James Gilligan and the 3rd Presidential Debate
Rich Gardner | 02.13.2009
James Gilligan gives his side of the 3rd Presidential Debate at Hofstra University.
James Gilligan was in a front-line unit that headed into Iraq as part of the initial assault. His unit went all the way into Baghdad and then turned their responsibilities over to follow-on Coalition forces. The plan from that point was to "Reconstruct and reconstitute and rebuild the government from the ground up." Gilligan's unit rotated back to Camp LeJeune, within weeks he was sent on to Guantanamo Bay for a 6 month rotation in May of 2003. After six months in Cuba, he was deployed again for six months in OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) in Afghanistan. His unit between May and November 2004 watched over a dam at an FOB (Forward Operating Base) and provided election security and other vehicle convoy operations on other FOBs. He then rotated back to "the real world." Six jobs and year and a half later he found himself down and out. In March 2008, he joined the IVAW veterans in a semi-formal panel of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in order to gather information on and speak out about the experiences of their deployments in the War on Terror, in an event that dubbed "Winter Soldier."
While taking part in the initial invasion of Iraq, traveling from Basra to Baghdad, Gilligan's unit didn't deal with any IEDs or any vehicle-borne IEDs, but his unit did deal with mortar attacks and snipers. His unit was expected to go in and, once Iraq was liberated, to go right out again. He emphasized how serious the chain of command was about how short the Iraq War was expected to be. He had a beret insignia with a picture of Saddam Hussein which he wasn't permitted to keep because he was told that all uniform items were to be confiscated and used for rebuilding the country and government.
He and his fellow Marines were not supposed to talk with reporters outside of the official mission parameters which others invoked. Some would badger the reporters and yet others would give reporters the "straight party line" of "everything's fine," "glad to be here," "glad to help."
Some would talk to reporters and then be incredulous as the reporters would focus on menial factoids about their personal lives. Reporters generally stayed away from details about the mission.
CEB Main (Combat Engineer Battalion Main) took part in an airstrip seizure. Constructing one of the first field expedient airstrips that was used for flying in supplies. While pulling perimeter security, Gilligan was interviewed by a newspaper reporter from New York. The reporter talked with all of the Marines for the afternoon. None of the details from the talks ever made it into the paper.
"I'm confident about this because had the journalist reported on the operational tempo and shortcomings, this would have violated our operational security.
"So, basically, a reporter flew 2800 miles from New York to Baghdad to sit down on a hot, dusty afternoon and reported back on fishing in Missouri, snowboarding in Vermont and the local Manhattan Marine."
In Gilligan's Humvee were not just your average Marines. Gilligan rode with two members of S-2 (Intelligence) and a Warrant Officer for NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare). The assortment of radios in his vehicle which squelched out voices of "Chaos" and other call signs all across the battlefield, reporting back data on the results of their search for WMD and encounters with small-arms resistance.
His role in the vehicle as a Corporal would be to man the radios from time to time and maintain proper security for the vehicle whether moving or stationery. Within his platoon he was one of several Marines selected to be on the NBC reconnaissance team, which would provide security for the Warrant Officer in his search for WMD or other evidence while searching bunkers and other facilities.
"We never really went about our procedures by the book. Within a few days, we were underneath the SCUD FAN (Meaning we were so close to the Iraqi population centers that any SCUDs launched would have impacted the civilian population). Because SCUDs were no longer a serious possibility of danger, we ditched our protective suits and carried our masks on our hips while searching bunkers, looking for WMD. It seemed that if it was such a real threat, we would have continued to wear the masks. After a while, the focus shifted from searching for WMD to collecting war trophies. At one point, it got so out of hand, the CO (Commanding Officer of the unit) ordered a company inspection for all items to be amnestied and turned in. But even the focus of this was on dangerous items, pistols, swords, etc."
The third Presidential Debate between candidates Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) took place at Hofstra University. The veterans of IVAW decided well in advance to appear at the event in uniform and to question the candidates. McCain was going to be queried about his lack of support for veteran's health care (Never once has McCain risen to the challenge of really putting out an effort to support veteran's health care), Obama was going to be queried about whether and how he was going to support war resisters. In short, a small group of veterans of our Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts wanted to ask some highly pertinent and relevant questions to people who were in an excellent position to answer those questions. The IVAW supplied me with a copy:
Senator McCain, on July 9th 2008 you were quoted saying "I've received every award from every major veterans organization in America but the reason why I have a perfect voting record from organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and all the other Veterans Service Organizations is because of my support of them."
