remarks at press conference on August 31, 2007, in Charlottesville, Va.
[photos, audio, video, media coverage: http://afterdowningstreet.org/maryhanna ]
It's been said that people fear public speaking more than death. I can definitely attest to that. I'm extremely nervous and inexperienced with this, so please bear with me.
My son, Evan Knappenberger, is a former Albemarle High School student and a veteran of the Iraq War. As I speak these words, he is sitting in a makeshift guard tower on the Mall in Washington DC, protesting the US military's stop-loss policy, which is the involuntary extension of soldier's active duty enlistment time.
When he joined the Army in 2003, Evan had high aspirations for serving his country and bringing comfort to the Iraqi people who had suffered under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He was looking forward to lending his talent and intellect to the fight against terrorism. My husband and I also had hopes that Army service would equip Evan with skills and experience that would serve him well in life, and money to undertake his college career.
What Evan found in the Army and in Iraq was very different from what he expected – especially with regard to how the military honors its promises. He had been promised a career as an intelligence analyst and ended up spending 97 consecutive days exposed on a guard tower and countless hours of other dangerous work for which he had not been trained .
In April of this year, Evan got out of the service. Deeply troubled by what he had experienced there, and distressed by what his friends in the Army were still enduring, he cast about for some way to move his life forward. Evan joked that his first Tower Guard protest, in Bellingham Washington in June, was as much self-help therapy as a political protest; but in bringing attention to this shameful practice, an involuntary conscription that sends honorable men and women back into harm's way again and again, sometimes long past the end of their contracted enlistment – Evan is doing everything in his power to bring relief to the people with whom he served.
I am proud of my son and what he is doing.
I was raised, and in turn raised my children, to believe that we have a moral obligation to stand up for what we believe is right. And to be a voice for those who are unable to speak for themselves. This is exactly what Evan is doing with his Towerguard vigil against stop loss.
The Pentagon justifies all sorts of things by claiming this is a volunteer Army - you hear that all the time. But if soldiers' tours can be involunarily extended, it is NOT a volunteer Army. My son came home from Iraq alive. There are almost 4,000 mothers who cannot say that, and some of their sons and daughters dies serving on an involuntary basis.
In 2003, the same year Evan joined the Army, we moved into this quiet, old fashioned neighborhood. On a warm summer evening, it's easy to come home, settle into our suburban comforts, and forget about the young Americans sacrificing so much, half a world away in Iraq. But Evan has not forgotten those people, and I cannot honorably do so either. I call on all my neighbors and friends to add their voices to my voice – and to Evan's.