Delegation provides SacUnion with an exclusive account of trip
SacUnion Staff ReportPublished: November 3, 2006
Joe & Jan Johnson's son, Justin, died in Iraq. Justin was close friends with Casey Sheehan, son of anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan.
In a stunning and historic trip under the utmost secrecy, a delegation of families of fallen U.S. troops have traveled to Iraq to counter critics of the war effort, just days before the Nov. 7 midterm elections.
The delegation of “Gold Star Families” agreed to provide the Sacramento Union with an exclusive account of their trip to Iraq based on the assurance that news of their mission would not be published until they had safely left Amman, Jordan.
So secret is their trip that even members of the Bush Administration were kept in the dark about their planned activities.
They’ve come to Iraq from cities throughout America as part of a 12-person delegation in a history-making effort – no other coordinated group of “Gold Star Families” has ever traveled to Iraq, and they come with a message that is sure to ignite a firestorm of debate.
“The American people are shown a skewed picture of the situation in Iraq day after day by the international news media. We felt it was time to allow the families of U.S. troops who died in Iraq to come see the progress being made in Iraq and report it back to the American ,” said Melanie Morgan, Chairman of Move America Forward.
Move America Forward, a Sacramento-based pro-troop non-profit organization is organizing the 10-day journey to Iraq. The group previously led a contingent of radio talk show hosts to Iraq in July 2005.
To demonstrate their contention that things are better in Iraq than what has been portrayed in many news accounts, the delegation is intentionally traveling to Iraqi provinces that have largely been free of the violence that has erupted in Baghdad and the surrounding Sunni triangle.
“Shouldn’t the American people be told about the good things happening in Iraq? Isn’t it legitimate news for example to be told of the success enjoyed by the people of northern Iraq who have established democratic institutions in communities that are almost entirely free of violence?” Morgan asked.
The group includes seven Gold Star Family members including Joseph Williams (his son Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams died in combat near Nasiriyah, Iraq), John Holley (his son Army Spc. Matthew J. Holley died in combat operations in Taji, Iraq), Mike Anderson (his son Marine Corps Cpl Michael D. Anderson, Jr. was killed by small arms fire while protecting his fellow Marines from enemy action in the Anbar Province of Iraq), Todd & Debra Bastian (Debra’s son, Air Force Capt. Derek Argel, died in the crash of an Iraqi air force aircraft during a training mission in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala), and Jan & Joseph Johnson (their son Army Spc. Justin W. Johnson was killed when his patrol vehicle hit an IED - improvised explosive device - in Sadr City, Iraq).
The Johnson’s presence on the trip comes at a time when their family’s story is being told by a new book, American Mourning, which was co-authored by Move America Forward’s Melanie Morgan. Their son, Justin, was close friends with the son of anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, and they say that their trip to support U.S. troops in Iraq is a more constructive act than Sheehan’s anti-Bush protests outside the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
“I want to be able to tell the troops that there are Americans who still believe we are doing the right thing by being here. We want them to know that there are people back here who are supporting and praying for them daily,” explained Joe Johnson.
HARSH WORDS FOR SENATOR JOHN KERRY
The group’s efforts are sure to draw a critical eye from opponents of the Iraq war, especially among Democrat leaders who will likely view the trip as propaganda.
One of the first flashpoints seems to be the delegation’s criticism of Senator John Kerry’s recent comments that were interpreted by many to be slighting the intelligence of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.
“I am spitting mad at John Kerry for insulting our troops. Duck and run was his specialty in Viet Nam,” said Debra Argel.
Joe & Jan Johnson expressed similar anger with Kerry’s words: “These were grown adults we are talking about, not kids who didn’t know what they were doing. Contrary to Kerry’s belief, they made an “educated” decision to join the military, most of them after 9/11, so they knew the possibilities of going to war were pretty good and they chose to serve anyway.”
Mike Anderson told the Sacramento Union that he plans on mocking Kerry’s recent comments by bringing textbooks to hand to the troops to help improve their education.
While the delegation was en route to Iraq, Move America Forward issued a news release headlined, “Non-Apology Not Accepted,” which expressed their dissatisfaction with Kerry’s subsequent apologies to the men and women of the military.