However, there are non-partisan Veterans Organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) who've noted that you've consistantly voted against important issues such as increased VA funding in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. This summer, another Veterans Organization, Veterans for Common Sense filed suit against the VA and discovered that approximately 1000 Veterans under their care are attempting suicide each month, with an average of 17 succeeding every 30 days. Government surveys conclude that over 300,000 21st Century Warriors are currently suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while only 67 thousand have been diagnosed with with PTSD, and less than half of those are collecting disablity benefits. Doctors and Nurses at the VA are struggling to treat the 2 million American Troops who've deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. What promises are you willing to make, as a Veteran, as a Senator, as a Presidential Candidate, to the Veterans of the United States to prove that you will ensure the VA is fully funded, staffed, and capable of preventing Troops from suffering as they are now, after they've served our great nation overseas?
-Sergeant Kristofer Goldsmith
Operation Iraqi Freedom III Veteran
Senator Obama, you have said that the War and Occupation of Iraq is illegal. If by your words, it is illegal, then it is not only the right of service members such as myself to refuse deployment and participation in Iraq, it is also our responsibility. Sir, as President, are you willing to go by your own words and back them up, and support servicemembers refusing to participate in what you have, in your own words, termed an "Illegal Occupation"?
-Sergeant Matthis Chiroux
Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran
Gilligan reports that their approach to the hall where the debate was being held was really pretty exciting. There were people behind them waving all sorts of signs, from ones that advocated respect for the environment to signs expressing anti-abortion sentiments, to signs advocating the Palestinian cause to pretty much whatever one could think of. Being the only ones in uniform and with the crowd deferring to them as they marched forward to the entrance, Gilligan reports that he was confused for a split-second and as he heard a police officer ask "Are you coming in?" he thought that was a positive invitation to do just that "I honestly felt we were about to get into the Presidential Debate, that we'd actually get a forum to ask our questions of the candidates." But no, the police officers started slapping cuffs onto the veterans.
One veteran was badly injured by a police horse. As veterans were getting cuffed and led away, they were told to drop whatever they were holding. As one of them was carrying a flag, the flag got passed around. Gilligan managed to hold it up and, as he realized that no, they weren't going to be able to ask the candidates any questions, flipped it upside down (Which is universally understood in the military to be a distress signal).
After they had been transported to a police station, the vets were all brought into a large room and segregated by gender. They were asked for identification, the police then left and the vets conversed among themselves. What exactly were the police trying to do afterwards? Hard to say, as protesters have very rarely been arrested in the past few years and it's not like these veterans were breaking any laws or causing any sort of unlawful disruption. Unknown to the police until after the veterans had been in custody for about three hours, One of them, Adam Kokesh, had a body mike strapped to his chest. It transmitted everything that was spoken in his immediate vicinity to a remote location, so everything that took place next was clandestinely recorded.
One of the veterans decided that he would stay out of the way and not be arrested. He then volunteered to collect any items that people didn't want to be arrested with. He got cuffed and led away with the rest. As a result, one of the police officers came into the room with a confiscated knife that he had been carrying. The policeman was flicking the knife and didn't appear to have a very good grip on it. Gilligan: "I didn't feel comfortable and asked him 'Excuse me officer, could you please stop that?' " The officer responded "This is a gravity knife, I have to practice this because when we appear in court, I have to display that this is a concealable weapon and that I can open it with one hand." The officer continued to flick the weapon very close to Gilligan's face. Gilligan:
We're talking about a two-inch knife. Between a utility knife, a bayonet and a pocket knife, I carried up to four different blades with me into combat throughout my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's not like I didn't know how to handle them. I was never once in a situation where I felt obliged to practice with a knife while in the presence of a prisoner. I felt far more annoyed than threatened by the situation.
One of the policemen spoke to the women on the other side of the room in a very low voice that we couldn't make out. The women reported later that he discussed subjects they felt were out of line, going into moral and personal values. The police tried to convince us that Nick Morgan, our fellow IVAW vet who had gotten trampled by the horse, that his injuries were our fault. They had no clue as to the relationships between us (Most of us had known each other for at least a year and many of us had served side-by-side) and tried hard to divide us. Unsuccessfully.
The final result was that I was given an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), told to be good and that if I did nothing further, then the case would be closed in six months. I agreed and was dismissed without being able to make any statements.
Would I perform any arrestable actions again? Well, I didn't think of what I was doing as having been an arrestable action in the first place. It was a much-needed action that we undertook with a great sense of purpose and responsibility. Would I do it again? If the cause is there and it's something I believe in, nothing would stop me from doing it again, not a Nassau County judge, not a corrupt President and certainly not the fear of doing the right thing.
IVAW After-Action Report (PDF)