Thursday, July 27, 2006

Military families speak out against the Iraq war

Military families speak out against the Iraq war
By John Hunneman / North County Times

TEMECULA, Ca. -- Like most dads, Tim Kahlor wants what's best for his son.

To that end, the Temecula man will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to urge lawmakers and decisionmakers to bring his son, and thousands of other U.S. service members, home immediately from the war in Iraq.

Kahlor is a member of Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people opposed to the war in Iraq who have relatives or loved ones in the military. He'll be joining others of that group, which claims 3,000 members, who have been demonstrating across the street from the U.S. Capitol Building since June 22 in what they've dubbed "Operation House Call."

A recent letter from his son in Iraq told of a buddy's death and urged Kahlor to keep up his efforts to bring the troops home.

"At first, I didn't have any intention of going to Washington," said Kahlor, who works as a payroll coordinator for UC San Diego. "But when Ryan's buddy was killed, I decided I had to go. I had to take my involvement to another level."

A Temecula kid

Sgt. Ryan Kahlor, 22, is on his second tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division. He is currently stationed in Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

A Temecula kid through and through, Ryan Kahlor attended elementary, middle and high school here.

"As a kid, he was always getting into something," Tim Kahlor said. "He was always an adventurer."

The only child of Tim and Laura Kahlor, who moved to Temecula 15 years ago, the 2002 graduate of Chaparral High School was a member of the varsity wrestling team and worked two, and sometimes three, jobs at a time to help pay for his 2002 GMC pickup.

After graduation, Ryan Kahlor did a short stint at Mt. San Jacinto College before deciding the Army ---- and the chance to live overseas in Germany, which he had grown to love during a family vacation ---- was for him.

He left for boot camp March 19, 2003.

Later that same evening, President George Bush announced that "... American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

Operation Iraqi Freedom had begun.

"Of course we were concerned," Tim Kahlor said. "But we thought it would only last for a couple of months."

The first tour

Ryan Kahlor was stationed in Germany after basic training, but it wasn't long before his unit was sent to Iraq. His first tour of duty there began in September 2003. It was supposed to last 10 months, but was extended for three more.

In that time, a former roommate of Ryan's was killed when the Humvee he was in was bombed.

"They say these soldiers know what they're getting into when they volunteer," said Tim Kahlor. "But they don't know until they get there. When he saw his friend killed, it all became real to Ryan."

Still, Tim said, Ryan was largely positive about his first tour in Iraq.

"He had a real good feeling about the mission," Tim said. "He felt they were really accomplishing things over here."

Ryan was able to come home to Temecula briefly in 2004 and spend time with his family. His parents noticed a change.

"Almost every little thing seemed to bother him," Tim Kahlor said.

Ryan Kahlor rejoined his unit in Germany, and was able to travel around Europe, and eventually met and married Naomi.

When he was about to return to Iraq early this year, Ryan expressed some reservations about the mission.

"But he was always going to go," Kahlor said. "He's a soldier's soldier. The most important thing to most of these guys is their loyalty and camaraderie."

The second tour

When Ryan returned to Iraq in January, his family noticed an immediate dropoff in communication with their son.

"We weren't hearing from him much, but when we did, he said much of the gear they were using was left over from Vietnam and that they didn't have torso and flank armor or night-vision equipment," said Tim Kahlor. "As a dad, I wanted to try to do something about that."

Calls and letters went out to congressmen and senators. The few who replied suggested the Kahlors buy the protective equipment their son needed and then fill out a form to have the government reimburse them for the expense.

However, the rumblings of Kahlor and other concerned parents led some lawmakers, especially Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Kahlor said, to investigate the deficient or lacking equipment.

"They're still our kids, and we're going to do all we can to protect them," Kahlor said.

Ryan Kahlor told his father he was concerned the investigation was focusing a spotlight on his unit and himself, attention the soldiers did not particularly desire.

"He didn't want to get into any trouble because of what I was doing," Tim Kahlor said

However, in March, Ryan Kahlor told his father the equipment situation had improved.

