Nothing Afeared: The First Veteran Just Walked To Standing Rock

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Upside down American flags at the camp represent a distress call for the country. Photo by Bob Keyes.

In what one vet has likened to a classical "hero's journey," Chris Turley - a decorated veteran of the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan and member of the Osage Nation - arrived Wednesday at Sacred Stone camp after a prayerful, two-week, 800-mile trek mostly on foot from Osage Nation Reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. In a fundraising plea and online  posts, Turley cited his military vow to support and defend the Constitution "against all enemies, foreign and domestic"; the Dakota Pipeline and the police violently confronting peaceful water protectors, he said, pose precisely that domestic danger to "my people, our people, your people." By Friday, he had been joined by the first ranks of over 2,000 veterans arriving this weekend; in powerful nighttime video below, they declare their stoic presence to police.

Despite suffering serious knee injuries in a firefight and enduring 13 months of physical rehab - doctors said he'd likely never walk normally again - Turley decided to hike to Standing Rock to support both the fight against the pipeline and much-needed Veteran Suicide Prevention and PTSD programs. A father of three daughters and self-described "warrior of this country - I love it with all my heart," he was walking "for those that can't" - those brothers and sisters who fight suicidal urges, battle PTSD daily, are still deployed, have fallen.

When Turley trudged into Stone Camp Wednesday afternoon, he became one of many newly galvanized veterans vowing to serve as a peaceful, unarmed, determined militia still fighting for the rights they have already fought to protect; they plan to literally put themselves between potentially violent police and peaceful water protectors. In a poignant, windblown scene recorded by Indigenous Rising Media, Turley was greeted at the camp by a long line of well-bundled camp residents offering him hugs, thanks and chicken soup. Wearing a Wounded Warriors' Project cap, he said he relied on prayer and a "peaceful mindset" on his long trek. On one side of his backpack, he carried a furled Osage Nation flag; on the other side, a U.S. flag.

Veterans say Turley and their other comrades exemplify "the highly contagious emotion we call courage." They and the Native water protectors remain strong. But they need support, especially with the newly arrived cold weather. You can get updates and video here, here and here. You can join a community prayer event or donate food or make other donations here. Michael Wood Jr., the former Marine and policeman who helped organize the Stand For Standing Rock veterans' trip, says the vital question for those watching the Standing Rock drama unfold is, "Who are you serving?" Native or veteran or citizen, he insists, "This is your fight."


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Update: Here's powerful nighttime video of the first group of veterans announcing their presence to law enforcement by standing - silently,  stolidly, their breath steaming and rising into the frigid air, wielding only mirrored shields and banners reading "Peaceful" and "Unarmed" as water protectors drum and whoop- while a cop on a megaphone tells them to move back. When they're ready they finally march off in solemn formation, boots crunching on the snow.


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Chris Turley. Facebook photo

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