“Rather than apologizing for the hurtful words he used, he instead says he regrets that his words were misinterpreted? So apparently it is the fault of the American public, news media and the men and women of the United States Military for not being smart enough to understand what Senator Kerry meant to say?” said the statement.
But the group’s criticisms of Kerry’s apology runs counter to the Bush administration’s take on the matter. White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow, told Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly that “Yes, the apology’s good enough.”
MAF’S ACTIONS CRITICIZED BY ANTI-WAR GROUPS
Move America Forward is no stranger to controversy. In the past the pro-troop group has been criticized by anti-war activists and organizations who feel that Move America Forward is little more than a front group for the Bush Administration.
That’s a charge that Move America Forward’s principals strongly denied.
“Absolutely not. We have no ties to the Bush Administration. We did not tell anyone in the Bush Administration that we were even going to Iraq,” said Melanie Morgan.
The left-leaning public relations monitoring group, PR Watch, questioned Move America Forward’s non-partisan status by noting that, “MAF’s inner circle is remarkable for its extensive conservative connections.”
In a news story published in December 2005, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that many liberals, “question how the group has maintained its status as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization…”
Morgan says that funding for the trip was provided by contributions from “over 1,000 patriotic Americans” and she insisted that “not one dime of government money” is being used to sponsor the delegation’s travels.
Whether Move America Forward’s actions are appreciated by anti-war groups or not, the organization’s clout has caught the attention of a number of political and military leaders. The Contra Costa Times published a story on the group’s activities in a September 10, 2006 account that was headlined: “Conservative Group Gains Momentum.”
The Gold Star Families delegation has ties to conservatives affiliated with or supportive of the Republican Party including the presence of conservative activist Kristinn Taylor. Taylor is staffing the trip for Move America Forward, but has also served as press spokesperson for the right-of-center online discussion forum, FreeRepublic.com
FreeRepublic.com made international headlines in the 2004 presidential campaign when its members discovered that documents used by CBS News to question George Bush’s National Guard service were in fact forgeries.
Taylor told the Sacramento Union that he is unfazed by any potential criticism directed towards him.
“Those who oppose America’s fight against terrorism have engaged in the most shameless conduct possible, including protesting at the funerals of our troops and outside of the medical centers where our military men and women are recovering from war injuries,” Taylor charged.
“Their despicable conduct undermines support for our troops at a time when our nation is at war. Why on earth should I care one wit about what a bunch of anti-war liberals might have to say about my efforts to support our troops in Iraq?” Taylor asked.
“WE’RE HERE TO SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”
Move America Forward and the Gold Star Families we spoke with denied that there was anything partisan about their secret Iraq trip.
“This has nothing to do with elections. We are a non-profit group that does not endorse candidates for office nor any political party. But we do strongly support our troops and their missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” insisted Morgan.
“If supporting our troops in their fight against Islamic jihadists is too political for some people, then how on earth can our nation muster the willpower and the resolve to see through the fight against terrorists?” Morgan added.
Gold Star Father Joseph Williams echoed her words. “If we cut and run from Iraq, that will deal a devastating blow to the war against terrorism. Will any terrorist group ever fear us again, or will they know that they need only outlast us,” Williams said.
The group plans to meet with U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, as well as talking to the Iraqi people and asking them what message they would like to have delivered to the American public. They also expressed an interest in meeting with Iraqi government officials, although they say that no such meetings have yet been formalized.
They also said they will be speaking to international news agencies, especially American-based news organizations.
Their message to the media and the American public:
“Our success in Iraq depends on the spirit and high moral of those with boots on the ground. There are only two directions to drive a war, victory or defeat. Our victory will come with a positive message from home and Americans who support our continued freedom,” said Gold Star Mother, Debra Argel.
In an emotional message recorded by Gold Star Father John Holley, Mr. Holley broke down in tears when he explained:
“I’m here because I want to visit with the troops and let them know that it’s OK… it’s OK when they lose a friend… and to give ‘em a hug… and still let them know that we care about them, and that we support them 100%”
More information on the “Gold Star Families” trip to Iraq can be found on the group’s website: www.MoveAmericaForward.org
I'm not quite sure how this will turn out. But, I hope that it will be good and positive. I know that the effort is meant to be positive and to support our Warriors.
I'm sure that others and the media will try and make it a bad thing and try to interfere , but, like myself, those that understand won't care.