Afghan Women

As an American Combat Veteran of the war in Afghanistan, the most important thing I have learned from my experience is to listen to the words of the oppressed. I am a dual citizen with Canada and my mother is Canadian. My grandfather fought in World War II. I grew up with remembrance day as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices by those who came before. It wasn’t until I fought in a war that I realized there was another side to the story. For the people of the countries that we occupy there is no Remembrance day. There is no consideration of them as human beings. They are just a number next to the term “collateral damage”. This is unacceptable in a nation that claims to stand for Human Rights. Suraia Sahar and Laila Rashide stand up for the voices of those who cant speak for themselves. Those we are supposedly “saving”. What keeps us supporting these wars is the idea that they will someday lead to peace. These women are working towards peace. They are working towards a world where no Canadian soldier ever has to leave home to fight someone else’s war. That can only happen if we reconcile and learn to live with each other. As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War I proudly stand in solidarity and support their fight to have a real discussion about the effects of our war in Afghanistan. Until we in the west do more listening instead of always dictating, we will never have peace.


Graham Clumpner

U.S. Army 2004-2007

Served in Afghanistan



It’s a long drive from Florida to Denver, but Leonel Perez and his colleagues at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) don’t mind. In fact, they arrived in the Mile High City three weeks early for Cultivate, a food, beer, and music festival sponsored by Chipotle Mexican Grill.

They were not drawn by a love of burritos. In the days leading up to Cultivate, Perez, Jake Ratner, an organizer for Just Harvest USA, and several other CIW organizers will hold dozens of community events, speak at many churches, and give classroom presentations at all Denver’s major universities. Then, on Oct. 6, the day of the festival, Perez will build a giant stack of tomato buckets just outside the festival to represent the daily toil of 30,000 impoverished tomato workers.

Over the last decade, Perez and others at CIW have pressured major food companies like McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Sodexho…

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A disconnect as wide as the ocean



Dollar fifty hightowers of Rainier flow down my throat. An eighties bar? What the fuck am I doing here? This is kid’s shit. Across the room I see the exit, red light ablaze. To my right the emergency door. Ten steps and im out of here. Aaron says “You need a drink, you need to get laid.”


The fluorescent lights paint the pussy green. The goddamn bass player is pounding a hole in my brain. I recount the people. Fifty six, okay, okay. What’s with my eye, its twitching. My stomach grinds cement…And the blond femme with the big tits, what’s her name? Oh yeah, Jill. That would set me straight. One fucking week out of the sand box and I have a boner alert. No beer in a year, and the whole goddamn ocean can’t fill me. Fifty four, fifty five, fifty…Fuck! Fifty five! No. Fifty six, assholes, where’s the missing asshole. Now my brain speaks, it tongue-lashes me, pay attention fool…Find the missing fuck. He had a gun didn’t he. Yes! A gun. Boom, boom, boom pounds the drum, and I am gone. Flashing and bass impact like artillery on my soul. I regretted my decision. Clearly out of my element. My eyes flicked between both exits as I recounted all fifty six people inside the club.


Aaron invited me. I needed a break. “Let’s go out, it’ll be really fun, we’ll see people you haven’t seen in a long time and maybe you can finally get laid”. That hadn’t happened since the last break I had with my wife. Well, ex-wife now. Evidently guys who have a full-time job at a publishing firm are more attractive and reliable than someone who can’t sleep without a gun under their pillow. I reluctantly agreed, adding “What’s the worst that could happen?”


A slow wave of anger moved its way up from my stomach to encompass my arms and legs, finally reaching the brain. Every horrible song from the eighties didn’t help. What the fuck are these people so happy about? I used to like this world, Aaron and I came here many times when we were back in college. He was a friend I could talk with about the worst things. Through ups and downs, even telling me his wish to join the military with me, which was all talk. As he ground his body into some random girl, to a song he didn’t even like I wondered if he had ever known me. My hands gripped the table and my body was pushing itself as far into the corner as possible. I tried to follow Tyler Dyrden’s lead and go to my cave. Problem was my cave was in Afghanistan.


