Protectors from police violence. We found community with the people we stood up with. Our lives have changed.