Gathered behind a wide banner reading "Iraq Veterans Against the War," approximately fifty men and women in desert camouflage uniforms or IAVW T-shirts spoke with a handful of reporters before moving out to take their place in the miles-long march though the city streets and past the White House. Short-haired, neat and polite, they answered questions with a seriousness and conviction born of their first-hand experiences with the war.
Elizabeth Spradlin, an attractive Colorado Springs native with straight neck-length brown hair, spoke with quiet intensity of her year in Iraq. It began in March, 2003, when she was part of the invasion force moving from Kuwait to Baghdad.
"Going into that country, immediately they were welcoming, wanting us there. And over the course of three months we basically caused so much trouble in the area we were in. We didn't have interpreters. We were not helping them re-build their country. We were just driving around with our vehicles with guns, not communicating with them in any way, just basically occupying their space, their country. And they kept on coming to us asking us to help them re-build and -- based on my personal experience -- we weren't doing anything to help them."
"I was command-directed to go over to Iraq as an MP. So I was basically unqualified at what I was doing. I was a gunner, and I sat in a little turret and patrolled around Iraqi cities - causing problems, basically. Running children over."
She paused, blinking.
Chad Soloman, a husky young man with close-cropped reddish hair and goatee, served in Iraq as mechanic with the Ohio national guard. He smiled as he spoke, but his eyes were serious.
"We tried to survive. That was basically our objective. I saw nothing that could be said to be beneficial to the Iraqi people. When I tried to speak with Iraqi people, they did not at all see that we were there to help them. Certainly plenty of Iraqis spoke with mortars and with rifles, so obviously they were not content with our being there."
Tim Goodrich, a tall clean-cut Air Force veteran who's spoken at several previous IVAW demonstrations, was an electronics technician on E-3 AWACS surveillance aircraft. He spoke of the heavy bombing that, in effect, started the Iraq war months before the March, 2003, invasion.
"My involvement in the Iraq war was the bombing of Iraq - the intensified bombing in the fall of 2002. While Bush kept saying we were going to try diplomacy, in fact we were over there bombing the heck out of them. So I saw the lie, right from the start."
Other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War expressed their skepticism about the administration's explanations for the war. One uniformed young man with a southern accent said he'd been a military driver trucking supplies from Kuwait to many destinations in Iraq.
"We went in there for weapons of mass destruction. There are no weapons of mass destruction - I think that's perfectly clear. So we have no reason to be there. Plain and simple."
In addition to the Iraq Veterans Against the War, a number of active-duty troops attended Saturday's demonstration in uniform, and told the press of their opposition to the war in Iraq.
A tough-looking regular Army sergeant in camouflage fatigues preferred not to give his name because he was still in the service, but said he was just back from eight months in Baghdad.