Charging the Cavalry: An Unarmed Ambush

On March 1, 2004, I arrived in Al Qa’im, Iraq, at Forward Operating Base Tiger, to replace the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Six years later, on August 23, 2010, I worked with a group of anarchists and other activists to block their busses as they attempted to deploy to Iraq yet again.

I am Bobby Whittenberg-James, a veteran of the war against the people of Iraq. I was deployed to Al Qa’im, Iraq with 3d Battalion 7th Marines in February of 2004 and was wounded in combat in Karabillah, Iraq on April 14, 2004. I returned to Iraq May 13, and left on September 21st of that year. I began to question the wars while I was still in the Corps, and after my discharge I began to question many of our social structures and means of organizing society initially identifying as a socialist or communist. As my understanding of society and power structures grew and I learned more, my views evolved more towards anarchism. I would ultimately end up identifying as an anarchist and a revolutionary.

After becoming involved with the anti-war movement in late 2008/early 2009 I soon became disenchanted with constant sidewalk sign holding and chanting and marching behind police escorts. I had joined an allegedly anti-war veterans organization, but soon began to realize how internally focused such organizations can be. Issues such as staff salaries, personal healing of veterans, policing the actions of its members, and fundraising took precedence over ending the wars and reducing suffering and injustice. None of this was what I wanted to be a part of, and I began to encounter many other veterans that felt the same way. We wanted direct action and we wanted to challenge power and create something new.

Early in the summer of 2010, a group of us came together around the idea that with people dying each day, we could no longer ethically continue to refrain from direct action and resistance. Disenchanted with the constant failures and passivity of existing centralized organizations, and the constant fence riding of 501(c)3’s we decided we wanted to build something organic and real. Over time the idea of Fort Hood Disobeys started to materialize. Rejecting the idea of veteran exclusivity, we joined with military family members and civilians. The Disobedient, have no official membership, but are a network of individuals, cells, and affinity groups involved in direct action to jam up the gears of the war machine all over the world and developing a class consciousness within the military ranks.

The August 22nd deployment date for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment gave us the idea to start challenging “the brass” of individual units while encouraging soldiers to resist military service. We realize that we are not going to be encountering hordes of anarchists in the military, but we know that troops have a myriad of reasons for wanting to refuse deployment; conscience, family, health, etc. The personal is the political. In standing up for themselves and refusing to comply they stand up for the rights of people and we support their resistance.

During the build up to the deployment we staged a protest outside of Fort Hood’s East Gate calling out Colonel Allen, 3rd ACR’s commanding officer, for deploying wounded soldiers. After participating in a live webcast with World Can’t Wait and receiving a great response from the audience, we began doing live interactive webcasts. We also began a “Harass the Brass” campaign, encouraging people to call the 3rd ACR’s chain of command directly and question them about their deployment of wounded soldiers and their participation in unjust wars. Just days before our planned blockade of the 3rd ACR’s deployment, Barack Obama announced the second end to combat operations in Iraq (I received my Combat Action Ribbon after George W. Bush announced the first one.) Unless the 3rd Armored Cavalry Unit is a Boy Scout Troop, the US Empire is still deploying combat troops to Iraq, and we are not going to let that go unchallenged.

We didn’t have any delusions about stopping the deployment altogether, but we knew we could stop the busses. All of the calls to Fort Hood from right wing bloggers and pro-militarists ended up working in our favor. They had in fact, unintentionally increased the delay by warning the regiment, resulting in extra security measures being taken, canine units, extra police escorts, etc, delaying the deployment longer than we ever could have with them deploying at the original time and us executing our original plan. Had they even had other delays for even 6 hours, they could have been passed us by 8:30, but their perceived need for increased security seemed to help delay it until their final time of departure, 4:00 AM the next morning. We also suspect they were hoping to wait us out to avoid an incident.

Since this was The Disobedients’ first attempt at organizing a direct action we just began rolling with the punches. We had begun with an air of secrecy, but as conditions developed we decided to show our hand more and more over our live stream. Our original intel said that the troops would be deploying in the early afternoon around 2pm. Our observers kept an eye on the situation and we maintained a state of readiness. For the veterans and family members, being on “hurry up and wait” military time again was a reminder of our own experiences with deployments and military life.

