Sgt. Geoff Millard is only 26, but he’s already served his country in the armed forces for nearly a decade. Enlisting in the New York National Guard at age 17, he was activated to provide security at the World Trade Center site following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Three years later, he was sent with the 42nd Infantry Division to Iraq and served there for 13 months as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Millard returned from Iraq in 2005, and ever since he’s been working toward a new mission: to end the war he’s a veteran of, which he calls an “illegal war.” Like the Center for American Progress’s Strategic Reset policy, Millard advocates a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq so that American troops will no longer be asked to referee a bloody sectarian conflict as part of a military presence that does nothing to advance U.S. national security interests.
Millard currently serves as the president of the Washington D.C. chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. To spread his anti-war message, Millard has made media appearances in or on media outlets including The New York Times, MSNBC, and “Democracy Now!”
This summer, he’s taking part in a bus tour with fellow IVAW members of east coast military installations and recently helped organize the Campus Progress Iraq Action Camp, a workshop aimed at giving student activists the tools they need to be effective anti-war advocates.
Millard took a break from the Campus Progress event to speak with CAP about his motivations for speaking out against the war, his experiences in Iraq, and the need for a comprehensive GI bill.
Q: What drives you to end the war?
A: What drives me to end the war is my brothers and sisters still over there. I sat for a year in Iraq wanting to come home, wanting nothing more [than] to come home. And what drives me on a daily basis is knowing that there’s somebody—there’s thousands of somebodies, there’s hundreds of thousands of somebodies—sitting in the desert right now, holding an M-16, and all they want to do is come home to their families. And if we leave it up to the politicians, they’re never going to come home. So we have to make it happen. We have to take charge of our democracy, we have to take charge of our military, and we have to end the war.
Q: How does being a veteran help in your fight?
A: We really are the ones who know more about this war than anyone else. You have a lot of foreign policy experts who can tell you a kind of general idea of what’s going on in the war, but we can tell you what happens on the human side of the war every single day because that’s what we lived, and that’s what our buddies continue to live every day in Iraq. So that’s what we brought to the table, and we’re doing organizing around this every single day�?????
No one can call me unpatriotic, and no one can call me a traitor. I took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. And if you want to get into a rational debate with me over national policy strategy, that’s fine, but you can’t call into question my patriotism, and you can’t call me a traitor without making yourself first look foolish. Because you know what? I’m serving the Constitution of the United States. I fought for those rights. I’m going to use my freedom of speech, because if freedom of speech isn’t safe for a combat veteran, it’s not safe for anybody out there.
Q: What does your chapter do?
A: We actually do a lot of things. We do spend some time on the Hill, not a huge amount, but we do spend some time on the Hill. Being the Washington D.C. chapter president, our chapter tends to spend a little more time lobbying than any other chapter, just specifically because of where we are in the organization. But specifically our organization is setting its sights on the military and letting veterans know what their rights are, letting the active military service members know what their rights are in fighting an illegal war.
And another big responsibility to that is public opinion. The public opinion has swung very greatly in this war, and I can’t say that it is all because of IVAW—that would be foolish and foolhardy—but we have played a role in that. And we would like to continue to play a role in that. Which is why we have what we’re referring to as Operation First Casualty. It’s long been said that the first casualty in war is truth, so we’re having operations across the United States to bring the truth of the occupation home. We’re conducting combat patrols in guerilla, street theater-style across the United States, and we’re hoping to occupy every major American city.
Q: What about veterans’ issues?
A: There hasn’t been a comprehensive GI bill even proposed, let alone voted on, let alone passed. And so until we get that, this is empty rhetoric about supporting the troops, when the veterans are left to dry when we come home.
A comprehensive GI bill would talk about traumatic brain injury; a comprehensive GI bill would talk about homeless vets; a comprehensive GI bill would talk about drug and alcohol abuse amongst veterans. A comprehensive GI bill would talk about depleted uranium; a comprehensive GI bill would include education; a comprehensive GI bill would talk about low-income housing. A comprehensive GI bill would talk about every issue that is faced by Iraq veterans, but the problem is, they can’t continue to fund the war and fund the veterans. They don’t have the funds to do it, even working off the huge deficit that they’re working off of right now.
Q: How does this affect war policy?
A: I think that they go hand in hand. The war can’t continue if you take care of veterans, but at the same time, as long as the war continues, you can’t take care of veterans. Of the 1.5 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, three-quarters of them are still on active military service and not even yet veterans. When they enter this system, they will flood this system and break it. We cannot simply say it is an issue to do after the war, because as soon as the war ends and these veterans get off of active military service and actually become veterans, if there’s no plan in place already for them coming off of active duty, it will break the system. And not only will it break the system, but it will break their lives. We’ve already had veterans kill themselves because they’ve been on waiting lists for [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. That’s already too many U.S. service members that have killed themselves because of waiting lists for PTSD. Imagine if it becomes hundreds of thousands.