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Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Speak
at UW-Eau Claire's Forum Nov. 2

RELEASED: Oct. 19, 2006

Todd Bowers
James Downen
Mike Krause
Three veterans who will be featured panelists at The Forum, from top: Todd Bowers, James Downen and Mike Krause.

EAU CLAIRE — A panel of three veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will tell their stories Thursday, Nov. 2, at the third event of the 65th season of The Forum at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Their program, titled "Iraq War Stories from Those Who Served," will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Zorn Arena.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is the nation's first and largest group dedicated to the troops and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the civilian supporters of those troops and veterans. As noted by IAVA executive director Paul Rieckhoff, "Regardless of your perspective on the war in Iraq, we should all be interested in moving forward on the best possible course. That means also acknowledging what mistakes have been made, and what needs to change to prevent those same mistakes."

The panelists on The Forum represent IAVA's nonpartisan stance, not anti-war or pro-war. Veterans Todd Bowers, James Downen and Mike Krause will discuss their experiences in the war and in coming home, offering a unique and politically valuable perspective on the war as they tell their stories without a media filter.

Todd Bowers, 27, is a native of Washington, D.C., who served two voluntary tours in Iraq as a civil affairs team sergeant. His mission was to reduce civilian interference with military operations and help the Iraqi people rebuild their country.

"I was part of a civil affairs unit, which is made up of 100 percent reservists," Bowers said on the PBS "NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer last August. "There's no active duty element of civil affairs, so it's a tremendous strain for us to try and keep up with these mobilizations. When that occurs, a lot of people leave in between deployments. We lost about 60 percent of our unit between our first and second deployment.

"What was hard for me was I was on Active Reserves when I was first deployed to Iraq. And then during that time, I dropped to the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve — Marines who have left active duty and resumed civilian lives but are obliged to serve if called].

"When I returned from Iraq, I just sort of bowed out and left the unit," Bowers said. "It was when they started to redeploy that they said, 'We are so short-handed for experience, anybody that's been to Iraq before, we need you to come back. We need help. We have the training set up to be able to train new Marines how to do your job, but we need people who have actually been in the country who have dealt with the Iraqi people and that can pass on these skills.'

"I volunteered for my second tour. It was difficult to see that they were heading back and, you know, not having those elements there. The overall mission of civil affairs is to reduce civilian interference with military operations, and it's a very difficult job. It takes a different mindset to be able to do this."

Bowers is currently studying Middle Eastern affairs and Arabic at George Washington University.

"I'm just a doofus with a camera," said military photographer James Downen, 37, a sergeant who served with a civil affairs unit in Afghanistan. A military brat, he lived with his family in northern Europe during his father's service in Belgium. He himself served in Germany and Saudi Arabia, trained with the 82nd Airborne in Panama, and worked as a combat photographer with the Army reserves in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"When you've been to so many countries, it broadens your view of the world," Downen said. "You experience what people are like.

"On 9/11 I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, going to photography school and working at the Greensboro Airport," Downen said. "When my sister called and told me about the attacks, the first thing I did was call up my reserve unit and say, 'Okay, when are we going?'" His administrator told him, "Stand down. We haven't been called up for anything yet."

But by the summer of 2003, Downen was serving with the Army's 321st Civil Affairs Brigade in the Hindu Kush mountains of eastern Afghanistan. He was part of a coordinated effort to provide the impoverished communities of Nangarhar with drinkable water and basic medical treatment. The villages of that province have been caught in the crossfire of a war that has raged off and on since 1973, and people have been little chance to develop infrastructure or a system of sanitation.

Downen particularly admired one of the medical staff and later married her and moved to her home state of Michigan. Today he works full time as a military photographer with the Michigan National Guard, and his wife is a counselor with Michigan's Veteran Affairs.

Mike Krause, 24, was the subject of Bob Herbert's Oct. 12 column ("Sacrifice of the Few") in The New York Times. Soon after 9/11, Krause was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Only four months after returning from his tour in the desert, he deployed to Iraq and served a yearlong tour with the 101st Airborne Division, stationed in An Najef and Balad. In October 2004, despite two concurrent overseas tours, Krause was stop-lossed and returned to Iraq for a second year. Five months after his commitment was supposed to end, Krause redeployed to America and immediately left the military.

Krause is now a senior at Austin Peay University, majoring in public administration and completing a novel based on his experiences as an American soldier in Iraq. Those experiences included loading the bodies of slain service members into aircraft for their return home.

"My platoon sergeant had a policy," Krause told Herbert. "He didn't want lower-ranking soldiers involved. He told us, 'I don't want privates doing this. You guys are going to carry this with you, whether you realize it or not, for the rest of your lives. If I can protect the privates, I will.'

"We're nowhere close to sharing the sacrifice," Krause said. "And it should be shared, because it's only in that sharing that society will truly care about what's going on over there. Right now it's such a small minority of families who have a stake in all of this. I hear people say things like, 'We lost a lot of good people over there.' I sort of snap around and say, 'We? You didn't lose anybody.' You know what I mean?"

The Forum will be interpreted for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Tickets are $7 for the public, $5 for those 62 and older and UW System or Chippewa Valley Technical College faculty and staff, and $3 for those 17 and younger and UW System or CVTC students. Tickets are available at the Service Center counter in the east lobby of Davies Center, and will also be sold at the door.

Preceding the evening's Forum, at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Fire Room of Davies Center, Eau Claire poet and Vietnam veteran Alan Jenkins will present a reading from soldier-poet Brian Turner's book "Here, Bullet" (2005). A New York Times "Editors Choice" selection and winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award given by the nonprofit poetry publisher Alice James Books, the collection of poems reflects on Turner's experiences in Iraq. Serving for a total of seven years in the U.S. Army, Turner was an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Alan Jenkins describes this reading and the evening's Forum as "an opportunity for us older vets to show our love and support for our younger brothers and now our sisters, too. Our generation was rarely afforded that respect from the older generation of veterans of our war-time, and we wish to make it clear that regardless of politics, we are giving our unqualified support for their humanity."

A reception featuring a variety of hors d'oeuvres and an opportunity to discuss the reading and to meet the evening's panelists will follow from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Council Fire Room. Tickets for the reception are $7 in advance at the Service Center or at the door.

Patrons may charge their tickets to MasterCard or Visa when they order by phone. Call 715-836-3727 or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free 800-949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.

Wisconsin Public Radio and Community Television have contributed generous promotional support. Best Western Trail Lodge Hotel & Suites (715-838-9989) at 3340 Mondovi Road is the exclusive accommodations partner for The Forum.

Funded by the students of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, The Forum is administered by the Activities and Programs office.

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JS/NW

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