Saturday, May 27, 2006

Beyond FORTITUDE: Paul Rieckhoff for President

Okay, this time I’m serious.

As the school year (finally!) winds down and I (finally!) wrap up revisions of my current novel, I’m looking forward to returning to posting on a regular basis. What better way to start than to honor American soldiers with a lengthy Memorial Day weekend post that includes a presidential nomination for National Guard Lt. Paul Rieckhoff. Founder and Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Rieckhoff is also the author of a powerful memoir: Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier’s Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington.

While Memorial Day offers an opportunity for plenty of flag waving, for some veterans it represents yet another day of struggling with their government to receive the benefits they deserve. Paul Rieckhoff is knocking himself out to raise awareness of critical veterans’ issues, including homelessness. His blog/website offers multiple links, including one to the award-winning documentary When I Came Home. Check out this blurb about the film, then tell me our vets don’t deserve better:

“Iraq War veteran Herold Noel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and lives out of his car in Brooklyn. Using Noel’s story as a fulcrum, When I Came Home examines the wider issue of homeless U.S. military veterans—from Vietnam to Iraq—who have to fight tooth-and-nail to receive the benefits promised to them by their government.”

The IAVA site alone discusses the Army’s (sad) approach to mental health issues among the military, the fight for the right to resign among Reservists who’ve completed their terms of contract, and a detailed list of the most recent fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Something’s wrong with this picture, and Paul Rieckhoff is at the forefront of the fight.

And yes, tolerance is a part of this story: An Associated Press article this morning examines religious discrimination on the part of the VA. Read “Top Veteran Official Joins Pentacle Debate” to learn why one family in Nevada is at the forefront of a fight raged by many families over the years for recognition of their fallen soldiers’ religious affiliations. A veteran of Desert Storm, Sgt. Patrick Stewart was killed in Afghanistan at age 34 when his copter was shot down by terrorists. Stewart might have received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, but he can’t have the emblem for his religion engraved on his headstone because the VA doesn’t offer it in its emblem catalog. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Veterans’ issue hit home with me: My parents are both veterans and so was my father-in-law. The VA is stretched thin and must have more support from Washington if there’s any hope for the well-being of future veterans. I heard Paul Rieckhoff’s interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program a few weeks ago, and became convinced this guy has the intelligence, experience, heart, integrity, and moxie to make a difference as a politician. I hope he’s hearing this from others, too.

With nearly 2,500 soldiers killed in Iraq so far, nearly 300 killed in Afghanistan, and many more soldiers crippled or otherwise incapacitated, that leaves many thousands of friends and family members who must ache to make their fellow Americans understand the true meaning of the words “ultimate sacrifice.” Vets and their loved ones deserve better than a little flag waving. Check out the sites listed above and help spread the word about Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, the IAVA, and the sad state of veterans’ affairs in our country. Then go out and hug a vet.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Beyond THE FUTURE: The Constitutional Rights Foundation

A search for information on the immigration debate led to the award-winning Constitutional Rights Foundation site and its free “Current Issues of Immigration, 2006” lesson plans. Educators (and others seeking insights into immigration that go beyond blaring headlines) also can select from a diverse series of links on topics such as the history of immigration, illegal immigrants, and the legality of denying public benefits to immigrants.

Based in Los Angeles, the Constitutional Rights Foundation is “a non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organization dedicated to educating America’s young people about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society. CRF develops, produces, and distributes programs and materials to teachers, students, and public-minded citizens all across the nation.”

In addition to its dynamic community programs, CRF offers numerous resources to help educators enhance courses in Law and Government, Civic Participation, and U.S. and World History. One series explores school violence and lessons learned from the April 1999 tragedy here in Denver at Columbine High School. Another links discussions of the September 11 attacks with overviews of terrorism and the war in Iraq, while another introduces students to the many challenges created by the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. CRF materials are written to present balanced reviews of all sides of covered topics.

CRF resources contribute greatly to contemporary discussions of issues that some consider too divisive and troublesome to tackle. It’s refreshing to discover organizations like CRF that are devoted to bringing community leaders in areas such as law, business, government, and education together to collect facts about issues of concern and make them readily available to educators across the country. Emotions run high when issues such as immigration and race relations are discussed in and outside the classroom. Thanks to groups like CRF, students can learn about the realities behind the blaring headlines that so often fuel our national debates.