University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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Former Marine Sergeant Robert Sarra to Speak on Iraq
On Dec. 6 for International Human Rights Week

 MAILED:  Nov. 23, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Robert Sarra, co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War, will be the keynote speaker for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's annual observance of Human Rights Awareness Week, Dec. 6-12. The event is held in conjunction with International Human Rights Awareness Day, Dec. 10, which marks the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Sarra will present his talk "Supporting the Warrior, Not the War" from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6, in Davies Theatre.

Sarra is a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and an urban warfare instructor who served as an infantry sergeant in last year's invasion of Iraq. He supported the war before his deployment, but after witnessing it firsthand, he joined his mother, a member of Military Families Speak Out, in fighting to end the occupation. Sarra currently lives in Chicago.

In an interview with Alternet.org, Sarra said that when he headed to Iraq in January 2003, he was a 31-year-old eager to serve his country and the U.S. Marine Corps. But the day he opened fire on an Iraqi woman, everything he had believed in for most of his life changed forever. When he saw the white flag in the hands of the dead woman that he'd mistaken for a suicide bomber, Sarra said he began to question the war and his role in it, while continuing to honor U.S. troops' "sacrifice" for their country.

In a speech he delivered on Memorial Day, Sarra remembered, "The waves and smiles we got when we first moved in were disappearing quickly, and we all had the feeling that we had overstayed our welcome. When we were told we would be going home, missions and excuses kept popping up, and we were kept in-country with no certain end in sight. This was a cause for severe frustration on all levels in my unit, as well as for our families at home."

Sarra quit the military soon after returning home in June 2003. His reentry into civilian life was marred by the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. He received therapy and made peace with his war experience by taking on the role of peace organizer - "an unlikely vocation," wrote Alternet.org, for someone who "had always seen protesters as 'hippies who had no right to protest and just hated the military.'" The group Sarra co-founded, IVAW, is the only anti-war organization comprised entirely of soldiers who served in the Iraq War.

As Sarra looks to the future, he has said he just wants to make a difference. Sarra told Alternet.org. "I've opened people's eyes to what warfare is all about." He added that the Iraq War "reinforced my feelings on what these guys [soldiers] sacrifice, and what they are sacrificing now. And what an honorable job it is... For the guys over there, politics isn't a factor to them. It's about fighting for that guy next to you and getting home in one piece and getting back to your family. I hope that this war is going to end sometime soon. That we can bring all these guys home and Iraq will be stable. That we didn't just go in there and stir up a huge hornet's nest."

The event will be free and open to the public. Military personnel, veterans, family and friends are welcome. For more information about Iraq Veterans Against the War, see www.ivaw.net. For information about Military Families Speak Out, see www.mfso.org.

The event is sponsored by the UW-Eau Claire chapter of Amnesty International, the Progressive Student Association, Student Life and Diversity, Eau Claire Staff and Faculty for Peace and Justice, Women in Black and other organizations. Amnesty International has played a leading role in exposing human rights abuses around the world, including in Iraq under both the former and current rulers.

For more information about the event, please contact Aaron Kroska of AI at kroskaaj@uwec.edu or (715) 839-1237; Andrew Werthmann of PSA at werthmaf@uwec.edu; or Zoltan Grossman of SFPJ at grossmzc@uwec.edu or (715) 836-4471. An event poster can be downloaded.

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Updated: November 24, 2004