Iraq veteran Eddie Falcon speaks out against the war
by KALW News, sfgate.com
May 25th 2011 5:14 PM
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EDDIE FALCON: I was pretty young. I didn't think I understood, really, how things worked in the world.
SHANI AVIRAM: Eddie Falcon is an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted when he was 18, after growing up east of Los Angeles, in a community plagued by drugs, gangs, and crime.
FALCON: I enlisted in the first place to get money for school and to get out of, you know, like harsh socio-economic situations that I was living in. So, what people call that is the "economic draft."
Growing up in West Covina and La Puente in the Southern California desert, he says he had only two paths to choose from.
FALCON: La Puente is a really crazy neighborhood to live in. There's a lot of gang violence around. It's a really tough area. And then over when I was living in the desert there was nothing to do there but drugs. So those were just, like, my two options: get addicted to drugs or keep running around with gangs.
In 2001, he enlisted in the Air Force with the goal of using the GI Bill to pay for college. But, he found that he didn't quite fit in. He was one of the few Mexican-Americans in a mostly white unit.
FALCON: A lot of people did say things like "beaner" or "spik" or something like that, but there's also really subtle things that you don't notice that I'm starting to notice now. They were always surprised at how smart I was. "I didn't expect you to know that" or "you're a smart Mexican." Like stupid s*** like that.
Falcon served as a Loadmaster Journeyman on a C-130 aircraft. His job was to load cargo and passengers - passengers who were sometimes prisoners.
FALCON: You would take all the seats out of the plane...
...in order to make room to lay the Iraqi detainees on the floor like cargo. According to Falcon, the procedure was to handcuff and blindfold the prisoners...
FALCON: ...and then you put them on the floor, and then you put them in rows of five and then strap them down to the floor with cargo straps. I mean, there's not really too much. They wanted you to do all this other stuff too. Like, inside the kit there's like these gloves so like ... because they wanted you to feel disgusted by them, by the people or something, and people will tell you that they'll piss or they'll s*** or stuff like that, so they want you to put like a tarp under them. I think the kit even comes with diapers. It's, like, really weird. It comes with a face mask and like all this stuff. I didn't use any of it and I never had any prisoners s*** or piss any where or spit at me or nothing like that. They were all really scared that they were there.
The "detainee runs," as Falcon calls them, left a lasting impact on him.
FALCON: When I was there in Iraq and did the prisoner runs, people were blindfolded and when I took the blindfolds off of them and they saw me, they actually thought I was Iraqi.
Falcon deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan. As the wars went on and violence escalated, he started questioning the military operation.
FALCON: It just didn't make sense to me that we were sending so many people there. And like so many people were dying and it just didn't seem justified for what happened. Like having to tie people down to the floor of the plane and take them to prisons and like getting shot at and running from rockets. That s*** gets old, you know?
In 2005, after he was discharged, Falcon enrolled at San Francisco City College. He started sharing his military stories with student groups to raise awareness of what's going on overseas. That's when he first met members of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
It's March 19, the 8th anniversary of the Iraq War, and ANSWER Coalition is holding its annual march. It's pouring rain, but the energy on the streets is high. Falcon has been coming every year since he left the military.
FALCON: One time I was out of town, I was in Europe, but I still was in Paris on a corner holding a "U.S. Out of Iraq" sign by myself.
Falcon is now the acting president of Iraq Veterans Against the Wars' Bay Area chapter.
Only a handful of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have come out to march today. They explain that many veterans feel discouraged by the government's lack of response to their issues. Others are still dealing with the psychological scars of war, like PTSD, and just want to put their war experiences behind them. But for Falcon, sharing his story - making connections with people - is a way of dealing with his past.
FALCON: Sharing my story with other people and I hear how other people's stories were in the military or whatever, and like it starts to bring out other things for me too, so I think it's good to keep talking and to keep sharing your stories with people because that's how you end up making connections and really analyzing things and finding out you got more in common with people than you thought
Some try to portray the anti-war movement as anti-American. But, Falcon says, protesting a war doesn't mean you hate your country.
FALCON: It's not that I don't like America. I love America. That's why I live here. I grew up here. I'm culturally American. We have really cool s***. Everybody likes our music, everybody likes our style. We're cool. I like us. And I'm willing to defend the people who are around me against any outsiders.
Falcon is currently a student at UC Berkeley using the GI Bill to pay for his education. Despite his views of the military and government policies, he isn't conflicted about using state money to pay for college.
FALCON: I think it makes even more sense. Whatever, people can say whatever they want. I feel like the government has taken away a lot of things away from me. It's taken away my youth, it's taken away my mental stability, the state has taken away members of my family. So I'll take some money from them to get by and do what I gotta do. I got no problem with that. It's the least that they can f***ing do for me is pay me to go to school after all the s*** that they put me through.
It has been six years since Falcon left the military, and he says he is still dealing with the aftermath of his service. That's why he is sharing his own story with as many people as he can.
FALCON: I want to talk to kids because kids are going into the military from high school. The people who really need my help or need to hear this are people who are going to go through the same struggle that I went through. Like, people over here, college students aren't going to go through the same things I went through. They're going to go through something different. So, I want to talk to kids that are going to be enlisted.
Falcon's voice of opposition might be rare among new veterans, but his need to heal is shared by many of them. Talking about his experiences has been Falcon's way of doing so.
For Mills College, I'm Shani Aviram
Shani Aviram is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland.
Original Page: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/kalw/detail?entry_id=89749
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