Brian Clement of Gardiner, an Army veteran, said during a talk at the University of Southern Maine on Thursday that he started his yearlong duty in Iraq believing America hadn't gone to war for the right reasons, but "thought I could do some good."
However, Clement, who was with the 1st Cavalry Division, said that in his job driving a truck around Iraq, including such hot spots as Fallujah and Sadr City, "I didn't see anything positive about our being in Iraq."
Brian Clement of Gardiner, who served with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq, is applauded after speaking Thursday evening at USM's Portland campus on the war's human cost. (Photo/Jill Brady)
Clement, who returned home last March and received an honorable discharge from the service in June, has since joined Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"I support the troops wholeheartedly," he said, "but I don't support the misuse of our armed forces as they are being used now."
Clement was part of a five-member group invited to USM's Portland campus to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four members of the panel spoke out strongly against the war in Iraq.
The position of a fifth panel member, a military journalist who served in Afghanistan until two months ago, was not clear, but he urged Americans to educate themselves on the issues.
The discussion was held in recognition of the upcoming third anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which began March 20, 2003.
John Baugher, an assistant professor of sociology at USM, who moderated the event and helped coordinate it, said that with an increasing number of U.S. soldiers killed and injured and with thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, people needed to talk about the conflicts.
"There's too much at stake here for us to keep our heads in the sand. We have to know what's going on," he said. He said the event was sponsored by several campus symposiums and student groups.
About 60 to 70 people attended the talk, many of them students. The audience applauded loudly several times in reaction to comments from the speakers.
The event was billed as a panel discussion with veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, although only two panel members met that description: Clement and the military journalist, Rick Scavetta of Connecticut, who served in Afghanistan from February 2005 to January 2006 as the Army's chief of media relations.
Scavetta said, "It's the responsibility of Americans to dig deeper than what's on our television news."
The other panelists were USM student Michael Savage, a former Army paratrooper who served in Kosovo; Richard Clement of Gardiner, a Vietnam-era veteran and father of Brian Clement; and Dexter Kamilewicz, whose son, Sgt. Ben Kamilewicz of the Vermont Army National Guard, is currently stationed in Iraq.
Kamilewicz, a peace activist without a party affiliation, is collecting signatures to get on the ballot to run in November for the 1st District congressional seat held by Democrat Tom Allen.
Richard Clement, a member of Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, said the year his son Brian was in Iraq was "pretty much a year in hell" for him and his wife. Kamilewicz described his son Ben's experiences in Iraq, including being ambushed and having bullets whiz past his face. He said his son reported that troops were poorly trained and equipped. Kamilewicz said "accountability is missing" in Washington about the war.
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