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One year later: From Veterans for Standing Rock to Veteran Service Corps
By Chris Duesing - President - Veteran Service Corps - Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
After news of the North Camp being cleared and the use of water cannons, attack dogs, and "less lethal" munitions being used against peaceful, prayerful, water protectors, Wes Clark Jr. asked me to go to Standing Rock.
I wanted to go but my pension wasn't enough to carry me all the way from Charlotte, NC, to Cannonball, ND. I suggested we could try a fundraiser to cover travel expenses to increase the numbers of Veterans able to go. At that time, there were a total of three of us committed to going, Wes, Mike Wood Jr, and myself. Thinking we could get several dozen or maybe even one hundred Veterans to camp, I volunteered to head up mission operations. True to my experience in the Army, I had no idea what was in store for us.
We launched our GoFundMe the evening of November 11, 2016; Veteran's Day. With some requests to my own small group of friends, we quickly raised $500 and I had a plane ticket to Bismarck, ND. Word started to spread and Veterans from all over the country and some from other countries signed up on the Volunteer Roster. We used social media and video conferencing to organize. My task was to build (organize? coordinate?) the movement of our volunteers to Camp. We had to build an organization from the top down to the individual Veteran Volunteers. As more media outlets started covering the events at Oceti Sakowin, the volunteer roster blew up as did the GoFundMe. I remember screaming on a video call to cap the roster at 2,000. Of course, that didn't dissuade many more from coming on their own.
I began to realize I was part of something much larger than I could understand at the time. I said then and I still say now, the story wasn't ever about "The Veterans" going to Standing Rock; Veterans were already there. Native Americans have the highest rate of Military Service than any other ethnic group in the United States. The story was always about the rights of the people, but unfortunately it took that self- organized movement of thousands of Veterans to shine a light on the events at camp.
One year later I'm still here, with Great Sioux Nation, as an invited guest, working to address the systemic issues plaguing this underserved community, and giving hope back to the people who reside here.
Many of us who came together last November have formed our own organization, Veteran Service Corps. We continue to use the skills and experience provided to us by the United States taxpayers to be of service to the People, instead of Multi-National corporations. I've found that being of service to others is the best treatment for PTSD. The work that we are doing in this community turns Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Stress Recovery.
We came to Standing Rock to protect the Water Protectors from Police violence. We found community with the People we stood up with. Our lives have been forever changed.
We are here, we never left, and we aren't leaving until the mission is done.
To find out more about Veteran Service Corps, visit www.vscamerica.org