At Fort Hood, troops are usually deployed by exiting the Clarke Road Gate, going under the Highway 190 overpass, and entering a gate on the other side. Highway 190 is divided by a deep median near the overpass bridge. Our original plan was to hang a banner from the bridge and then walk down and stop in the road as the busses approached. There is typically either no police escort or a simple one or two car operation. When we arrived we saw that there was an increased police presence (which we would later find out was about 20-30 cops.) Seeing that they were waiting for us, those of us in the affinity group that was to take the streets split off into Highway 190’s deep median, laughing about how we were about to use some of the skills we learned in the military to try pull one over on them.

We crawled up as close as we could get to the bridges without the police seeing us. As we laid in the grass and watched the search lights sweeping around under the bridges, we knew they were looking for us and we realized that we had to make our move quickly. Our improvised split had left us without communication and so from our ditch, using just what we heard and what little we could see, we determined that we needed to make our move. When we decided we were ready we took off down the ramp between the road and the bridge with comrade Matthis Chiroux running and shouting over the bullhorn. We knew we were going to be running straight into a hornets nest. It crossed all of our minds that we could end up getting shot charging down a hill at a military convoy with police escorts wearing keffiyehs.

Activists on the bridge observed the convoy come to a stop at the gate for about one minute, apparently waiting for the “all clear” signal before leaving, but we couldn’t see any of this from our position in the median. Fortunately our timing couldn’t have been better for a surprise charge. One police car swerved to miss me as I took the street and started to unfurl our banner reading “Please Don’t Make the Same Mistake We Did! RESIST NOW!” handing the other end to my comrade and fellow Iraq veteran, Crystal Colon. Comrade Geoff Gernant and military family member Cynthia Thomas held up a banner reading “OCCUPATION IS A CRIME!” We raised our fists knowing that we would be descended upon by local police and MP’s within seconds.

One cop began shoving me and yelling “Move! Move!” while another police car was placed between me and the busses. More cops swarmed my comrades shoving them to the side of the road, some of them with automatic weapons and dogs.

“We are where we need to be!” I responded. I saw another cop running to enter the fray and one of them dropped me to the ground. I curled up expecting a beating and then laid out flat when I looked up and saw that they weren’t going to lay into me. I heard one tell me to put my hands behind my back and ask me if I was going to stay down. When I indicated that I didn’t intend to fight them and that I would stand up when they were ready they told me I could take my hands from behind my back.

When I looked up I saw my comrades standing on the side of the road, fists raised in the air and I raised mine and joined them. Apparently the military and the police didn’t want a big confrontation that night, because no arrests were made and no one was cited. It would make sense that they wouldn’t want to arrest us. They don’t want people to see veterans and family members and members of the local community protesting the wars or being dragged off by the police in the media. They would also draw attention to the fact that they are deploying the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a combat unit, to Iraq just days after announcing the second end to combat operations there.

We all had quite a laugh about the ass chewings that must have taken place on Fort Hood and in local cop shops that day. Essential to securing an area is considering and monitoring all possible in routes. The fact that we were able to insert ourselves within their perimeter and execute an unarmed hasty ambush on a convoy of buses deploying combat troops looks really bad for both local and Fort Hood law enforcement and shows that a small group of ordinary people can challenge power directly.

The Disobedient knew that we would only be able to block the buses for a short time, but any act to slow down, jam up, or delay the war machine is better than writing a letter to congress or holding a sign on a sidewalk. When trying to light a fire, no one strikes steel against flint only once. Each spark has the potential to catch and start a raging conflagration.

So what did we accomplish? We caused delays and an increase in security, thereby using resources and time. We showed that a few people can out maneuver police and the military deploying troops even when they know we are coming. We showed that direct action against continued deployment is possible. The Disobedient don’t see this as an end state, but a beginning. The first swing of the axe won’t bring down a tree, but a series of them will.

Yes, we started with five people in the road. It wasn’t a massive riot. It didn’t stop a deployment, but we could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch and we were able to show that such direct action can be taken. Whether we are five or 5,000,000 we will take direct action against the Empire and encourage others to do so. People are dying. Act now in your communities to resist the war machine. The people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Palestine deserve no less. All power to the People!

Bobby Whittenberg-James

Disobedient

(Video available here.)

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