Pitch Black shattered by a flare. Two hundred yards above, manufactured sun made me bury my head further into the sand. Left foot on fire from my tightly tied laces. Too late for that now. Yelling behind me. The pounding of feet kept my head down. We had been on the Pakistani border for what seemed like years. Real calendar said a week. Command felt it necessary to have us sitting here waiting for some arab bomb-maker that didn’t exist. My brain briefly questioned the irony of us being immigration guards. With more guns than the Mexican border. About an hour earlier we got word from a predator drone that 10 men were crossing the border on foot and it was our job to intercept them. Rules of engagement for our unit were pretty simple. If they were crossing the border and they weren’t Afghan they were bad guys. If they had a gun they were bad guys. If they moved at night they were bad guys. If they were on foot they were bad guys. If they were guys, they were bad guys. So it wasn’t very difficult to deduce that these people were bad guys. Most missions, there’s no time to think. That’s why we train so much. So we don’t think. We just react. Not on this mission. This mission all of us were thinking. A mission bears resemblance to deer hunting as you visualize that big buck crossing over the hill and you, the skilled hunter, raise your rifle and put a single round through its heart. Countless times I imagined bin Laden himself materializing before me as I flipped my selector switch off safe and united 300 million Americans in a singular act. A few minute details, not being in pakistan for one, disallowed me from doing this. I gripped my rifle and forced myself back to the here and now.


Intel said the border-crossers were three hundred yards in front of us holed up in a makeshift trench. My role? Provide cover fire for the initial assault. Once our men were in place I was to move into the right side of the trench and clear it. The flare was flickering now, Seconds away my men would move. I tasted the sweaty tension on my lips. The slow whine of a predator drone above us could be heard but not seen. Worst case scenario, my death would be on videotape. I flipped down my Nods. A green translucent view took over the eerie dark. I checked my rifle and grenades one final time. Mouth dry and heart beating I felt like I’d popped ecstasy. Tracers on my left. Get up. I burst out of my hole like a whale berthing for air. Running. Sprinting forward into the darkness. Tripping over an unseen rock I managed to keep my balance. The air was soaked with sand and I inhaled humidity. The trench materialized in front of me. I raised my rifle as a flash threw me sideways.


My right side is sticky. My head is pounding and gravel rips my face. Flashing light from all directions. My body curls into a protective ball. I reach for my rifle and cut my hand on a jagged beer can. Looking around, no one even noticed. I fucking hate hair bands! As I stumble to my feet I can feel the contents of my stomach working its way back up. I scramble to the back door. Stumbling outside I make it a step before my fish tacos become dinner for the rats. As if waking from a dream in which im falling, grateful to be alive but scared as fuck. Several dry heave’s later I realize there is a figure standing behind me. It’s Aaron. I’m immediately embarrassed. “Are you okay man”? says the dude who only hours before asked me how many guys I killed. I mumble something unintelligible and try to wave him off. “Has it really been that long since you had a beer?”

I slowly nod my head as I spit out chunks of tortilla. “Do you want to go somewhere else?” I tell him to give me a minute. How could he ever understand? His view of war is the video games he plays and the 10 minutes of war footage he watched back in 2003 when Iraq was cool. I want to scream at him and claw his eyes out. Grab him by the throat and ask him how the fuck he can enjoy a night like this when people are dying. Instead I grab his hand and let him pull me to my feet. I know I shouldn’t expect him to know what I’m going through but what the fuck does he think? I went on a fucking vacation to Maui? How is this generation so detached from the real world? I spit one final chunk of bile out of my mouth and push open the back door to the club.


I remember watching my first cartoon as a young child, it was a Road Runner episode. Cartoon? Maybe, but I was seeing stars for the first time. I could taste iron in my mouth and didn’t know where my left leg was. Rolling onto my stomach I tried to collect myself. Where was I? What happened? Where was my rifle? The constant whine in my ears as if I was underwater told me I had lost my hearing. My night vision goggles were no longer on my head and my only thought was how much trouble I was in for losing them. My mind a computer, I started to reboot. I tested my legs and worked my way up my body until I was able to stand. The earth felt like a trampoline. Unstable. Equipment behind me I reached for my rifle. Still good. Dark smoke from the fire began to permeate my lungs. I coughed blood into my nomex glove. “I should’ve joined the Air Force” I thought for the thousandth time.

The battle was over and I could see other soldiers moving amongst the dead checking for signs of life and important intelligence. I stumbled into the trench and came upon a 16-year-old missing his entire right arm. Cracker boxes of dried meat lay strewn all over the ground. I looked into his lifeless eyes.and thought about the idiot who said “there are no atheists in fox holes “and punch him in the face. Anyone who believes in God in this shit-hole is seriously delusional. Before I left for Afghanistan, people would ask me why I wanted to be in the Army, why would I want to be in the most dangerous position? Why not join the Air Force or the Navy or try to get into the Coast Guard? I would ignorantly tell them that if I had to take someone’s life I wanted to have to look into their eyes. Now with my eyes transfixed on this young man whose life I would never know I could see the fallacy in all my prior thoughts. How was I going to explain what I had seen?


