Despite best efforts of activists and legislators, California Coast Guard troops serving in Iraq won’t be heading home to resume stateside duties.
Legislation authored by Assemblymember Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley and supported by Code Pink, the American Friends Service Committee, Veteran’s for Peace, Gold Star Families Speak Out and others, died in the Veteran’s Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, in a 3-3 vote, with three committee members absent.
The nonbinding measure would have called “upon the Governor to ensure that the president and congress take immediate steps to initiate the return of California National Guard troops to the state.” Voting in favor were committee Chair Joe Nation, D-Marin; Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa and Lori Saldaña, D-Dan Diego; voting in opposition were Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine; Bob Huff, R-Dimond Bar and Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster; absent were Joe Canciamilla. D-Martinez; Ed Chavez, D-City of Industry and Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson.
Passage of the non-binding resolution would have been “a way for the California legislature to stand with the people of California, to send a message to the Congress and president …that we want (the Guard) home,” Hancock said in a phone interview after the vote. “Many of us are heartsick as we continue in this quagmire,” she added.
Nadia McCaffrey’s son Patrick, a 34-year-old father of two, was a California Guardsman killed in Iraq two years ago. A member of Gold Star Families Speak Out and Tracy resident, McCaffrey went to Sacramento Wednesday to lobby for the resolution. She spoke to the Daily Planet on Thursday.
“Patrick enlisted after 9/11. He thought he would be helpful to the state,” McCaffrey said. “If he had wanted to fight, he would have joined the Marines or the Army.” She further noted that, as a guardsman, her son rode around in vehicles with sandbags and plywood rather than armor. He even had to buy his own boots, she said.
Major General Paul Monroe (ret.), who headed the California National Guard from 1999 to 2004, argues that the United States should not be fighting in Iraq at all. “There was no reason to start a war in Iraq,” he said.
Historically, there was a reason to deploy the California Guard. “In World War I and World War II the country was at war,” he said. “The country is not at war today. The military is at war.”
Monroe, who was born in Berkeley and has resided here most of his life, has another reason to question the policy of “federalizing” the California guard: his son, a father of two, has been deployed to Iraq twice.
Anxious for his son to come home next month from Iraq, where he’s been for almost a year, Monroe is also acutely aware of the difficulty military people have re-entering day-to-day life after deployment. “They are nervous being in vehicles; they don’t like being in crowds,” he said.
Another “big problem” Monroe pointed to is that the Guard leaves its equipment, such as helicopters and trucks, in Iraq. “They can’t be used for emergencies here,” he said.
In an interview before the committee vote, Monroe said he supported the concept of Hancock’s resolution, but given its nonbonding nature, “I don’t think it will go anywhere,” he said.
Had the resolution passed, it likely would have been disregarded by the governor, according to Bill Maile, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy press secretary. “The governor does not take a position on measures which do not require him to act,” Maile said in an email. “However, the governor cares deeply about all of California’s sons and daughters fighting in the war on terror and prays for their safe return as soon as possible.”
Major Daniel Markert, spokesperson for the California Coast Guard, who was deployed in Iraq, argues that people join the Guard with full knowledge that they will become reserve military personnel. In fact, he said, “Some join specifically to go to Iraq.”
According to Markert, there are 2,000 federalized California Coast Guard troops in Iraq and Afghanistan—down from 6,000 last year. He said that the deployment does not affect local operations such as fighting wild fires, or stepping in during other local emergencies such as earthquakes.
Twenty-one California Guardsmen have been killed since 2003 in Iraq, he said. “Every one is very personal,” he said. “All are very precious; all are very painful.”
Meanwhile, Corinne Goldstick of Code Pink, who helped organize the 50 or so people who attended the committee meeting, argued: “The Coast Guard was sent there illegally. There was no emergency in Iraq. They signed up to look after us here in California. They should come home.”
In September, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the president and congress to “take immediate steps to withdraw the California National Guard troops from Iraq now.”
Photograph by Judith Scherr
Catherine Orozco and Corrine Goldstick embarked Wednesday morning for Sacramento, where they unsuccessfully lobbied the Veterans Affairs Committee.