Speaking out

It was about that same time Tim Kahlor learned of Military Families Speak Out.

"They were really connected," Kahlor said. "They support the military and they want to get our kids home and take care of them."

Nancy Lessin, her husband, Charley Richardson, and one other military family started MFSO in November 2002.

"My stepson was a Marine, and in August of that year, he was sent to Kosovo, but he knew he would eventually be headed to Iraq," said Lessin from her home near Boston. "We started speaking out in hopes we could prevent the invasion (of Iraq)."

MFSO now has more than 3,000 members with more joining every day, Lessin said.

"We're the largest organization of military families to oppose a war in our country's history," she said.

On June 15, both the U.S. House and Senate voted to support President Bush and "stay the course" in Iraq, prompting Lessin's group to launch "Operation House Call."

A week later, group members began placing pairs of combat boots on the sidewalk just across from the U.S. Capitol, one pair for each American military member who has died since June 15. The group also places a pair of shoes at the site for each Iraqi civilian who has died since the vote was taken.

"We wanted to show members of Congress just what staying the course looks like," Lessin said. "Each day, members of Congress, their staff and tourists have to walk right by."

MFSO members have also made appointments to talk with members of Congress to share their views on the war, she said.

"It makes a difference being a military family," Lessin said. "I think an important factor is the experience we share as military families has, in fact, moved some of the decisionmakers. It touches a group (Congress) that has little or no personal connection to this war."

Lessin said her group is not against the military.

"Our loved ones all volunteered. They all signed a contract to protect and defend the United States of America," she said. "But there's a betrayal that has happened here. Our loved ones should not have been sent off to a war that is based on lies. The most important thing we can be doing is speaking out against a war that should never have happened."

Lessin said Operation House Call will not end when Congress recesses in early August and representatives and senators head home to their districts.

MFSO now has 26 chapters across the county. The closest to Temecula is in Orange County, but Tim Kahlor hopes to start one soon in Southwest County.

"Each of those chapters is planning activities and exhibits outside the (local) offices of Congress members," Lessin said. "We want them to know this war doesn't end for (military families). There should be no rest for them either."

A letter home

For most of his second tour in Iraq, Ryan Kahlor had been unwilling to open up to his parents about what he was going through.

That changed a month ago when one of the Temecula soldier's close friends was killed.

"Spc. Michael J. Potocki, 21, of Baltimore, Md., died on June 26 of injuries sustained in Al Asad, Iraq, when his unit came in contact with enemy force's small arms fire during combat operations," read the brief news release from the Department of Defense.

Ryan Kahlor's letter that followed expressed much more of the frustration the young soldier was feeling.


The world keeps turning and so does the war in Iraq. Yesterday my soldier and friend was shot and killed. A sniper with an armor piercing round shot PFC Potocki. He was 21 years old. He bled out during surgery. He is the first in our platoon to be killed. His death has started an uproar of emotion in the platoon. Two people since have said they quit and will no longer fight. This is adding to those who have already said they are done fighting this war. No one understands why we are here and what our mission is. Potocki was a soldier who could not be replaced. He hated the army but never quit or bitched. The army did nothing but s--- on him and he still geared up every day. He wanted to go back to school when he got out but now his Mom will have to bury him before his time.

"Dad, keep up your fight to send the troops home. This war is lost. We aren't helping these people we are just dying and getting injured. I can't imagine what his mother is going through right now. He was all she had. He never knew his father so they worked together to keep their house going, now he is gone.

"Love, Ryan."

A trip to Washington

Ryan Kahlor's almost new GMC pickup sits in the driveway of his parents' home. His father takes it out for a short drive almost daily to keep it in running order until his son comes home to stay.

Tim Kahlor will spend July 31 to Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C., participating in "Operation House Call." There, he hopes to meet with area congressmen and has an appointment with Sen. Cornyn to thank him for his help in getting his son and others the much needed equipment.

"I'm not against the military at all," he said. "Our soldiers go over and do what they're told, but none of them really understand why we are there anymore. My main goal is to get the word out to the powers that be to see our point of view."