Did you kill anyone? How was it over there? Was it hot? Are you fucking kidding me? I get more diverse questions when I take an American history class than when I came back from war. At first I thought I could explain it, thought that I could bridge the gap between those who’ve served and those who hadn’t. But after about three sentences I began to notice that people lose interest. At that point I don’t even want to talk anymore; if they can’t pay attention to my answer for a minute after they ask the question then I’m not interested in talking. I never told Aaron what happened that night at the bar. I felt like it would be too much of a burden for him if I could ever find a way to truly explain it. Most Americans just want to stay detached, to keep the deployed world separate from the home world. There is a general lack of sympathy for people who voluntarily chose to go to war. The theory goes; why should we feel sorry for people who put themselves in that position, we didn’t force them, they chose on their own. This feeling is felt by those in the military as they generally keep their experiences to themselves feeling guilty for what they’ve seen and more for what they have done. Iraq has lost its novelty; it is no longer a really fun video game war to watch at night time. Afghanistan cant even be located on a map. Now it’s just an annoying burden that keeps people from watching their favorite reality show. When I was coming close to leaving the war all I could think about was drinking an ice cold beer and never taking orders from anyone again. Now that I had what I wanted I realized I had nothing in common with these people. Aaron hadn’t noticed it yet but I was not the same person I was before I left. I couldn’t live around people who walked on eggshells around me and I resolved as he dropped me off that night, that I would never speak of what I had seen to anyone ever again.Image



Loss of control

 I lost my purpose. My view of the world was smashed to pieces like so many afghan children. The bullets of democracy left the barrel of my gun taking with it my innocent ignorance and replacing it with cynical means and dead human beings. The best of intentions cant protect you from the screams of your dreams about the family murdered by M-16’s. Right and wrong blend together like muddy water at the base of a crater bomb. The thought of not thinking is unthinkable and non-alcoholic beverages are undrinkable.

I lost my purpose.


Do you see yourself?

pts d(epression)

I have pts d(epression)


I have ptsd

the docs say it makes me angry

family says it makes me distant

Brain says im damaged

but my enemies say im persistent

It starts like someone raised the thermostat

the heat covers my body and I begin to sweat

my knees buckle like an unpaid debt

as I fight to ignore my regret

this is your life as your watching yourself

become a poster child for mental health

you must understand as I sit in the corner

I haven’t learned to live with this disorder

as if every mornings day one

and the problems not based on the clouds or the sun

it comes from some person that lies deep within

and strangely enough I think he’s my friend

Iraq Veterans Against the War Colorado Chapter statement on the Aurora shooting

The Aurora movie theatre shooting has left a hole in our Colorado Community. We are disgusted by this hopeless act of violence. We have witnessed this violence before. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the sands of Iraq, we have seen countless lives destroyed for nothing. But this is not just a Colorado problem. Its not even an American problem. It is a human problem that we all need to solve together.

Violence is a part of American culture. We see it everyday in our media and movies. We are desensitized to it. Through video games and CNN war videos, we have a warped view of violence. We see it as a game. People who are killed in movies rarely show the blood or after effects of trauma. As Americans we are raised to believe violence is effective at solving problems. As Veterans, our experience has revealed the truth: violence only encourages more violence. Whether it be the police and prison system, Homeland Security or the United States Military we as a society believe violence is effective.

Veterans understand better than anyone the results of violence. We were taught to use violence for almost any situation within the military. From the soldier kicking in the doors to the airmen pumping gas it all comes down to one purpose: to kill the enemy. The American people hold Veterans up on a pedestal because of the violence that they do in their name. We spend more money on the military than any other country in the world. We sell more weapons overseas than any country in the world. It is no wonder that violence is thus accepted as a reasonable choice.

We as Veterans are trained to use guns. Many of us have them ourselves. We had to go through extensive training and safety education before we were allowed to use them. We carried unloaded rifles around for three weeks during basic training before we were given a bullet to fire. We learn the contours of the rifle better than the contours of our own body. We also know that guns are unforgiving. Once used you cannot go back. In combat, whoever lives and dies is not based on how good or virtuous you are. Its based on luck. Its luck that we survived the war and our friends did not. Do we want to live in a world where everyone carries a gun? Do we desire to live in a zero-sum environment where we solve our problems with lead instead of conversation? Do we want to live in a culture based on the luck of the draw?

Many Veterans recognize the importance of the 2nd Amendment because the government should not have all the guns. All Americans have the right to defend themselves from their government and other Americans. We also recognize that Americans who do not have guns have a right to be safe from those who do. While we are individuals in this country, we are also part of a larger community whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We drive on public roads and use public libraries. We go to stores that are public spaces and there are rules we all follow for safety. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. We are accountable to each other if only for our own safety. When you exercise your rights they are limited only by their infringement on others’ rights.

Veterans recognize that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous members of society will not fix the problem completely. Around the world we see gun violence in countries that have more restrictive gun laws than ours. However, we see a pattern with the assailants. They don’t fit into society. They have something lacking in their community. Because this violence happens in our community to people of our community, this is our problem as well.

There is something very wrong with a culture when our youth lash out against people they don’t even know. These young people have only begun living and they are choosing to end their own lives and the lives of others. Every time a massacre happens we call them a “lone gunman” or “bad apple”. This changes the debate and prevents us from having a conversation about WHY it happened. Until we begin viewing our world as inter-dependent we are doomed to repeat these mistakes.

We in Colorado only live here because of a legacy of violence. Our ancestors violently stole this land from indigenous peoples and claimed it for their own. The legacy of the cowboy is alive and well here. Our culture has military recruiters in our high schools. It is easier to buy a gun than to get mental health support or treatment. If a homeless person tries to sleep in the city of Denver they are arrested. Over 60,000 active duty military members are stationed here in Colorado and entire communities depend on them for economic stability. We are surrounded by violence in our history and our present day. We just choose not to acknowledge it. We change the channel and switch the song until something so abhorrent, so utterly unforgivable and obvious happens that we cant ignore it. And when this happens, as it so regularly does in our country today, our grief and anguish is compounded by the fact that we have no solutions. We know that this will happen again and we feel so helpless. So alone.

We can all do better. We can begin by talking with our neighbors, our children, our parents. We can demand transparency from our institutions. We can build community systems that replace the failed institutions we now live under. We can take ownership of our streets, our blocks, our cities and eventually our world. We can begin to forgive and love. We must stop talking and start listening to each other. No more silence. No more lies. We need to confront our fear and learn to love one another. We have a choice. We can choose to look in the mirror, or we can change the channel. No great cultural shift ever happens in isolation. We can build a new world together. We can challenge all our old ideas and make them better. We can grow and evolve and change our future. Nothing is written. We can start today. Democracies die behind closed doors.

Boots on the Ground/She cried

Boots on the ground/She cried 

The sweat was pouring down my face as I sprinted towards the mud brick wall. The low thrub of Blackhawks had faded only to be replaced by the pounding of boots on the ground, merged with my beating heart. We hit the ladders and bounded over the wall like an Olympian over a hurdle. My turtle shell of body armor stuck to my skin like hot tar under the moonless night sky. I could see the target building materialize several feet in front of me and I redirected towards the door. The relative silence was abruptly shattered by AK rounds yards from my face. Calm. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Muscle memory spread the detonation cord over the door. Time slowing to a crawl as I’m suddenly back home drinking a beer with my best friend talking about how well the Packers will do this weekend. He puts his arm around me and I realize if I ever want to have that tomorrow I must get through this tonight!

 Booom! The door splinters into tiny little pieces followed by two concussion grenades to “prep” the room. In a single motion I am inside, training my rifle at a skinny motherfucker, pointing his rifle at me. My M4 recoiled against my shoulder no more than a video game controller in a boy’s hands. No thoughts as I continued scanning the room, looking for more targets. There was a silence of silence as explosions and gunshots rang throughout the compound. My head was still ringing as I moved towards the next door. I looked into the eyes of my team leader and they said it all …”this house is hot! Frag the next room!

 With movement choreographed better than dancers on Broadway we released hot death in the form of M61 Fragmentation grenades into the next room. Upon impacting against the ceiling they pepper every piece of matter with jagged scorching hot metal. I will never forget the screams. When you are facing death on a regular basis you learn quickly to trust your instincts. They all heighten when you perceive danger and they can save your life, when you are not safe. Now, standing in a room filled with mangled flesh all I wanted was for my senses to turn off. Cordite and burning human flesh filled my nose like rotten eggs left out for a year. Ears ringing, disoriented as if Id woken from a dream, my body moved without the command of my mind. The noise was getting louder now and I realized it was coming from the old woman on the floor. The one without any legs. Her torso was moving like some dancer on broadway. I had no emotion at that exact instant but I sensed wrongness. As I sat on the humvee, driving away from this worthless shithole of a city, I looked down to realize I was covered in blood. Her blood. I never knew her name. What her dreams were or the kind of person she wanted to be. But as I laid her in the back of the medevac, she cried.